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The Promise of Christ is not to the individual but to the Society: “I will build My Church – and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It is not – ‘I will influence here and there separately, individually, alone this man and that man, and each by virtue of that influence will be able to resist evil.’ No, it is only by being part of the great organization with its priesthood, sacraments, doctrines that you will be secure from the attack of the evil ones… All our modern notions of solidarity, co-operation, socialism come in to verify this.
Stewart Headlam, The Meaning of The Mass, 57.
I have been looking forward to Lyndon Shakespeare’s Being the Body of Christ in the Age of Management for some time now (found here and here). Lyndon and I have been in brief contact over the years, mostly with Lyndon graciously taking the time to answer my questions about Herbert McCabe. So when Lyndon reached out to ask if I’d like a review copy of his latest book, I jumped at the chance.
Rather than present the standard book review, however, I’d like to try something different. I plan to offer brief snippets and quick reflections on the book as I make my way through. I think that this mode of review syncs with Lyndon’s approach to ecclesiology with its emphasis on the social, living body. And so, I’d like my reflections to follow suit, more akin to joints and sinews rather than a static, single-sheet recap.
But before I begin, a brief summary:
Lyndon details how managerialist ideology has crept into contemporary ecclesiological thought and practice. The gospel of efficiency, marketing, branding, and bureaucratic rationalization have usurped sacramental forms and traditions. Although this technique-based approach purports to offer a more efficient church structure, the net effect is anything but. As Lyndon explains, functional managerialism is “supremely impractical when examined in the light of the church’s fundamental orientation to the kingdom of God” (13, emphasis mine). It’s important to note at the outset that Lyndon does not offer a simple declension narrative. Rather than pining for the good ol’ days when Bishops ruled, Lyndon offers instead the critical distance necessary to examine how and why management theory holds the ascendancy that it does.
Admittedly, there’s nothing quite new in critiquing management theory. But Lyndon’s reflections take us a step further. Where Lyndon parts ways with his predecessors is that he comes “at the reality of the church in the same way Aquinas comes to the reality of any existing thing, through examining the particular way the items in the world and our understanding of what constitutes our world (i.e., how we talk about it as existing and having a purpose) hangs together in a coherent way” (3).
This unique approach allows Lyndon to detect, specifically, where the rot begins: with the metaphysical biases of physicalism and managerialism – two sides of the same dirty coin. As Lyndon argues, if the body, social or individual, is nothing but an assemblage of mechanical parts or a “Cartesian machine” (96), then so too will be one’s ecclesiology. Cast in this light, the only appropriate response then is to exercise managerialism on the lump of dead ecclesial matter (5).
I’m glad that Lyndon’s book arrived when it did. With the election of Donald Trump, Americans just witnessed one of the most colossal failures of the pundit class, the liberal intelligentsia, and the so-called experts. A consistent theme emerging from post-election data shows that a immense swath of the electorate (particularly, the “white working-class”) was largely driven by their utter disdain for the liberal managerial class incarnated in Hillary Clinton. Going deeper, a recent Harvard Business Review article found that what specifically motivated this class to vote against Clinton was the onerous experience of everyday managers and bureaucrats. About this pervasive resentment toward professionals, Joan Williams observes that “most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day.”
Given that so many Americans clearly detest the mechanisms of managerialism, why does the church even think about dabbling in this strategy? What does it signal to our congregations when leaders bring in church growth experts or consultants?
Part of me doubts that the tradition Lyndon and I share will read the election results in this way. The steady diet of experts and managers rather than theologically astute bishops or deacons will likely continue, at least in the near future. But I hope that as more and more peoples around the globe continue to reject neoliberalism’s hegemony and it’s ugly spawn, managerialism, our church leaders will also “get the memo” that the business strategy of applying managerial techniques is doomed from the get-go.
I highly recommend Lyndon’s book and look forward to sharing more thoughts as I continue reading. More to come very soon.
What motivating factor drove the very first Christian Socialists?
