The Bourgeoisie and the Frustrations of Theology: Part 2, Life Before the Bourgeoisie

In my last post I made two claims:

1.) The rise of the bourgeoisie is giving theologians fits.

2.) The bourgeois identity and ethic is very resistant to change.

Let me unpack #1. Many theologians consider bourgeoisie existence to be a kind of spiritual failure. Its focus on personal discipline (e.g., piety, prudence, thrift, sobriety) and its role as the engine of market economies makes bourgeoisie existence a pale vision of what Christianity should be or aspire to. Thus, there are frequent theological calls to reclaim or rediscover an identity, ethic, or mode of living that pulls us out of bourgeoisie existence. Christian living is to be more than personal piety and self-control. The Kingdom of God should not be squeezed into the bourgeoisie work week. A Higher Time, a Liturgical Time, should rule our lives rather than punching the bourgeoisie timeclock.

But for over 200 years, from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution to this very day, these theological appeals ("Bourgeois existence is killing us!") have had little effect. Just why these appeals have had such little effect is the subject of this series.

And that brings me to #2 above. Why is bourgeoisie existence so resistant to change?

The answer to this question, to be argued across this post and the next, is this: The bourgeoisie have been then most effective psychological and sociological innovation the world has ever seen in creating both social peace and freedom from debilitating poverty. Consequently, any alternative mode of existence or identity will have to be equally if not more effective in creating peace and prosperity. For example, I have no doubt that many theological recommendations create, in local pockets, a greater sense of community and relationality. But it remains to be seen if those formulations are engines of social transformation, creating society-wide peace and prosperity for people both inside and outside the faith community.

But is it true that the bourgeoisie changed the world for the better? To make that argument let's start, in this post, by looking at life before the dawn of the bourgeoisie.

To make my argument I'd like to use the analysis of Gregory Clark in his book A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. Clark, a historical economist, makes the following argument: Life before 1800, in all cultures, was governed by what Clark calls the Malthusian Economy.

The central dynamic of a Malthusian Economy is that population growth and material living standards are negatively correlated. Specifically, with finite goods to go around living standards drop when the population grows. Conversely, when the population declines material living standards improve. There is more land, resources, and work to go around.

The trouble is as material living standards improve birth rates go up and death rates go down. Which means the population starts growing again. This pushes down material living conditions (poverty is created). As material living conditions get more pinched death rates start to exceed birth rates. The population declines. Once the population thins, material living conditions go back up. And the dynamic repeats. In short, the Malthusian Economy is governed by an equilibrium that keeps the population centered on what is known as the subsistence income. Clark shows that the subsistence income from ancient Babylon to England in 1800 has been remarkable stable.

Now here is the important point for our purposes. If population and material living standards are negatively correlated any force that increases the population (e.g., reduces death rates) is, in the long run, bad for the people. Population increases in the pre-1800 world drove standards of living down (i.e., created poverty) and created a Malthusian pinch. In short, anything ostensibly good (grew the population) was, in actuality, a long term bad thing. Conversely, anything that thinned or reduced a population (e.g, increased death rates) while seemingly a bad thing was, when viewed globally and across the long term, actually a good thing.

Think that through. Pre-1800 anything that drove death rates up created long term benefits for the people. Clark lists some of these Malthusian virtues (p. 37):

Bad sanitation
Harvest failures
Income inequality

Conversely, anything that decreased death rates was a Malthusian vice. Clark's list includes:

Parental solicitude
Income equality
Hard work

The logic here is hard to escape. If there are limited resources (only so much farm land or work to go around) then during a time of peace and hard work death rates drop, birth rates go up, and the population grows and grows and grows. The finite supply of work and food gets spread thinner and thinner. Poverty, disease, and class violence increase. Soon the population boom is lost to the bust created by plague, war, or chronic poverty.

I'd like for you to meditate upon this analysis and its implication for theology. In the Malthusian era a Christian "peaceable kingdom" ends up creating poverty and war. And this isn't the result of intrinsic human sinfulness. It's a birth rate issue. Peaceable kingdoms grow populations. And it doesn't matter how much you share in your church and have "all things in common." If the population keeps growing eventually you have nothing to share with.

In short, prior to the 1800s any attempt at Christian community is going to get snuffed out by Malthusian pressures. Love, pacifism, charity. They call create war and poverty.

