A System of Equality and Nonacquisitiveness as Subversion of the Greed-Based Capitalism and the Patronage System

The dominant culture of our times and the times of Paul is inequality and acquisitiveness. This culture is nurtured by the greed-based capitalism now and the Greco-Roman patronage system then. They not only create asymmetrical socio-economic power relations, but also try to conceal this reality through “beneficial ideology”. Paul in his narratives of “collection” to the believers in Jerusalem furthers a system of equality and nonacquisitiveness, thus critiquing and subverting the dominant systems of inequality and acquisitiveness.

A. The Dominant Systems

1. Greed-Based Capitalism

Modern capitalism has made wealth the highest value, and profit the highest social good.[1] Fred Magdoff rightly remarks that capitalist economies are “based on the profit motive and accumulation of capital without end.”[2] The rationale of capitalism is to maximize profits among the economic elite by creating wants and needs in people for market goods and services, whether or not the desires mediated by the need-making system can be fulfilled. While some needs are legitimate, others are not. Consumerism has become the only universally available mode of participation in the modern society. Thus, it furthers the worship of the “holy trinity”, that is, mammon, acquisition, and opulence.

Since capitalism is centered on the increase of capital, laborer is treated simply as a means to produce profit, but not as a being of intrinsic human dignity and value. In other words, in the capitalist system human agents are reduced to mere “things” or “machines”. This is nothing but “thingification” of persons.[3] That is why poor are insignificant in capitalist societies. Moreover, the corporate greed-based capitalism creates asymmetrical socio-economic power relations with those at the top enjoying power and luxury, and those whose labor is indispensable to produce profit becoming mere “productive voiceless machines” and languishing in hovels. On one side there is surplus and unrestrained consumption, and on the other shortage of even the basic necessities. The most corrosive impact of greed-based capitalism has been on human relationships. Attitudes formed in relation to the machines are transformed to people as well, thus promoting a culture of “productivity and success”.

The dictum that there is no other alternative to capitalism to order human socio-economic future and to have a better life has been embraced globally. But the reality is that, despite global economic growth, there is an even greater increase of poverty and economic disparity. Michael Parenti in his article “Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World” rightly questions: “How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?”[4] In the last half a century the investments by the transnational corporations of the US and the West in the economically poor countries have increased tremendously. The reason for their investment in these countries is rich natural resources, and high profit for low investment due to cheap labor, and the nearly complete absence of worker benefits, taxes, environmental regulations, and worker safety costs. For example, in Haiti workers are paid 11 cents an hour (in US minimum wage is $5.15 per hour) by the transnational corporations such as Disney, J.C. Penny, and Wal-Mart. How these companies make such an exorbitant profit is evidenced by the shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve hours a day for 13 cents an hour. These shoes cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the US. So the investments of the transnational corporations are greed-driven, not benevolent.[5]

The greed-driven transnational corporations in their desire to make more profit, at times even disregard the human rights. Some of these corporations use child labor to produce profit. In the rubber plantation in Liberia owned by Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire Company since 1926, children work 12 to 14 hours a day. A UN Report “Human Rights in Liberia’s Rubber Plantations: Tapping into Future” notes: “Although management of Firestone…stated that child labour is prohibited within …(its) concession (area), HROs (United Nations Mission in Liberia Human Rights Officers) spoke with a number of children working on …(the) plantation, aged between 10 and 14 years…Reports of child labour on Firestone plantation have also been documented in a report (“Firestone: The Mark of Slavery”) by the NGO, Save My Future Foundation, in March 2005.” In this plantation the workers are given unreasonably high production quota, which takes a rubber tapper at least 21 hours a day to meet the quota. This forces the workers to bring their wives and children to work in order to meet the quota, or else their already low wages will be halved. It is observed that the workers live in shacks, most of which have not been renovated since the 1920s, while managers live in luxurious mansions with all the modern amenities, including golf courses, and receive huge salary.[6] It is also noted that the company dumps toxic waste directly into the Farmington River which is used by the local community for fishing and bathing.

Another report on labor conditions at US-owned flower plantations in Colombia (approximately 60 percent of all flowers sold in the United States come from Colombia), and Ecuador, observes that flower workers in these countries earn poverty-level wages, work long hours, and suffer significant health problems due to pesticides. Over half of women workers in the flower industry in Colombia and Ecuador have been subjected to sexual harassment.[7]

The transnational corporations in the poor countries not only cash in on cheap labor, in some cases by violating human rights, but also expect workers to be “voiceless productive machines”. When workers try to form unions, they are subject to severe reprisals.[8] Nora Fern, Program Director at International Labor Rights Fund, and co-author of “A Valentine’s Day Report: Worker Justice and Basic Rights on Flower Plantations in Colombia and Ecuador” gives an example of how a US transnational flower company called Rosas del Ecuador in Ecuador tried to suppress the voice of the workers.[9] When the workers of this company were not paid salary for several months, they went on strike. They had to be on strike for more than two years and were not allowed to leave the plantation. If they had left the plantation, they would have been accused of abandoning the workplace and would not have been able to receive the money that the company owed them. So they stayed in shifts on the plantation, growing lettuce and other vegetables to allow themselves to survive and filing legal complaints with the Ministry of Labor. Finally, in 2006 they received a ruling in their favor and the employer was asked to pay back their wages. The employer had since disappeared. And so, the workers were left with the land. During the period of legal battle, since the workers themselves don’t have access to the exporters or the retailers, they weren’t able to continue the functioning of the plantation and exporting. So the greenhouses have fallen down, the plants have all died, and the workers are left with a totally dysfunctional plantation, which doesn’t really serve to compensate them for the thousands of dollars the company owed them.[10]

