18. A theological response seeks its inspiration in sources that mediate the presence of God and contextualizes that inspiration in the lives of people striving to meet challenges in different areas of life. Here the inspiration we draw is meant to fashion a system of economics that is ethical, person-affirming and concretely feasible.
A. Insights from the Old Testament
19. The Old Testament sees riches as God’s blessings, something that has lent substance to the “prosperity Gospel” as found in the book of Proverbs. However, the possession of wealth is governed by laws and injunctions of restraint as set down in Exodus and Deuteronomy. The sabbatical year and the jubilees were an invitation to halt material accumulation and to rectify, by redistribution, the injustices that had crept in. These occasions existed so that the people could acknowledge and confess that ultimately the ownership of the land and all the riches of creation derive from God and belong to God, and therefore all men and women—not only the royal and affluent—have a claim on these riches. These values were embedded in the tribal structure of the people of Israel before the advent of the monarchy. The laws of the covenant were intended precisely to enable a community to exercise reciprocal responsibility and they contained provisions to take care of the last and the least (anawim). One of the deepest moral concerns of the Bible is that the care of the widow, the alien, the orphan and the weak is a primary duty. Further, the quality of a community’s way of life is measured by the way it takes care of the weaker ones who are vulnerable and lack protection. This runs through the entire corpus of the Biblical tradition.
20. The prophetic tradition in particular, reiterates very strongly Yahweh’s concern for justice and the welfare of the anawim who require special care, protection, and affirmative action on their behalf. While the prophets did not explicitly address any economic questions as such, as spokespersons for Yahweh, they spoke to their contemporaries in the concrete situations of their lives. God as revealed in the Exodus experience and the covenant relationship was their point of reference. Not only did the covenant place upon Israel the responsibility of accepting the absolute sovereignty of Yahweh but it also required Israel to treat the weak as Yahweh had treated her. The prophets stressed justice and righteousness as the fundamental virtues to be observed by the community in its relationship with Yahweh. If only Israel obeyed the Lord’s laws, there would not be any poor in the land, says Deuteronomy 15: 4, 5.
21. The prophets represent God in proclaiming justice for all and serve as critics of wealth accumulation that excludes people and leaves them in want and penury. Against the economic background of their times we understand both the prophetic critique of society (e.g. Amos) and its defence of the poor. In short, the prophets condemned idolatry and injustice, both being inextricably interlinked. Forsaking Yahweh caused the practice of injustice in society even as social injustice led one away from Yahweh to idols.
B. God’s Word becoming Flesh (Anawim) in the New Testament
22. In an extended sense, one could look at Jesus functioning in a globalized world. Actually the Mediterranean world to which Palestine belonged had undergone a double type of globalization. In his person, Jesus must have been affected by cultural globalization. From Italy and Sicily to the Indus Valley and from the Black Sea to the upper reaches of the Nile, a cultural melting pot produced the complex intercultural phenomenon of Hellenism. Everybody did not speak the same language and did not profess the same religion. However, a certain type of life, a general sense of the oikoumene, and some sort of shared values unified that world. Moreover, Jesus was influenced by economic globalization since the Romans ruled over the area and contributed three important economic factors to the cultural ones: peace (Pax Romana), roads and administration. It is into this cultural-economic world that Jesus was born. “The Word was made flesh” is not only a theological declaration but also a socio-economic statement since Jesus was also a product of his times. What kind of economics did Jesus inherit, practise and propagate?
23. First, Jesus was a carpenter of sorts. The Greek word tektôn used in Mk 6:3 to qualify Jesus’ profession and social position does not mean exactly “carpenter”. It referred to the wood work in constructing parts of the house, since Palestinian houses were mostly made of stone and mud. In Nazareth, this profession could not provide a living wage and Jesus would have complemented the family income with agricultural activities, probably as a farm hand.
24. Second, there were many economic burdens which the rural poor in Jesus’ time had to bear. The beautiful constructions of the Roman government put a heavy financial burden on the land and that meant taxes in addition to the religious taxes paid to the Temple. The process of urbanization benefited only the cities. For the impoverished village population, modernization meant only an increase in taxation without any apparent benefit.
25. Third, the focus of Jesus’ teaching is the poor as manifested in the parables. The material of the parables is taken basically from the life of the poor marginal Galilean farmers tilling small patches of mediocre land, surrounded by thorns, encroached on by passers-by and often consisting of rocky soil (Mk 4:3-9). The large fertile tracts of lower Galilee were the property of the Temple, of the cities, of the royal establishment and its minions. They were looked after by “stewards” representing the owners. Several parables refer to this situation (Mk 12:1-12; Mt 20:1-16; Lk 16:1-8). No sympathy is shown for the absentee landowner. Too often he is a demanding person, harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not sow (Mt 25:24.26). The reader is even invited to give ironical sympathy to the shrewd manager tricking his master (Lk 16:1-8). The exaggerated reaction of the tenants who revolt (Mk 12:1-9) can only be caused by the latent anger of poor frustrated workers deprived of the fruit of their labour. In all these stories, the viewpoint is from below, from the position of the marginalized villager.
