Category Archives: Economics

budgetary nihilism: a response to the deferral of foreign aid

Courtesy of the ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201305/r1115368_13599551.jpg

Yesterday I was privileged enough to have an article of mine appear on the ABC Religion and Ethics website.

The article is entitled Budgetary nihilism: Deferring foreign aid signals a distorted moral vision. It discusses the recent budgetary decision to defer Australia’s foreign aid commitments under the Millennium Development Goals to 2017–18.

[In this decision to defer our foreign aid commitments] there is, it seems to me, no clearer indication of the nihilism that now permeates politics, for what other than political nihilism could account for the moral obstinacy of diverting foreign aid to help cover a perceived budgetary shortfall? The obscenity of this decision is only compounded when one realises that this shortfall is itself a product of the irrational rhetoric and shameless opportunism of political parties scrambling to annihilate one another and appease a shrill and self-interested minority.

On top of all this, there is the inescapable irony that Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently assumed the role of co-chair of the UN Millennium Development Goal Advocacy Group, charged with “building political will, rallying additional support, and spurring collective action to achieve the [Millenium Development Goals] by 2015.” It is unclear how a leader of our country can do this with any integrity or credibility, given the immorality of one of the world’s most prosperous countries diverting promised money away from programs for the world’s most vulnerable people.

The piece goes on to discuss an approach to the underlying ethics of foreign aid, particularly from a Christian perspective.

The article was also discussed on ABC’s Radio National Drive program (in which I am referred to as a “fiery … obscure PhD student”, which made me laugh).

The article on ABC R&E is largely an updated version of my essay from this time last year (also in response to aid deferrals in the budget) entitled Foreign aid and moral vision.

Enjoy!

MCA

Feature image: http://www.abc.net.au/news/linkableblob/4689470/data/swan-gears-up-for-budget-data.jpg
Small image: http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201305/r1115368_13599551.jpg
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beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 3)

Other parts of this series:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury

Hans Burgkmair the Elder: ‘The Whore of Babylon’, 1523

In this, the third part of this study, I will discuss another of Revelation’s major characters, the Great Prostitute of chapter 17-18.

A PRIVILEGED MALE SPEAKING HARSHLY ABOUT A PROSTITUTE?
Now, before I begin, I must follow the wisdom of Howard-Brook and Gwyther[1] and comment on the fact that it is a privileged male from the First World who is about to talk about a prostitute.

Indeed, John’s negative use of the image of a prostitute has, in some circles, been very controversial for its patriarchal and sexist depiction. Feminist biblical scholar Tina Pippin claims the disembodiment of the Prostitute in Revelation 17:16 “points to the ultimate misogynist fantasy!”[2]
Pippin’s point is that these images can be quite dangerous, particularly in the hands of man who can exert power over the bodies of women. Howard-Brook and Gwyther point to the example of the church’s burning of women as “witches” as the consequence of taking these depictions as the “word of God”.[3]

It will not do for a male like myself to simply say that this language was a product of the time. This would be to pass over, and even excuse, the real pain, violence and degradation that many women across the world have felt because of the use and abuse of such passages. I must acknowledge this pain. My only response is to say that the images of women used by Revelation were not produced with the intent to legitimate violence against women. Faithfulness to the text requires that no reading ever contradict this intention.

Ultimately the image of the Prostitute in Revelation, though a product of a different time, is not about human women: as we shall see the image represents a city and an empire.

Revelation 17:1-14 (The Great Prostitute) Read the rest of this entry

deferring aid in 2012-13: embodying the alternative

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any group or organisation, including my employers, unless otherwise stated.

The 2012-13 Australian Federal budget, just announced, has incited an outcry from those in and around the aid and development sector who had hoped that the Labor Government would keep its promise to raise the overseas aid budget to 0.5% of GNI by 2015.

