Economist Robert Samuelson has been going on about Americans not being in the mood to spend, about how such attitudes hurt the economy. Robert Reich makes the obvious point that many people can't spend. Apart from the top 1%--getting richer all the time--the majority have seen their income remain stagnant or decline over the last decade. My own view is that decreasing spending, and decreasing debt, can be steps out of consumerism. These steps should be furthered with large tax increases on the top 1% as well as a lifting of the cap on income taxed for social security. These large taxes will suppress/depress private spending by the wealthy and enable more public spending on collective goods--alternative fuel, alternative transportation, expansions in green and sustainable ways of living, dismantling of suburbs and exurbs and reinvigoration of cities, etc
Yesterday I spoke with a couple of women who had a different view. They were standing at a street corner in Geneva. It wasn't very busy. It was pretty hot, pretty humid. One of the women held a sign calling for us to repent and return from our backslidden ways to God.
After I drove past them, I turned back around to ask them a few questions.
My first question: why are you doing this?
The sign-holder said that God told her to.
Surprised, I pressed a bit: "God told you to make this sign and stand here on the street corner? Why do you think God finds this an effective way to get His message out?"
The other woman interjected--a stream of answers flowing from her mouth in ever more fluid associations: God talks to people, John delivered the Revelation on a street corner, God told Peter to go speak to the Italians, it's in the Old Testament but God speaks to people now. The sign holder added that she had had a vision of precisely this corner of Geneva burning in flames. She then begin to speak of the pain and suffering of the people, that many have no jobs, that they are hurting, and that God doesn't want them to suffer.
I again wondered why holding a sign calling for people to repent made sense as a response to the problems in the economy.
Our exchange continued to drift away from coherence (Paul was surprised that I found this noteworthy). I tried to talk about BP and corporations and they talked about God caring for each hair on our head and fornication. Some of the problems on the Gulf Coast have less to do with BP (the women acknowledged that there may well be evil people working there; they avoided considering whether bad choices by generally not evil people could be an element or whether the capitalism system overall is evil) and a lot more to do with the backslidden ways of the people. Fornication matters because God doesn't want us to get HIV or STDs. I wondered why those even existed if God didn't want us to have them but that was a pretty stupid question: our fallen condition, original sin, hello?!
The women shared by criticism of corporations, but they thought that the problems of corporations could be solved by repenting: those who have repented make much better workers. It's part of God's plan. Wouldn't I want my employees to be responsible? I confess that I was pretty confused at this point and having trouble responding.
By channels I couldn't quite follow, one of the women got to a joyful description of heaven--dancing with Jesus and eating all you want without getting fat. And this while basking in God's love. It was a message of abundance, one that she directly connected to an explanation for early death: God brings some of us home so that we don't have to remain in this fallen, awful condition any longer. Who wouldn't want to die?
Their message of love and care for each individual person may be more effective than my own tendencies to dismiss individuals as ideological fictions. Their solution--stop sinning and follow Jesus--also seems less complicated than overthrowing capitalism and restructuring the economy. Overall, though, I couldn't shake the feeling that their message didn't address the difficulty and loss in people's lives at all. It invoked it, only to displace it by a gesture to God's love.