Clark calls the Malthusian Economy the Malthusian Trap. And we can see why. Unless wealth is created we remain stuck in the Malthusian situation where good is bad and bad is good. The only way to get out of the Trap is to create wealth commensurate with population growth. If that can happen, if wealth can be created, then we can escape the Trap. Once out of the Trap the world looks more sane. Peace and charity come into their own as the virtues we know them to be: Good things for us and the world, short-term and long-term. But we have to get out of the Trap before that can happen. And guess who got us out of the Trap?

The bourgeoisie.

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31 thoughts on “The Bourgeoisie and the Frustrations of Theology: Part 2, Life Before the Bourgeoisie”

  1. Thus, using Scripture (set in a Malthusian world) as an ethical norm for the church today is problematic at best and dangerous at worst. Is that a fair leap within this line of thought? Derran

  2. Hi Derran,
    I'll unpack this more in the next post, but the argument runs like this:

    According to Clark, the Christian ethic was counter-productive pre-1800.

    Now, post-Industrial Revolution, the ethic does make sense but only because the bourgeoisie created and still maintain high levels of stability and prosperity. That is, the Christian ethic, to function on a broad scale, needs the bourgeoisie.

  3. Richard, interesting stuff. A few questions.

    What theologians do you have in mind here? I'm having a hard time identifying who they are.

    Second, how is theology related to the rise of the bourgeosie? Taylor doesn't just jump from Artistotle to Locke. The transitional figure for him is Dons Scotus, a theologian, and there is no Descartes without Aquinas. And isn't it Luther and Calvin who get a lot of the credit for ordinary time? In other words, have theologians been complicit in the rise? My sense is that theologians have not been frustrated for the past 200 years. During most of that time, they've been providing theological cover, and quite a few still do (they tend to be liberals and fundamentalists).

    Third, if this is as persistent and dominant as you suggest (and I think you're right, though Taylor thinks not quite as successful as some think), how does this correspond to what Stringfellow, Wink, et al, describe as a power. I think it fits. If it does, what would be the proper theological/ecclesial response?

    A final observation. There may be some who are pining to reclaim or rediscover some "ethic or identity," but not many. For instance, the new trinitarians are not simply recovering the cappadocians (there are problems with the view of monarchy, impassability, etc). Current trends in theology are too historically conscious to be restorationst. Context is huge. This is important for this discussion because few theologians could imagine that they could provide an ideal type that completely circumvents the details on the ground. They will have to move through the bourgeoisie, not around it. Most theologians these days are experimental theologians, which ought to make you happy.

  4. Thanks, Anonymous!

    So, if humans are the greatest value, according to our universals of "life,liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", then, how is limiting populations growth appropriate? or providing healthcare, or scientific research that has prolonged life? Both of these would seem to be "inappropriate to Mathusian thinking or goals the Mathusalen Trap is about universalizing what should be a personal choice...there can be no "good government apart from personal freedom".

    So, then, the personal freedom and values of pursuing one's own values of life, liberty and the pusuit of happiness can only be limited by virtue, which is "sharing interests". But, it is not only "sharing" but also choosing to limit one's interests economically.

    But, one cannot universally "judge" another's giving or gift of limitation, if voluntary service is of value. But, it is also about personal commitments to what is of greatest value in one's life, as to vocation, which also must be a voluntary limitation.

    So, the universals of life, liberty and the pusuit of happiness are to be the only universals, within lawful "rights of citizenship". It is not to be a universalized government's mandated form of "charitable service". Otherwise, it is no longer charity, but duty. Duty is a response to demands, which is not out of love, a free choice.

    And when government demands, individuals loose freedom, which is injustice! and in opposition to human rights.

    This complexity of issues concerning human values, world economics, virtue, and moral obligation is indeed an interesting and stimulating dialogue that is the ongoing diaglogue in free societies where it concerns policy. Limit the dialogue and you have dicatatorship, where not opposition is heard!!!

  5. Hi Mark,
    I guess I'd say: Every currently working theologian I'm reading. Plus, theology bloggers. Plus, theology professors. Plus, preachers.

    To verify that assessment I guess I'd ask you which theologians/preachers/professors go out of their way to praise the Western Identity and bourgeoisie work ethic? Based upon my reading, everyone is working over against those things.

    That isn't to say they uniformly find those things bad or evil, but it is to say that they don't want Christian living reduced to bourgeoisie life (working 9 to 5 and going to church on the weekend). If so, then the bourgeoisie is providing the counterpoint for a great deal of theological discourse going on today.

    As for Luther and Calvin, yes, the Reformers are complicit. They helped bring about the change. Going back to my first point, then, a great deal of modern theological discourse, to my eye, is attempting to correct for errors or overemphases made during the Reformation.

