Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “idolatry”

The Invisible Hand


One of the most persistent forms of idolatry in our time has been the worship of economic forces. There have been huge debates about the nature of these economic forces. For Marxists the name of the deity is “the dialectical forces of history” while for the Free Marketeers it has been “the free rein of the market mechanism”.

But these are simply two denominations of the same religion. Both believe in subjecting man to the power of economics and money.

Hat-tip to A Pinch of Salt: Invisble hands of all kinds, who comments:

What is more rational or realistic – believing in a Father in heaven or an All Encompassing Love, or in this invisible hand? Just this one time let us ask the question.

Time to curb the ‘asset strippers and robbers’ who ruin the financial markets, say archbishops -Times Online

For more than thirty years the ideology of neoliberalism has spread throughout the world. It was enthusiastically propagated in the Reagan-Thatcher years and led to the mania for privatisation, which continues in South Africa and has led to the deterioration of our roads, the quality of our water, and many other things.

Church leaders have been slow to speak out about these things. It takes a well-publicised financial crisis to get people like the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury to start using words like “idolatry” when referring to it in public.

Time to curb the ‘asset strippers and robbers’ who ruin the financial markets, say archbishops -Times Online:

Leaders of the Church of England launched fierce attacks on the world’s stock market traders last night, condemning them as bank robbers and asset strippers and calling for a judicial review into Britain’s financial services.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York demanded stronger regulation and an end to speculation and living on debt.

Dr Rowan Williams spoke out in defence of Karl Marx, defending key aspects of his critique of capitalism and gave a warning that society was running the risk of idolatry in its relationship with wealth.

(Hat-tip to Fr David MacGregor)

The hidden and unintended consequences of the privatisation mania are now beginning to appear. Mutual building societies and insurance cooperatives went commercial, bribing thier members with “windfall” shares (actually, it was only part of their investment received in advance — they were mortgaging their future value to external shareholders). Some of them, like the Old Mutual, continue to use the word “mutual” in their names, to deceive the public. The Old Mutual should actually be called the “New Commercial”. One result of this can be seen in the collapse of Northern Rock in Britain.

Another unintended and unforeseen consequence of the privatisation mania can be seen in the deterioration of the quality of South Africa’s water.

News – Environment: SA water quality is fast deteriorating:

South Africa’s water quality is fast deteriorating but the shrinking scientific and engineering capacity to counter this is emerging as the ‘real crisis’ to strike the country.

This is according to Dr Anthony Turton, a senior water researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who maintains that up to 50 percent of municipalities ‘do not even have one qualified engineer’ on their staff…

“The original work for that was done in the 1980s in massive programmes based at the CSIR,” says Turton. “Those programmes generated many PhD graduates, but also did the primary science on which future management will be based.

“Those programmes are no longer in existence and this is a national crisis of note. We need to recover the bits and pieces we can and then develop new national capacity,” says Turton…

“Nowhere else in the world is this happening so we cannot turn to other countries and say: ‘Please help us’. We as a nation will be required to solve this problem as a nation. This is where national science councils come in. They are national assets, but the current funding models are so restrictive that their potential is being reduced and the capacity they have is being privatised.”

The privatisation of national resources like the CSIR was begun under the National Party government in the 1980s, and has continued under the Thatcherist policies of the ANC. One of the reasons that our water supply has deteriorated under privatisation is that nobody stands to make a lot of money out of water research.

And only when it is actually staring them in the face do Christian leaders publicly speak out, and then mostly against the symptoms, not about the causes of the disease, which has been growing unchecked in the Western world since the 1980s, and metastatising throughout the world through globalisation.

Roman Pope’s Australian visit a disaster

When the Pope of Rome visited Australia for World Youth Day recently, some people were deeply disappointed at the result.

Faith and Theology: A miracle on World Youth Day:

according to a report in The Weekend Australian, the hundreds of thousands of Catholic pilgrims have been a major economic disappointment: “The deathly retail silence contrasts with optimistic predictions of a ‘bumper week’ of trade by the state Government and the local chambers of commerce. A jewellery shop reported one sale in the week: a cross. New South Wales Business Chamber chief executive Kevin MacDonald had predicted a $231 million boost for business, or $1155 per expected visitor. But traders reported pilgrims unwilling to spend, even haggling over the price of one banana. Clothing store John Serafino said the Pope’s visit was ‘a disaster’.”

As Ben Myers reports, Pope Benedict XVI spoke against the worship of the “false gods” of “material possessions, possessive love, or power.” And he asked: “How many voices in our materialist society tell us that happiness is to be found by acquiring as many possessions and luxuries as we can? But this is to make possessions into a false god. Instead of bringing life, they bring death.”

So really, what did the Mammon cultists expect? Faith and Theology: A miracle on World Youth Day

November Synchroblog: money and the church

The theme for this month’s Synchroblog is Money and the Church.

