Freedom & community

All men are primitives, and unless something else intervenes, all societies remain primitive. With us, Christianity intervened. Christianity was the event that brought the new circumstances that changed everything. But Christianity is a faith. We are free to receive it or not. It has forced nothing on us. We have not left primitivism entirely behind. We are not angels. All our old instincts are still with us. We merely look forward to what is not yet in our possession or in our control, and it is this looking forward that makes the open society, the society which we call ‘modern’.
So you moderns have two gods – the Self and the State. You have the god of extreme individualism and the god of extreme Collectivism. Either you have Freedom but no community, or you have community but no freedom. I don’t worship either of these myself. I was baptised into the one community in which freedom and continuing personal identity are established. I recommend it to you. Save yourself. Flee from idols

Now, again, as ever, the West is faced by the society by the society that is an inverse copy of it. It is faced by the cult and society that promotes community over freedom, and indeed which has no room for freedom at all. It is opposed to freedom, and regards freedom as a mistake. Freedom is an error. The demand for freedom is the one pathology which the cult is committed to eradicating. The eradication of freedom. The collective is supreme, the individual is nothing. This cult and society has both borrowed from Christianity and Judaism, and stood Christianity and Judaism on their head. It has who have stood out against Christianity, and made themselves an evil, and who have not been able to move forwards towards a more open society, but have remained primitives, who have not been part of the this success, who took no part in the building of the modern world and are unable to find any significant place in the modern economy. They represent a long howl of envy, of impotence and fury. They have shut themselves out of the modern world. They remain – and insist on remaining – in this closed, primitive economy, in which there is no forgiveness and no opportunity to receive what is new or open – unless it breaks in from outside.

Freedom versus community

The Roman conception reduces man to a single figure, to a unit and an atom. Man on this definition regards all others as a problem and a challenge. He assumes that he has to free himself from them. He can never finish this work, for it puts him against the whole world, gives him nothing in common with anyone else, undermines all attempts at comradeship. Kant is the idol and the god of the man who wants to be modern and so represents the modern way of being human. Hegel saw that this was what Kant had done, and that it made the problem acute. The individual could not accept any external restraint on himself, and so was at war with the whole world. The individual could not concede that the public world could offer him anything or demand anything from him. The individual could concede anything to our common life. For the individual, there could be no common well-being. Hegel’s response was to decide that the state is the same thing as the commonwealth. The state is the single thing that stands beyond the reach of the individual. The state is the whole form of our social life. It is the Collective, the Whole. Kant has dissolved the whole world of human intercourse into the individual. Hegel has dissolved the whole world of human intercourse into the state. The state is the only true individual. Between them, they have turned the state into an idol and a god. On this basis we have no defence against the unhappy people who want to draw all power into their own hands. Their only achievement is to turn our common life into a totalitarian state. They want to reduce all our freedom to the libertinism of sexual permissiveness. Our liberty is the liberty to swap partners and make every relationship interchangeable. The state does not want us to form any permanent attachments, and alternative focuses for our loyalty, except with itself. On this basis, the state is the one true individual, and we are all merely fragments of it.
Modernity is idolatry dear friends


