Monday, January 15, 2007

Incarnational vs Incorporational.

In the wake of Christmas time and Advent, when God becomes a human in Jesus Christ, I want to consider how the ‘person’ of Christ is different than the ‘person’ of Corporations? There has been adequate critique of the Church organizing like a business corporation, but what about the Church living in, but not of, multinational corporations?

I submit that unless the emerging/missional/organic church of progressive evangelicals moves beyond a critique of corporate influences on ecclesial life and a superficial critique of consumerism (as in “Do buy things you do need!”), to a robust practice of investing in local cooperatives, then we will fail in our attempts to be Incarnational, and remain in the grips of the Incorporational.

Wendell Berry makes the interesting observation that “the folly at the root of this foolish economy began with the idea that a corporation should be regarded, legally, as “a person.” This point is often overlooked in critiques of Capitalism. Usually people make a big deal about the exploitation of workers by those who own the means of production, or there is talk about the ‘fetishism’ of money, how we go around chancing more and more of it, even though it really isn’t anything. But the fiction that a corporation is legally a ‘person’, with rights, aims, and purposes, really begins the step beyond outright oppression and exploitation (say in agragian and feudal societies), to the more insidiou, once removed, form of exploitation otherwise known as the ‘free market.’

Berry goes on: “A corporation, essentially, is a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance...It goes about its business as if it were immortal, with the single purpose of becoming a bigger pile of money.”

‘Incorporation’ literally means ‘to make into one body’ which is to gather many different human persons into one giant uberperson (whose goal is to make more money). This uberperson remains even if its founders all die off. The modern corporation is immortal, living beyond all it mortal creators (although of course it can be killed by an economic wound).

But this immortality is precisely the problem. Corporations don’t fear natural deaths, they have no being-towards-death. Berry continues: “The limitless destructiveness of this economy comes about precisely because corporations are not a person. As such, unlike a person, a corporation does not age. It does not arrive, as most persons finally do, at a realization of the shortness and smallness of human lives; it does not come to see the future as the lifetimes of children and grandchildren of anybody in particular. It can experience no personal hope or remorse, or change of heart. It cannot humble itself.”

And this is exactly where we see the antithesis in Christ, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). In the Incarnation we see God become man, so that he could die, even a death reserved for the most lowly. A corporation could never sacrifice itself. Its whole purpose is to return back more money to its investors. Anything else is a failure. This ultimately is where the agency of the Corporation exceeds the agency of its individual investors, managers, and executives. Anyone who in their old age finds a humane conscience is asked to leave, to start a charitable foundation, or carry on their philanthropic work somewhere else on their own time.

But those who gathered together in the Incarnation do not try to escape death, but know they must die for the sake of the world. Those gathered together in a Corporation attempt to escape death, storing up riches on earth and kingdoms to rule.

Now of course I’m not advocating that we all quit our corporate jobs and do something else (although that would be good), but rather that we, as much as possible, support alternative ways of grouping people together, which are otherwise known as cooperatives or co-ops. Cooperatives support an alternative to the ‘free market’ by allowing producers and consumer to share the risks and opportunities of generating products. One way it works is like this. My family becomes a ‘member’ of my local CSA, Angle Organics, at the beginning of the year. This guarantees delivers of 20 boxes of organic vegetable (from June to October). The benefit to me is that I get a bunch of great food, grown in a manner that I know is responsible to the Earth (God’s Creation) and fair to its employees (made in God’s image). The benefit to the farm is they get, in advance, the cash necessary to produce the crops of the next year. In this way I assume the risk of a bad crop along with the farm. If the crop is bad, my boxes will not be full. If it is good, they will overflow. This keeps my money, and the farmer's money, from getting tangled up in the financial institutions of multination corporations. Everything stays local; and money is not thrown into a pile of ever increasing money. Along the same lines, there are clothing and food cooperatives, housing and energy, and even healthcare cooperatives, whose goal is not to sells their moral allegiance to a pile of cash, but instead to share in the benefits and dangers of securing the things they need.

So again, I submit that the emerging/missional/organic church of progressive evangelicals mmust move beyond a critique of corporate influences on ecclesial life, to a robust practice of stepping outside of the circulation of money between multinational corporations and instead begin investing in local cooperatives. Only then we will succeed in escaping the grip of the Corporation.

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