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Wednesday
Sep132017

« Getting Beyond the Current Crises of Capitalism and Civilization »

Ulrich DuchrowA search is on—all around the globe! The crises of the early 21st century in economics, ecology, and government reveal lethal flaws in the current systems of civilization that fundamentally bring death instead of life. As these crises persist and intensify, the search for alternatives also gains energy and excitement as models are found that sustain life. 

Authors Ulrich Duchrow and Franz Hinkelammert contribute greatly to our search in their book, Transcending Greedy Money, subtitled, Interreligious Solidarity for Just Relations. [NOTE: HEAR ULRICH DUCHROW on SAT., NOV., 4, 9am, in San Diego, in a presentation, “Interreligious Critique of Capitalism: Looking for Earth-size Living.” Contact lee@jubilee-economics.org for details.)

The rigor of the authors’ scholarship over long, inquiring lives and their international perspectives offer us much. Their theological orientation and interest in human psychology translate into a highly significant understanding of how religions and human beings have not only been twisted to serve the paradigm of death, but that, conversely, healthy, mature expressions of both are also actively pursuing wellbeing and just relations across the planet. Duchrow is professor of systematic theology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany; Hinkelammert is cofounder of the influential Departmento Ecumenico de Investigaciones in San Jose, Costa Rica.

To better sort out the major powers which shape the current systems that are delivering death, Duchrow and Hinkelammert focus on what emerged starting 800 BCE. As they describe it, the high impact powers of money, interest, and private property were released in the 8th century BCE, then clustered together and became a powerful system during the next centuries—a system that increased wealth but distributed it with self-defeating inequities and injustices. Over the next millennia, that system reinvented itself many times. Today it operates on steroids, ruling the world in the guise of neoliberal globalization. Anchored in the United States, many countries collaborate as do individual elites around the globe.

Pivoting toward a Civilization of Death

So what actually happened between 800-200 BCE? And why those years? German psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) called these years the Axial Age because of how civilization pivoted as if on an axis during those centuries. The results of that pivot continued into the Industrial Age (17th century CE onward) during which it accelerated through science and technologies to shape the global capital economy that dominates today.

Duchrow and Hinkelammert explain a series of high impact changes that emerged in the Axial Age. First, people in the 8th century BCE increasingly spread around life’s different tasks so that different people focused their labor on different items. These were then exchanged with one another so that households would acquire the items necessary for livelihood. This division of labor increased market activity over larger regions, though it also reduced self-sufficiency in local communities. Significantly, it was through this greater activity of exchange over a larger region that money emerged as an essential in the new economy. As goods and labor were exchanged, some accumulated more money than others. Soon there were creditors and debtors. Class and hierarchy increased throughout communities. 

As creditors charged interest on debts, money began making money for its owner even though no production was being added to the economy. In addition, when debtors failed to make payments, they lost whatever property was the security for the loan. Then, to secure a new loan or pay off their debt, they had only their labor to offer in exchange. Indentured servants and slaves were the result. 

Meanwhile, the creditor accumulated private property, increasing the role of private ownership in the political economy. In the division of labor that evolved, men became the primary creditors and owners of private property, whereas the activities of women, though utterly essential to economic and social function, were largely excluded from the calculations of exchange. Patriarchy was thus strengthened systemically in the emerging political economy and expressed itself in various forms of domination, control, and empire. 

All these events affected people in their inner lives as well. We humans changed psychologically and spiritually, making us ever more calculating in terms of costs and benefits. Money and power, being highly valued in the emerging system, called out our greed for more of both. In turn, our greed helped the new system prevail. 

Simultaneously, our relationship with nature diminished. The love of money and possession took precedence over our deep spiritual connection with and love for nature. By the 17th century CE this divorce was described by some philosophy as subject-object dualism—nature having become the object on which humans acted instead of the sacred context within which humans functioned as interdependents with millions of other species. The illusion of subject-object separation that dualism provided us meant we were “free” to evolve a culture in which nature could be sacrificed to the calculations of costs and benefits. These calculations were ever designed to increase the accumulation of wealth and power among property owners, both personal and corporate.

 The Resistance

Such a shaking of the foundations of societies did not happen without major resistance. (The authors explain that they are focusing on Asia, the Ancient Near East, and Western civilization, acknowledging that they are leaving some major regions of the globe without comment on these issues.) Consequently, the Axial Age is pivotal not only for the dynamic, death-bringing systems it brought to power, but also for the people and communities of resistance it birthed. 

The authors dedicate a chapter each 

  1.  to the Hebrew prophets of the 8th century BCE and their their spiritual descendants in the Judeo-Christian lineage including Jesus and Paul; 
  2.  to the life of Buddha in the 6th to 5th centuries BCE in northern India and the attending rise of Buddhism; 
  3.  to how Muhammed, though technically after the Axial Age ca. 560-632 CE, renewed the spirituality of the Axial Age and gave rise to Islam; and 
  4.  to classical Greek philosophy as expressed in some of the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. 