The expansion of the domain and domination of the transnational corporations in the world is also facilitated by the respective governments of the economically rich countries. The international trade agreements are mostly influenced by the transnational corporations.[11] A trade agreement between the United States and India, the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), was backed by Monsanto[12] and other transnational corporate giants. This allows for the seize of India’s seed sector by Monsanto, its trade sector by Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart. This amounts to a war against India’s independent farmers and small businesses, and a threat to India’s food security.[13] The United States is one of the two countries refused to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, an international convention for the abolition of child labor.[14] Often the economically rich countries use their economic and political clout to influence the governments in the poor countries in order to have unrestrained control over the natural resources and the markets. According to a report “the Group of Seven (G7) most industrialised nations — Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Britain and the United States — lent money to regimes they knew to be corrupt or repressive in order to buy political allegiance.”[15] They even try to choose the rulers of the poor countries. In an interview to democracynow Evo Morales[16], the president of Bolivia, said: “In 2002, former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, said, “Don’t vote for Evo Morales”…And a number of things were said about what would happen if I came to the presidency, that international cooperation would be reduced, we would no longer have access to markets.”[17] He further said: “The head of US AID for Latin America stated that they were going to finance a political counterbalance opposition.”[18]

The record of predatory capitalism and heartless, absolute greed is consistent. It leaves mass human wreckage everywhere. The US and the Western economic neoliberalism and the shock doctrine of deconstruction and chaos can be seen around the world. For example, the capacity to control natural resources in Africa is enhanced by spreading terror, uprooting people, destroying families, and sowing distrust and hatred.[19] Since 1990 twenty-two of the thirty-two countries in the lowest economic development category have experienced armed conflicts and the deadly arms have been supplied (either directly or indirectly) by weapons producing and supplying countries.[20] The armed conflicts in countries cause political chaos, destroy the infrastructure and make a huge dent on their economies, which make them vulnerable. This, in turn, provides an easy access for the transnational companies to their markets and natural resources.[21] The interconnectedness between wars and control of natural resources and markets is aptly expressed by the former US General Smedley Butler, who participated in many wars in the Central and the South America: “I was an errand boy for Wall Street.”[22] In late October 2006, the United Nations has proposed a resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty[23], which is aimed at curbing arms transfers to major human rights abusers and areas of conflict.[24] The treaty also urges weapons suppliers to limit weapons sales likely to undermine development in poor nations. 139 countries voted in favor of the resolution, while 24 countries (including many major weapons suppliers) abstained and the United States was the only country voted against the resolution.[25] Frida Berrigan comments that without the active participation of the world’s largest weapons producer and exporter, this important resolution “will not be strong enough to counter the perfect storm of profiting from war.”[26]

Regarding the foreign aid to the poor countries, it usually works hand in glove with transnational corporations. It funds construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the poorer countries:  ports, highways, and refineries. The aid given to the latter governments comes with strings attached. It must be spent on the products of the donor countries. The recipient country is required to give investment preferences to the companies of the donor countries, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods to the imported ones. This creates more dependency, hunger, and debt.[27] The US and the West-controlled International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that lend money to the poorer countries believe strongly in the principles of free market: unfettered free trade, privatization of local economies, and decreased spending on social services in exchange for lending money.[28] When the International Monetary Fund (IMF)[29] grants economic aid, it “imposes a “structural adjustment program” (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.”[30] The debtor countries are also made to cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments.[31] Instead of helping in the economic development in the receiving country, these loans worsen the existing poverty and debt situation.

Similarly the World Bank loans to the poor countries pave the way for the transnational corporations to take control and exploit local markets and natural resources. In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to open its seed sector to transnational corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill. As a result of this adjustment, traditional farm saved seeds have been replaced with genetically engineered seeds which are non-renewable. So the farmers have to purchase seeds for each growing season, which is a costly investment for them. In most cases this has led to poverty and severe indebtedness. In order to relieve themselves of debt, some farmers have even sold their own organs. When these attempts have failed to rectify their financial situations, many farmers committed suicide.[32] Similarly in Indonesia the World Bank loan has encouraged a land administration programme (LAP), which pushed for the titling of peasants’ land. This has facilitated the seize of their land at cheap prices.[33] Achmad Ya’kub, a human rights activist, deplores that the World Bank approved a loan to change the law on water to a new law protecting transnational corporations to control the water resources. This paved the way for water privatization through a project called Watsal (Water Resources Structural Adjustment Loan).[34] He laments that because of land privatization and land conversions the social cost of the marginalization of farmers and peasants, the main victims, is huge, ranging from loss of livelihoods, arrests, and even deaths.[35]

Thus, investments, loans, and most forms of aid from the economically rich countries and the international loan agencies (IMF, World Bank) are designed not to fight poverty (contrary to the claims of the leaders of the economically rich countries (the right question that need to be asked and answered is: how did these countries have become rich?), the transnational corporations, and the corporate-controlled media) but to enhance the wealth of transnational companies at the expense of local populations. Evil is always parasitic of good and must masquerade as good in order to continue to maintain the order of exploitation and oppression. General welfare is not the objective and the highest social good of the greed-based capitalistic system. Profit is no longer the means, but the ultimate goal. The purpose is to serve the interests of global capital accumulation, to take over the lands and local economies of the economically poor peoples, monopolize their markets, lower their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these countries from emerging as trade competitors by strangulating the local economy.[36] In essence they are aimed at solidifying the feudal system, forcing the poor countries into a perpetual bondage to the rich.

