Exorcisms are about Economics

Stanley Hauerwas has written that American Christianity has become "too spiritual." That is, the concerns of the church have become other-worldly, with Christians focusing their attention upon the afterlife and the status of their souls.

Such a focus tends to miss the political, social, and economic implications of the Kingdom of God and how the "Kingdom come on earth" might come into conflict with the way Babylon does business.

One way to see this conflict is to note how the biblical writers consistently conflate the spiritual and the political/economic when they speak of "the principalities and powers." As John Howard Yoder describes it:

[The powers are] religious structures (especially the religious undergirdings of stable ancient and primitive societies), intellectual structures ('ologies and 'isms), moral structures (codes and customs), political structures (the tyrant, the market, the school, the courts, race and nation). The totality is overwhelmingly broad.
Given this conflation of the spiritual, political, and economic I was struck last week while reading through the book of Acts how many of the riots associated with the proclamation of the gospel had nothing to do with spiritual issues, with who was going to heaven or hell. Rather, the threat of the gospel was in the area of economics. The scandel of the gospel had to do with its effect on the marketplace.
Acts 16.16-23a
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her.

When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice."

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison.
What an interesting story. Here exorcism has an economic impact. Demon possession is associated with economic exploitation. Evil spirits at work in the marketplace. God's Kingdom coming affecting the bottomline.

Here's another example:
Acts 19.23-30
About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty."

When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him.
This is also an interesting story. Here we see a conflation of idolatry and economics. Worshiping false gods is good for business. So when the Kingdom comes business is affected. The National god is praised ("Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!") but the root motive for this religious devotion is economics. You love the god of your nation because it's good for business. And you defend the god of your nation because that god provides the moral, religious, and traditional warrant for the way your nation does business.

Economics and demon possession. Business and spiritual slavery. National idolatry and the marketplace. It all mingles together.

Exorcisms, it seems, are about economics.

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23 thoughts on “Exorcisms are about Economics”

  1. I don't think by conflating the world systems to the "simple" is going to help unite the diverse ways of being in the world.

    You are basing "what should be" one the Bible as infallible in economic theory. This is the same as affirming creationism in the natural scientific realm...

  2. I'm not saying that bible has an "infallible economic theory." I don't think it has, properly speaking, an economic theory.

    What I'm saying is that the gospel puts questions marks beside all economic theories as locations of idolatry and spiritual enslavement.

  3. Then, you are supposing that

    1.) there is a God that is personally offended by such idolatry.

    2.) that the bible has The ethical way of living one's life.

    3.) this way of understanding the world is globalistic.


    Therefore, the way out is Marxist economic philosophy, where equality of material means is at issue. And world government should redistribute wealth according to need (as primitive Christianity would affirm).

    The poor and oppressed are the ONLY concerns of interest in the world, if one is concerned about "God" according to the biblical text.

    A 'biblical Christian" is the only "true Christianity".

  4. BTW,
    Even if one does adhere to this way of thinking, one must be willing to define what is "enough" materially or how we "should" care for our neighbor (taxation?). Then, we have a problem with moral policemen controlling everyone according to these standards of law. Isn't this close to what Islam believes about women, dress, behavior, etc. ETC.?

  5. Hey, if you haven't checked it out, you should read Ched Myers' commentary on Mark, "Binding the Strong Man". At least read his chapters on the exorcism stories of chapters 1 and 5. They will totally affirm all you just said. Peace!

  6. And I do agree that there should be a limitation upon CEOs. The people who work for these companies deserve to own an interest in the company. Many companies do this, as it increases motivation in their employees, for company success!

  7. Richard,
    I thought I'd check on how close to 200 followers you'd got today, and you (to my observation) just made it. Cool. And, congratulations!

    Since you're concerned by how quantifiable incentives affect persons religious motives in this post, and 200's an important limit for groups, I thought I'd note that your blog has passed a milestone that adds a new layer of interest...

  8. Angie, I don't see equality of wealth being an outcome being promoted in scripture. Certainly, Christ was very interested in helping the "poor." But we also need to understand the cultural context of those commands.

    Jesus was encouraging his followers to take up for the dispossessed, who in the Roman system were simply born into their station with no hope of ever rising above it. That's a far cry from the American economic system.

    As for the early church, they voluntarily gave amongst themselves as folks had need. There's no indication this was systematically managed or in any way mandated. Even Annanias and Sapphira were accountable to God, not the disciples for giving of their profits from the sale of property.

    I am personally accountable to God for how I use the resources and material wealth I've been blessed with. Any system that puts itself between me and God or between me and my fellow man limits or prevents the true value and fellowship that occurs with authentic charity.

