There are far more complexities at work in this post than I am prepared to handle, but I expect I have insights that prove important for shaping a number of other conversations. This is a chance for me to highlight them. Hopefully I will be able to build on them and refer back to this post as needed as I venture into those others as well. Yet in the meantime, there is this one, and it is worthy of concern in its own rite, I think. So here goes…
I am like a fish in the water that does not know what water is … really. Or maybe I am like a lobster in a boiling pot that starts at lukewarm and gets hotter over time, except the over time part in this metaphor stretches back over multiple generations. I have inherited a lot of my worldview which I am now challenging, and that means bucking the airtight things my parents gave me too.
There are also many aspects of American life that overlap. We are not merely a capitalist culture/economy; we are also democratic, predominately white, innovative, patriotic, and number of other things which at some points become hard to distinguish. Americans have built a government separated from religion to the best of our ability, yet that is not nearly as simple as it looks. As N.T. Wright once pointed out, Europeans have an official joining of church and state, while Americans have an official separation of church and state, and yet neither one of those statements are nearly as clear as they seem on the surface.
So there is a lot of convoluted processes at work in my observations, and no doubt I will not be skilled at delineating them thoroughly. For one thing, like the fish in the water, I am way too subjective to see this stuff with great clarity. But, I nonetheless cogitate on these matters frequently, and I have things to say which may begin to provide handles on these subjects which we had not previously grasped. Therefore, I invite feedback! And hope that we can shape up these thoughts as we talk about them.
I am a communist trapped in a capitalist’s body.
That is not an accurate statement at all. It is a creative way of stating things. I think it captures the essence of my subject, but leaves a clear defining statement entirely open ended.
I recall when I was young, probably a teenager, that Geraldo Rivera had a talk show on TV (got his nose broken for ratings on it) that once (or maybe dozens of times) featured a person describing themselves as “a woman trapped in a man’s body.” Today we have clearly defined terms for numerous sexual orientation and gender identity phenomena which are closely related to that idea – not the least “transgendered.”
I don’t happen to carry a little, updated handbook of appropriate terminologies for these things, and I am old school enough to remember when “gay” meant “happy” no matter your orientation. Therefore in my view the little handbook needs updated all the time, with new editions faster than I care to keep up with, thus I use outdated terminology, and ask you to bear with me on that too.
Point being, before the “correct terms” were invented, the very sloppy phraseology about a “woman trapped in a man’s body” had to suffice, and though I thought then that I understood the meaning, I did not. Not really.
For instance, I heard a comedian claim he was a “lesbian trapped in a man’s body” once, and I thought the statement was hilarious. I pulled that funny line out of my hat a few times too! It made people laugh, and I thought I was hot stuff for saying it until I then heard of a person on Geraldo Rivera’s show who claimed to be a “lesbian trapped in a man’s body” who was seeking a sex change in order to be an actual lesbian! Then I saw just how technical all that can be.
I am to a point now that I wonder what it means, socially speaking, to be a “man” at all. What exactly is a man? What exactly is a woman? (Don’t get me started on what should and shouldn’t constitute a legal marriage!) In today’s context, it is hard to know… I mean… because I have very clear ideas about what it means to be a man in 1950’s America and/or the Bible. But I think it’s all up for grabs today.
I hope I am not coming across as contemptuous about this stuff. I recognize that real people have really powerful feelings associated with this stuff which I neither want to belittle NOR indulge. I can only speak on THESE things from my own experience and feelings since I have not devoted any objective research into them. But I happen to live in this world too, and supposedly my opinion on these things matters as much as anyone else in this “free country.”
Okay… so why am I digressing into all this sex stuff?
Basically to demonstrate both the loose nature of the subject matter AND my subjective place in it. I also see the high potential for offense or hurt feelings as well as all the misunderstanding, and I tap into the sex matters where there is, I think, a much more firmly established conversation about having sensitivities for other people’s feelings. Maybe we can apply some of those insights to our conversation about more political things. I am old school, on some things and not on others. I have my own ideas, they almost certainly are not yours. I expect we will need to treat my discussion of communism and capitalism with similar care – IF we want to go forward together.
Look. There is a difference between being insensitive, mean, fearful, and hateful. To a large degree, the difference has to do with the amount of investment I have in an opinion. But there is more to it than that, and I cannot, at present, account for all of it. Thus I appeal to a sense of grace with my readers here. If you feel slighted by something said here, please test the waters. Don’t have kneejerk reactions, recoil, and either run off or blast away at me. I am OPEN, as I said above, to your help in shaping up these ideas. Doesn’t mean you will persuade me, but I will try to really listen as I weigh the evidence.
