Liberation – an Economic Illustration

Written By: Robert Brinsmead

There are two great stories of life – Exodus liberation and ‘Fall’ enslavement.  The themes of these have been re-worked down through history in such movements as Socialism and liberalism or today in Environmentalism and Libertarianism.  These differing stories include differing ways of viewing humanity and hence treating others.

You can’t do better on ethics and behavior than to get your core story right in the first place; your basic orientation.  If that is right then there is no need for prescriptive and interventionist detail on every issue that comes along.

Environmentalists of the extreme sort have the core story wrong and the core orientation wrong and hence they miss the ethical thing – they devalue people and want to control them.  Now I would have thought this would have made sense to your libertarian instincts (limiting the interfering state or regulating authority).  Instead, you say it is too non-specific.  If we get humanity right, not fallen and not separated from God, then we can trust people and liberate them, and they will do the right thing and produce co-operating order.  We have over a century of evidence here on the broadest scale; the great discovery of spontaneous order.   Of course people need supporting institutions which they have been building along with their growing liberty; a rational approach, protected property rights, and all the things that encourage co-operation and trust among liberated individuals.

Our grand story is what influences our goals and inspires our responses.

The Old Testament prophet’s theology is a theology based on the story of the Exodus rather than any written code that was supposed to come out of the Exodus event, and their ethic in a nutshell was an ethic of human liberation; that is to say, of behaving toward all fellow humans (including outsiders, aliens) in the same way as God had behaved toward an enslaved and miserable little people of no significance.  The prophets don’t have much time for the forms of religion, sacrifices, rituals and solemn assemblies, but they are preoccupied with seeing a liberated people acting in that spirit of liberation, by lavishing justice and mercy upon anyone who needs liberation.  ‘The Lord executes liberation and justice upon all that are oppressed.’  The message of the prophets is not ambigious.  “Go and do likewise; the Lord has shown you, O man, what is good.”   Now when you come to the NT, Paul put it this way, “Circumcision (religion according to Bonhoffer) is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but faith working by love is everything”.  So Jesus said, “A new command I give to you that you love one another”. There is one single commandment.  “If God has so loved us, we ought to love one another”.  So the Sermon on the Mount, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, IS the law and the prophets’ meaning; it is not just part of the law and the prophets; it is the whole law and the prophets.   

Let me give an economic illustration:  I was this week in a discussion on the issue of technology putting people out of work. We don’t need all the farmers anymore because it has been proved in the dairy industry here that 20% of dairy farmers can produce more than double of what the 80% had been producing.  Luddites broke up machinery because machines were seen as putting people out of work.  Our giant telecommunications company has laid off thousands of technicians; they are not needed any more.  Mining enterprises, even the wharfing industry has been able to do three times more with three times less people.  Computers do the work of thousands.  Yet the wonder is that we have almost full employment, even though more women are working than ever, there are now more jobs than ever. How come?  The great multitude of redundant workers is re-employed. How?  Where?  Where are they working?  Ah, this is so important to understand. The industry that has grown above all others is the service industry.  All kinds of new service industries are springing up.  I have just returned from Melbourne, the city of my birth that I have not seen for over 40 years.  The growth and the prosperity of the city was unbelievable.  Every night it seemed that the whole city must have been out dining, partying, attending theatre, sporting events etc. I said to my wife, “Don’t people eat at home anymore?”  Now to my point: Here is a modern economy where more people than ever are set free to serve and enrich the lives of others by feeding them, entertaining them, and providing a host of services to them that was hardly dreamed about in times past. Yes, much fewer people are growing food for us, much fewer are manufacturing stuff for us (in fact we buy the stuff from China!). Yet here is a prosperous economy with more people serving and enriching the lives of other people than ever before.

The greatest story ever told is the story of the Exodus.  That is the basis of the Old Testament and the basis of OT ethics, but it is also the story of the founding of America;  the founding of Australia; the Great Trek of the Boers to South Africa; the story of Joseph Smith; the story of the Adventists: it is the story of the great Reformation, it is the story of the birth of liberal democracies, it is the heartbeat of the South American struggle for liberation (the theology of liberation);, it is the story of Black America, Martin Luther King, “we shall overcome”.  So too it is the story of the early Christians (see Hebrews ll, 12).  It is the story of human evolution and the birth and growth of human consciousness.  It is the grand story of humanity, from the most inauspicious, impoverished and enslaving circumstances to a journey of human progress fired by a vision of the ‘promised land’; of peace, prosperity and health and justice for all. And what is all this liberation about?  A person in pain and hunger and sickness is not free, because such a person is forced to focus on the battle with their debilitating circumstances.  When liberated, what are they free to do?  In the story of Jesus raising Peter’s mother-in-law, what did she do when she was freed from her illness?  Why, the story tells us that she got up and started serving everybody.  So simple, so profound!

Religion (as in the book of Galatians) has people focused on themselves, but the whole point of Paul’s message of liberation, for that is the message of Galatians, is to set people free from the law (religion); to serve one another.  Now sin is just the opposite;  it bites and devours one another; it is people living in a kind of life boat mentality; their job is to get into the life-boat and beat others off by hitting the cold fingers clinging to the edge of the life-boat.  Nothing can cure that cancerous mentality but a vision of the scandalous generosity of life; of the universe; of God; a thing that sets people free to be recklessly lavish in the sharing of God’s gifts, starting with forgiveness.