The foundation for peaceful and sustainable globalism is local justice and genuine democracy that looks like the cross and resurrection of Christ: self-giving bringing new life to others.
Technology, we assume, is our hope for the future. Whether it’s global warming or city congestion we are told that a new technology is coming that will solve our problems, like 5G, or Bitcoin. The age of the race to the moon seems to have given us this hope. I remember the 1960’s, visiting IBM parties, drinking in the optimism for the future. But what I didn’t know was that Aboriginals had only just received the vote in Australia, and millions in the world were in hunger. Our technology has provided us with nuclear weapons, but not with what Jesus called “the ways of peace.” It is still justice for others that is our real hope. Paul calls it the true aim of the Holy Spirit, “the hope of righteousness,” by which he didn’t mean just a personal faith, but the fruit of it renewing our relationships in the world.
The Hope of Righteousness
“For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.” (Galatians 5:5) How beautiful is that?
This hope was born in the heart of Abraham’s descendants long ago. You could call it the main theme of the scriptures, the liberation of creation (all of us and nature as well) from the present bondage to corruption. Abraham was “called out” (an early Exodus) from a culture of paganism, of debauchery and child sacrifice, to demonstrate the righteousness that is lived out because we a have renewing faith – “the righteousness of faith.” Once again, this righteousness isn’t just a private one, an “Evangelical righteousness.” The “righteousness of faith” means a new sabbath/ jubilee life we are called to, as distinct from the paganism of self-centeredness that destroys. It is a faith that renews the world.
Abraham’s model had to be lived out once again by the nation that came from him. Joseph had sold Israel into slavery in Egypt. We mightn’t like to put it this way, and I am not blaming Joseph personally. He was in many ways a type of Christ, who saved the world from famine. Yet, at the same time, by the end of this famine Pharaoh owned the whole of Egypt, from the top to the bottom and all people were his slaves. It’s good for us to know, that even though God used Joseph, this isn’t a divine underwriting of his business methods so that we can follow them today in our personal investment strategies. God’s last word on this bondage that Egypt created was the Exodus, the jubilee, a massive release of the entire population and economic structures from financial debt.
We can see a similar pattern occurring in the world today. We might call it a centralisation of power. Power was centralised in the Pharaoh and this led to massive injustice in the world. Today we see this centralisation, not only governments, but also in economics, in businesses. The economic structure of the world today is essentially that of a plutocracy and is again characterised by massive personal debt and the debt of poorer nations, which is impoverishing and literally slaying millions of people. Even in Western nations, there is a sense of powerlessness at the local level. People feel that authorities are not responding to their needs. We see the rise of nationalism as a hopeful cure, but nationalist governments are just as much in the grip of the plutocracy. There is no genuine decentralisation of democracy to address the needs of the local region.
The Exodus, simply put, was a decentralisation of power. It lends itself today to a liturgy, or mythology, of freedom. When we say “mythology” in this context, we don’t mean in the sense that the Exodus wasn’t an historical event. I mean that the Exodus becomes a paradigm of hope, a rich literary narrative that forms a central story, upon which we can draw to inspire collective liberating action in our relationships and communities today. “False news” and conspiracy theories have become a part of this liturgy. We are impatient with such false news but it often reveals the sense of captivity to centralisation, to control, that characterises the Exodus event. The book of Revelation offers further literacy for conspiracy theories. We can be impatient at the misinterpretation of the scriptures, but the liturgy is understandable. In the example of the Revelation, there is a captivity by Nero upon the Roman world, a centralisation of power that is breaking down personal lives and destroying community. In this scenario, the church rises by healing wounds, building bridges, living in relationships of hope, of care for the poor and the foreigner, destroying the narrative of selfish, centralised power. This is the church’s jubilee calling.
Israel and Decentralisation of Power
When God brought Israel out of Egypt, they underwent a decentralisation of government and of economic control. This was in keeping with the original creation story in Genesis. God made mankind in his image, not to be slaves, as pagan creation narratives depicted. God rested on the seventh day, which meant he began a government of goodness, a sabbath rule of community with humanity. As we saw after the Exodus, in the government of Israel, sabbath meant a selfless, cooperative and nurturing relationship within community and within the natural and agriculture environment. Sabbath replaced commercial or imperial exploitation with local-level rehabilitation.
