This responds to a reader request to reply to a Charles Eisenstein article.
Charles Eisenstein offers plenty of ideas for consideration. Whatever his familiarity with Christian theology, his brief article raises important points we need to hear. I say ‘raises’ because while not naming them specifically, he makes points with serious ramifications for Christians.
Mr. Eisenstein draws attention to the very inadequate expression we give to what theologians call ‘the fall.’ We have failed to trace its ramifications for society, for institutions and relations of power, political and economic life, church life, and for our interpersonal relations. He is acutely aware of the destructive import of this System [note his uppercase ‘S’] on our environment and on the dignity of life itself.
History and ‘the Powers’
Charles views history from the underside, from the perspective of what is endured every day under a dominance system. And if not writing from an Christian perspective [I have no idea what or whether Charles believes], he also names such ‘powers’ [Ro 8:38; Eph 1:21; 6:12; 1Pe 3:22, 5:8; Co 1:16] as Death and Fear. What’s more, he identifies ways they influence our lives and decisions, leading us to support the present dominance-system of world power. This is also a trait of Christus Victor.
The powers of this age understand very well the need for security, comfort and self-preservation run strong, and they manipulate these deep needs very effectively against broad swathes of society to secure our complicity to the System. Charles does his part to unmask this System. Bravo!
Insight from ‘Strange’ Sources
Charles Eisenstein’s analysis touches some key Marxian motifs – alienation, wage slavery, the contradiction between social and economic realities, and the impossibility of resolving outstanding crises under our present System. Without these words, he tells us that our present System of political economy is fundamentally incompatible with human being. As a Christian who is also a socialist, I appreciate all this.
Moreover, socialist writings in recent years document the rising crises in the mental health of the poor and working class population. Charles’ article labors to establish the same point. So again, there is much here that I find commendable as a Christian socialist.
Impotence and Guilty Complicity
Charles’ reference to the ‘divine plan’ as a ‘sop to the conscience’ is exasperating because it is true. Marx’ dictum ‘religion is the opiate of the people’ says the same thing. The Eastern Orthodox Church served to bind the conscience of people to the interests of the bourgeoisie. Whether it is the Russian Orthodox Church, the broader Evangelical community, or Christian Fundamentalists, the ecclesial community which reinforces the dominating hold of an oligarchy even as it spreads rot, injustice, systemic horror, vanishes dissidents and employs child labor – that is no true church. It cannot be an agent of deliverance from this earthly domination System because it itself is enslaved/devoted to the service of that System.
While it has potential merit, I’m less than comfortable with Charles’ ‘withdraw to recuperate and reengage’ strategy. I felt that the response was not the article’s strongest point. I also sense that he intentionally writes with a peaceable hand. Effectively he says, ‘if you disagree with my basic premises, we really have no basis for discussion…’ Still, that itself is a rare and beautiful thing, and such a spirit must be honored.
Guiding Strategy Needed
With only one article plus his ‘Sacred Economics’ I am no authority on Mr. Eisenstein’s work. But I feel that a more rigorous response to the class roots of Systemic injustices would serve us better.
Mr. Eisenstein is not ignorant of Marxian analysis. His article relates private ownership and accumulation of vast wealth both in ancient Rome and in our day alike. He knows that under this arrangement, the poor and landless are disenfranchised and left with only their labor [compensated on most meager terms]. He also sees that our institutions [education, etc.] are shaped by those with power to support the System.
Charles Eisenstein is clear that injustice never happens in a vacuum. Yet for me, his article has a Pollyanna-ish feel about it. Human development and excitement, and the innate dignity of each individual are invaluable insights. But the genuine change that he wants at some point requires confronting the ownership/banking/finance/investment class which runs the political apparatus in Capitalist nations around the globe. After all, it is they which — in their respective societies — organize life in the very ways that produce the very conditions that he so ably describes.
Can Christians do Better
For that weakness, Charles Eisenstein calls us to affirm the better purpose for which we know we exist. And to pursue that is an act of rebellion no less than is genuine prayer, supported by faithful action. Perhaps that is why he entitled his article, ‘Mutiny of the Soul.’ It aptly fits the calling of the Christian in response to the powers of this age.
Be aware that Charles’ article is followed by a second. And I would make the same observations there. He speaks of…
‘military occupation, confinement feedlots, the War on Drugs, economic austerity … [and] the whole apparatus of domination and control.’
Of the book, ‘A Mind of Your Own,’ he adds:
‘I hope it reaches the many revolutionaries-in-the-making among the depressed, the anxious, the addicted – everyone who rebels against the story that rules our world.’
But again, nothing specific on class struggle, which is essentially what he describes in his two articles.