What is the root of the Eucharist?
At the heart of Christian Socialism is thanksgiving for the very presence of Christ, here and now.
The presence of Christ in the bread and wine, in the body of the gathered faithful, and all creation.
The truth about human life discovered by Jesus asserts itself today, in the recognition that, in our present society, man is in a condition of self-estrangement and that the socialist transformation is the only means of redeeming personal life in a complex society (For a New West, 84).
We are reminded here that redemption is as much about the human body as it is about the soul. We are also reminded that sin is as much about the body as it is about the soul: “dark Satanic mills” that enslave; deadening jobs that numb the heart; lack of work that withers the soul; too much work just to make ends meet that destroys the family.
The “socialist transformation” concerns, of course, the social body of Christ, that knows no boundaries between the political, the personal, or the economic.
Christ know that Society was necessary, so that we might help each other, and hold together. And so the past seventy years we have made much of the Holy Communion, the service that tells of brotherhood, solidarity, co-operation. Social religion has become as necessary as personal religion… It is not for nothing that in the best language of our race “the State” is called “a Commonwealth”: it is not for nothing that our Prayer-book is called the Book of Common Prayer: alike in material as in spiritual matters we are still to be communists – sharers.
-Stewart Headlam, The Meaning of the Mass, 29.
Throughout The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi insists on the “reality of society,” and how economic liberalism systematically operates to undermine this reality. In the final chapter of his great work, Polanyi observes,
No society is possible in which power and compulsion are absent, nor a world in which force has no function. It was an illusion to assume a society shaped by man’s will and wish alone. Yet this was the result of a market view of society which equated economics with contractual relationships, and contractual relations with freedom. The radical illusion was fostered that there is nothing in human society that is not derived from the volition of individuals and that could not, therefore, be removed again by their volition. Vision was was limited by the market which ‘fragmented’ life into the producers’ sector that ended when his product reached the market. The one derived his income ‘freely’ from the market, the other spent it ‘freely’ there. Society as a whole remained invisible” (266).
Polanyi develops two interesting ideas here. First, he rejects the notion that society is nothing more than the sum of its parts. Not only is this a “radical illusion,” it is a “stark utopia,” a dangerous invention of nineteenth-century society. Second, by way of Marx’s analysis of the commodity fetish, Polanyi exposes the nominalistic fallacy at the heart of economic liberalism.
Polanyi was no metaphysician, but the fact that he regarded Marx as an invaluable resource for expressing philosophical – if not sacramental – realism, is something worth considering.
Remarking on the surprisingly interesting life of the great Anglican Socialist R.H. Tawney’s, A. J. P. Taylor observes,
Professors of history do not usually begin their careers as social workers in London’s East End. Relatively few of them go out to teach history and economics to workers. They do not usually fight at the Somme; they rarely devote themselves for several years to the interests of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain and to the wider cause of industrial justice. Few of them are parliamentary candidates or sit on royal commissions of enquiry; even fewer write a general election manifesto for one of the two major political parties in modern British politics, or, if they are historians of England, write a classic work on the economy and society of modern China. They tend not to know prime ministers and leaders of the Labour Party, or to find themselves in the British embassy in Washington D.C. at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their closest friends tend not to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, Temple, or the man who did most to design the British welfare state, William Beveridge, whose sister Tawney married. Tawney was, and did, all these things and more. He was no ordinary professor of history but one who believed that scholarship and the service of society should go together. He was, indeed, no ordinary great man.
Clearly there is much that can be said about Tawney’s life. Yet there is one crucial detail that stands out here: his teaching experience at the Workers Educational Association. After becoming disillusioned with Toynbee Hall and its evangelical approach toward addressing poverty, Tawney becoming more interested in radical social movements that looked to empower the working classes through education and organizing. This he was able to do at the WEA.