    Regarding Wink, Stringfellow and Yoder. This series is intended to problematize their projects. Why? Mainly just for the hell of it... :-)

  6. Richard
    Might be interesting to take a look at Alan Jacobs new piece in First Things, reviewing the new montacism movement, and questioning some of the same things as you, albiet coming to (I think) some different conclusions.


  7. The "ideal" though desirous, is not possible in the "real world" of politics. People in power decide what policy is to "be" and what that means as far as "needs" of the community or nation or people. Leadership is about setting the "vision".

    In America, we have always allowed even the "underdog" a voice in the discussion. And we didn't make demands upon his life and spiritualize it and call it "good".

    It seems the First Things article is talking about the relevancy of the Church for today. Although many may find solace in a certain sectarian viewpoint, it is not one that impacts at a great level. And whether one talks about universalizing values that are democratic, then there will be conflict, because there is no "one-sided" solution to the problems in the world...that is why we have discussions in philosophy that go on and on, non-end...and that is a theological "tool"....

    If one values the individual as a moral agent, does that necessarily mean that one is not charitable because that individual doesn't "do" or "live" by the same standards that someone else chooses to live by? This is why limiting one's views to Scripture is a hinderance to progress...

    But, if one values community, then does that mean that the individual ceases to have an independence in how he chooses to live his life, because the community 'sets and determines" the standards? In the political realm this is a sectarian view, or a socialist or communist view. One cannot get around the development of historical ideas and the impact that that has made on society. Otherwise, one must just live as the Amish and think they are living by ""god's standards"...or "live a boureogois life" and live by "god's standards". Who is living really by "god's standards"? Don't we all choose how we will live in free societies and if one chooses to live one way or another is not deemed as "independently" from "god". That is a heart issue, it seems to me...

    Politicizing the spiritual, and spiritualizing the political is what I think is wrong with the whole scenario. And in the hands of the "professionals", it is deemed as an instrument of "social construction", determining the course of history, and politics, but still must be with limitation upon "power" over the individual...politics is where things really happen, not in the religious realm disconnected from the political, but at the same time, not dissolved into the political...

    As far as the disciplines go, they may be helpful for those who choose to live their lives by a certain "means" of attaining a personal goal and attaining personal goals are the domain of leadership as well...

  8. Well, if not permanently, then we've got some thinking to do about what constitutes a "trap" and what constitutes "escaping from it."

    Seriously: what if what we think of as a "trap" is something more like an "orbit" or [dare we say it] an "attractor?" Escaping one of those generally means landing in another one, so perhaps the better question is, "what does discipleship look like in this attractor, that is, the one in which I actually live?"

    Is it possible that notions of "escaping" any sort of "trap" are sheer vanity and chasing after the wind?


  9. Hi Richard,

    You contend that the bourgeoisie existence is resistant to change because it has brought social peace and freedom.

    Perhaps it has brought social peace and freedom for those of us who live in countries where governments perpetuate violence.

    But I can't bring myself to describe the last century, one of the most violent in recorded history, as 'peaceful'.

    And still there are billions of people in the world living in material poverty - many more than those of us living in material prosperity.

    What are your thoughts?


  10. Peter,
    Thanks for the link. I enjoyed that article very much. Jacobs does seem to be struggling with some of what I'm struggling with here.

    qb, perhaps the better question is, "what does discipleship look like in this attractor, that is, the one in which I actually live?"

    I think that is right. That might be one way of looking at what I'm trying to do in this series, describe how discipleship looks like in this attractor.

    I understand your questions and some of the concerns behind them.

    I make this argument a lot and it generally provokes the questions you raise. I don't want to be mistaken to be saying that since peace and prosperity have come to more and more people that 1) The world is a great place, 2) Pockets of violence and poverty don't exist, or 3) We shouldn't become active agents in the world to fight poverty and end war. For some reason, in conversations I have, it's hard for people to hear me making the point about progress without then jumping to conclusions #1-#3.

    That said, I think, empirically speaking, the case for broad prosperity is pretty clear. Most of the people of the world have escaped the Malthusian Trap. And yet, crushing property does remain and we should, given our prosperity, feel more responsible than ever before to help rather than less. Our responsibility to the poor is driven by our prosperity. (In the Malthusian world it would have been difficult to get the peasants of the various nations to worry about famine in other parts of the world. They had their own famines to deal with.)