  9. Cchapman321, you did an interesting thing in your concluding summary. Jesus wants us to give all we have "to him and his service." This in connection to the story of the rich young ruler. But in the story, Jesus says, "Sell all you have and give to the poor."

    I'm not entirely certain what difference it makes. But I am entirely certain that I always want to begin with the question, "What have we here? What does this actually say?" One of the problems I have as a Christian is the tendency to read the Bible with Christian eyes, bringing many presuppositions to the text. On one hand, I shan't complain about this; it is our sacred book and we read it as we read it. But on the other hand, it interferes with our ability to see what is right in front of us, what the text actually says.

    I'm not certain what difference it makes to say that Jesus wants us to give all "to him and his service," vs. saying that in this story, at least, Jesus did not frame it in terms of himself at all. I do not know. But I do know that there is a great difference in tone between having the admonition presented in terms of pure generosity and/or material divestment rather than devotional service to him. --Sean+

  10. If you allow the camel to slip his nose under the tent, do not be surprised to find yourself eventually scooping up behind him or her. qb

  11. There will always be class distinctions. It is inevitable, because there are some that don't consider making money as a value and there are some that don't have the aptitude to make money. But, it is also not the business of others to determine another individual's "place" because of these values or limitations.

    This is what I said. What I mean is exactly what you prescribe, in one is a Christian. But, today, we don't see this prescription. We see economic theory over-riding individual choice and value.

    Those that seek to impose their views upon another, no matter what "good" may come, are "out of order', according to our Constitution.

  12. @Richard. Have you read "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright? He uses a similar economic theory to explain how our understanding of God has changed over the centuries. The basic formula is that change happens when two parties of differing religious beliefs find that joining or yielding some parts of their theology results in a non-zero sum gain for both parties.

  13. Well, it will come as no surprise to you that qb thinks of markets as mechanisms for efficient allocation of resources. So the efficiency of trades, PER SE, causes qb no serious heartburn.

    Further, the algorithms on which these trade-bots are based did not emerge spontaneously (leaving aside the question of fuzzy logic and its role in adjusting algorithms on the fly); they are the fruit of somebody's thinking. And even in the case of adaptive networks and machine learning, even *that* is programmed, ultimately, by a human or group of humans. Efficiency of trading may be a problem, but it's a derivative problem, not a fundamental one.

    It seems to qb that the more fundamental issue is the question of actual connectedness, linkage, between the trader and the fundamental asset(s). Focusing on this, rather than efficiency per se, seems to allow us to consider both the nefarious "Quants" who trade in the derivatives ether-sphere AND the architects of bureaucratic, quasi-fascist (!) monstrosities like Fannie and Freddie.

    From currency to barter was the first major move that disconnected us from the assets we "trade." But it increased efficiency, and it lubricated wealth creation. Would you be inclined to say we should not have pursued efficiency in that way?

    So the question that interests qb the most has to do with the disconnect between trader and fundamental asset. A great example of this is the unintended consequence of ramping up our global demand for high-quality (meaning animal-derived) protein. Because we buy it in a supermarket, we are several layers removed from the fundamental asset, which is the land or ocean base that harvests sunlight and funnels it through the food chain up to fish, fowl, and beast. The natural result has been concentrated animal production, which is one of the betes noirs of the eco-footprint community. Still, I ate a nice breakfast with William Rees one November morning in Ames, IA, and he ate...bacon and eggs, butter and toast, California strawberries and melons from somewhere else. My piont is not hypocrisy - for the record, I categorically do NOT think of Dr. Rees as a hypocrite - but the complexity of ethical judgments in this whole sphere of economics.

    So there isn't a single bete noir here, I don't think. Efficiency certainly isn't one unto itself. The question for me is this: how, in the context of market economics' many demonstrable benefits (however contingent they might be, granted), might we reconnect trader with fundamental asset so that gambles with derivatives of derivatives of derivatives, as an example, actually pose a significant, even existential risk to the gambler? It is clear that we cannot rely solely on the ethical integrity of the trading community to achieve that.

    Some will argue that the market system itself is flawed. To that qb replies: of course it is. Even Churchill knew that.

    qb

  14. One other thing occurs to me with respect to the high-frequency trades. Short-term investments don't take capital out of play the way long-term investments do. So I'm not concerned about the quick buck; there's no obvious reason a quick buck can't be turned around to yield marginal wealth that can be devoted to long-term wealth. But the reverse is NOT true. So there's something here that needs a closer look.

    qb

  15. Point 2. As to bete noir's, I think I'm doing well at avoiding them. In fact all of my writing here is characterized by illuminating complexity. No?

  16. Well, not exactly, but the give-and-take is fun. When you speak of a feudal system, no amount of protest will persuade me that the terms that come from that frame are not epithets. Under the surface from the outset is the "feudal lord" and the "robber baron," terms that carry some *ahem* rhetorical force not far from the term "bete noir." Still, all in good fun.

