Silly and childish economics, the perspective of a Christian sceptic

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Perhaps it is less so now, but when I was a first year economics student there was the inevitable lectures and seminars on the nature of economics. What we students were supposed to understand was that economics was a value free subject, a subject whose analyses were not skewed by individual value judgements. The techniques employed by economists offered an objective means for finding solutions to problems not influenced by ideology. In theory economists can offer objective impartial advice to both right of centre and left of centre politicians. Their arguments for example, against legislation to protect workers incomes is not part of a centre right ideology but based on sound economic analysis economists would state. Governments that set artificially high wages are more likely to cause distress by creating unemployment which adds to the misery of the working classes. Most famously demonstrated in Samuelson’s case of the New York tailors who secured legislation to guarantee high wages only to see their jobs disappear to the low wage tailors in Puerto Rico. This can be demonstrated by through the use of marginal revenue product analysis, which is a rational non ideological truth.

However this claim to value neutrality is fallacious as a very strange value laden ideology has been smuggled in through the back door. Underpinning much economic analysis is a simplistic social Darwinism. Darwin states only the fittest survive in the evolutionary struggle and in economics theory only the strongest business best adapted to the market survive. The theory of ‘creative destruction’ whereby only the strongest businesses survive after a period of intense struggle in the competitive market is nothing other than social Darwinism. The pain and suffering caused to humanity by pursuit social Darwinism theories are irrelevant; they are of one mind with the eugenicists such as Chamberlain, who saw the pain of eliminating the undesirable human elements as a price worth paying to save the human race. Yet coexisting with this social Darwinism is a strange Panglossian optimism, which believes that the free market economics and society is the most perfect of all possible societies. These advocates of free market economics believe that like some latter day Leibinz (who believes a good God was incapable of creating a less than perfect world), the market economy is incapable of delivering nothing less than the perfect world

When stated in its barest and simplest form the fundamentals of economics seem just plain silly. Yet as critical thinking is absent in the study of economics, as most economics faculties operate like some latter day religious cult. They reveal step by step the received truths of economics and students become acolytes who preach the received truths to unbelievers. To prevent being swallowed up in this nonsense it is necessary to achieve some distancing from the subject; another perspective that enables you to separate the economic ‘wheat’ from the economic ‘chaff’. What economists need is an ethical standpoint that enabling them to distance themselves from the subject, taking a more objective standpoint.

Christianity has enabled me to distance myself from the subject. It has imbued me with a healthy scepticism towards the follies of trending intellectuals. However my Christianity is not of the usual form. Fortunately the Anglican Church has a tradition of tolerating heretics such as myself.

The starting point for my personal philosophy is two fold. A childhood immersed in the Anglican theology, I was a choirboy at St. Peter’s church and a study of theology at York St. John when I was made redundant in my fifties. This has I think given me two perspectives on Christianity, the child like vision of God as a loving father of his children and a more reflective understanding of a sixty year old negative theologian. I think that despite my sophisticated theological training in times of crisis I tend to revert to my child like faith for consolation. It was perhaps my child like faith that enabled me to hang on to my sense of there being a truth, even though scepticism dominated my philosophy classes a scepticism which repeatedly demonstrated how fallacious were my most cherished longest beliefs.

There is a trite phrase that states something along the lines that each generation creates their own Christianity to suit their own beliefs. This is the belief of the traditionalists who regard many of the contemporary religious practices and beliefs as a passing fancy and that The Old Testament truths such as the condemnation homosexuality are one of the eternal truths to which the church will return once the current fads in religious belief have passed away. They cannot recognise that religion evolves into a progressively more sophisticated forms along with advance of other forms of human knowledge. They would accept that science and medicine have evolved into a more advanced understanding of disease, yet they cannot accept that religion must evolve in the same way. It cannot be locked within the beliefs and practices of the early Christian fathers.

Any starting point for a new Christian interpretation must accept that much of ‘The New Testament’ is nothing more than a series of forgeries. The four gospels were written not by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but by writers writing after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.; when it is highly unlikely that any of the apostles were still alive. Probably this is why the four gospels do not agree on the life of Jesus in particular with the details of the crucifixion. Matthew for instance makes only reference to the crucifixion but not the resurrection. The bible we read today is the creation of the Christian Fathers who selected which religious texts to include in the bible. Rather than dismissing the bible as a simple work of fiction, it should instead be recognised as the way of expressing the truths of religion in the language of its times.

The myths that populate ‘The New Testament’ must be seen as Karl Jaspers explains as the only possible way of expressing difficult religious truths. God is essentially unknowable, yet we must have some means of expressing our knowledge of God.

The supernatural should not be taken to mean that there is some religious super being who has powers beyond human comprehension; but simply a being who exists beyond or outside the natural world of human understanding. I accept the truth of Jesus’s miracles not as true stories, but as a person of the 1st century AD struggling to explain the concept ‘Godness’. We all know what the word God means, but struggle to explain it. The religious myths of The New Testament give expression to our sense of what God is and what it means to be God. Christ did not walk on water but he was unique and different from other men. How else could a religious writer explain this difference from other men except by granting Christ miraculous powers?

Negative theologians can be mocked for worshipping an unknown God. Bertrand Russell long ago mocked Christians for believing in an unknowable, invisible God, as he in his experience was unlikely ever to come across such an being. However our answer is that God makes his presence felt amongst us, he pushes himself into our existence and it is this presence that we can know, so this unknowable God can be known.

This I can express through my understanding of the concept good. Everybody knows what good means yet they cannot explain it except through describing good actions. Visiting and comforting an ill house bound neighbour is good, we can describe the good action, but not the essence of goodness. God for me is the essence of what we understand by good, Good is God’s presence within society. A presence which gives the meaning to our moral actions. I am what is more correctly termed a Neo-Platonist; yet I believe than people such as me are part of the Christian consensus.

What is needed is a new set of myths for a contemporary Christianity. How can an ethical language forged in the early centuries AD combat the contemporary social Darwinism of the new economics? A language that is completely at odds with the culture of our times. Even the simplest and dumbest of parliamentarians can understand the simple truths of Neo-Liberal economics. What is needed is a new set of contemporary myths that can counter this ideology, yet simple enough for even the least bright MP to understand.

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