    Regarding violence. Just about every anthropological analysis regarding death by homicide or war converge upon a common conclusion: Our world is more peaceable than it has been in the past. (And, yes, these modern death rates include the deaths involved in both WW1 and WW2.) Death per thousand in modern bourgeoisie societies is around 0.01-0.07. Estimates pre-1800 and back to neolithic times typically range from 1.5 to as high as 15.0. Plus, a superficial reading of the Old Testament reveals shockingly high homicide rates in pre-industrial societies which makes the OT a moral embarrassment to modern Christian readers.

  11. Still with the Malthusian paradigm! Arrrggh!

    I don't accept your implicit assumption that the bourgeoisie are the driving force of society. I don't accept the idea that bourgeois society itself creates wealth either.

    A system in which the bourgeois have more power creates more wealth than a slave-based economy, a feudal economy, or an absolutist state. I'll accept that. It's possibly more peaceful than any of those options, too. But that could equally be because those groups which are the driving force of society, which produce and which create wealth have more freedom than they did in earlier forms of society. There are less restrictions on them, and a society in which the bourgeoisie thrive has to give them more power than for example feudal society had to.

    If that's the case, then there could be some form of society where they have more freedom still and are able to create even more wealth, escaping your beloved Malthusian dilemma entirely!

  12. Hi Richard,

    Just a couple thoughts. First, I'm curious about your statistic on the overall level of violence in the 20th century, only because I've heard conflicting information. But I have no idea what's true there, so I make no claim.

    Regardless, I'm not sure that it really matters whether we live in a relatively safe or dangerous world; as I read Scripture and understand Christ's call to follow him and embody God's kingdom, it seems that political, economic, and other social settings aren't really the primary concern.

    What I mean is, the Christian faith is always meant to be a witness to something "other" than the prevailing norms of society, within the context of Christ's life, which is now (supposedly) in us, his followers. A big part of that "otherness" involves Christians reaching out to those who are on the margins of society, calling them into a community that embodies hope and peace and love toward those who are routinely cut out of the picture.

    In my view -- and I submit that many of the theologians who are "opposed" to the bourgeoisie would say the same, though I have no support for this right now :-D -- the reaction against the bourgeoisie is not an attack against that social structure per se, but rather, it is a critique of what happens to be a prevailing social structure in this place, at this time. In another culture, the critique would be different.

    So, I guess I don't see this as a "boogieman" any more than I would see socialism as one, if it were to operate successfully in a different setting. I think it's easy to recognize the virtues of the so-called "protestant work ethic" and the wealth/peace that have come from the creation of the bourgeoisie. But, again, I don't think that's really the issue.

    The issue, it seems to me, is the problem of Christians believing that such a wealthy, peaceful world is a goal that supercedes the Christian Gospel. We have apparently determined that our safety and comfort are more important than really following Jesus' example. Which, I submit, is rooted in the real "boogieman" - our fear of death.

    All of our attempts to create a safe, prosperous world are a way to avoid dealing with our inevitable deaths, and the fact that Jesus, in some way, calls his followers to actually embrace death, believing that we will transcend it. This is the message that many Christians don't really believe. And I don't blame them... who wants to face death when life is good?

    But I think Christianity asks us to set aside our view of the "good life" and embrace something radically different. And that's the case regardless of the prevailing social system.

  13. Extremely fascinating stuff and really great takes from everyone.

    I don't know about you, but while contemplating this topic of discussion, my mind can't escape the reality imposed by our current economic crisis.

    It's as if we are about to witness some real life answers to how the Bourgeoisie vs. "community" paradigms resolve within what could be very drastic changes in the global economic landscape (whether we like it or not).

    It could be particularly interesting to see how things play out amongst Americans, and modern day American Christians as this unfolds.

    Gary Y.

  14. Hi Tim,
    Yes, I know the Malthus stuff is getting old. In my defense I saw this angle when I was doing my Original Sin series and, given its different thrust, figured it needed it own series. I promise, after this is done, to drop Malthus and move into very different waters. (My next series is going to be on the theology of Monsters.)

    But to your comment. I don't think the rise of the bourgeoisie is the only factor here. Technological advances were huge as were things like freedom. However, I think bourgeoisie were a critical feature and continue to be a keystone. More on this in the next post.

    Hi Geoff,
    Regarding the statistic. I took those exact numbers from a table compiled by Clark on p. 125 (where he is summarizing a couple of different sources). I'm also leaning on Lawrence Keeley's
    War before Civilization.

    To your bigger point, I'm in agreement with you. Generally, my posts are not indicative of my views. They are, rather, experiments. I take a thesis and push it. And very often I'm attracted to theses that seem out of vogue and need a friend. So the thesis I'm attracted to here is that maybe we've been a bit too harsh about the Western individualistic identity or the Christian bourgeois participation in market economies.