In the last fortnight the #DontCutAid hashtag has managed to trend consistently on Twitter as those passionate about alleviating poverty spoke out about Australia’s need to do its fair share. It seems that even in the face of a constant barrage of public messaging (and even public-funded major newspaper spreads) the Government decided to significantly reduce the proposed growth in the aid budget (by $2.9 billion) in order to bring the Federal budget back to surplus.

This insistence on bringing the budget back to surplus has been a recent hallmark not only of Australian economic matters but politics in general. Both sides of politics have communicated the need for a surplus as quickly as possible, and both have expressed a willingness to cut what is necessary to get there despite the widespread criticism of mainstream economists.

Some have called the trading of Australia’s aid commitment for a surplus “immoral” and have already shown signs of continuing to fight for increased aid in line with Australia’s commitment to the MDGs. Read the rest of this entry

sabbath economics in the smh

In case you didn’t catch it yesterday Ross Gittins had a great article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled What Jesus said about capitalism.

This article is particularly interesting in that it summarises some of the work of theologian Ched Myers. I have quoted or alluded to Ched’s work a number of times on this blog, and you can view those articles here.

In the past I have also written on “Sabbath Economics”, influenced by the work of Ched Myers – https://liferemixed.net/2011/01/24/thirdwayeconomics/.

The work of Ched Myers, launched by his commentary on Mark (Binding the Strong Man) back in 1988, was ahead of its time, and the academic world is, in my view, only catching up in the last few years. That commentary on Mark is, as far as I have read, the best and most important Western commentary on any biblical book in the last five decades. Ched’s little book, Sabbath Economics, which Gittins wrote about in the above article, is well worth a read, and is perhaps a good introduction to his work.

It is interesting that Gittins, writing in several major newspapers, concludes his article by saying:

This doesn’t mean Christ accepted poverty as an inevitable characteristic of the economy, or part of the divine plan. Rather, he says, the divine vision is that poverty be abolished, but as long as it persists, God and God’s people must always take the side of the poor – and be among them.

It seems that if they keep quiet the paper and ink will cry out!

If the Gittins article strikes a chord with you, make sure to get your hands on some of Ched’s work!

Lastly, Ross Gittins recently gave a talk at a TEAR Australia event about whether we have “Enough” in our economy, and what the future could look like. It is available for download here.

MCA

render unto caesar: to pay or not to pay?

[UPDATE: I have added a sequel to this post which explores my perspective on this passage.]

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they senttheir disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes toCaesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)

A Denarius from around the time of Jesus inscribed with the face of Caesar Tiberius.

This passage is one of those that garners a wide variety of interpretations. It is interesting that for most Westerners it is taken for granted that Jesus is saying his contemporaries should have faithfully paid their taxes to Caesar.

I think the way we read this passage is important, as it reveals so much about our attitude to the relationship of the Church and civil powers.

In this light I may, in the near future, offer a personal perspective on “Render unto Caesar”, but I acknowledge that in regards to this passage there is no real “gotcha!” argument in favour of any available interpretation. This means that we all need to do a little listening as we seek the truth together.

Did Jesus instruct his hearers to pay taxes to Caesar? What does the answer mean in regards to our modern world, given we live in the midst of a vastly different economic and political situation? Read the rest of this entry

is wealth God’s blessing to the righteous?

Is it true that God blesses the righteous with financial wealth? Does he want to bless you with such wealth?

I’ve been a Christian for little over a decade and I’ve heard such a perspective propagated dozens of times in a wide variety of denominational backgrounds – God wants his people to be rich, and financial and material wealth is a form of his blessing.

This view is normally derived from the Old Testament, particularly from the stories of Abraham and his family. It is true, God does indeed bless Abraham and his sons with wealth:

And the LORD has blessed my master greatly; and he is become great: and he has given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses. (Genesis 24:35)

Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. (Genesis 26:12–13)

There is no getting around the fact that wealth is here viewed as God’s blessing by the author. However there is no definitive reason to view these reports as constituting a prescription for us. Read the rest of this entry

“enough is enough”: walter brueggemann on abundance and scarcity

Below is an article by Walter Brueggemann entitled “Enough is Enough”. Brueggemann is a world-renowned Old Testament scholar, prolific author and a prophetic voice in a world dying for lack of imagination. I don’t normally post exterior articles, but this is more than worth the exception.