    Your analogy to electrical circuits and cancer show only that running efficiently to the wrong endpiont is the tragedy, not that efficiency itself is the sole culprit. qb'd rather speak in terms of interacting causalities, with efficiency serving to intensify the effects of the interplay of more fundamental causes (such as disconnectedness, and lack of virtue)

  17. First in response to your last paragraph beginning, "Your analogy....

    If this is your analysis of my description as to how physical systems work--that I only showed that the problem lies in "end points being wrong"--then tomorrow morning, disconnect the black cable from your battery (the ground side of the electrical system) and see how far you get with your car. The two poles on your battery are not wrong ends, they are the "in" and "out" of energy flow; disconnect them from each other and energy stops flowing. Your statement makes me wonder how well you understand what it takes for physical reality to exist.

    Another thing I would correct, is that I didn't make analogies. What I did do though, is describe what it takes for something to exist in terms of a system; the way God fashions the basis for physical and biological existence.

    Our economy, on the other hand is the analogy; it is an artifact of our imagination, beliefs, and culture: Our economy doesn't emerge from nature, it emerges from our ideas. Still, as free as we are to create many kinds of economies, we still fall under a basic guideline, that whatever a natural system needs to thrive, a human economy will need it too.

    So to put it properly, we have to ask, what do we make our economy analogous to?

    We forget this, and pretty soon we make our ideas the crux of reality, rather than reality itself. In other words, we live by ideology: And Pharisees struggle with whether or not they should help their neighbor who's ox fell in a hole, and whether or not a woman can minister God's work in this world.

    As to your paragraph about my use of the concept of feudalism, let me say that I don't live in the same Rush Limbaugh world that I suspect you do. I didn't use the idea of feudalism to create rhetorical heat. I used it to see:

    In a comment elsewhere, I noted a change in my lifetime where business owners and executives scaled their pay to 10 times the lowest paid. Now that separation between high and low is in the 1000s times of difference. I'm not saying that feudalism is the only lens through which to look. I am asking though, if we do use that lens, will we get helpful insight? You seem to be answering no here. Why?

    There is no natural law that this wealth making discrepancy has to be so. The fact that it is so, is because we have created it that way out of the power of our imagination.

    What is beyond ideology are the requirements for physical and biological systems to exist and thrive. No human economy can shun those requirements and thrive or even exist.



    What you totally missed

  18. A) I think, quite rightfully, the idea that Communism or Socialism, are somehow Christian, is absurd.  Charity is giving of your own possessions, not taking of others, and dispersing it as you see fit.  

    B) I don't know where the idea that businessmen used to limit themselves to "10 times the pay of their lowest paid worker," came from, but, again, it has no basis in reality. 

    The wide assortment of luxury goods, yachts, mansions, etc which have existed throughout history, were not paid for w. 10 times the salary of the least paid employee.  Nor were the art, missions, libraries, schools, and public health programs paid for by such standards.

    Concentrations of capital are of value in an economic system - without them, it is not possible to make significant advances. 

  19. I would like to point out that there are some good thoughts here, but they are disingenuous. Idolatry is not demon-possession. We are in a fight against powers and principalities that hold our nations and countries captive through ideology, but we are also in a fight with real beings that sometimes take control over our actions. This is literal, not something figurative or ephemeral.


    As a missionary in a foreign country, I have had the privilege to interact with church leaders in other countries that do not hold so tightly to the naturalist epistemology we have in the United States. One day, one church leader told me a story about a woman they had baptized. The same week they baptized her, she called him to tell him that she could not pray, no matter how hard she tried. This leader then went with another Christian to her house to pray with her. She still could not pray. So they started searching through her house. My friend found a very frightening book of witchcraft hidden in the wall. Then the lady started to manifest an evil spirit. He told me her eyeballs turned round and round in her head and she flew back and forth, banging against the walls. It took a lot of prayer and patience, but they eventually were able to cast the evil spirit out of her. This person was my mentor for a long time; I have no reason to believe he is a liar. One day at this leader's church, someone picked some papers that someone who had attended the worship service left. They were papers full of blasphemies against God.


    My wife is also from the third world and has seen those kinds of things. I tell this anecdote to remind everyone that we do not need to get too cute with all of this. Yes, we are in a fight with the powers and principalities. But this fight is also on a personal level with those that we try to disciple as well. They may be dealing with sexual abuse, drugs, or hidden things that are horrifying. These things might be chains on their lives, and must be dealt with through the authority that Jesus has, and has imparted to us. We can fight the political battles the same way Paul did--one person at a time. If one becomes a true disciple of Jesus, and another, and another, it can turn the tide politically. Of course, the more disciples we create, the more those powers will turn against us.

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