26. Fourth, Jesus’ language and world perspective are those of the marginalized rural Galilean. By birth, family belonging and links, by his way of life, culture and the lived experience of economic pressure, Jesus was part of rural and impoverished Galilee. His ministry was exercised among its poor. He did not belong to the world of Sepphoris and Tiberias, of Antipas and of his globalizing policy. In him, the Word was made flesh: anawim, that is, marginalized rural flesh.
C. The Early Christian Community
27. In its daily living, the early Christian community seemed to live out radically Jesus’ economics. Acts presents the picture of an ideal community where possession is relativized and the good of the community takes priority over individual possession. (Acts 4: 34-35; 2: 42-47). This could be an idealized picture drawn by the early writer since we have Paul complaining about divisions and economic injustices that existed in the Corinthian community which even affected their Eucharistic practices (1Cor 11: 20-22). The letter of James comes down heavily on the rich and their accumulation of wealth that slights the poor and ignores their needs. (Jas 2:1-7; 5:1-6). Thus the challenge has always been to live radically according to the demands of Jesus’ message or to water it down by paying homage to mammon.
D. Economics in the Teachings of Christianity
28. In the history of the Church one finds both: a strong sense of Gospel economics in the lives and teachings of its members, and also a tacit, if not overt, approval of accumulated wealth. For instance, in the 4th century before the advent of the Christian empire, Fathers of the Church like John Chrysostom condemned excessive accumulation of wealth in no uncertain terms. Yet by the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Church owned immense tracts of land that yielded sizeable revenues.
29. Christianity shares with the Islamic and Jewish traditions, the belief that the earth belongs to God the creator and human beings are but God’s representatives and therefore they cannot be owners of the earth. Stewardship better describes the function of God’s representatives. Today in the world of capitalism that stresses absolute ownership of individual and private enterprises, it is very important to assert, in order to uphold the dignity of the poor and the marginalized, that the right of ownership cannot be without restraint. For as Pope Paul VI stated, “private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right.” Implicit in the whole discussion is the question whether private property is a matter of natural right (Leo XIII), or the outcome of human sinfulness (Thomas Aquinas).
30. Aquinas regards the strict right to private property not as an absolute claim deriving from human nature but as resulting from human sinfulness. The right is subordinate to, and instrumental in the service of, the universal destiny of the goods of creation to serve the needs of all. For this reason Aquinas holds that a person in extreme necessity can legitimately take from another the material goods that he or she needs.
31. The teachings of Jesus on poverty and riches, the admonitions of some of the early Fathers of the Church and the theological position of St. Thomas Aquinas on ownership are reflected in the teachings of Vatican II. The modern Christian tradition, as articulated in the social teachings of the Church, has contributed significantly in this regard. Rerum Novarum (1891) insisted that the mere play of market forces should not determine a just wage; rather, personal worth and human need should be taken into account. In Populorum Progressio (1961), Paul VI noted that even though every person had a right to this world’s goods, the gap between the wealth of the privileged and the misery of the marginalized was widening. Vatican Council II affirmed “the universal purpose for which created goods are meant. In using them, therefore, a person should regard one’s lawful possession not merely as one’s own but also as common property in the sense that they should accrue to the benefit of not only oneself but of others” (GS 69).
E. A Theology of Economics
32. In recent times, liberation theology has played a significant role in calling the attention of the Church to the economic concerns of the poor and the unjust economic structures of the world that neglect the basic needs of millions in the so-called third world countries. For centuries, the Church’s God-talk remained almost dissociated from socio-cultural and economic realities of the world, especially the suffering of the poor. Liberation theologians strongly critiqued this situation in the church and showed how economic questions are intimately linked to the living out of Christian faith and to upholding the dignity and human rights of an individual. In short, justice is an intrinsic dimension of Christian salvation.
33. In opposition to a merely profit-oriented economy, social justice requires that the purpose and organization of human economics are oriented to serve authentic human needs. The goal of economics must not be unbridled profit or domination. Rather, it must be the service of human persons, and indeed of the whole human being viewed in terms of his/her material needs and the demands of his/her intellectual, moral, spiritual and religious life. The prophets of old spoke to the consciences of all, especially to those in authority. Their ministry is to be continued by the church when it strives to offer a global vision of hope to humankind. The prophets point to corporate sin in the light of a powerful doctrine of corporate grace. A correct picture of God and religion cannot countenance an unjust economic system. This presupposition about Yahweh led the prophets to inveigh against oppressive systems.