The nation of Israel began as twelve tribes, with a decentralised rule. Each tribe was overseen by elders, who were told not to rule selfishly, but to follow God’s word, which built a restorative life for the weaker members of society. Debts were to be cancelled and land returned to the original owners. It was impossible for commercial interests to grow and take over, pushing out people from their inheritance and impoverishing the community. The Torah maintained control of property at the local level and the law functioned at a local level to protect the interests of the local community. It was immune to central, larger powers from taking over, so long as they followed God’s law. The law built a culture of sustainability and flourishing in agriculture and in human culture.
God warned Israel not to have a king. A king would centralise the government, making it depend once again upon centralising the wealth, which would destroy local community and lives. A king would rely upon the military for defence of the realm because his government would no longer be focused on looking after the neighbour. The costs of an overly centralised government would be prohibitive in caring for others. Peace comes as we look after our neighbour, then they don’t want to harm us. A central government would raise taxes (for weaponry and comfort, not for the welfare of others) and rely on propaganda, scapegoating and tribalism to defend itself against its failures: to pass the buck and point the finger at others. This would destroy the peace, as well as the wellbeing of the society. The aim of centralised government becomes the protection of the elite. God knew this from the beginning, but we still haven’t learnt it. We still build our societies around costly centralised governments that mean the poor are not restored and inequality takes over our nations, bringing us into war. We think technology will save us from this. But it is social and community justice at the grassroots level that saves us, as God intended.
What we must not do is continue to build the kind of society that degrades the local community, the ecosystems of rural and community culture at the local level. A dependency on a too centralised power, away from the local community, whether that power be government or the private business sector, will mean the local community becomes disengaged, disabled, disenfranchised and disempowered. They then languish, waiting for aid, charity, government grants, the nanny state, the powers of commerce and big business, to come and put things right. This is a false hope. All of the above sectors exist to pursue their own ends, wellbeing and purposes, not to restore the eco-fabric of local life. We need a cooperative relationship where government and business exist for the community, to rebuild and restore it, not to dominate and cut off the roots of local economic eco-structures. For this, there needs to be genuine power sharing, not power centralisation. This is at the centre of the gospel, where Christ didn’t grasp onto his power, but “emptied himself” to restore others.
When Israel chose to have a king, they first had Saul and by the end of his reign Israel was largely tribalistic. This tribalism broke the nation apart after the reign of Solomon, into the northern and southern kingdoms. The nation had become imperialistic, where the people were impoverished to support the reigning interests. By the end of Solomon’s reign it was hard to distinguish the imperialism of Judah from that of Egypt, complete with slavery, large scale idolatry, massive disparity of wealth, sole reliance on its military, without any justice to the poor or rural regions. It was overtaken by the interests of full centralisation and power was not shared with the people of the whole nation who lived in local regions. The imago-dei of all humanity was denied, as it is today.
This is very much the kind of world we live in now. The financial interests of plutocracy are devastating rural agriculture in the poorest nations. Other industrial products are being dumped by rich producers on local communities, killing local industries in so many regions. Profits are milked in the billions from resource rich nations, resulting in hundreds of millions of people living without health or education, and with devastated currencies. And when international aid is given it is often done so in a way that buttresses foreign industry, whether in the health, banking or other sectors. Local populations remain dependant and robbed of local economic infrastructure to rebuild their own lives and futures. They become an everlasting charity-recipient sector. As someone said, aid must lead to justice (which means to restore local property and sustainable production rights, unlike the franchise and patent economy that suck profits from other regions) or it isn’t genuine charity. The purpose of aid is to build local freedom, which means building the interrelationships of social, economic and agricultural sustainability.
After working in regions of terrorism and violence we have begun to identify some of the underlying factors. At first, you begin to see the more obvious things, like forgiving enemies, refusing vengeance and retribution, caring for the poor, acts of mercy towards enemies who are broken, loving your enemy. This repairs hostility at the more immediate level. But then you see the more underlying factors: the destruction of rural agriculture, the raping of the soils with chemicals, the insecurity of food, the devastation of local, rural economies, the dependency of millions of people on large scale economic-power sectors of the world. This is what the rich world proliferates. The fact that we can go on accepting a world like this is amazing, especially given our faith that speaks so contrarily to it. And if these factors aren’t dealt with, they will soon lead to full, global environmental devastation and endless war, if we don’t already have the latter. The solution is obvious: scale back the investment of wealth and power in the hands of a few and instead decentralise compassion, democracy, ingenuity, decision making and economic sustainability to the local level, globally. This is where the government can come in, in regulating the economy towards the common good, like the government did before the extreme economic neo-liberalism of recent decades. We need a connected global world, that encourages local holism. This is the abundant life the gospel brings: genuine community and economic policy based upon the image of God in all mankind. This is to be the underlying factor in all economic policy.