The resurrection creates a new world. This is the world in which we live. The Christian gospel makes very great claims for the dignity of human beings. Impossibly great, some have said. The gospel commands us to regard every single human being as a person, so claiming for them a great range of godlike attributes. They are free. They are sovereign, independent and autonomous. They are rational. We may speak to them and they may speak to us. Each is available and accountable to every other. None is too mighty to be held accountable. You may address them and attempt to persuade them and expect that they will respond rationally. They speak for themselves so no one speak for them or take their voice away. But they must be treated as unique, they are not interchangeable, you cannot substitute one for another. They cannot be collectivised or conglomerated. This is a very high view of man. On this basis, man – every single human being – is like God, a true counterpart and companion of God. That is the new thing that the Christian gospel into human culture. It was there, implicit, in Jewish thought. Other than that, no human political culture had conceived such a revolution as this.
The culture created, or at least, transformed by the gospel, is evidence of the divine nature. It is evidence of God. It is of course not proof of God; the evidence that it represents may be overlooked, a pattern not recognised. Yet the pattern is there that reveals a history and causality. Western society is the product of the Church which the product of the resurrection.
So there is a divine character to West society and that is the aspiration to freedom. Freedom is a characteristic of God and is a gift – of the Spirit – to man. And where that gift is given, there the Church appears – that is the community which meets freely, in which every person is willing to associate themselves with all these others and to be counted as one of them, and is available to called upon by them and put themselves at the disposal of these others. In the Christian conception freedom is unthinkable without love. And love is unthinkable without freedom. You may love, but whoever you love is not bound to return that love, or to return in the way you give it. Your love cannot bind them, and certainly cannot confine them. It can only wait for them. So for Christians = and so we are able to share in the divine patience. The Lord waits at the door. He does not come and pull us out. He waits, for days, years, lifetimes, periods of time beyond our definition. The Lord waits, for us. He waits because he wants to, and yet we make him wait. So the love – and passion of God for us.

Culture civility Israel and the future

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, then you will live and increase and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Yesterday (13 Feb 2011) was the sixth Sunday of Epiphany. Every Church of England, and every Roman Catholic, Christian will have heard this passage from Deuteronomy 30. It refers exclusively, to Israel, telling you that you are the people who entered this land and must possess it. But by extension it refers to you in the United States and every other place you live. This passage tells me who I am, for we Christians understand this promise for ourselves, discovering our inclusion on this entirely exclusive basis. So Christians in Britain have understood this to be our permission to form a sovereign nation under law and so to live well together. And on the basis of this faith, held by many generations over many centuries a culture has grown, and on the back of it, a law, a polity and a nation. This gospel has created a political culture that gives us the freedom of conscience, rule of law and conception of property that makes for a dynamic economy and prosperity.

Continue reading “Culture civility Israel and the future”

Person, not individual – the Christian contribution to economics

The Gospel tells us about the unity and integrity of the human being. It reminds us that each of us is a unique being, yet we are not ourselves apart from other people. Each of us exists within a series of dualities. Each of us is either a woman or a man; none is a neuter. Each is either married or single, either a parent or not a parent. Each of us is ourselves, but also someone’s sister, brother, child, parent, friend. We are not mere units, persons without relation but we exist through these many relationships.
What is more, each of us is twofold because we are who we are today, and who we will be in ten year’s time. Each of us is not only this present but that future person. The unity of this person is not the present possession of any human being, not even of that human being himself or herself. Persons are not simply individual units, for whom it would be normal to be on our own. We are related to people other than ourselves. We do not simply create our relationships by our own say-so. Some relationships we inherit, and some we hope to pass on to those who come after us. We hope to create or pass on relationships that they will be born into, and if they are willing to recognise these relationships as good, we will have done something for them. But all that depends on thinking of ourselves as persons. Christians do so, but they may be in the minority.
Christians offer their complex account of the human being. On other accounts, persons are insidiously simplified. When we do not think of ourselves as persons, but merely as individual adults, independent units who make their own decisions from their own wills without reference to anyone else, we get a simplistic account of man and a much reduced version of our vocation as economic agents. The Christian view is that we may gain freedom by undergoing our own discipleship, that is, by subjecting ourselves to voluntary restraint of freedom.
The social sciences assume that each of us is an individual on their own, a unit without relation. The more we insist on individual freedom without such self-elected restraint the more we turn the human being into a unit who exists in on-off relationships with other units. These relationships exist only as long as both units want and no moment longer. This makes us one person against the world, for whom there turns out fortuitously, just one friend.
If we turn the person into a unit, who exists in relationship with other units who have no binding and long-term relationship with him, he is effectively in long-term relationship with just one other unit – the state. The corporations serve us as long as we have got money, or can borrow it, to buy their services. But this individual freedom of choice exists only as long as we are independent adults, who pay for ourselves, which we can do as long as we are in the job market. Of course our existence as independent agents begins to wane again as soon as we leave employment again when we retire and make our descent back down into dependency. In the middle of life, we may have many relationships, mediated by the market. By our attempts to grow in freedom without taking on any discipleship and self-restraint we surrender our powers to corporations and the market. But at the beginning of life and again at the end of life we have no money, cannot pay for ourselves, so the state has to supply these service for us.
Every attempt to increase people’s personal freedom that does not start with some form of self-imposed discipleship and self-restraint, tends to shifts responsibilities from that person to the state, and so from this person to all other persons. Every attempt to increase anyone’s freedom increase the power of the state and so increases anyone else’s unfreedom. The state is our parent, partner and sole true ally. Our life would consist is attempting to squeeze more resources out of it. Paradoxically, the more demands we make of it, the more the state is paralysed by special interest lobbies and unable to make good, sparing decisions on anyone’s behalf. On this basis, the individual and the state are mirror images. Each person is a little state and the state is a big person. The two of them are locked in this claustrophobic relationship. On this basis, the state is the true person, whereas we units are persons to the degree that we are dependents of the state.
So the Christian insistence that we are complex beings, who can enforce restraint on our present selves for the sake of our future selves, and for those who come after us, is vital to the concept of freedom. And freedom we agreed is vital to those unforced transacting that characterise economic exchange. You can’t have an economy without freedom. This is why the Christian view of man, as person, the complex being who is encountered only through dualities, is essential to the existence of an open economy. The Christian input, with the complex account of man who as image of God participates in love and freedom, is not only the origin of the open economy, but is essential to its continuing flourishing.