Communism in a Capitalist Society
Technically, I am not trapped in a capitalist’s body; I am trapped in a capitalist culture/society. Just saying it that way helps to clear up a lot of technicalities for this conversation. One might wonder why I entitle the post otherwise, and I think really the way I entitle the post does more to hook your attention and get your own visceral reaction. That is dangerous, but if you are still reading this far, surely you are willing to simmer down and consider responding carefully.
Let me go further down this path. I am not the kind of communist you are likely thinking of when you read even the technically clarified statement.
First off, I ASPIRE to communism; I am not, at present, actually practicing communism.
(I am imagining all the old school readers I might have attracted to this post who are clicking off right now! Or all the old school readers feeling the red in their faces beginning to boil up inside. If you are still here, please continue to bear with me a bit more. You may still be in utter disagreement with me at the end of this, but I don’t think the words I use thus far clearly represent me. I need to build more on them, and so if you are hot right now, you are hot about something you don’t yet understand.)
I aspire to communism, but capitalism is all I have ever really known. Capitalism is the economic oxygen my lungs know to breathe, like a fish in water can’t breathe the air above the surface. There is a certain kind of comfort I take living in a capitalist society. I know the rules, the mores, the norms, the customs and so forth – even though I am frequently on the losing end of it.
Okay, there are new dimensions of problems cropping up with that statement, now, and I know it. I just spoke of capitalism as if there is a winning end of it and a losing end. I am aware that are many friends and neighbors, as well as best-selling authors, lecturers, professors and so on, who have studied on these matters far more than me, and some of them speak of a pure kind of capitalism which is not corrupt with greed and abuses. I don’t know of any who claim this is the kind of capitalism we currently enjoy, but I am aware that there is at least a hypothetical capitalism which actually works for the masses and not just the few. I am also aware that the terminologies and the explanations of it are beyond my current level of understanding.
(There, I hope I averted a truckload of misunderstanding and potential hostility by saying that.)
So, back to the point of the paragraph before last: Even though I am on the losing end of much (if not all) of the capitalism as we currently experience it in America, I have come to take comfort in it. I like going to the nice grocery store where I get my ribeye steak wrapped in cellophane, kept fresh at an appropriate temperature, and where I get my milk and eggs, and literally hundreds of other needed and wanted items. I find it odd that my grocery store offers a concierge service and sets up a grand piano played by a musician wearing a tuxedo, but hey… okay. These are the gimmicks that go with creating business models which compete in free markets which are empowered by huge amounts of capital.
I really like my steak. I don’t want to have to grow it, kill it, butcher it, and store the whole animal. I just want the steak in the cellophane. I used to get it for $2.95, and I thought then I was getting robbed, but now I am happy when I can get it for $5.95.
And what is with that “$.95” bit? Who are we kidding??? That .95 is practically the next whole $1. Practically. But if the retailer backs off the price just one or five pennies, then they can make it appear that the steak is just $2 or $5 when really it’s practically $3 or $6!
It’s a game of perception. There is no actual lying going on here (at this point), but it’s not actually honest in the truest sense either. It’s a game. It’s an open secret. We are all in the know, but the effect still works. It works so well that you can’t find a business in all of this town, the next, or the one after that which sets the prices any other way. And that is because this little game works to the advantage of the sellers.
Technically we aren’t talking about corruption yet, but I am being screwed out of the next dollar on item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item after item in purchase after purchase after purchase after purchase after purchase after purchase after purchase in store after store after store after store after store after store, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year!
I am like a fish in water who can’t breathe the air beyond the surface!
Wanna talk about corruption?
I don’t really need to at this point. Just stay with the honest and fair ethical business and see it for what it is as plain as the nose on your face! My grocery store has a concierge service and a grand piano! What for???
It is the business model my store uses. It costs me more money to purchase my steak there because of this, but the management is banking that these perks make the store competitive with the other stores around town! (And I thought competition was meant to keep prices down! Turns out things aren’t as simple as that either.) So they factor in the price of a concierge service and a piano player into the steak! And I pay more for it!
Meanwhile, I work at a job where the boss has cut all manner of expenses so that she can be competitive in our business too. However, she has added a few superlative services too, perks she charges more for the customer to receive too, but my wage has stalled in an effort to keep our overhead down, and now that steak is not only more expensive, but it is cutting deeper into my budget percentage wise too.
AND YET I AM MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THIS LIFESTYLE than communist because I have an idea that communism automatically means standing in long lines for a simple loaf of bread with poor service and limited supply.
And I am talking about a capitalism where I have not even looked at corruption. This is what I am comfortable with assuming everyone is honest and ethical! I have comfort in THIS.