Unrestrained corporate greed-based capitalism has also entered religion. The “faith statement”: “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the “Mighty” Dollar,[37] and the prayer: “Bow your heads and drop to your knees, brothers and sisters! Feel the power of the Holy Dollar coursing through your being as you humbly offer your prayers, exaltations and gratitude to Mighty Mammon!”[38], though ironic, reflect the reality, that is, the mammonization of God and religion. The “gospel entrepreneurs” with their claims of unhindered direct access to God craftily unite God and Mammon with their make-rich-quick “good news”. These “gospel entrepreneurs”, particularly megachurches and televangelists, subscribe to corporate standards of operation with wealth as the highest “spiritual” value, and prosperity as their gospel. They advocate marketing approach to Christ and Christian religion and give optimistic messages intended to “make people feel good about themselves”. Their philosophy is to make the church as uninterfering and entertaining as possible in order to attract more “customers” into the “spiritual corporate company”. Their doctrine, known as Word of faith, is essentially that God rewards one’s faith almost always in the form of an abundance of wealth. They keep reminding the members the law of reciprocity: “give generously and you will receive generously from God”. Consecration of wallets is their theology. This “spiritual culture” is not only in step with the corporate greed culture around, but also funneling crores of dollars annually into the coffers of these “spiritual corporate companies”.

The number of God’s millionaires is on the raise. The owners of the Megachurches and televangelists “receive” enormous salaries.  For example, an American televangelist, who visits India every year to proclaim “the power of the Word of faith” and has a $9 crore-a-year turnover from the “corporate gospel business”, was “paid” an annual salary of $9,00,000 and her husband, the Ministries’ Board vice president, $4,50,000 in 2002 and 2003. After the criticisms, she currently receives an annual salary of $2,50,000. Although the law in America states that the tax-exempt religious property “cannot be held for private or corporate profit,” according to a report[39], among other personal benefits reaped from the “corporate gospel ministry”, the evangelist of the God of mammon has a $20 lakh house and receives a separate $5 lakh annual housing allowance (apart from the utilities and maintenance bills paid by the ministries), is provided with free personal use of a $1 crore corporate jet and luxury cars including $1,07,000 silver-gray Mercedes Sedan, and authorized to use a fund of $7,90,000 “at their discretion”. This “gospel entrepreneur” also receives a portion of the $30 lakh a year in royalties earned from books and tapes sold (even though in reality it was the employees who help in writing). The board consists of the evangelist, her spouse, their children, and friends. The list of the ministry’s personal property worth nearly $57 lakhs of furniture, artwork, glassware, and the latest equipment and machinery includes: $49,000 conference table with six chairs, $11,000 clock, $1,05,000 boat, $42,200 worth of ten vases, and a $5,700 porcelain crucifixion. Of the $9 crore annual “profits” from the “gospel business” the ministry spends 10% on charitable works around the world, including India.  

Observer reports about another popular American televangelist to whom the combination of Ministry and Mammon has provided with a net worth estimated at between $20 crores and $100 crores.[40] It gives an example of the way he raised money for a “noble cause” in Africa. Through an emotional fundraising drive on his TV station (this Christian television network is also popular in India), the evangelist raised several crore dollars for his tax-free charitable trust. It is said that he gave $70 lakhs to alleviate the misery of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda. More interesting is the way the funds were used in Africa. He bought planes to shuttle medical supplies in and out of the refugee camp in Goma, Congo (previously called Zaire). However, an investigative reporter discovered that over a six-month period, except for one medical flight, the planes were used to supply equipment for a diamond mining operation at a distance from Goma. It was found that he actually flew on one plane ferrying equipment to his mines. The spokesperson of his Ministries countered the criticism that by diverting the planes for diamond mining, the evangelist was actually carrying out God’s work. He further told that the planes proved unfit for supplying medicine, and so the evangelist used them for the diamond hunt which, if successful, would have freed the people of the Congo from lives of starvation and poverty.