    I agree that Christians are citizens of a Kingdom that is not reducible to human projects (social, economic, or political). But I wonder about the consequences of a Yoder/Hauerwas stance that defines the Christian life as one of protest. What, I'm arguing, if the Power we are protesting is, in actuality, something good?

    Christianity existed before market economies so Christianity cannot, historically speaking, be anti-market or anti-bourgeoisie. I'd argue that Christianity shouldn't be anti-anything, at least not in a definitional way. That is, Christianity isn't defined by negation or protest to prevailing norms. Christianity must be something positive, something that infuses life into existing norms and practices. The trouble/temptation of this vision is that Christianity can get co-opted. In those cases protest makes sense. But I think many people fall into the temptation that the protest is the primary and defining Christian act. I think protest is a secondary facet of the Christian walk. So, I'd argue, the first act of Christianity is the love and redemption of the bourgeoisie. Infusing bourgeoisie existence with humanity. The secondary move would be to then monitor that approach by Christianity to locate places where Christianity is co-opted. As a biblical example, God allowed Israel to have a king. Nothing intrinsically wrong or Constantinian about kings or capitalism. But both the king and the markets need prophets. But the prophets come later. They are not the initial impulse. Christianity isn't defined as anti-King, anti-Constantine, anti-market.

    Or, at least that is what I think right here and right now. We'll see what I think tomorrow...

    I appreciate your comments.

    I've been thinking a lot about the current crisis as I write. It's hard not to think about it when writing about economics.

  15. I'm not sure I am understanding your note to Geoff.

    To the contrary, Christianity and its Judaic ancestry were/are fairly comprehensively defined by a pretty profound negation: the negation of all competing kingdoms. At the same time the prophets affirmed one God and his kingdom over all creation, they negated all alternatives, which were characterized by devotion to things material and carnal and all the rest. In the Sermon on the Mount, as well as throughout Matthew, we find Jesus defining the kingdom of God over against the kingdoms of Herod, of Caiaphas, and all the rest (E. Peterson does a fantastic job with this in _The Jesus Way_).

    As to [earthly] kings not being "intrinsically wrong," the author of I Samuel might be construed to
    disagree. That author's account of events leading up to the choosing of Saul is neither ambivalent nor ambiguous about it. Daring to use anachronistic categories, I'm thinking that the criticism of the peoples' impulse is grounded, in part, in the idea that we feel we must compete with one another (exemplified in phrases like "be like all the other nations" and "fight our battles").

    So I wonder where you get the idea that "Christianity must be something positive." The whole mythic trajectory in Genesis (of creation and fall, etc.), seem to be designed to show us how God's project of redemption is primarily restorative, an eternal negation of the kingdoms that tempt us from within the *ahem* Malthusian dilemma.

    Perhaps I'm not understanding you clearly, though.


  16. qb,
    I guess what I'm trying to argue against is defining Christianity as intrinsically a protest movement. Because if it is, then Christianity is always going to be parasitical, requiring a host to feed upon.

    I could be completely wrong about this, but I wonder, logically, about the implications of framing Christian living as inherently being one of contrast. Because what this implies, logically, is that when society gets something right, then Christian are either against it or they poop-poop the advance. I, personally, think the "world" gets a lot right, the way it got Civil Rights right before the church did in America. And when we see the world get it right Christianity should be able to come alongside it.

    This is probably not any more clear. But I'll keep trying.

  17. It seems that thinking through what Christian faith means as far as lifestyle is a hard "road" to tow, if one wants to understand it as a "culture"....

    qb seems to think, rightly so, that there is only a "holiness" or "corrective" view of Christianity. Christian faith is to address the "wrong" in society. This view has led to many division within the Church. But, that isn't new, either, as all religions divide in that way. it is a way to identify the "group's" distinctives.

    Richard are you wanting to understand a way to affirm the 'good' in the world as from God, while not dissolving Christian faith altogether...

    One seems to understand from scripture alone, while the other understands through nature, other disciplines, as well as scripture...

  18. Hi Richard, I am glad you are willing to push back on commonly held positions --- that's what makes your blog so great! :-)

    I'm going to take the opposite line though, and argue that the problem is that we haven't been harsh ENOUGH toward "the Western individualistic identity or the Christian bourgeois participation in market economies."

    This isn't to say that your point about Christianity not being reducible to a protest stance isn't valid; I think you're right on there. I was thinking you might be referring to Hauerwas, etc. My impression is that Yoder and Hauerwas have overplayed their hand a bit, but I still think their overall perspective has validity - since the Gospel is an "offense", it will always appear as a protest to some degree.