Theological economics

1. There are two economies, of the Church and the world. This distinction and duality is the basis of all others. Consequently, there are two contemporary economies, that of the economy of God, announced by the Christian gospel, and the modern economy, for which we have to identify a corresponding ideology of ‘Modernity’.

2. Christianity insists a person is a covenantal concept. Man is not by himself and then later with God and with his fellow-man. A person is never single before he is one-half of a couple and a member of a family. He is not alone before he is a member of society. In acting well towards his fellow man, he acts properly and for himself.

3. A person may exclusively love and unite themselves to one other person. The exclusivity and uniqueness of the two persons who irrevocably give themselves to one another is the basis of all other covenants, relationships, and so the basis of society.

4. The marriage covenant is an exclusive relationship, and the household it creates is private. Marriages may not be dissolved by the will of one partner, nor may households be dissolved or absorbed by the public square, the market or the state.

5. There are therefore two other economies, the public economy of the market, and the private economy of the household.

6. In the Church people from all stations of society stand shoulder to shoulder. The Church is the embodiment of the reconciliation of all social and ethnic opposites and so the authentic voice of society.

7. The Church is the present anticipation of the future reconciliation of all mankind. It is the voice of the future society pining and mourning for the present society that is separated and lost.

8. The Church is the community in which all are bound to each, and so it is the community in which trust is generated. The Church is the place of self-giving without calculation of return, and so of risk-taking. The two fundamental economic principles of trust and risk-taking originate in the Church.

9. In the Church persons can confess their sins, receive forgiveness and the possibility of a new start. When we take the judgment of others as an anticipation of the judgment of God, and repent, that judgment is good.

10. The Church has to name the powers. The Church has to diagnose our crises by relating them to our concept of man and its various reductions. It has to identify them as both the judgment of society on itself, and of the judgment of God.

11. The Church that is confident in the covenant of God and the promise of redemption can identify crises without fear, and give warning of disaster to whichever society it is sent.

12. The state is the result of all our individual inclinations to refer our own responsibility away. The excessive extent to which we do this accumulates this power in the centre without control.

13. The Church will survive a collapse of any state. The British people, and the virtues they have received via the Church, will survive it, and may only survive if they go through crises and collapse. Any crisis is a correction. The more we attempt to postpone our rendezvous with reality, the more traumatic that eventual correction will be.

