E Pluribus Unum? Not hardly! We are not only disunited, it seems we live in different conceptual worlds, even while we occupy the same geographical space. We use the same language but the words have different meanings. We now come from a variety of “narratives,” “perspectives,” and interpretations of history.
For example, serious discussion of communism, or even socialism, as viable options for America is beyond the ability of Americans above a certain age to fathom.
Many pundits are observing the loss of the political and economic “middle,” that portion of America that provided a kind of buffer against extremes. But now our circles hardly overlap. No common ground. No place to start. We all have people in our lives with whom conversation beyond the most superficial pleasantries is now impossible, or dangerous.
Amid all this I was “woke” to a realization by an obscure blogger yesterday. I’ve been pondering it. See what you think.
He said, socialism, communism and capitalism are essentially the same. What?! Yes, they are all fundamentally materialistic. That is, they are just different ways of managing stuff–material, money, and the means of producing it.
True, each of these models have underlying values, and, if pressed, adherents could find metaphysical (non-material) support for their positions. Some writers have suggested, for example, that communism is essentially a religion, not a political theory. While it is explicitly atheistic it has filled the void left by the removal of God. Critics of capitalism would point to the god of Mammon. Socialists might appeal to certain Biblical texts to affirm more equal distribution of wealth by the state. We do tend to “spiritualize” things we feel strongly about. But when called upon to do their daily work, each of these “big three” political/economic ideologies are, I agree, fundamentally materialistic.
That is not to say that they do not have non-material implications. We are material beings. Stuff matters to us. Money matters, especially to the degree that we sell our time, segments of our lives, to get it. We also often measure our worth as persons by what we earn, what we can buy, and what we can borrow– an 800 credit score! If you mess with our stuff, our money, you are messing with us–or so it seems.
Also, the human spirit does thrive more under some social, economic and political structures than others. Freedom is crucial–freedom from want, from pain, from fear, and coercion. Some systems have required extreme force and violence to be established and maintained. Freedom of expression can be restricted to the point that it seems to threaten our humanity.
But there are many ways be killed and there are many different kinds of prisons. While one can argue their relative cost-benefit ratios, none of the “big three” are without their casualties and cost to our humanity.
The blogger went further to say that the communist revolutions of the twentieth century — in spite of their unprecedented social upheaval, destruction and bloodshed — were not true revolutions by his definition, since replacing capitalism with communism was just swapping one materialistic ideology for another.
That has made me think what a “true” revolution might look like. Can we even conceive of a transition from a materialistic ideology to, well, some fundamentally other kind?
As physical beings we are dependent on material–food, clothing, shelter. Laws mostly govern the activities of our physical bodies. But could there be a form of government that does not make the management of material its starting point? What if we started with a commitment to the thriving of the soul and spirit and relationships, including relationships with our fellow creatures? Obviously our souls and spirits are embodied, and we relate primarily through our bodies. And our bodies need all “those other things” Jesus talked about in Matt 6. But where do we start and what is our goal?
Would life in the Kingdom constitute a true revolution? Is that what happens to us in conversion? Lots to think about here. Does being a citizen of the Kingdom relativize our citizenship in all the others kingdoms and their ideologies? Does it suggest a certain proportionality of concern and anxiety for the Christ-follower? Does this line of thinking help us understand what Jesus might have meant when He talked about where we should store our treasure, and what that treasure really is?