Government is good, but its role is to curtail the greed of all sectors, not to join the greed. What about science’s role in curbing disease and making life better for many? That is good, but what destroys more lives today, just as in our history, is the hoarding of wealth, instead of using it to care for others. Most pandemics that have hit our world have wreaked such devastation, not because of lack of scientific help, but because of the terrible conditions of the poor. And the reason for the poverty isn’t the lack of technology, but war and social disparity. Science can provide technical support, but it can’t provide a value system by which that help can be best used to protect the wellbeing of humanity and our environment. This ethic comes from the Creator, who gave himself in Christ for us all, showing us the way to follow. This cross is the hope of our salvation, of renewing our inner person with worship and thanks, steering us away from destroying ourselves. Science will only make our final destruction more certain and complete, if we don’t know how to use it.
Technology Working for Humanity’s Good
What about the “hope of technology.” Watching the television for a bit you see commercial interests promoting it. There is the coming 5G revolution, which promises great conveniences from a “smart city.” Its primary purpose is the money that can be made by capitalist surveillance, living in a world of theft and slavery. This isn’t an “end-times” scenario, although the liturgy suits. “End-times” theories promote a resignation, an escapism, that is contrary to the call of the church. But the biblical liturgy points to a different calling, leading us out of the slavery of Pharaoh, the captivity of Babylon, and from Nero, who promised Jerusalem riches for compliance. There is a “return from exile” theme, where we exodus a world of self-centeredness, to enter a world of love and genuine care of others. The church’s role today, as it was in the book of Revelation (in Nero’s time) is our own change, to point out to the world the path to renewal, to transformation, to overcoming divisive and consuming greed, to restoring life and creation.
Digital technologies can serve for the good, but we are an awfully long way from taming it. Just the way millions suffer in the Congo today to deliver to the world the resources we need for digital devices, shows how brutal and off track the current systems are.
There is also the hope of greening our cities, growing our food on the roof top of skyscrapers, or in test-tubes, or other man-made environments. This is coupled with the idea that increasing urbanisation is somehow right, that it is also saving the rural areas and natural wildernesses. It is entirely a false hope. Humanity was made from the dirt, to oversee a flourishing natural environment, not to be locked up in cities eating fast food, breaking the nation’s welfare budget by deteriorating health. If humanity doesn’t restore holistic community within rural areas, bringing diversity back to our natural ecosystems, the final destruction of our soils by corporate interests will ruin the natural world. As said by others, the restoration of our soils is the number one issue in sequestering carbon dioxide and turning around the destruction of our natural habitats. Manmade chemical fertilizers and pesticides don’t promote organic matter, microbes, insects, worms and other life in the soil. Only diversity does it: diverse community bringing diverse ecology back to the land, where, as in the creation, every living thing totally depends on the presence and contribution of the other.
As much as greening our cities is a good idea and building cities that are far less destructive to the environment, this is not the answer to our future. The wisdom of God is restoring the poor. This is our hope. The wisdom of God is restoring the natural environment. These two are the hope of sabbath, or jubilee. The reason why people flee rural areas is because these areas are forgotten, left out of the world economy of opportunity. Restoring our rural areas will help restore family life, health, national budgets, agriculture and the environment. The claim the world is overpopulated is untrue. Holistic agriculture can provide all a nation needs at current population levels, and much more.
There is also Bitcoin, a revolutionary new digital currency that uses the blockchain technology on the internet. It’s yet to be seen what future this has. It claims to be able to enfranchise millions of people who don’t have access to banks. Presently, it is a highly speculative industry, where people make large fortunes, like in other digital innovations. Speculative investments have done incredible harm to markets and priced millions of people out of housing. Capital that should be taxed for the common good is used instead as tax free speculative investment funding in housing and other industries, that brings poverty to the masses.
It is said that Bitcoin will liberalise the monetary system from government control. That may be partly true, but the only way to bring genuine change to money markets is to decentralise them, take them out of the control of large commercial centres and put them more in the power of local community banking systems. In my youth we had community banks, which worked like the religious communities, building houses for one family at a time and taking away their long-term debt, and then helping each family with its financial issues throughout their life. The purpose wasn’t to maximise profits, but to maximize the wellbeing of every family in the local region. This is the proper functioning of financial markets, and simply freeing a currency from government control will not achieve this. It may just move from one elite group to another.