Thus, Christian ministry has become a corporate business with the owners of these spiritual corporate companies becoming wealthy on the pretext of serving the poor and the needy. The God of mammon obscures the God of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of greed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. Patronage System

The patronage system (patron and client) formed the economic backbone of the Greco-Roman society. It was based on an asymmetrical exchange relationship.[41] Patron and client were “unequal in control of resources, and so differ in terms of power and status.”[42] In the Greco-Roman world “the greater part of the property, wealth and power was concentrated into the hands of the few, and access to these goods was through personal connection….”[43] Under the patron-client relationship, the rich patron offered his client such benefits as protection in law-suits, food, and money. In return the patron received the client’s political support and an open show of loyalty and respect whenever the two met, which was equally valuable in a Greco-Roman society. In order to be a successful client, the latter “had to follow the golden rule, that is, to please the patron and try to accommodate oneself to his (patron’s) opinion.”[44] Through paying visits to the patrons and observing the ritual of morning salutation to them, clients could get limited economic help from the patron to support their lives. The clients had to address their patrons “master”. A mistake in the observance of proper respect to their “masters” would cost them that day’s payment. The patron-client relationship was inextricably involved with matters of politics and economics. Conqueror was patron of the conquered (today the economically rich and militarily powerful countries), wealthy patronized artists and writers (today corporate companies control the media), and the noble and influential in the provinces were patrons of their towns. The patron-client relationship also formed the basis of many social clubs and provided the wealthy with an entourage to follow them through the streets. Thus, “the basis of patronage system is power and authority, so that a patron might stand to gain power and position in a vertical hierarchy by giving to a client and client became bonded to the patron out of necessity and compulsion, and the patron maintained that relationship through further giving.”[45]

The patronage system also defined the relationship between the Roman emperor and his subject societies. Whenever a society was conquered by another or what Price calls it “an intrusion of authority” into its world, a system of adjustments had to take place in the subject society in order for the local people to come to terms with the new situation.[46] Generally, the official policy in the subject society was that of accommodating the new power relations. The local people were either inclined or forced to follow this official policy. For the allegiance to the emperor, subject society was guaranteed “freedom” from external and internal threats. It was also assured “conveniences” of the Roman state. This “beneficial ideology” was perpetuated by the local elites in the subject societies, hailing the imperial (Roman) “freedom” and “security” and the promise of their continuance in the subject society through military force. The intension was to make the bondage more acceptable to the local populace and to justify the external rule in their eyes. Richard Horsley rightly says that “a successful colonization includes cultivating the acceptance of the colonial relationship among the colonized.”[47] In a way the client society was caught in the web of patron-client system, where it would owe honor and loyalty to the Roman emperor, and the latter would in turn owe protection or guarantee “freedom” from both internal and external threats to the former.[48] In the client societies the political ideals of autonomy and independence that had defined the classical Greek polis (city) were replaced in the Roman civitas by “two aims that were both functional and ideological. One was to use cities as administrative centers for supervising the production and distribution of local and regional resources. That also…meant taxation flowing back to Rome. The other one was to build communities by creating for the empire’s urban populations a common form of civic life (and) a common set of civic buildings…That…meant loyalty flowing back to Rome.”[49] Thus, “benefaction” had become an ideological concealment to the exploitative relationship between the emperor and the subjects. Emperors used “gifts” also to bolster their power and the power of the local elite classes whose support they needed. Thus, the patron-client relationship between the emperor and the subject societies increased social differentiation. Local wealthy aristocracy was also involved in “benefaction”. However, the major purpose of the “benefaction” of the local elite was not to relieve poverty, but to register and naturalize the inequalities of the social system in the society, just as the emperor’s patronage and “generosity” marshaled and orchestrated the overall hierarchy of the system as a whole. The “gifts” objectified the relations of respect, dependence, authority and power upon which the entire system rested. Thus, the culture of “benefaction” not only provided a rationale that justified the dominance of the internal (in the form of the local elites) and external (in the form of the Roman emperor) powers, but also concealed the exploitation in this exchange relationship. 

B. Paul’s Counter System of Equality and Nonacquisitiveness

Paul, in the narratives of “collection” to the “saints” in Jerusalem, promotes a system of equality and nonacquisitiveness as a counter to the dominant, oppressive, and exploitative systems of inequality and acquisitiveness. He considers “remembering the poor” as an integral part of his apostolic mission. This can be seen in his repetition of the “collection” to the believers in need in Jerusalem in Galatians 2.10; I Corinthians 16.1-4; II Corinthians 1.15-16; II Corinthians chapters 8-9; Romans 15.25-32. In Romans 15.25, Paul says that he is going to Jerusalem on a “ministry” (diakonia) to the “saints” in Jerusalem. The Greek word diakonia is also used for the ministry of the gospel in Rom. 11.13 and II Cor. 4.1, 5.18. That means, for him, “helping the poor” is not diverse from the “ministry of the gospel”. Therefore, Paul is encouraging the Gentile churches to participate in the ministry to the “saints” in the Jerusalem church. Interestingly, he uses the Greek verb leitourgein in II Cor. 9.12 and Rom. 15.27. This verb has a secular sense (“to serve the need”) and a cultic sense (“to serve as a priest”). In Philippians 2.30 he employs leitourgein in the secular sense of “serving one’s need”. It is used to Epaphroditus (leitourgos) as he brought the “gift” sent by the Philippian church to serve Paul’s need (Phil. 2.25). In this service Epaphroditus even risked his own life. In II Cor. 9.12 leitourgia refers to the “collection” itself. Leitourgein in Rom. 15.27 may be understood in secular sense when seen in the light of Phil. 2.25, 30 and II Cor. 9.12.[50]