I have posted my contribution this month at The Church and Money on my Khanya blog.

Here are the links to all the contributions:

The Check That Controls at Igneous Quill
Pushing The Camel: Why there might be more rich people in Heaven than in your local Church at Fernando’s desk
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz at Hello Said Jenelle
Zaque at Johnny Beloved
Walking with the Camels at Calacirian
Greed and Bitterness: Why Nobody’s Got it Right About Money and The Church at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Wealth Amidst Powers at Theocity
Money and the Church: A Fulltime Story at The Pursuit
But I Gave at Church at The Assembling of the Church
Moving Out of Jesus Neighborhood at Be the Revolution
Money and the Church: why the big fuss? at Mike’s Musings
Coffee Hour Morality at One Hand Clapping
Bling Bling in the Holy of Holies at In Reba’s World
Magazinial Outreach at Decompressing Faith
Money’s too tight to mention at Out of the Cocoon
Bullshit at The Agent B Files
The Bourgeois Elephant in the Missional/Emergent Living Room at Headspace
When the Church Gives at Payneful Memories
Who, or What, Do You Worship at at Charis Shalom
Greed at Hollow Again
Silver and Gold Have We – Oops! at Subversive Influence
The Church and Money at Khanya
Tithe Schmithe at Discombobula

Liberalism, neoliberalism and neocons

Since electronic communication made it possible to communicate regularly and frequently with people in other continents I’ve discovered that many Americans seem to regard “classical liberalism” and neoliberalism as the same thing.

For most of my life I’ve regarded myself as a Liberal, and was for a time a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party until it was forced to disband by the Prohibition of Improper Interference Act.

But I was (and am) a political liberal, not an economic liberal. I had always thought that “classical liberalism” was primarily political liberalism, and though there was sometimes a connection with laissez faire economics, it was not a necessary connection. Neoliberalism refered to economic liberalism, pure and simple.

A recent post by Dionysius Stoned, on Foucault, Governmentality and Neoliberalism, has, however, helped to clarify things for me. In this post Dionysius Stoned says:

Lemke points out that Foucault’s lectures suggest two key points of disjuncture between classical liberalism and neoliberalism. The first concerns the relation between the state and the economy. Here Foucault points out that if classic liberalism, resting on “the historical experience of an overtly powerful and absolutist state”, had seen in the latter the role of ‘defining’ and ‘monitoring’ market freedom, this conception is “inverted” under the neoliberal model. Here, rather than the “state supervising the market,” the market becomes the organising principle underlying the state…[n]eoliberalism removes the limiting external principle and puts a regulatory and inner principle [of the market] in its place”. The second difference relates to the basis of government. Arguing that neoliberalisim takes as its “central point of reference and support” the figure of homo economicus, Foucault discussion goes on to show how this conception nevertheless departs from that of classic liberalism. Following off from the prior shift that recodes the social as the economic, neoliberalism enables the extension of economic precepts, “cost benefit calculations and market criteria”, to a whole spectrum of human practice. This conception of homo economicus – honing in on an image of an economically motivated individual who always makes decisions on the basis sound (“rational”) cost benefit analysis – no longer resembles that of the classic liberal philosophers. If the latter, moving from a reductive conception “man’s nature,” had believed that the “freedom of the individual is the technical precondition of rational government” – which government could not constrain without calling into question its own foundation – neoliberalism would no longer take as its point of reference “some pregiven human nature.” Lemke explains:

Neoliberalism no longer locates the rational principle for regulating and limiting the action of government in a natural freedom that we should all respect, but instead it posits an artificially arranged liberty: in the entrepreneurial and competitive behaviours of economic-rational individuals. Whereas in the classic liberal conception, homo oeconomiscus forms an external limits and the inviolable core of governmental action, in the neo-liberal thought of the Chicago school he becomes a behavioristically manipulable being and the correlative of a governmentality which systematically changes the variable “environment” and can rightly expects that individuals are characterised by “rational choice”

Now I’m not an economist and some of Foucault’s terminology is way beyond me (I can form no clear conception of a “discursive field”). But translating it into the terms of a discipline closer to home — theology — that tends to confirm what I have long thought: that neoliberalism is idolatry, because it seeks to make man bow down and worship economic forces and give them rule. It pretends not to do this, of course, by using the rhetoric of “rational choice”, but tends to assume that a “rational” choice is one governed mainly  by economic values and considerations.

Then there is another blog post, by “The Antidote”, on the subject of South Africa’s neoCon spin factory, from which it appears that neocons are practically indistinguishable from neoliberals. As with classical liberalism and laissez faire economics, I am not sure that there is a necessary connection between neocons and neoliberalism, but they seem to coincide most of the time.

And if you remove the “neo” it seems to make little difference either. American “liberals” and “conservatives” alike seem to have a penchant for bombing countries where the name of the capital city begins with B.

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