Sunday 7 February 2010

Archbishop from Wall Street

Expounded on Monday 01 February 2010

An adaptation of the Archbishop of Anglicanism's address at Unity Institute's 40th National Theological Conference on 'Anglicans Losing Assets: Building a Theology of Money and the Marketplace'

By Rowan Tree

In a developed capitalist economy all we can really do is sell our labour, but I have no idea how much I would be worth, if anything at all, and of course clergy receive a stipend rather than an income for doing anything in particular. And we cannot exactly go on strike with any effect. And talking about strikes, it is striking that in the gospel parables Jesus refers to selling one's labour, for example in the parable of from each according to his means to each according to his needs, and the parable of the talent contest, the dishonest air steward (for he could see into the future) and even the hole in my pocket so where's that coin - a story I love because it happens to me.

When Jesus discussed the economic superstructure and surplus value, he was deliberately trying not to be an idealist but see things entirely from the perspective of property and class relationships. But we can go further than Jesus in this respect and think what this all has to do with us as human beings in the modern capitalist economy. This is why I am here in spooky Episcopalian country, wondering where the hell all the Church of England assets went during the last crash. Who Madoff with the money?

Whether it is farming, family relationships, or public political life, economic relations have something to say to us, such as, 'Why have you got more than me?' and 'How did you fiddle your expenses for so long Mr Politician?' Now money is really a linguistic action, part of the story of being, and therefore a metaphor like all other things of being, and I was telling Jesus this the other day when praying to him. So being part of the superstructure of sociolinguistics, our money actually speaks, and it says about our human condition, that is without having to go down the road of idealism.

So here I am and greetings to you runaway Anglicans with a skin condition and those paler Episco puppies, but I am wondering whether to go Roman Catholic on Sunday. After all, in some dioceses, they are nearly bust but that's because they would do different unethical activities among some of the inhabitants of the choir stalls. But excuse me if it seems I am avoiding matters because I am here talking about contracts not covenants.

So what can theology not say to this conference that is not over narrow? In my view, it is not only about raising questions about the contribution of theology to economic decision-making and focusing on tackling matters regarding the common good, or pehaps questions to do with how this or that of the other grants or withholds liberty for the most disadvantaged or for that matter the most advantaged. These are obviously if not exclusively necessary matters, but we need also to look further with the greatest of care at what is being assumed. What is actually being actively promoted by our economic practices about human motivation, about character and integrity is a question I would like to ask and I therefore do, and to put the converse.

I therefore should suggest an answer, although let it be admitted that I am not an economist. But it's as if everything is economics, these days. Yes Jesus referred to economics, but it is not the be all and end all. Our culture, which must not consume our Gospel or worldwide Church ambitions, suggests that economic motivations, relationships, conventions and so on are what matters and the rest is going shopping and looking through the windows. Again it is the ongoing narrative, the socio-linguistic condition that orders relationships on such a narrow basis: the language of customer and provider has burrowed or perhaps borrowed its way into practically all areas of our social life, and I would add even education and health care (though of course I am Welsh and these were once beyond market considerations where I come from). Theology thus indicates that in such a narrative we become human capital and the most basic between one human being and another or one group and another is that of the carefully calibrated exchange rate that flashes around the world carelessly.

But we must hang on. Please do not jump out of the windows: the buildings here are very high. If someone talks to me and jumps out of the window of my palace, they will likely get a broken leg. Here, losing a lot of money and jumping out of the window can kill. So please use those fingertips well until someone can put a trampoline underneath. But we cannot let this all pervasive narrative do the reductionism that happens with that chap Dawkins and his biological anti-religious talk who sells a lot of books over here or the Freudian therapist that so many of you Americans go to see because apparently this economic lifestyle is too high pressured but then I wouldn't know anything about that would I, which is why I am here.

Traditional religious ethics, I would assess and evaluate (one being quantitative, the other qualitative); but then let's remove the blockage of religion from this, so that traditional ethics of any kind does not say ignore the hidden forces that Adam Smith discovered as an alternative to God's almighty hand. No; well one invisible hand does something and the other doesn't. Indeed. It just means expanding the language so that we become something more than units making pins on the production line. I refer you to Jesus's parable of the pin maker, in that yes he said you can make more pins in a day but my God it is so boring. Indeed so again, and what insight he had with his perfect knowledge, more perfect than any market Adam Smith might have perceived. Rather, human indifference curves should take into account far more that means we are not indifferent at all. Indeed my friend, who gets the Sacks, wrote about The Dignity of Difference. And he is Jewish, and we remember how Jews, removed from the centre of social, economic and productive life, were allowed to do the lending that the Bible restricted on Christians. Perhaps we can learn from our Muslim friends and the inevitability of Sharia economics. But rather, picture yourself as a single self-continuous agent who can make something distinctive out of all this material. In such a way, being a human self - again, let's not bring religion into this - is learning how to ask critical questions of your own habits and compulsions. Do you gamble? Do you have your hand in your pocket because your steering wheel is driving your nuts? Adjust how you act against compulsions in the light of a model of human behaviour, less Freudian and more theological, both individual and collective, that represents some fundamental truth about what humanity is for and which I am spelling out in the context of the sociolinguistic compulsive forces under consideration.

Put like this, or indeed any other way, it is possible to see the various balancing acts we engage in, when looking at loss and profit and the bottom line. Yes it is the calculations of self-interest and security, the resolution of buried treasure, and aspects of finding our way to a life that manifests something, something more than just the person as an economic slave. In using our language, we should imagine ourselves as more, using all the raw material supplies that biology or psychoanalysis or economics can generate for us without being reductionist, in the express hope that the images we generate can be based on matters more deeply in the psyche and have resonance and harmony like down in New Orleans or Graceland, with the rhythms of the street, with what Christians, and others, call the will and purpose of the God who took no part in this presentation although I did mention Jesus a few times or perhaps I didn't.

Tree is yet another Archbishop of Anglicanism.

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