On the other hand, Paul in Phil. 2.17 uses leitourgein in the cultic sense. Also in Rom. 15.27 it may be understood in cultic sense if seen in the light of leitourgos of Rom. 15.16. Paul employs the cultic language in connection with his taking the collection raised among the Gentile churches to the “saints” in Jerusalem (Rom.15.15-33): “priest of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles”, “perform a priestly function with regard to the Gospel of God”, “the offering of the Gentiles, sanctified by the Holy Spirit might be acceptable” (Rom. 15.15-16). The “offering” mentioned in Rom. 15.16 can be taken as the object of Gentiles. This is supported by Phil. 4.18, where Paul describes the Philippians’ “gift” to him as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Thus, Paul is depicting the economic relationship with a cultic metaphor of “offering”. “Offering” in the cultic context points to an exchange between God and the offerer(s), where the latter offers “an innocent and defenseless sacrificial victim” as a sacrifice to God. Rene Girard calls this “scapegoat mechanism”.[51] The power of this mechanism lies in its deception and concealment. On the one hand, it deceives by depicting God as the one who is demanding “sacrificial victims”, and thus, portraying violence against the “victims” as a sacred act. On the other hand, it conceals the plight of the innocent and voiceless “sacrificial victims” and transforms the “violence against the victims” as a “good violence”. Thus, the cycle of scapegoating the “weak and vulnerable” continues. Raymund Schwager says that “according to its basic structure, the sacrificial cult is a ritual repetition of the scapegoat mechanism.”[52] The OT prophets were opposed to all of the sacrificial rites in Israel. Amos denounced the cultic practices of the people: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon” (Amos 5:21-22). The prophets demanded, rather to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Aligning himself with this prophetic tradition and depicting the sharing of resources with the needy as an “offering to God”, Paul is providing a counter system where “offering” required by God’s justice is not “sacrificial violence” against “an innocent and voiceless victim”, but serving the need of “the victim” or sharing God’s resources with the “victim” of the structural violence. Dominic Crossan calls this “God’s distributive justice”.[53] Far from demanding “victims”, God not only identifies with the “victims” but also addresses the situation of their “victimization”.

1. Equality  

Paul presents the Macedonian believers as an example of those who were pleased to participate in “God’s distributive justice”. In Romans he repeats twice that they were pleased to share their resources with the needy in Jerusalem (Rom. 15.26,27). The Macedonian Christians even “begged” Paul and his colleagues to allow them to be partners in this ministry of sharing their resources with the “saints” in Jerusalem. Testifying about them, Paul says: “(D)uring a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (II Cor. 8.2). Notice the contrast between the external situation and the character of the Macedonian believers: “a severe ordeal of affliction” and “abundant joy”, and “extreme poverty” and “a wealth of generosity”. The sharing is clearly not from “plenty” to “want” but from “want” to “want”. Their sharing is not a “charity” or a “free giving” of what is “extra” or “useless” (or even “free giving” of tax money). It clearly challenges the existing stereotypes of the “rich” and the “poor” or “giver” and “receiver” in exchange relationship in the patronage system that assumes and assigns superior and inferior status to all participants in that structure.

Paul also informs the pure intent of the Macedonian believers in their sharing of God’s resources. He employs the Greek word haplotēs for the “generosity” of the Macedonian (and Corinthian) believers (II Cor. 8.2, cf. 9.11). Haplotēs does not mean merely “generosity”, but “generosity arising out of purity of mind”. In other words, this “giving” to those in need arose from pure intentions (unlike economic aid, loans, and investments of economically rich countries and transnational companies in the poor countries) without any ulterior or malicious motives as in the Greco-Roman patronage system and the greed-based capitalist system. It is sharing with pure intent of what God has given them with their fellow brothers and sisters who are in need.

Being conscious of the “obligatory” relationship between the “giver” and the “receiver” present in the existing patronage system, Paul is cautious not to give it a foothold in the counter system. One thing that is not emphasized in I Cor. 16.1-4 and II Cor. 8-9 is the economic hardship of the “saints of Jerusalem church”. Even though one could speculate that the Gentile churches already knew about the situation of these believers in the Jerusalem church (cf. II Cor. 9.12), one wonders why Paul did not repeat this important information to gather sympathy from the Gentile churches, since the issue was a matter of urgency for him. In II Cor. 9.11-12, just as in II Cor. 8.13-14, by avoiding the mentioning of the economic hardship of the needy in the Jerusalem church in the context of “collection”, he is careful to see that the Jerusalem church would not be placed in a direct obligatory relationship to the Gentile churches as a result of receiving the economic contribution.

Rather, Paul is emphasizing two things: the principle of equality and the source of wealth. Paul speaks of “their need” in connection to equality or “fair balance” (II Cor. 8.13-14): “I do not mean that there is relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” The common interpretation of “their need” is “the material need of the Jerusalem believers”.[54] If that is the meaning, what about the phrases “your need” and “their abundance”? The reference to Corinthians’ “need” is ambiguous here. It can not be understood as referring to material need because Corinthian believers are considered to be relatively rich and that is why Paul is writing this letter to share from their material riches, nor can it be taken as referring to “spiritual poverty” because in II Cor. 8.9 it is already said that Christ has made them rich.[55] Also Paul in II Cor. 8.15 cites Exodus 16.18 which refers to the experience of the people of Israel in the wilderness when they gathered manna for themselves: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” The implication is that it was God who made “equality” to happen. In other words, God is a God of “fairness” or “equality”. Here it is appropriate to take it as a general illustration of the principle of equality.[56] Thus, Paul directs the focus of the Corinthian believers to God’s principle of “fairness” or “equality”. This should become the motivation for them to share their resources with the needy in the Jerusalem church. For Paul, it is a concrete demonstration of the God’s community of the new creation: “This is divinely distributive justice, a necessary sharing of God’s resources….Loving as a fair and equitable sharing of a world that belongs to a just God is what gives content to Paul’s assertion to the Galatians that “a new creation is everything” (Gal. 6.15) and to Paul’s claim to the Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (II Cor. 5.17).”[57] Crossan wonders: “What better deserves the title of a new creation than the abnormalcy of a share-world replacing the normalcy of a greed-world?”[58]