All of these responded with great courage and innovation to take religion, as it was expressed in their contexts, to new expressions of resistance, opposing the money-interest-private property political economy. What they did reverberated in their spheres of influence and beyond. Movements built on the radical insight and wisdom of these leaders. Then institutions and traditions evolved, lasting to the present. 

The Mantle of Resistance Today

Duchrow and Hinkelammert make the case that the death-bringing vortex of powers that emerged during the Axial Age has not only continued into modernity, but along the way discovered ever more effective guises and variants. The current one, the neoliberal form of globalization, has coronated capitalism as the only alternative by which the modern world can proceed. Under its reign, capital, profits, and the accumulation of private wealth have value above all else—including humans, all living species, and even the planet itself—despite the utter irrationality of such a worldview. 

As the authors point out, this worldview is more a belief system than a model of political economy. Its believers prefer blindness to seeing the community of life on Earth as the only relational context in which they can live. They persist in their blind faith in the system because it rewards them with more and more of the money, possessions, and power to which they are addicted. However, the priceless treasure of life for all is being denied Earth’s life community. 

In the name of life for all, and a worldview in which the sacredness of all life displaces capital as primary, Duchrow and Hinkelammert urge us to intervene in this addiction unto death. They would put upon growing numbers of us the mantle of resistance worn so forcefully, daringly, and liberatingly during the Axial Age. They encourage us by pointing out many groups and efforts engaged around the globe in precisely such resistance—a resistance from the bottom, i.e., from among those excluded and judged to be simple and foolish by the powers and all living in the trance of the money-interest-private property paradigm. 

Importance of the Human

The value of humanness is often overlooked as a major resource we have today in the struggle for a new world. Part of the richness of their work is that Duchrow and Hinkelammert do not overlook it. They thoroughly treat not only how modern civilization dramatically dehumanizes us, but also how we can revitalize humanness. They emphasize that the transcendent changes now necessary on our planet require us humans to grow into the full stature of mature consciousness. To cite an example:

 If we want to change the system, we have, at the same time, to motivate people to be transformed in their consciousness, transcending the spirituality of money…. This process calls for all humanist forces, be they religious or secular. We have seen again and again that they are not only compatible but necessary for the transformation, considering that we face not only objective social situations but also the captivity of subjects in the liberation struggle. The compatibility should be used for practical cooperation. For according to Marx, transformative praxis is the basis for critical theory, and, according to the prophetic-critical Judeo-Christian tradition, the key is always the doing of justice, always in specific contexts. All contexts today are linked to the crisis of humanity and earth produced by western modernity. (p.246)

 Living a Life-Bringing System: Life in Just Relations

In the third and last section of the book, the authors spell out the transformative energy released when life is lived in just relations. They give strategies being used by groups who are resisting the political economy of death and strengthening the alternative political economy for life. Because the vision of life lived in just relations is inherently a sacred worldview, they urge interreligious solidarity of religious forms that showed themselves formidable, imaginative actors during the Axial Age. That religions have been continually co-opted by the powers bringing death shows, declare the authors, how powerful religion is. Therefore they urge vigorous critique by the world’s religions of all religious forms that reinforce the worldviews, ways, and economies of superpowers; in the same breath, they urge us to boldly claim religious powers such as those expressed in multireligious liberation theologies. These powers move people to act transformatively in shaping just relations from the bottom of society. 

The authors speak clearly of their awareness that because neoliberal globalization and capitalism are belief systems, religious belief is an essential energy both for resistance and for committing ourselves to alternatives that exist already throughout Earth’s community of life. To act from liberating spirituality as we side with these alternatives takes us out of inner energies of condemnation and judgment, and allows us instead to express our beliefs in even stronger energies of deep love. Our love-motivated actions help us bring into the world the just relations our hearts can imagine. Duchrow and Hinkelammert give example upon example of new multireligious gatherings that are bringing this awareness to life—evidence that multireligious activity is moving to a new level beyond the past when it has been trapped mostly in dialogue. No longer are the activities those of dialogue only, but also ones of joint practices that shape and put into action liberationist beliefs. 

To conclude, readers of the book who are not academics will likely skip a chapter or two (in Part 2) that are especially abstract and dense. Such a possibility in no way detracts from the rewards of the book. Compelling reasons for spending some nourishing hours with this book include its examples of practices of just relations, its distinctions between religions of pathology and those of wellness, and its case for the power of our humanness to resist the dehumanizing culture and to energize one for the common good.  The book grows our spirits, minds, and hearts to engage the struggle of our times, and to do so with love.

As a reader I sensed that the authors hope—with a hope lodged in the depths of their beings—that their best efforts set forth in these pages will serve to strengthen our consciousness and confidence, and that the energies which we bring to the quest for alternatives will be renewed in the spirituality that grows our own consciousness. Such growth, they remind us, is not an individual endeavor, but will happen only in just relation with others, with all species, and with full interreligious solidarity. Simultaneous with the growth of consciousness come daily actions of just relations, practicing them with the fullest consciousness we have. In such practice, we contribute to just structures wherever we have influence—local, regional, and beyond. This book moves our search along and excites us for the much more that is about to happen. 

[Do register with lee@jubilee-economics.org to hear Ulrich on Sat., Nov. 4, 9am.]

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