34. In the teachings of Jesus we find little mention of wealth as a sign of blessing but a great stress on the poor as beneficiaries of God’s gifts. There are serious warnings to the rich and on the dangers of riches and the thirst for accumulation. Even more, in Jesus’ teaching there is a clear contrast between God and mammon: “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Lk 16:13; Mt 6:24; Mk 10: 25). Precisely because the poor are seen to be not arrogant and haughty or blinded by wealth, they are open to God’s gifts and sensitive to the needs of their neighbours (Lk 6:20-23; Mt 5: 3-12).
35. In sum, Gospel economics finds its realization in striving for the Reign of God ideal proposed and practised by Jesus according to which God is a loving and caring parent and all people are God’s children. As a consequence, a family spirit must prevail amongst all peoples in the ownership and use of all earth’s resources. Other religious or faith traditions also stress detachment from material wealth and emphasize its true function in the world. The principal attitude to be fostered is sharing with others the goods of the world. While we reject the unethical accumulation of wealth and land by the rich and the MNCs, we uphold the ownership of the land by the Dalits and Tribals who are still landless.
36. The policies of liberalization and privatization pursued by global institutions like the I.M.F., World Bank and W.T.O. need to be reined in by a more assertive state. India as a welfare state is obliged to practise social justice in governing the historically disadvantaged people of this country and to stand by them.
37. All who endeavour to live lives based on gospel values, must play a role, like the leaven in the dough, to conscientize the people about the ill-effects of an imbalanced economy caused by globalization. Networking with social movements, NGOs, and other agencies can be undertaken to offset the harmful effects of globalization and to serve the people of this country in a more egalitarian manner.
F. Economic Perspectives in Indian Religions
38. The Vedic worldview presents a positive attitude towards the material world and human life therein. The prayer of the Vedic people is: “May we live a hundred autumns” (Jeevema sharatah shatam), enjoying the fruits of the earth. An ideal human society would be people living in harmony with each other and the elements of nature according to Rta. The Vedic and several other Hindu scriptures lay emphasis on the economics of sharing. The Rig Veda emphatically declares that nature’s resources are meant not for a few but for all, and it is a person’s moral duty to share. According to hymn 10.6 of the Rig Veda “One who eats alone without sharing, is a sinner” (Kevalagho bhavati kevaladi).The Rig Veda again reminds people that everything in this material world is filled with God (Ishavasyam) and hence even while one enjoys wealth, it must be done with a sense of renunciation (tyena tyaktena); further, one must not appropriate what belongs to others (ma ghrit kasyasvit dhanam).
39. The Atharva Veda while finding nothing wrong in accumulating wealth asks people to “accumulate with a hundred hands, but distribute with a thousand hands” (shatah hasta samahara, sahasra hasta samkara). The concepts of ‘Yajna’ and ‘Rna’ in the Vedas point to a holistic economic morality. Human beings are understood as born with a ‘debt’ (rna) towards nature and its elements (bhutas). ‘Yajna’ which originally meant “offering” is an important means to repay debt. In the ‘Panchamahayajna’ humans offer the cosmos and elements of nature to God and thereby affirm their interrelationship with the material world and with God.
40. The Bhagavad Gita (3:13) repeats the Rig Vedic idea in a more graphic way saying “evil are they and evil do they eat who cook only for themselves” (Bhunjate te tu agham papa ye pachanty atma-karanat). Lokasamgraha or welfare of the whole world is to be the motive of action and one finds his/her joy in the welfare of others (Sarva bhuta hite ratah, 5-25). The Tamil saint Thirumular has this to say “What we offer to the lord in the temple will not reach our fellow human beings, but what we offer to the walking temple, that is our fellow humans will reach not only them but it will reach the Lord too.” Swami Vivekananda, being filled with the spirit of advaitha, says: “Find God in the poor who are the living tabernacle of the Lord.”
41. The Hitopadesha describes the self-oriented person as one with a lesser consciousness (laghu chetasam) and the generous person as one who considers the whole earth as his/her family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam).
42. Kautilya in his Arthasastra declares that “Artha is the basis for Dharma and Kama” (Arthamulau hi dharma kamaviti). By this Kautilya implies that a proper economic order, wherein there is equal distribution of wealth, is a must for a sound moral order and for the attainment of happiness. In today’s globalized economy wherein resources of nature are alienated and often considered as mere objects of consumption, artha does not become a means to either the moral order or transcendence.
43. Buddhism concerns itself with the existential problem of Dukha or suffering. Though its main concern is to trace the root cause of suffering, Buddhism also undertakes to find solutions to human suffering- Dukha nivarana. This solution lies in the eight fold path and within the eightfold path ‘Sila’ or moral living is the first step toward overcoming Dukha and attaining Nirvana. Buddhist Sila lays emphasis on ‘Dana’, ‘Karuna’ and ‘Metta’. In and through these virtues one obtains not only freedom from the bondage of desires (Trishna) but also establishes a society based on equity, compassion and concern for the other.