Paul also focuses their attention to the source of their wealth, God. In II Cor. 9.11-12, Paul says that the Corinthian church is in a position to give because God the supplier has provided them with wealth (both spiritual and material, II Cor. 8.9, 9.10).  The ultimate purpose of their giving is to render thanksgiving to God (II Cor. 9.11,12). In other words, their “generosity” is out of their gratitude to the Source of their wealth. Thus, by linking the generosity of the Corinthian church to God and not to the economic poverty of the Jerusalem believers, Paul has consciously disconnected the Jerusalem church as the “receiver” from the patronal power of the “giver” and dissuaded the economically rich from using their economic contribution to advance their patronal power.    

2. Nonacquisitiveness

Paul gives two examples of “generosity” to the Corinthian believers: Macedonian believers and Jesus Christ (II Cor. 8.1-6; 8.9). He praises the voluntary “generosity” of the Macedonian believers: “(B)egging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry”(meta pollēs paraklēseos deomenoi hēmōn tēn charin kai tēn koinonian tēs diakonias tēs eis tous hagious (II Cor. 8.4)). This is linked to the “generous act” of Jesus Christ: “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ” (tēn charin tou kuriou hēmōn Iēsou Christou (II Cor. 8.9)), by the common Greek term charin. In these two examples Paul is emphasizing their nonacquisitive character and their focus on the welfare of the “other”. The nonacquisitive character of the Macedonian believers is depicted by the paradox of “a wealth of their generosity” in “extreme poverty”. As explained above, the Greek word haplotēs denotes “generosity out of pure mind”, that is, without any malicious and hidden intent. That means, their “generosity” is purely for the welfare of the believers in the Jerusalem church. The nonacquisitive character of Jesus Christ is expressed in his act: “though he was rich…he became poor” (II Cor.8.9), and the focus on the welfare of the needy: “for your sakes…so that…you might become rich.” Paul further says that the “generosity” of Jesus Christ exemplifies the “genuineness of love” (II Cor. 8.8-9). In other words, the “generous act” of Jesus Christ, which is nonacquisitive, is the expression of the “genuineness” of love. Thus, the model for agape love is Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 2.20). Paul in Gal. 5.6 exhorts that faith in Christ manifests itself through loving service, or “it erupts into communal life as love” (Gal. 5.6 “faith working through love”).[59] Believer in Christ mimes the nonacquisitive desire of Christ, that is, the agape love, and thus breaks free from the system of greed and acquisitiveness and becomes a part of the community of the new creation, whose concrete pattern of life is based on agape love (Gal. 5.13-14). It is the love modeled on Christ that becomes the distinctive character of the community of the new creation. It becomes evident, then, that the community of the new creation becomes a critique and subversive of the Greco-Roman patronage system and the present greed-based capitalism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 54.

[2] Quoted by Manning Marable in a speech given at the Fifth Annual Michael Manley Lecture sponsored by the Michael Manley Foundation, Sagicor Life of Jamaica Auditorium, Kingston, Jamaica, 10.12.2006.

[3] Walter Wink, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 109.

[4] Michael Parenti, “Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World,” http://www.commondreams.org, 16.2.2007.

[5] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[6] Tim Newman, “Child Labor behind Firestone Tires,” www.commondreams.org. 12.6.2007.

[7] “Valentine’s Day: Labor Conditions at US-Owned Plantations Show Hidden Realities of Flower Industry,” http://www.democracynow.org, 14.2.2007.

[8] Two US corporations in Colombia – Chiquita Brands International, a banana company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Drummond Company Inc, a major coal producer based in Birmingham, Alabama – are facing charges in two separate suits filed in US courts for aiding far-right paramilitary groups having close ties to the Colombian pro-US government. Chiquita Brands International is being sued for its role in the murder of hundreds of Colombian workers killed by paramilitary groups. Drummond Company is facing similar charges in the murder of three trade union leaders. It is estimated that 4000 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia in the past two decades alone. Barin Masoud, “Rights-Colombia: US Firms Face Charges for Aiding Paramilitary Killers,” www.ipsnews.net, 22.6.2007.

[9] US has ratified only 14 of the 184 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and 2 of the 8 Conventions the ILO has identified as fundamental to the rights of human beings at work. Only by ratifying Conventions a country is subject to regular scrutiny of the ILO.

www.fpif.org/outside/commentary/2002/021 Oilo.html

[10] “Valentine’s Day.”

[11] A Powerful lobby in the US wants the India-US Nuclear Deal sealed. According to The Wall Street Journal it opens the way for nuclear power business and massive arms deals worth an estimated $25,000 crores. The US Chamber of Commerce and companies such as General Electric and Boeing are lobbying for the deal.