Source: The Other Side, November-December 2001, Vol. 37, No. 5.

Enough is Enough

“In feeding the hungry crowd, Jesus reminds us that the wounds of scarcity can be healed only by faith in God’s promise of abundance. “
by Walter Brueggemann

We live in a world where the gap between scarcity and abundance grows wider every day. Whether at the level of nations or neighborhoods, this widening gap is polarizing people, making each camp more and more suspicious and antagonistic toward the other.

But the peculiar thing, at least from a biblical perspective, is that the rich – the ones with the abundance – rely on an ideology of scarcity, while the poor – the ones suffering from scarcity – rely on an ideology of abundance. How can that be? The issue involves whether there is enough to go around – enough food, water, shelter, space. An ideology of scarcity says no, there’s not enough, so hold onto what you have. In fact, don’t just hold onto it, hoard it. Put aside more than you need, so that if you do need it, it will be there, even if others must do without. Read the rest of this entry

the best ways to fight poverty – really???: a response to mark galli

The following post is a response to an article in Christianity Today entitled “The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really” by Mark Galli (editor). It is worth reading Mark’s article before launching into mine.

The Better Ways to Fight Poverty – Really: A Response to Mark Galli

In Christianity Today’s February issue Cover Story, “The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really“, Mark Galli offers a thought-provoking sketch of the current state of global poverty and a generous critique of action on poverty within the Church.

Galli’s insights, however, are undermined by a number of critical flaws, notably his understanding of development, global poverty trends and the intersection of eschatology and Christian and ecclesial practice. Perhaps most concerning is Galli’s interpretation of poverty and Christian action within the biblical narrative.

There is no doubting Galli’s concern for Christians to engage with the poor. “It would be foolish to stop caring for the poor,” he says, “We are not called to obey Jesus only if our efforts are guaranteed to make a difference.” To that I say, Amen.

Galli, however, goes on to suggest that such Christian engagement with the poor is meant to be personal, in the sense that it should not attempt to go beyond the level of individual charity into the realm of “national and global initiatives”. In other words, Galli does not believe it is the task of the Church to attempt to end poverty, but merely to bind the wounds of those who must endure it. Read the rest of this entry

q&r: luke 19 and the parable of the minas

A Facebook message I received today read simply:

Luke 19 – parable of the 10 Minas. Please explain?

Straightforward. I like that.

The Parable of the Ten Minas is a well-known parable whose popular interpretation has God as the nobleman and Christians as the servants. In this reading faithful servants are those who are productive. We all have different levels of resources, and this is taken into account by God. Ultimately though the faithful are rewarded and the unproductive are punished.*

The problem with this reading is that it portrays God as a cold, cruel, greedy elitist. It assumes that the nobleman in the parable, who is a wealthy character, should be equated with God. As I have said previously this is a mistake; Luke consistently portrays the rich in less than flattering ways throughout his Gospel:

  • … he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (1:53)
  • … woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. (6:24)
  • … the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God. (12:21)

It would be strange if Luke suddenly equated God with a rich man.

If the nobleman is not God, and the story is not about productivity, what exactly is going on in this parable? Read the rest of this entry

an interpretation of the shrewd manager in luke 16

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-13) is, in the words of Leon Morris, “… one of the most difficult of all the parables to interpret.”*

Most people with whom I have discussed this parable have little to no idea as to what it might mean. Indeed the idea that a dishonest person is commended is troubling at the very least.

The most common solution I have heard is that Jesus is saying we should be wise with our resources and opportunities just like the shrewd manager, to the point of using them dishonestly if necessary in order to get a good outcome.

Is this a fair interpretation?

I don’t think so.

Read the rest of this entry

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