29 September 2014

The Failure of the Academy: Politicization of Statistics and Definitions (Part 2 of 2)

We've reached a point where we have to start thinking a bit differently about money and how we live. I'm speaking to society as a whole. I'm hardly alone in this.

But more particularly I'm speaking to Christians.
For years we've been told by the Dave Ramsey's and Larry Burkett's that there's an ethical component to how we handle our money. And not a few will point out that economics was born from ethics.
It's true and yet I believe the modern Church and in particular the Church of the Western Democracies and especially the United States has got it wrong.
We've baptized avarice.
Protestantism has always been about progress and growth and in economic terms this has meant consumption, conquest and resource acquisition.
In the United States this worked for a long time. When the land became too crowded, hunted out or too exploited you could always pick up and move west. There was always virgin land on the horizon.
The frontier closed a century ago and since that time society and the economy have been forced to reinvent themselves several times. Eventually it's going to be one time too many and the system itself won't be able to reboot. It will crash.
In our complicated and fast moving world it wouldn't take much for this to happen.
Am I trying to be a fear-monger or alarmist?
No. If you think that, then you've missed my point. Empires fall and the world is ever changing. People have lived through hard times before and those days are bound to come again and may even be at the door.
I'm calling on Christians to think, be aware, and consider what we do and how we deal with these questions.
While Obama is president many Christians will scoff at the drop in unemployment numbers and claims of economic growth. And if growth is acknowledged it will be 'in spite of' the administration.
Fine. But these same people responded very differently when Bush was president and when it comes to Reagan they've embraced many myths and rather dubious interpretations of his time in office.
Their understanding of the world is political... not theological, not spiritual.
We should doubt and be sceptical. We should be careful and considerate. We need to revisit the issue of economics... how we think about it in terms of society as a whole and more importantly how we think about it in terms of our own lives.
But until we're honest with ourselves and until we're willing to approach these questions spiritually we can't get anywhere.
Recently I was listening to Tim Keller describing all work as holy cultivation. Our work builds the Kingdom of God. The millennial glory is contributed to and brought nearer by our cultural advancements and attainments. There was nothing too shocking about any of this, but then he did surprise me.
He is without a doubt trying to make a point but he insisted investment banking is holy and we will have investment banking in heaven.
Not only have I argued that Dominionism such as his is destructive and heretical but I have to digress from his basic definitions.
Keller explains that investment banking is recognizing a need, a gap, or a demand that's out there and filling that need by investing your capital.
I've heard many theologians give these types of ivory tower optimistic and idealized definitions. This is especially true when it comes to economics.
That is a type of definition of investment banking. But its real definition is closer to risking capital in order to make a profit... or pooling investors to make a profit and/or profiting off of the transaction that you set up for the investors.
The definition I'm offering isn't technical and that's deliberate. We can talk about the mechanics of a thing but that doesn't tell us what it is in terms of its essence and what it does in terms of ethics.
Keller's definition is unhelpful and actually on an ethical (and thus spiritual) level very naive or perhaps even dishonest.
But it fits nicely with his theological commitments and the agenda he's trying to promote.
This type of manipulation is in the end exactly what the government is doing.
In order to promote growth and for the Establishment to continue acquiring wealth.
In other words to attain and maintain power.
Why would Keller and his comrades do it? Why would they manipulate definitions and figures?
I would argue for the same reason. Their motives are political.
I don't like being deceived by the government and do all I can to encourage others to wake up to the reality.
But I must say the same is absolutely true when it comes to Keller and so many other Protestant leaders. They're doing the same thing.
In the end they're all trying to make merchandise (of one kind or another) out of the masses.
I don't blame Janet Yellen or Alan Greenspan. They're just lost people.
But what about Keller or so many like him? What's their excuse?
It is problematic when we as Christians look to the secular academy to define our terms and create our categories. Indeed we don't live in a sociological vacuum, we have to have some commonality in terms in order for there to be functional communication.
But, what we do with these terms, how we interact with them and apply them need to be quite different. This is antithesis applied, this is the renewed mind applying a genuine Christian worldview.
Today what passes for Christian worldview is often little more than theological rationalization of worldly concepts and political paradigms. This is also demonstrated in the somewhat stunning continuity in thought between the so-called Christian ideologues and their secular political allies. This ought not to be.
This phenomenon occurs on many fronts but it seems quite common when it comes to the realm of economics and especially its nexus with politics.
The academy tends to define concepts in terms of technical meaning and application... stripped of ethics. We of all people should understand when the academy does this they are providing little more than reductionist definitions. This is why they so often fail! They are divorced from the dynamics of human existence within a social framework. Their technical political and economic definitions cannot account for human responses ranging from greed and malice to altruism and fear. It's a model on paper that to the dismay of the academic functions very differently when applied to a real world situation.
In almost every case the ethical and thus spiritual application is missed and it follows that when the Church adopts these frameworks it is certain to not only get the sociological application wrong but the theological as well!