[12] During the Vietnam War the US war planes sprayed about 18 million gallons of Agent Orange (a poisonous chemical toxin) on the land of Vietnam. As a consequence of this, over 3 million Vietnamese are disabled. The victims are suing over three dozen US chemical companies that have supplied this poisonous chemical. The list of companies being sued includes Dow Chemical (parent company of the Union Carbide, which is responsible for Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India) and Monsanto. These two companies are still involved in poisoning the land and the water with their byproducts in India. 

[13] “Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India and More,” www.democracynow.org, 13.12.2006.

[14] “The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989,” www.rugmark.org. Article 32 states:  “Children have the right to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, has been ratified by 192 countries, except by the United States of America and Somalia.

[15] Emad Mekay, “Rich Nations Prodded on “Illegitimate” Lending,” Inter Press Service , 13.2.2007.

[16] Evo Morales, a farmer’s son, grew up in extreme poverty and rose to power leading Bolivia’s long-marginalized indigenous majority. Morales has said that his election marks the beginning of the end to hundreds of years of discrimination and repression of Bolivia’s indigenous majority. He has promised to lift one of Latin America’s poorest countries out of the misery it has endured since the 16th century Spanish invasion. He has nationalized the natural gas industry and ordered land handouts for peasants. He has also slashed government salaries, cutting his own by more than 50 percent, to fund more teachers and health care workers, and secured an increase in the price Argentina pays for natural gas. Morales avoids the lifestyle of the European-descended elites who long ruled and exploited South America’s poorest country. Rather than sitting down to sumptuous banquets with the wealthy, he prefers hosting traditional lunches where peasants eat communally, with their hands, on the marble floor of the palace’s great hall.

[17] “Bolivian President Evo Morales on Latin America, U.S. Foreign Policy and the Role of the Indigenous People of Bolivia,” http://www.democracynow.org, 22.9.2006.

[18] “Bolivian President Evo Morales.”

[19] This phenomenon of death, destruction and plunder is glaringly evident in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Glen Ford, “A Tale of Two Genocides: Congo and Darfur,” in www.blackagendareport.org, 18.7.2007; Keith Harmon Snow, “Over Five Million Dead in Congo? Fifteen Hundred People Daily?” in www.dissidentvoice.org, 4.2.2008; Jim Lobe, “Global Businesses Profit from Congo War, Groups Charge,” in www.interpressservice.org, 28.10.2003.

[20] Recently it has been reported that weapons are supplied to pro-government and anti-government forces of Sudan, an oil-rich country (where civil war is going on), by China and Russia, and the United States (through Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) respectively. 

[21] Read “Human Development Report 2005: International Cooperation at a Crossroads: Aid, Trade and Security in an Unequal World,” Published for the United Nations Development Programme.

The ongoing illegal war in Iraq is a perfect example for the link between wars/conflicts, and control of markets and natural resources. The United States of America is pressurizing the Iraqi government to pass a new law on oil and gas (this is one of the bench marks set by the US for the Iraqi government to fulfill). Under the proposed law, Iraq’s immense oil reserves would not only be opened to foreign oil exploration, but the executives of the transnational oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum and the other Western oil giants would actually be among the board of directors of the new Federal Oil and Gas Council that would control all of Iraq’s reserves. The Iraq’s own national oil company would become just another competitor. The new law would grant the council virtually all power to develop policies and plans for undeveloped oil fields and to review and change all exploration and production contracts.

[22] Howard Zinn, “Empire or Humanity? What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me about the American Empire,” www.tomdispatch.com, 3.4.2008.

[23] Relatively inexpensive and readily available small arms and light weapons can be used to destabilize countries, creating political chaos and economic devastation, thus undermining their economic self-sufficiency and making them vulnerable for exploitation.

[24]A 2005 report by the World Policy Institute found that of the largest U.S. arms recipients in the developing world, over 70 percent were undemocratic regimes, major human rights abusers or both. A recent report by the research group Saferworld found that in 2005 the United Kingdom provided weapons to 19 of 20 nations that had been singled out by its own government as “major countries of concern” for human rights abuses. The Control Arms Campaign has found Russian, Greek, Chinese and U.S. origin bullets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is engaged in one of the deadliest civil wars.

[25] “The question remains, why is the United States opposed to taking measures to stop this deadly trade? The first answer is strategic. The executive branch wants to preserve its “freedom of action” to arm U.S.-allied groups like the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghan mujahadin, Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA movement in Angola, (warlords in Somalia)…and (militant) groups opposed to the current regime in Iran.” William D. Hartung, “We Arm the World,” www.tompaine.com, 27.10.2006. According to the ABC News, America is funding Jundullah, a Pakistan-based terrorist group, to undermine Iran government.

However, there is also an economic dimension (i.e. control of markets and natural resources) to the US and West sponsored wars, civil wars and conflicts. It is known that the recent occupation of Somalia by Ethiopia and the subsequent appointment of Somalia government have been orchestrated by the United States of America. Now the US-backed Somali prime minister wants to pass a new oil law to encourage foreign oil companies to return to Somalia. Royal Dutch Shell, Conoco Phillips, Chevron Corporation once had exploration contracts in Somalia, but the companies left the country in 1991. Salim Lone, a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya and a former spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq says: “Somalia itself and the region, the Horn of Africa, is newly oil-rich. Kenya has some oil. Oil is the key to domination for the United States — global domination, I mean. But it is going about, you know, the wrong way to get that oil. The US is also worried that its welcome in the Middle East is diminishing, and they need to make sure — both they want to encircle the Middle East with the oil field, and they want to make sure they have Somalia and other countries handy for the oil.” www.democracynow.org, 27.4.2007.

