Free market idolatry

Brueggemann 2

An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture, Block, Brueggemnn and McKnight, Wiley.

In a recent online interview, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, co-author of An Other Kingdom, says America, and by implication the West, is ‘thick into idolatry’. One of these idols is free market ideology, which even infects the church. The OT prophets have acquired an image of doom and gloom but the modern prophets that author this book contrast the ‘realism’ that suggests free market ideology is simply the air we breathe with a biblically influenced imagination that can envisage something better.

Free market ideology promises to fulfil our needs, but instead creates ‘poverty, violence, ill health and fragile economic systems’ (and, we might add, fragile environmental systems). All these can seem inevitable by-products but the authors contrast them with slow food, slowing down, cooperation, silence and covenants. The last of these, covenant, is an alternative to the idea of contracts, which are based on law. Covenants work on trust, contributing not to a culture of suspicion, but of cooperation and openness. Jacques Ellul writes about similar things. He suggests that ‘the Kingdom’ in the Bible is about building relationships where we give rather than trade. In this environment we no longer operate in a climate of scarcity but in one of abundance. As Brueggemann has been preaching for years, these are not particularly radical interpretations, but simply part of the alternative kingdom envisaged by the OT prophets, and a reasonable alternative to plunging headlong off the cliff.

The authors here are also wary of the attitude that technology can fix any problem we have, which is ultimately based on human hubris. Technology has its place of course, but it can be a tyrant. Just look at how we feel it is ‘necessary’ to be constantly updating our mobile phones. The authors offer the example of the Amish (who may end up having the last laugh). They aren’t, they say, against all forms of technology. That is a caricature. The Amish make a point of considering technological innovations seriously, measuring the worth of the technology against the good of their society.

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