    I think that there is always good to be found in every system or structure -- if there was no good in them at all, they would not exist. That's the struggle... trying to separate the good from the evil within these very complex settings.

    But when I say we haven't been harsh enough, what I mean is that Christianity hasn't asserted that which is truly revolutionary about itself to its fullest extent. I agree that Christianity - if it is real - will/must "infuse life," but the irony or paradox (yes, I love Kierkegaard!) of Christianity appears to be that this life is infused precisely through sacrificial love. Life through death -- that is harsh... but it's harshest for Christians!

    What would sacrificial love toward the bourgeoisie look like? My guess is, it would not be very appealing, precisely because the models of western individualism and market economies ultimately cannot thrive in a community grounded in sacrificial love. But then, neither can any other human construction, as far as I can tell, because sacrificial love in a finite world ultimately seems to lead to the death of the one who loves.

    I like this statement you made: "the first act of Christianity is the love and redemption of the bourgeoisie." I just wonder how that might play out when the love and redemption mean sacrificing ourselves for the bourgeoisie...

    Hauerwas said something in a lecture I heard online -- (I'll paraphrase) that if Christianity is true, and resurrection is real, then every Christian could be wiped off the face of the earth, and Christianity would be resurrected in spite of that... could there be a sense in which that is exactly the type of redemption that humanity, and not just the bourgeois, needs? (I know this is a bit off topic, but I'm just thinking out loud...)

  19. Geoff's comment underscores where we "play out" our understanding of faith, I think.

    Is faith about social justice, meaning for those "outsiders" (however that is defined). And what does it mean to "include these outsiders"? Is it about "church memebership and ritual" or "economic justice"?

    Or, is faith about universal justice which involves ethics, human rights, etc.? This is where the progressive understands that the sacred/secular has collapsed, as there is no "traditional sectarian view that is exclusive", but an understanding of the "human", which is inclusive of the disciplines...

    That is the million dollar question and how we understand our it to be defined by an "outside source"? Or is faith about personal value and commitment?

    If the later, there is no formal disciplship model, as each individual seeks what he needs, himself, within community. It is not community determining for him what "he needs" and "force feeding him"...

  20. Hi Geoff,
    I can very much see your point. In the spirit of what you are talking about I think I'm trying to find a productive way forward. Like you say, we don't want to just totally get in bed with Western culture. I think I have a pretty realistic view of what both capitalism and individualism have brought about, the good, the bad, and the ugly. But in this series I'm also trying to push back on the opposite extreme, proclaiming that good, honest, hardworking folk, who participate, in their small way, in creating work and promoting peace have somehow failed miserably as Christians. It's not that they represent the ideal or the end goal, but I think some honor should come their way before we start criticizing and trying to "add value" to their lives, spiritually speaking.

    Following where I think you are going, the way forward isn't so much to eliminate the bourgeoisie, as a spiritual objective, but to come alongside, in an honoring way, and find an authentic mode of Christian living that respects hard work and family life without reducing Kingdom living to those pursuits (which is the temptation).

    The trouble with this is, where do the bourgeoisie find the time, given their lives, for these spiritual formation efforts? True, they need to create more time, but its always going to be a pinched and scarce resource.

  21. Yes, good points, Richard.

    Angie, just a thought: It seems to me that faith always has to be a "both/and" - because, primarily, faith is always defined by an "outside source" in the sense that is begins with and is sustained by God's revealed Logos, Christ. If that isn't the case, all we have are human, culturally-formed belief systems.

    On the other hand, God's revelation is always interpreted in a human setting, since there can be no other way for us to interpret it. And this reality requires the development of a faith community, in order to establish some agreed upon standard by which the life of faith can be developed.

    So, it seems that there will always be a tension between the personal and communal aspects of faith, and - I guess - a myriad of different examples of ways to approach this tension, all of which will have strengths and weaknesses.

  22. Geoff, the "logos" was a useful "tool" in a theologian's hands in ancient times to "teach" about a ethical lifestyle. It is not "divine revelation", but historical situatedness that was useful for "moral modelling".

    Historicizing the mythological and making it the standard does injustice to many, as there are various ways in which one can "work, play and live one's life" that is of value to the moral/ethical/faith interfact (that is, unless one wants to limit religious freedom, which our country was founded upon...)

    Today, with understanding that a free society is the best environment to develop ethically, because our values are such that we learn about diversity and are taught to hear the voice of the minority... Conforming to a standard is what religion is about and that means uniformity, not diversity.