14. Western, modern economics insists that payment by money fulfils and terminates a contract and releases its parties from all obligation and that money establishes full payment and remittal. Non-modern economics insists that there is no form of accounting or payment by which the relationship of any two agents can be finally closed. No debt can be entirely paid off; every relationship remains open; nothing begun can easily be ended. Payment of money does not spare us future requests or release us from the obligation of meeting them.

15. Our debt to past generations may motivates us to reproduce, to bring about the continuation of society and so give a future to our past. The faith that holds together ‘was’ and ‘is’, may understand that ‘is’ as ‘ought’, and so turn that ‘is’ into ‘will be’. Non-societies understand that each generation is in debt to all previous ones, and consequently to future generations.

16. Christians witness to those fundamental sources of economic subsistence, which promote the household and the dignity of labour and service, and in which, through informal accounting and an economy of favours, social capital remains developed and the human economy remains resilient.

17. The gospel has enabled the economic development of the West. Though the contemporary economy has arisen from a culture shaped by Christianity, the modern economy takes its definition from an antipathy to that culture. But Christianity is not identical with that culture or that economic path. The Church has resources that describe other forms of economics, and Christians model alternative economies. Though the Christian faith points us towards principles, it does not commit us to any model.

18. In faith, hope and love, Christian life models the form of life that points towards flourishing that is lasting, and so is both future and properly present.

19. Christian theological economics is a series of questions that may be put to pagan economics by which it can be kept within approximate restraint.

20. No nation lasts forever. Only the Church itself has the promise of eternal life.

Two economies

Let’s call it the Augustine Group. Why Augustine? Because it was Augustine who said that there are two cities, that is, two societies – the Church and the world. In the ‘City of God’ Augustine says there are these two distinct communities, one is hidden in the other. There is ‘Society’, our nation or whatever other community we identify with, and within it there is that other community we call the Church. Everything that we have to say depends on the distinction between Society and the Church, or between the Church and the world, or between the Christian and non-Christian. The distinction between them and the comparison between them that it allows us to make, is the basis of any Christian contribution to economics. We simply contrast these two societies.
Our starting point is that Christian baptism is the fundamental distinction. The non-baptised non-Christian is the man of the present. The baptised, the Christian, is the man of the present and the future. He is present, here and now, but the future is also hidden within him. The non-Christian is the creature of just one time – this time, now. But the Christian is man of two times, the present and the future, and he combines the present and future. He binds this present fragmentary time into that whole and entire time, so that through him what is partial receive its renewal from the whole. He combines the short-term and the long-term, so that together they belong to the that unbroken time we call eternity.
The Church is the economy of love. It is exactly like any a single household, made of members of a family who love one another. The Church is a single family; its members treat one another as brothers and sisters, parents and children. They do not charge one another for their services because they do not regard each other as members of different households.
We can not only say that there are two societies, but also that there are two economies, the present worldly economy and the present-and-future eternal economy. The present worldly economy is one in which men compete for glory and honour, but within it there are little economies – households – in which a man and woman are bound to one another in love. The Church is that unique entity that combines these two, for it is the household united by love which extends to include all. It is the world become a single family and household. This enables us to ask what features of this economy will help it to last and so to have a future (and stretch towards eternity), and to ask what features make the future of this economy more doubtful. The contrast between the economy of the Church and the economy of the world enables us to ask about the long-term of the economy of the world, and so the contrast between them is the basis of any Christian analysis of economics and the economy.

Why is our economy in trouble?

Why is our economy in trouble?
Our economy is in trouble because our culture is in trouble. Our culture is in trouble because it has adopted a dramatically reduced account of the human person. It has adopted this reduced account of the person because it does not care to hear the Christian gospel which tells us that man is made for love and freedom in relationship with God and his fellow human beings. Because it does not care to hear about this love, our culture is no longer confident of the value and significance of human beings. Our economic crisis reflects a crisis of cultural confidence that reflects a crisis of faith. Man is not convinced that he has a future, and this loss of confidence has eroded his long-term perspective and stalling our economy. Let us take a look at some of the connections between gospel, culture and economy that are at the root of our economic situation…
Read on