Developing Local Economy
Financial markets still serve larger scale industrial concerns, however banks should be regulated so they don’t sponsor industry just to maximize industrial profits (and make the most money for banking executives) but to serve the whole working community in a kind of partnership or cooperative. People who work aren’t simply a “factor of production” in an impersonal sense, but members of a team, family, and their wellbeing is as important as anyone else’s. We ask, “How will a company like this compete in a brutal market, when the company’s priority is to look after each person?” An industry that runs based on “family-care” will outcompete brutal operations in the longer term, once people see they are more beneficial to all our lives. And when we have regulations that compel banks to support caring industry and not brutal industry, the culture of our industrial sector will change. We will still have competition but competing to care is part of the culture.
These are some of the adjustments our financial markets need, not more opportunities for crazed speculative profits on any new technology. Before the deregulation of recent decades, when many barriers to impersonal profits were removed, commercial sectors were compelled to look after people rather than the interests of a few. New technology and ways of doing things are good, but only in the context of this wider regulation of care for others. We shouldn’t think that it was impersonal capitalism that brought the Soviet Union down. It was rather corruption and greed, the kind of culture which also infects the West. In short, it is ungodliness.
Developing Local Democracy
Technology can be good, but it is not the answer. It depends what use it is put to. If it is in the hands of powerful elitist forces, like Pharaoh, or like our plutocrats today, it can be the most enslaving and destructive force in human history. But if it is used to serve the interests of all, and we are protected from the greed of the systems, then we can enjoy the benefits of new technologies as they are put to good, carefully regulated purposes. And here again we need local democracy, so we can choose at a local level how new technologies impact us, how and when we wish to use them and what protections we want in place. These decisions should not be made by powerful commercial interests for all, but by local democratic communities who protect the wellbeing of their families and members. This is where democracy has broken down the most. We have outsourced decision making to global commercial interests and do not participate effectively in these decisions, being too busy pursuing our own private interests. Unless we change our priorities, bondage will be our future, until God once again leads us out in exodus.
These are some of the things that develop true democracy (by which I mean the effective and determinative participation of the whole community in their development and future) at the grassroots level. This is what may be most lacking in our current global political and economic structures. Paul called these “the powers of the world,” which need to be transformed by the church. Seeing this is a priority of the church, rather than just picturing our own escape to heaven. Understanding our true role as the church is primary here. Ways in which these powers must be transformed include to devolve determinative powers to the local level, such as capital capacity, capital used for family restorative purposes and the restoration of local soils. Put simply, all things that develop the local ecosystems of life, whether soils, capital, local decision making, need to be built into all local populations. This is democracy.
The Church’s Role
What is the church’s role in this? The church is to encourage this kind of local, community sub-culture. Just as soils needs fungi to promote microbial life, the church is the fungi of our communities, promoting a culture of care that awakens personal, family and group interrelationships and development. The church encourages the establishment of groups in the community that look out for and care for weaker people in various parts of the society. Single mothers are rebuilt, unemployed people are given opportunities, homeless people and taken in, broken family relationships are restored through inclusion and godly mediation, local businesses of a cooperative nature are built to give people and families sustainable opportunities for growth. The church is to encourage the development of life at a local level, wherever the church exists. Life is the call of the church and this must include our practical permeation into local areas to build life in real ways.
- Redevelop local soils that sustain agricultural life for local regions. Develop local markets, where the people who grow food are the people who sell it, cutting out the large profit orientated supermarkets that destroy local community.
- Redevelop local social structures that build a culture of service and relationships rather than individualism.
- Redevelop local economic structures, that resist external economic manipulation to promote sustainable and flourishing rural communities and local investment.
Agriculture, social and economic sub-cultures at the local level. This is the context for our global relationships. Government should promote this climate for human wellbeing. Churches should witness to it by promoting selfless participation in the development of local community, witnessing to the government towards a sustainable future for all. Globalism is good. It opens opportunities, it builds relationships, it enables us to serve and heal each other, it is necessary for the peace and it enriches us all. But the foundation for peaceful and sustainable globalism is local justice and genuine democracy that looks like the cross and resurrection of Christ: self-giving bringing new life to others.