[26] According to an analysis done by the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center, the United States provided countries in the developing world with more than $1260 crores in arms in Fiscal year 2005. According to the Congressional Research Service’s “Conventional Weapons Transfers to Developing Nations” report, the United States led in global arms deliveries for the eighth year in a row. The United Kingdom trailed in second with $310 crores and Russia was a close third at $280 crores in arms deliveries. Together, these three weapons exporters were responsible for almost 70% of arms delivered worldwide. Frida Berrigan, “United States Rides Weapons Bonanza Wave,” http://www.fpif.org, 16.11.2006.

[27] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[28] Ashifa Kassam, “South Americans Wage Battle against Economic World Order: Continent’s People Optimistically Continue Fight Largely Abandoned by Western Activists,” www.commondreams.org, 29.5.2007.

[29] Traditionally a European heads the International Monetary Fund, and an American is the president of the World Bank.

[30] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[31] Parenti, “Mystery.”

[32] According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data record, there have been 1,66,304 farmers’ suicides in a decade since 1997 in India. Of these, 78,737 occurred in five years between 1997 and 2001. The next five years – from 2002 to 2006 – proved worse, seeing 87,567 take their lives. This means that on an average, there has been one farmer’s suicide every 30 minutes since 2002. www.hindu.com, 31.1.2008.

[33] Anil Netto, “World Bank Should Go with Wolfowitz: Activists,” Inter Press Service, 21.5.2007.

[34] Netto, “World Bank Should Go with Wolfowitz: Activists.”

[35] Netto, “World Bank Should Go with Wolfowitz: Activists.”

[36] Parenti, “Mystery.”

Along with the transnational companies aided by their respective governments, and the international financial agencies, “vulture funds” are the “vultures” vying for the “flesh” of the poor. “Vulture funds”, defined by the International Monetary Fund, are companies which buy up the debt of poor nations cheaply when it is about to be written off and then sue for the full value of the debt plus interest, which might be ten times what they paid for it. On the 24th April 2007 the London High Court gave a verdict that Zambia should pay $155 lakhs to a British Virgin Island-based “vulture fund” company, Donegal International, whose director is an American. In 1979 the Romanian government lent Zambia money to buy Romanian tractors. When Zambia was unable to keep up the payments, in 1999 Romania and Zambia negotiated to liquidate the debt for $30 lakhs. At that moment Donegal International stepped in and bought the debt at $32 lakhs and had been seeking $550 lakhs from Zambia. More than two-thirds of the cases brought by “vulture funds” occur in the US or UK jurisdictions. Some other countries that have faced legal actions by commercial creditors and “vulture funds” include: Angola, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Tanzania, Uganda, and Yemen. “Testimony by Neil Watkins, National Coordinator, Jubilee USA Network, to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, May 22, 2007,” http://www.jubileeusa.org, 23.5.2007.

[37] “IN GOD WE TRUST” is printed on all American dollar notes.

[38] Jason Miller, “Blind Obedience to the Canons of Capitalism: Of Sick Societies, American Dalits, and a Nation of Lady Macbeths,” www. Smirkingchimp.com, 26.11.2006.

[39] Carolyn Tuft, Post-Dispatch, 30.4.2005.

[40] Observer, London, 23.5.1999.

[41] John K. Chow, Patronage and Power: A Study of Social Networks in Corinth (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), p. 41.

[42] Chow, Patronage and Power, p. 41.

[43] David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 96.

[44] Chow, Patronage and Power, p. 74.

[45]Sze-kar Wan, “Collection for the Saints as Anticolonial Act: Implications for Paul’s Ethic Reconstruction,” in Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl, ed. by Richard A. Horsley (Harrisburg, Penn: Trinity Press International, 2000), p. 214.

[46] S.R.F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 274.

[47] Richard Horsley, “Krister Stendahl’s Challenge to Pauline Studies,” in Paul and Politics, p. 30.

[48] There is a parallel in the present day world where monetarily and militarily powerful countries strangulate the “weaker” ones by claiming to promote “democracy” and “freedom”.  Imperial wars on other countries are portrayed as liberating ones, humanitarian interventions, and spreading democracy by the propaganda of the dominant media, thus, concealing the imperial power and economic interests.

[49] John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom: A New Vision of Paul’s Words & World (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), p. 185.

[50] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 399.

[51] Some of the bibliography: Girard, Rene, Violence and the Sacred, Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1977; The Scapegoat, Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1986; Hamerton-Kelly, Robert G. Sacred Violence: Paul’s Hermeneutic of the Cross, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992; The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994; Schwager, Raymund, Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.

[52] Raymund Schwager, Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), p. 83.

[53] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 175.

[54] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (Waco, Texas: Word, 1986), p. 267.

[55] Wan, “Collection for the Saints as Anticolonial Act,” p. 211.

[56] Wan, “Collection for the Saints as Anticolonial Act,” p. 211.

[57] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 175.

[58] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 175.

 

[59] Sam K. Williams, Galatians (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 144.

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