The Barton St. Mary's In Depth group brought forward Reinhold Niebuhr as the discussion topic on Tuesday evening, packed with information about him and also about Walter Rauschenbusch and the current credit crunch.
It was one of the liveliest discussions we've had so far, probably because of the economics content and the analysis of how we are going to live where the manufacturing base is abroad even if owned by international companies and people here are not being paid to buy the products of industries abroad. We were buying cheap products using much credit, a massive world expansion in the velocity of money across debt assets that sent leverage into stratospherically mad proportions.
We thought that there is a danger that a small pick up in the economy might cause the loose money around - soon to be aided by 'quantum easing' (that is printing money) - to have a massive inflationary bubble kick in. My point was that the fiscal method needs to be used, that of sustained spending that is productive or will be productive at an upturn. Others, though, thought a whole different approach of sustainable living is more appropriate. For example, Iceland has effectively gone bust but the people there carry on their work as before to sustain their lives: it was the privatisation of the banks there and their immersion into the world markets of easy money making that led to the country's disaster. We too had an Iceland on Thames, a fantasy world of assets that weren't really there when the collapse came, and you cannot insure against collapse.
The theological issue was the kind of complex, corporate sin that Niebuhr identified, that no matter how morally intentional is an individual they are caught up in an economic system powered by greed. We had four bankers in front of a Commons Committee today, but even they were behaving systemically even if they are movers of the system.
Walter Rauschenbusch transplanted the biblical Kingdom of God directly to social and economic progress, but the equally pragmatic Niebuhr was much more pessimistic than that: even in good times Ford workers had alienating work. But this meant Niebuhr kept the gospel kerygma in which he believed in a condition of unrealised idealism, forcing marginal pragmatism and sometimes dialectical conflict that did overlap with Marxism.
Bultmann is next on March 10th and he is the last theologian we cover of the moderns who intended to be correctives of the nineteenth century liberals and yet related to contemporary society. He is much simpler to follow. After that comes a comparison of theology and other disciplines (it is written but does not have a separate web page existence yet): theology preserving itself rather than being open. Then, if I carry on presenting, I have to write some more starting with modern Anglican controversies that used these modern theologians - the label of liberalism applied when the theologies used were not liberal.