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The Economy of Desire: Christianity And Capitalism In A Postmodern World (The Church And Postmodern Culture) [Paperback]

Daniel M. Jr. Bell , James Smith

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Book Description

1 Nov 2012 Church and Postmodern Culture
In this addition to the award-winning Church and Postmodern Culture series, respected theologian Daniel Bell compares and contrasts capitalism and Christianity, showing how Christianity provides resources for faithfully navigating the postmodern global economy.

Bell approaches capitalism and Christianity as alternative visions of humanity, God, and the good life. Considering faith and economics in terms of how desire is shaped, he casts the conflict as one between different disciplines of desire. He engages the work of two important postmodern philosophers, Deleuze and Foucault, to illuminate the nature of the postmodern world that the church currently inhabits. Bell then considers how the global economy deforms desire in a manner that distorts human relations with God and one another. In contrast, he presents Christianity and the tradition of the works of mercy as a way beyond capitalism and socialism, beyond philanthropy and welfare. Christianity heals desire, renewing human relations and enabling communion with God.

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About the Author

Daniel M. Bell Jr. (PhD, Duke University) is professor of theological ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and the author of Just War as Christian Discipleship and Liberation Theology after the End of History.

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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Christian critique of capitalism 6 Jan 2013
By E. Ritzema - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The goal of the Church and Postmodern Culture Series is to examine some aspect of postmodern theory and determine what it might mean for the church. In this, the latest book in the series, theologian Daniel M. Bell, Jr. mines the thought of Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault to see what they might be able to teach the church as it confronts capitalism.

However, not all Christians believe the church ought to "confront" capitalism at all. Some Christians defend capitalism as beneficial to, or at least compatible with, Christianity. But as series editor James K. A. Smith writes in the foreword, "By locating the challenges for Christian discipleship in arcane cults or sexual temptation or the `secularizing' forces of the Supreme Court, evangelicalism tends to miss the fact that the great tempter of our age is Walmart." We are content to ask ourselves whether capitalism works, but Bell asks the question, "What work does it do?"

When Bell criticizes capitalism, what he means by "capitalism" is not the free market, but the dominion of the market--the marketization of all of life. Bell does not propose socialism or communism or any other economic system as a viable alternative. Rather, he pits capitalism against what he calls "the divine economy." He writes, "By setting Christianity against [capitalism] I am suggesting that the market should be neither total nor free. That is, it should not be the central institution in life and society, nor should its capitalist logic go unchecked. More specifically, I am suggesting that the market, and indeed the discipline of economics, should be subordinated to theological concerns." The market economy, for Christians, should be subordinated to Christian virtues like generosity and justice.

The main insight that Bell takes from Deleuze and Foucault is that capitalism is an economy of desire. That is, in spite of the claim that capitalism enhances freedom, it actually disciplines desire in a way that precedes and shapes what choices people are able to make.

Bell's alternative to capitalism is not a blueprint that he intends the world to follow; it is a call for Christians to act economically the way they say they believe. We were, Bell says, "created to desire God and live in communion with one another in God" rather than pursue individualistic self-interest, as capitalism instructs us to do. We were meant to find our rest in God, rather than experience a restless and unrelenting desire for more stuff. We were meant to serve the common good, because our neighbor has a claim on us; we are not limited to voluntary associations, as capitalism has taught us to believe. Bell claims that capitalism's Christian defenders tend to have a distant God who is not active now in bringing about human sanctification. If God is not active, and we are left to shape life as we see fit, then all we can do is manage sin, and capitalism is superior to the economic alternatives. But even though the kingdom of God has not yet come in its fullness, God is active in bringing it about even now; and so an alternative to capitalism is possible.

There is more food for thought in this book than can be contained in a short review. Even though it is challenging reading, particularly in the early chapters when Bell is discussing Deleuze and Foucault, it is rewarding. Bell does give examples of how the divine economy is being hinted at even now, such as L'Arche and the Catholic Worker movement, but I wish that he had made room to go into more detail and to tell more stories about how they challenge capitalism. I recommend it to any Christian who is interested in economics.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christian critique of Capitalism 21 Jan 2013
By Kevin P. Mundell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the best critique of capitalism from a Christian perspective that I have read to date. What I like is that the author shifts the question away from is capitalism good (we know it has improved more people's lives in a shorter period of time than any other economic system) to, what does capitalism do to us. This shift of question opens up a wonderful dialogue with the biblical narratives that push us to think about how imbedded in the system we are and how it is and has changed us away from God is ways we haven't thought about. The author is also realistic on how capitalism isn't going away nor is it necessarily the Christians responsibility to control it or do away with it but rather to live within it critically. The author's work parallels Walter Brueggemann's writings on the "myth of scarcity," vs. "the abundance of God" even though he never mentions the work. What I also like about this book is that it points us to the biblical narrative which calls us into building authentic relationships of mutuality with the people around us which will limit capitalism in a healthy way while allowing it to serve as a tool to help us collectively better our lives.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christian Econ for a Pomo World 20 Feb 2013
By Brian Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have always found it interesting that Adam Smith dealt with The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations as two distinct projects. It is a great symbol for the facts/values split of the Reformation (thanks, KPM).

Bell does a fantastic job of synthesizing our economic lives with our spiritual/moral lives as Christians. Earlier reviews summarize the book's thesis so well I won't attempt to embellish. I really just wanted the opportunity to give this book a well deserved 5 stars.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rev. Michael Langer 4 Dec 2013
By Michael Langer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Excellent rethinking of the tea-party, Hayek, libertarian, free-market ideology that so enamors many evangelicals today. Thoughtful, provocative, and gospel-centered! An encouraging word to anyone who desires to find a gospel path through the false dichotomy of free-market capitalism or a socialist welfare state.
4.0 out of 5 stars More interesting than I expected 8 May 2014
By M Chan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
More interesting and insightful than I expected the book to be. Though initially the book was not an easy read, but as I progress it became clearer.
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