Thursday, August 6, 2015

NT Wright, "...this is the number one moral issue of our day"

With national election campaigns beginning in both Canada and the USA, and the first debate in each country overlapping tonight, here is an excerpt from NT Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, (Google Preview or Find in a Library) to remind us--if we, as followers of Jesus, are going to influence priorities--of where our focus should be.

Pages 216-219 (while this was published back in 2008, and the first symptom he mentions--third world debt--is less on the radar today, the massive economic imbalance has only grown). Bold mine:
As far as I can see, the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world, whose major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt. I have spoken about this many times over the last few years, and I have a sense that some of us, like old Wilberforce on the subject of slavery, are actually called to bore the pants off people by going on and on about it until eventually the point is taken and the world is changed. There are many good books on the subject from different points of view, and I don’t want to go into the arguments now. I simply want to record my conviction that this is the number one moral issue of our day. Sex matters enormously, but global justice matters far, far more. The present system of global debt is the real immoral scandal, the dirty little secret—or rather the dirty enormous secret—of glitzy, glossy Western capitalism. Whatever it takes, we must change this situation or stand condemned by subsequent history alongside those who supported slavery two centuries ago and those who supported the Nazis seventy years ago. It is that serious. I can’t develop the arguments here; I just want to make four brief comments, in light of the subject matter we have explored in this book, about the nature of the debates that you run into when you raise the subject. (I know this only too well: every time I write on these issues some commentators, usually in the United States, write to tell me that I should stick to Jesus and Paul and not meddle in economics and politics. Fortunately, there are plenty of others, in that country and elsewhere, who encourage me to keep going.)   
First, notice how the rhetoric regularly employed against the remission of global debts echoes the arguments used against the abolition of slavery. Read the writings of the eighteenth-century Quaker John Woolman (1720–1772). Read again the story of Wilberforce (1759–1833).2 The patronizing, temporizing, and sometimes bullying they had to put up with; the tone of voice that says, “We know how the world works; don’t bother us with moral arguments”; the powerful interests that lobbied the great and the good against them: all this is routine today as the Western global empire fights back against the cry for justice. But every time we put it off one more day, several hundred children die. And that’s just the start. We must learn, therefore, to recognize the complex arguments against debt remission as what they are. People tell you it’s a tricky and many-sided subject. Yes, it is; so was slavery. So are all major moral problems. The fact remains that what is now going on amounts to theft by the strong from the weak, by the rich from the poor. I am choosing my words carefully; read the literature and see. If a police officer catches a thief red-handed, the officer doesn’t need complicated arguments about the thief ’s motives, the complexities of the thief ’s and the victim’s intertwined economic situations, or any other prevarication; the important thing is to stop the thieving and stop it right away. In the light of this, we should learn to recognize the complex stories told by those with vested interests as corresponding closely to the complex stories told by the Sadducees to show how impossible it was to believe in the resurrection. Jesus’s answer was blunt and to the point: you’re wrong because you don’t know the Bible and you don’t know God’s power (Mark 12:24). Our response must be that because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus as an event within history, we believe that the living God has already begun the process of new creation, and what may seem impossible in human terms is possible to God.  
Thus when people object, as they do, to me and others pointing out that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer—by commenting that wealth is not finite, that statist and globalist solutions and handouts will merely strip the poor of their human dignity and vocation to work, and that all this will encourage the poor toward a sinful envy of the rich, a slothful escapism, and a counterproductive reliance on Caesar rather than God—I want to take such commentators to refugee camps, to villages where children die every day, to towns where most adults have already died of AIDS, and show them people who haven’t got the energy to be envious, who aren’t slothful because they are using all the energy they’ve got to wait in line for water and to care for each other, who know perfectly well that they don’t need handouts so much as justice. I know, and such people often know in their bones, that wealth isn’t a zero-sum game, but reading the collected works of F. A. Hayek in a comfortable chair in North America simply doesn’t address the moral questions of the twenty-first century.  

Unfortunately, last week I saw a poll suggesting that in the USA 58% of “white evangelicals” want Donald Trump to remain in the race (link; and, as another blogger pointed out, it comes as no surprise that less than 20% read their Bible on a daily basis: link).  It seems we are content with the same old politics:
The trick never ages, the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital-gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization efforts. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.   
(Thomas Frank, What's the Matter with Kansas? As quoted by Paul Krugman in The Conscience of a Liberal, p 176-177)

I think Brian Zahnd put it best (link):
Until you see the kingdom of God politics trumps everything.    
Which explains Christians supporting Trump over the Sermon on the Mount.

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