    We are "spiritual/natural beings" by nature, so we haven't "become lost", or the "world" is not to be "redeemed" in the spritualized sense of the reformation. No, life is gifted and given for us.

    In the science/religion debate, we understand that faith is not about "doctrines", and "spiritual" apart from this world. No, it is about life itself, and life is individual. Therefore, we cannot look at the communal as the epitome of value. Otherwise, we do damage to the ethical, because social groups, for the most part identify themselves against another. That is unethical. And the group one belongs to, is the standaard of measurement...that goes for class, religion, race, etc...the ethical ideal I think is the human and humane, which our country life, libery and the pursuit of happiness..

  23. Geoff, the "logos" was a useful "tool" in a theologian's hands in ancient times to "teach" about a ethical lifestyle. It is not "divine revelation", but historical situatedness that was useful for "moral modelling".

    Historicizing the mythological and making it the standard does injustice to many, as there are various ways in which one can "work, play and live one's life" that is of value to the moral/ethical/faith interfact (that is, unless one wants to limit religious freedom, which our country was founded upon...)

    Today, with understanding that a free society is the best environment to develop ethically, because our values are such that we learn about diversity and are taught to hear the voice of the minority... Conforming to a standard is what religion is about and that means uniformity, not diversity.

    We are "spiritual/natural beings" by nature, so we haven't "become lost", or the "world" is not to be "redeemed" in the spritualized sense of the reformation. No, life is gifted and given for us.

    In the science/religion debate, we understand that faith is not about "doctrines", and "spiritual" apart from this world. No, it is about life itself, and life is individual. Therefore, we cannot look at the communal as the epitome of value. Otherwise, we do damage to the ethical, because social groups, for the most part identify themselves against another. That is unethical. And the group one belongs to, is the standaard of measurement...that goes for class, religion, race, etc...the ethical ideal I think is the human and humane, which our country life, libery and the pursuit of happiness..

  24. hmm... Angela, I disagree with just about everything you just said. Christ is not a mythological "tool", Christ is the real God-man. This does not mean I don't value a free society. I'm not sure why you're connecting those, other than an assumption you're making about reality.

    Do you have any basis for making these statements? Or is this just your own opinion? Opinions are certainly fine things, but a proper theological conversation needs to have some grounding, and I see no grounding other than a collection of absolute statements here, which is rather ironic, given your apparent distaste for absolute statements such as historicized standards.

  25. another quick thought: I think it's just as damaging to look to the individual for ethical example as to the community... It seems to me that simple phenomenological reflection would bear this out... seems like you're creating a false dichotomy?

  26. I agree with you as far as the individual being the epitome or totality of "moral model", as everyone is limited within their own frames. This is the very point about our understanding within our cultural context, which anthropology would support.

    Reality is understood within cultural contexts and "models" or "heroes" which represent values that are important to a culture, thus Christian faith has underwritten our "equal under law", as Jesus represented that "all were created equal", even those outside the scope of Roman citizenship or religious tradition. These understandings are within the psychological, sociological (cultural studies) and political arenas.

    The basis of Christian faith is a much disputed subject within scholarship, not just as history is concerned, but as to the sources themselves. Faith fills in the gaps where there is no complete coherent evidence, thus one's interpretaion will always be biased (as historians know).Understanding here is in Biblcal studies,ancient history, archeology, history of traditions, pscyhology of religion and the philosophy of religion areas.

    My own absolute claim about the relative nature of "truth", in understanding context, history, and understanding (interpretation). These are understood probably most within the new paradigm of neuroscience interfacing with biology and psychology.

    Tradition, which theology underwrites, has the means to "socialize" or acculturalize the ones within. The reason Christian faith is a universal one, is because of its universal message of humanity's equality. But, moral models within many contexts have represented the universal value of justice. Justice is represented in the humanities in the arenas of literature, and theatre, while another universal value is beauty, but beauty is not understood in universal ways, as it it a culturally interpreted value. But, the concept of beauty is a universal one...(but even justice is disputed as to its universal interpretation).

    These universals of beauty and justice point beyond themselves to something that is written within, at least the capacity of development...this is where moral development and education comes into importance....

    I hope that wasn't "all over the place", but this is where I am.

  27. I think the great thing about this blog is it's for people who are "all over the place!" :-)

    Certainly, it's true, all of our interpretations are limited and biased. I think there are lot of good thoughts to ponder in what you say, but I guess with regard to faith, I'm just not sure how to get past the reductive element of any explanation that is grounded in a human setting.

    Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but you seem to be reducing faith to an element of human existence (at least that's how I understood your comment about "something that is written within" us), and my question with that is always, "Then why add the spiritual/faith element at all? Why not just say it's all neuroscience/psychology/biology?"

    But, of course, the problem is then that if it's all reducible, then the 'something written' was/is simply written by us, which doesn't really get us anywhere.

    So... maybe I'm misunderstanding your point, but if I'm going to accept that faith has any value at all, then it seems to me that it must be grounded in something other than humanity.

  28. Geoff, I really appreciate your kind response, as I looked up your "profile" and understand you are getting a Ph.D. in theology. So, thanks for not exposing my ignorance too much, that is gentle of you...

    In regards to my thinking, agnositicism doesn't make claims about God, as agnostics understand that God, if he exists, is beyond our puny little minds. That doesn't mean that agnostics do not attempt to bring meaning into life by what they do...Agnostics run the gambit of any discipline, but their "commitment" is to their discipline/context, understanding that their context is a limited one...I think this is humility, whereas, making absolute claims about God is not humble or wise. Look at Job...

    So, whatever we choose to "do" in life is out of "faith" and commitment to personal value. Commitment to "value" is a personal one, as I don't believe that others can have "faith for you". One must come to terms with their life, and its choices and then determine where they life will play out its values.

    I do not believe that sectioning God off from a person's life is living a "holy" life, but as Richard has discussed here, that it is in the ordinary that one commits to the values. That is what brought us to where we are today. That doesn't mean that decisions might change, or even values might. But, it does mean that we all choose where we do business with those values...

    In regards to religion, or "how we understand God", some people have an innate desire, vision, or hope of "god". Some "feel" a "need" for God and seek to worship in certain ways. Religions all understand "god" in different ways, but all religions, unless they are primitive, understand that religion is about wisdom. And wisdom is about values, choices, discernment, etc.(I don't mean to sound patroninzing as I know you know, this. I am just explaining what I think.)

    I think the only way we understand religion really is not through theology, but through the other disciplines, because the other disciplines give speicified ways of understanding the "whole", whereas theology seeks to "be" the "whole". It would be nice to think that we cound come to terms with theology as uniting the disciplines. I have done some thinking and exploring aroudn the Quadralateral, which has some "promise", at least to my uneducated eyes. I don't think the promise lies in scripture, in an absolute way, as scripture is one way of seeing, but not the only way...Literature of all kinds does the "same thing"!

    Reductionism, or boiling things down to the lowest denominator, is not annihlating faith or religion, unless one is wanting to support a traditional religious understanding in exclusivist claims.

    Nature is the domain of God's creation. And how that is understood is various in religious traditions. But, things like art, music, and theatre are ways of understanding "concepts" that point beyond themselves to a "universal" "Something", which the religious describe as "god", while anyone else would enjoy these aspects of "the beyond". One doesn't have to be religious to be "worshipful".

    I think for what I have read of Augustine, he separated this world from the world to come, which is just a theological way of "giving hope" to those who suffered after the fall of Rome...the "City of God". Jewish tradition did not agree as to eternity. Eternal life was a Greek concept that was useful in theological thinking...again to give "hope", but it is not real reality, as we just don't know about "eternity". One can choose to believe in that "reality", but is is only by faith. I choose to remain uncommitted.

    Real reality is the in the political realm...and this is where we discuss government, politics/policy, and international relations...where humanity resides in this world, not the next!!!

  29. Hi Angie, sorry for my late response! Oh, and please don't think that just because I'm going to begin a PhD program this fall, that I'm any farther along than anyone! :-) I need reminders to be humble too, because it's too easy to be proud in academia.

    But, anyway, I think I understand what you're saying, and I completely agree with your comments regarding the necessity of humility, and the personal commitment necessary to faith.

    I think that the difference, as I see it, is that the Christian view of God tells us something quite different from most (all?) other religious and philosophical perspectives; namely, that it is NOT we who grasp God, but God who grasps us, because only God can accomplish the act of bringing humanity to Godself. Christian faith is the decision to live as though God grasps us, through faith in Jesus Christ.

    Now, as you say, one can choose to believe in that reality or not. But either way, one is making a faith claim. One says that the concept of the Christian God is reliable enough to place our hope, the other isn't convinced.

    Of course, regardless of which view one holds, we all have to try and live together on this planet, so I agree that studying other disciplines, and examining other perspectives, especially in the political realm, is vital. Too many Christians have forgotten Christ's basic message of love and peace.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion!

    Take care,


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