THUS, I ASPIRE to communism. I am not actually comfortable at all with communism. Communism does not honor my rugged individualism; it demands we all trust each other! I never have really experienced it. Even to the extent it looks attractive to me, the idea of switching over is so full of fear that it remains an aspiration, and not something I actually achieve or even work toward.
Secondly I am not aspiring to Russian or Chinese communism.
As it turns out, capitalism is not the only kind of economy that can be corrupted. Communism can be corrupted too – maybe with ever bit as bad a devastation as the capitalism.
When I was a kid, I used to hear people speak of “godless communism” sometimes, and while I am sure that phraseology bore the weight of sentiment and complexities which are largely foreign to us today, I nonetheless want to contrast the communism to which I aspire with those kinds of communism we both tend to have more familiarity with and more fear of. On the contrary, I aspire to biblical communism – particularly as we find in the book of Acts in the New Testament.
This is not the Marxism you have read about. This is the church! The church in Jerusalem, the foundation church of all churches, the one whose missionary efforts kicked off all missionary efforts and all churches everywhere. This is THAT church, and it is a poor church. This is a poor church, but apparently at least some of the congregants owned property, and they began selling all their property and giving the money to the church! And the church redistributed the wealth so that none of the poor lacked anything! And it appears they found success in this! Problems too, but success as well!
This is not godless communism, this is God’s communism. This is not capitalism of any kind, but it is the kind of economic practice we find pleasing to the Lord! This is the kind of economic practice we find pleasing to the Lord who came to SAVE THE WORLD. This economic practice, therefore, in some way or another enables, impacts, endorses, or embodies the salvation Jesus brings to the world! It is connected in some important way.
I don’t have it all figured out. I can’t see that deeply into it… just how it fits and what exactly drives it or what it drives. I have lots of questions, but I can plainly see it is a natural outgrowth of loving Jesus, and loving Jesus is involved in the redemption of all of creation! It is INVOLVED! Just how, I can’t explain, but I have some guesses.
I am thinking of the rich man who asks Jesus (Mark 10) how he can inherit eternal life. There is a lot there to explore in that exchange, much of it may well prove worthy of exploration as part of this discussion, but at the moment I draw your attention to the last bit where Jesus tells the man to sell all he owns, give it to the poor, count his riches in heaven and come follow Jesus – that part. I am thinking that the church in Jerusalem is somehow enacting that command. Perhaps with some variation, but the relationship between the command that rich man fails to follow and the following of a church that wasn’t, strictly speaking, biblically commanded to do it.
It occurs to me that the very obvious, though unspoken, fact about this teaching is that it quickly makes a poor man out of a rich man! THAT, I think, is what makes this teaching so hard. It is what makes excuses for not following this teaching so easy.
But what if we turned toward it?
This brings me back to all that comfort I keep finding in a capitalist system that is slowly screwing me, God, and everybody. I have comfort in it, which is actually quite ironic! And I have flat out dread and fear for the command Jesus lays on this rich man, which the church in Jerusalem as depicted in Acts 2 and 4 seems only too willing to follow.
Here is some more complexity for you…
This is CHURCH business, not state business. Never mind the fact that the United States officially separates church and state, AND never mind the fact that such a separation is more clear on paper than in reality. This is a Jesus THANG. It is for Jesus’s people. And somehow it appears to me that if Jesus’s people really put their money where his mouth is, then his salvation for the world begins to blossom in ways we cannot foresee, AND that a secular state will never even dare to imagine – won’t even try.
Thus I am in no way trying to overthrow the government we have either with revolt or with ballot initiatives. I don’t think there will ever come a day when we will successfully argue communism through the legislative process, nor do I think God wants us to try. I think, rather, God wants his church, his own people, to take the leap of faith into the eternal life he offers and somehow beyond that, beyond what probably we even dare to imagine, THAT will thwart the powers of darkness which corrupt both the capitalism we currently practice AND the communism produced in the East. But that requires faith to find out, in my estimation, and no calculation this side of that leap is going to bring the clarity that would possibly offer comfort too.
Meanwhile, whatever church(es) do this almost certainly will become poor. And that is what we find in the Jerusalem church. It is the very thing which seems to have scared the rich man out of following Jesus’s command – out of inheriting eternal life. And thus, it would seem without that witness to the world, the world goes on grasping at these other two options.
There is a LOT of speculation packed up in that on my part. But as I read the Bible and follow Jesus, this is the juncture where I find myself now. I speculate on these things in these ways.
I struggle like a communist trapped in a capitalist’s body. I am scared by the notion too.
Thus, I am open to being talked out of this.
So please… talk me out of this!
Otherwise, I might just take the Bible too seriously… it seems.