Toward Wholeness Blog

Golden Calves come in many forms – What are today’s idols?


“The Practice of the Wild” by Gary Snyder.  It’s not a book that most Christians are reading because Gary’s a Buddhist, but never mind.  I’m not interested in his Buddhism.  I’m interested in his ponderings over the intersection of old cultures and the maladies of the new because that subject touches on missions, globalism, and economics, subjects about which Christians should have Christian thoughts.  Gary, like the Christian farmer/poet Wendell Berry, is an advocate of localism, and does a marvelous job tracing the history of our modern world as we’ve travelled, step by step, away from localism towards centralization, what he calls a “five-hundred year war on subsistence living”.

He speaks of the “The Commons” which is the land between “the wilds” of high mountains, and the fully usable lands of the valleys.  Historically these lands “in between” were shared locally for the common good (it’s still this way in Switzerland and Austria, as sheep graze the highlands with wild mountain goats in the summer).  The commons were historically managed locally, with limits placed on how many grazing animals any single farmer could have out, in order to preserve the lands.

But this system has not worked well when the harvesters are no longer villagers/farmers, but giant corporations.  Read about the demise of the commons in England:  “From the 15th century on the landlord class, working with urban mercantile guilds and government offices, increasingly fenced off village held land and turned it over to…big wool corporations.  The arguments for enclosure in England –efficiency, higher production – ignored the sociological and ecological effects and serve to cripple the sustainable agriculture of some districts.”

One scholar points out that the ‘enclosures of the 18th century created a population of ‘rural homeless who were forced to become the world’s first industrial working class’ and he goes on to speak of the environmental damage as ‘England now has the least forest and wildlife of all the nations of Europe.’

One could argue that modernity and industrialization have not only given you and me computers to type on, they’ve won a war over subsistence living:  hunter gatherers, small local farms, and localized economies, all have been decimated by the forces of the free market.  “Get on board with industrialization, or get out of the way” has been the mantra from Seattle to Beijing.  It’s even linked, often, with Christianity.  This could be because we’ve drawn some conclusions:  If atheism leads to communism (look at Lenin, Stalin, et. al), the capitalism leads to God.  I can’t remember my logic class, but there’s something wrong with that kind of thinking, especially when one reads about the year of jubilee, which is sort of God’s way of saying that everything’s leased because ownership is never permanent.

What do you think of this?  I don’t know what I think, but I ponder how we’ve made some things in the Bible into metaphors and allegory, and I ask myself whether they should be…

  1. What if “the earth is the Lord’s” is more literal than we realize?  What if water isn’t ever to be a commodity to be sold, but rather a gift to be shared?  What if seeds aren’t supposed to be genetically modified, and then patented so that, if a seed blows onto your property and grows there, you’re liable for theft unless you buy it?  What if, though God’s clearly not against ownership and private property, the hospitality of strangers, travelers, and immigrants is to be taken more seriously, more literally than we do?  What if our version of Christianity has unwittingly begun with lots of economic assumptions that are not only ‘not in the Bible’, but actually run contrary to God’s generous plans?

  2. What if the story about the guy who builds extra towers for his grain is more literal than we take it to be?  We can go to a morning Bible study and consider this story, and reinforce the principles that are in it by talking about Jesus’ exhortation to not worry about the future and then, after praying, we’re somehow able to stick around at Starbucks, sipping our $4.00 drinks and talking about our 401-k plans, sharing investment tips and how we’re building our portfolios. Does this give anyone else pause, or only me?  Is anyone else thinking about investing more in KIVA and less in NYSE? I’m just asking, and I’m asking because I’m pondering.

“That author you quoted at the beginning is a Buddhist” is a very bad critique of this thought line friends, because the challenge to my assumptions doesn’t come from the author or book of paragraph one; it comes from reading the Bible while thinking about the resource wars in the Congo that are happening because there’s stuff there that’s needed to make ipads, and thinking about the disappearing small farms in America, and fragility of our global economic and environmental web as it presently stands.  I don’t have answers in this arena, I have questions.  I wonder if Jesus has something to say about all this, or if our economic assumptions are so inbred in us, that we’re simply too threatened by this line of thinking to even ponder it.

I love Jesus more than ever, am convinced that He is our only hope more than ever, am convinced the His Word is the only revelation with real answers and the only and final authority, and read my bible more than ever.  But I want to live faithfully, more than ever too, and am increasingly convinced that every generation of the church has had blind spots (remember the Crusades, the witch burnings, the inquisitions, the colonialism, the slavery?), and I’m starting to ask the question:  “What’s our blind spot?” as I ponder the myriad of maladies that define our local, national, and global systems.  May God give us the wisdom to see our idols, and the humility and courage to deal with them.

I welcome your thoughts

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