Covenant and confidence 1

The financial crisis that we are suffering represents the crisis in confidence of this society. We can no longer be taken at our word because we ourselves do not believe our ourselves. It is us who do not believe that our word is our bond or that we are good for the money. Money is a series of promises: a proportion of these promises have to be kept, and when that proportion is too low, no one believes our promises. This society’s crisis in confidence in itself is the result of its result to believe that it is indeed good for its promises. It is a blue funk. The nation that is prepared to hear that it is loved, because all mankind is loved, by God, will not suffer any final crisis of self-belief. But the nation that does not want to hear the news of the fundamental covenant of God with man will find no other comfort. The unwillingness of this country to hear about any relationship with God results in this crisis that we have described variously as ecological, moral, social and economic.
One reason for this crisis is that that the Church has not clearly told this country that man is loved by God and that this country is also founded in that love and covenant. The Church has not passed on to the comfort of God, and so the Church has been unfaithful to the nation, and the nation is suffering as a result. The Church must repent. This is what Lent is. Now the Church will suffer. It must suffer for the sake of the world, and the Church here is going to suffer for this country. This country is going to undergo a great panic because it has no hope, and it back to find out that all its hopes are delusory. The Church will suffer the rage of a panicked and anguished nation.
During Lent those who are going to be received into the Church in baptism undergo a preparation and an unburdening, and the whole Church accompanies them in this. For the Church knows the joy of repentance, of honest speech, and unburdening ourselves. The Church can repent and beg for forgiveness. The Church can repent of having failed to be the intercessor and prophetic and priestly intermediary for the country.

The ascension is progressive

We can only wonder at, and try to recapture for ourselves, the insight shown by the early Christians and by Christians down to the beginning of the second millennium, who placed the Christ of the ascension in the dome of their churches. When the faithful gathered to manifest and become the body of Christ, they saw their Lord both as present and as coming. He is the head and draws his body toward the Father while giving it life through his Spirit. The iconography of the churches of both East and West during that period was as it were an extension of the mystery, of the ascension throughout the entire visible church. Christ, the Lord of all” (Pantocrator), is “the cornerstone which the builders had rejected”; (5) when he is raised up on the cross, he is in fact being raised to the Father’s side and, in his life-giving humanity, becomes with the Father the wellspring of the river of life. (6)

The ascension of the Lord was thus really the new space for the liturgy of the last times, and the iconography of the church built of stone was its transparent symbol. (8) In his ascension, then, Christ did not at all disappear; on the contrary, he began to appear and to come. For this reason, the hymns we use in our churches sing of him as “the Sun of justice” that rises in the East. He who is the splendor of the Father and who once descended into the depths of our darkness is now exalted and fills all things with his light.

Our last times are located between that first ascension and the ascension that will carry him to the zenith of his glorious parousia. The Lord has not gone away to rest from his redemptive toil; his “work” (Jn 5:17) continues, but now at the Father’s side, and because he is there he is now much closer to us, “very near to us,” (9) in the work that is the liturgy of the last times. “He leads captives,” namely, us, to the new world of his resurrection, and bestows his “gifts,” his Spirit, on human beings (see Eph 4:7-10). His ascension is a progressive movement, “from beginning to beginning.” (10)

Jesus is, of course, at his Father’s side. If, however, we reduce this “ascent” to a particular moment in our mortal history, we simply forget that beginning with the hour of his cross and resurrection Jesus and the human race are henceforth one. He became a son of man in order that we might become children of God. The ascension is progressive “until we all … form the perfect Man fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself” (Eph 4:13). The movement of the ascension will be complete only when all the members of his body have been drawn to the Father and brought to life by his Spirit. Is that not the meaning of the answer the angels gave to the disciples: “Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you have seen him go to heaven” (Acts 1:11). The ascension does not show us in advance the setting of the final parousia; it is rather the activation of the paschal energy of Christ who “fills all things” (Eph 4: 1 0). It is the ever-new “moment” of his coming.

Jean Corbon The Wellspring of Worship