Reading through Tawney’s Commonplace book it’s evident that his working class students shaped his thought and inspired some of his most important works. For instance, while at the WEA Tawney noted in his diary, “a great many poor people are ‘inefficient.’ This means that they do not correspond to a standard of efficiency erected by their masters, the rich. Why the devil should they?”
In his biographical study on Tawney, Ross Terrill recounts an illuminating story about Tawney and his students.
Tawny did not look down on these men, for they were teaching him the facts of economic life. His immense, detailed, correspondence with them – they would life for him the family budget, or describe incidents in the mine – shows Tawney on the way to becoming an economic historian. He was tough with them, insisting that they write essays regularly, and some grumbled at this. He would not allow left wing eagerness to excuse error. A student writes that “profit should be done away with.” Tawney comments: “Under any ‘scientific’ socialism, production would be carried on for profit – necessarily – tho’ the profit is taken by the state for the common good 41-42).
The influence of early Christian Socialists like Gore and Holland, along with his WEA students, helped Tawney understand that economic privileges and modern property rights were the root causes of social ills. His students were encouraged not only to move up the economic ladder, but to question the ladder itself. Moving beyond the soup kitchen approach toward fighting poverty, Tawney went directly toward the source: the uncritical deference we pay to the elite class, to those control the rungs of the economic ladder. If humankind “is to respect each other for what they are,” writes Tawney,”they must cease to respect each other for what they own. They must abolish, in short, the reverence for riches… And, human nature being what it is, in order to abolish the reverence for riches, they must make impossible the existence of a class which is important merely because it is rich” (Equality, 87).
Compelling story from Father Paul B. Bull of the Community of the Resurrection:
In Glasgow, a labour leader read out twelve propositions on property to a meeting of communists and extreme socialists. Each proposition was greeted with enthusiastic cheers by this revolutionary audience. The speaker then said: “These propositions are taken verbatim from the Archbishop’s Report on ‘Christianity and Industry,’ as the teaching of Jesus Christ. So don’t let us hear any more about Religion being an opium for the people.”
“The Kingdom of God and the Church To-day,” in The Return of Christendom, 229.
This morning I stumbled across a free copy of Christianity and the Working Classes. It seems that the book was serving no other purpose than taking up valuable space in our tiny parish library, and so was destined for the Goodwill bin. Thankfully, the title caught my eye. The book is a collection of essays from 1906 probing a series of difficult questions: has the church become a church for the well to do at the expense of the working class? Is religion, at least as far as demographics go, the prized possession of the middle to upper classes? Why does the church fail to speak to those who need it most?
The answers vary and the solutions offered by each contributor are eerily similar to our current debates about declining membership and mission strategies. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun.
One essay in particular stands out. The Rev. J.G. Adderley of the Christian Socialist Union writes,
Our worship seems to many remote from life. Men ought indeed to feel that in church they are away from the wicked world, but not that they are away from what is human. It is at this point that we see how the Christian Social movement is the legitimate outcome of the Tractarian.
As Adderley explains,
We are learning that the creeds and sacraments have been rescued from oblivion not that they may be looked upon as interesting discoveries to be deposited in a museum, but that they may be used and realized for twentieth century human progress.
It is significant that the first modern Socialist Society in England was a “ritualistic” one, the Guild of St. Matthew. The Guild has always put prominently forward the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion as the basis of a true social life. It has taken Baptism very seriously, and treated the bulk of the working classes as having been admitted while infants into the great democratic society of the Catholic Church. It has exalted the Eucharist as the great protest against luxury, snobbery, and competition, the demons which have made havoc of society.
Over a hundred years after Christianity and the Working Classes, we in the Anglican communion seem to have come full circle. The brief postwar boom has all but ended in the West, leaving profound economic and social questions again at the church’s doorstep. Issues surrounding class and the morality of the workaday week grow more pronounced with each passing year as the numbers joining the ranks of the “working poor” continue to swell. Will we today take seriously that fact that Baptism and Eucharist, rather than being “interesting discoveries to be deposited in a museum,” are in fact “the basis of a true social life?” And not only for our Sunday worship or internecine debates, but for the working world as a whole?
