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The Economy of War

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Economy: Week 2

The Economy of War
Tuesday, July 3, 2018

My spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), was a nonviolent and “soft” prophet—keeping God free for people and people free for God—during a pivotal period when Western civilization was moving into rationality, consumerism, and nonstop war. Francis himself was a soldier and his father was a wealthy clothier. From this personal experience, Francis was able to offer a positive critique and an alternative way of living. His radical message and lifestyle were a warning about what money, power, and war were about to do on a much larger scale.

Francis refused to be a “user” of reality, buying and selling it to personal advantage (an I-it relationship). He granted personal subjectivity to sun, moon, wind, animals, and even death, by addressing them as brother, sister, friend, and mother—intimate I-Thou relationships. Like Jesus, Francis was a non-exclusionary bridge-builder. He tried to stop Christian crusaders from attacking Muslims. He wanted Christians to carry the Gospel of peace to the Islamic world, not to take up weapons. But he had little success with either side. [1] Francis tried to point us beyond the mere production-consumption economy and the typical us-versus-them mentality, which still dominates the world today.

To be a contemplative means to look at reality with much wider eyes than mere usability, functionality, or self-interest; it is to experience inherent enjoyment for a thing in itself, as itself, and even by itself. An act of love is its own reward and needs nothing in return. This demands that we learn to love the stranger at the gate, the one outside of our comfort zone, who cannot repay us and so we can be repaid by God (see Luke 14:14). Do you realize how revolutionary that is? It is what Charles Eisenstein means by a “gift economy,” and yet most do not realize he is merely repeating what Jesus already taught but has never been seriously considered by most Christians. [2]

When we can recognize the image of God in every living being, the ethics and economics of war reveal themselves in all their evil and stupidity. As one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries, the United States’ over-sized defense budget says a great deal about our priorities: $668 billion for defense vs. $190 billion for education, housing, infrastructure, and other basic services. [3] It might appear that the U.S. is fighting fewer wars with fewer troops; however, more work is being given to private, highly paid contractors (while many active service members and veterans qualify for food stamps). Why don’t we say, “Thank you for your service!” to teachers, too? The military gives us needed security, but teachers give us the health and culture that allows us to flourish inside that security. Security is not an end itself. Human flourishing is.

The Souls of Poor Folk identifies the United States’ irrational attachment to war:

The massive U.S. defense budget has never actually been about “defense.” . . . Rather, their goals are to consolidate U.S. corporations’ control over oil, gas, other resources and pipelines; to supply the Pentagon with military bases and strategic territory to wage more wars; to maintain military dominance over any challenger(s); and to continue to provide justification for Washington’s multi-billion-dollar military industry. [4]

We are willing to accept the most glib and superficial justifications for our constant war economy, and there is no end in sight. How could this possibly be the will of God? For mature Christians and for other people of faith, war must be the very last resort after all other means are used to protect the defenseless and innocent.

[1] See Paul Moses, The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (Image: 2009).

[2] Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition (Evolver Editions: 2011).

[3] The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 Years After the Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Racism, Poverty, the War Economy/Militarism and Our National Morality,, 11. See the report for detailed and well-researched data.

[4] Ibid., 73.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 40, 200, 242-243.

Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
It is a fundamental law of nature, that there is enough and it is finite. Its finiteness is no threat; it creates a more accurate relationship that commands respect, reverence, and managing those resources with the knowledge that they are precious and in ways that do the most good for the most people. —Lynne Twist
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