The stakes couldn’t be higher. As Arthur Henderson remarks in his contribution, it is the
want of a true Christian idea that has led to the alienation of the working classes from the Churches and strengthened the ranks of distressing indifferentism, deadly materialism, and doleful pessimism. Not until Christianity is shown in its real nature as an aggressive force, destroying the evil of the individual life, transforming the character of the workers’ environment, taking cognizance of social defects, seeking to right industrial wrongs and remove the injustices under which the workers suffer, will it command the sympathies of the common people.
By the time of Maurice Reckitt the Christian Socialist movement had taken an interesting turn. Reckitt, along with Anglican Socialists Charles Gore and Percy Widdrington, began equating authentic socialism with “Christendom.” Contrary to Marxist or Fabian socialism, only a religiously inflected socialism could stand as the one sure counter-offense against capitalist property relations, plutocracy, wage slavery, and dehumanizing labor. If there ever was a reason to get behind the ideal of Christendom, then I suppose this would be it.
In appealing to Christendom, however, Reckitt was not summoning that which provokes the ire of Stanley Hauerwas or John Howard Yoder. The term does not denote the idea of a foundational secular order on which one superimposes sacred or Christian principles. Christendom, rather, is the rejection of any such neutral social plane. As such, there is no daylight between economics and faith, no hinterland between the spiritual life and politics. Most importantly, as can be seen below, Christendom rejects the protestantization of faith.
As Reckitt writes,
The failure of the Christian witness in the world has been largely due to the readiness of its disciples to urge their fellowmen to “find Christ” without any effort to reveal to them that thus they may find Christendom. Christianity so presented affirms indeed the soul to be precious; yet for all that, it leaves personality frustrated and isolated. It may lead men to hunger and thirst after righteousness, but it tempts them to rest content with a purely subjective realization of it. Hence the impression which remains with the world outside that Christian, in proclaiming “salvation,” assert nothing but the possession of a kind of spiritual patent-right, the privileges of which they are prepared to conceded, but on their own terms. The faith thus never appears as a clue to the problems which bewilder and terrify mankind, but merely as a drug by which the weak may hope to gain some degree of oblivion (153-154).
It’s safe to say that we’re now familiar with the dangers of an apolitical Jesus or regarding belief as a “spiritual patent-right,” but we still seem to be a long way from grasping the social nature of the faith.
For Reckitt and other contributors to The Return of Christendom, “Christian Sociology,” as they called it – not to be confused with the sociology of Christianity or religion – meant a direct assault on the anti-Christian notion of private property and the evils that follow in its wake. Talk of saving souls or “everyday spirituality” abstracted from the diurnal round of labor amounted to nothing more than “ambulance work.” Just as one cannot build sacred principles upon a prior secular foundation, one cannot spread a thin veneer of spiritually upon the world of industrial capitalism. Otherwise, the church misunderstands the meaning of baptism. According to Reckitt,
Into a social order so compounded how can God’s Kingdom come? Plutocracy (and the capitalist fabric through which it operates) does not merely constitute a force hostile to religion: it is a religion… At the moment when the boy (or girl)in a working-class parish is being urged to make recognition of the tremendous claims made for him at his baptism, he is going forth into a world which by every manifestation of its public life denies and frustrates every one of them, and makes plain his fate as a member of the proletariat, the child of Mammon and the inheritor (if he lives long enough) of nothing but the servile dole of an old-age pension. How can the priest bid the wage-slave commend his vocation to God, or serve faithfully a Fraternity in which he has neither status nor honor? He cannot find these things in his work: but till he can do so, the Church which sends him forth can never rightly be other than a foe to the social order which so tragically engulfs him (7-8).
The Christian Socialist movement and its unique appeal to Christendom, however unhelpful the term may be, reminds us that the Church Catholic has always been at her best when she takes an active stand against Mammon.