Volume 8 SPRING/SUMMER 2001 Numbers 1/2

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About the Contributors

In Memory of Professor George M. Kren

Preface: "The Market as God": Converting Creation into Commodities
Robert S. Frey, M.A., Editor/Publisher, BRIDGES


Is Creating Wealth a Virtue?
Deborah M. Savage
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minnesota (USA)

Creation Commodified: The Spiritual Roots of the Secular Market
David R. Loy
Professor, Faculty of International Studies
Bunkyo University (Japan)

Buber's Zionism: A Philosophy of Health in the Making
Yoram Lubling
Elon College
Elon, North Carolina (USA)

Defying the Tower of Babel: Industrialized Agriculture and the Future of Rural America
Daniel G. Deffenbaugh
Lyon College
Batesville, Arkansas (USA)

The Culture of Consumption as Idolatry: Meaning and Commodification
Dr. Wes Shumar
Department of Psychology, Sociology & Anthropology
Drexel University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA)

"I Don't Need to Get Enlightened!"
William Stimson
New York, New York (USA)

Reification and Commodification: Popular Anti-Market Discourse in Australia 1917-1924
Dr. Ben Maddison
History and Politics Program
University of Wollongong
NSW (Australia)


Arnold Benz, The Future of the Universe: Chance, Chaos, God
Richard Isaacman

J. L. Heilbron, The Dilemmas of an Upright Man: Max Planck and the Fortunes of German Science
Richard Isaacman

William Ian Miller, The Mystery of Courage
Pauline Kaurin

Leigh Eric Schmidt, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment
Art Spring

David Hurst Thomas, Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity
Daniel G. Deffenbaugh

Eugen Weber, Apocalypses: Prophesies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages
Dovile Budryte and Charles Perrin



Deborah M. Savage

An initial study into the anthropological dimension of the creation of wealth is presented. With Matthew's Gospel and the Parable of the Talents as a starting place, its argument is that true wealth is first existential, i.e., it originates in the uniqueness of God's gifts to each person in the form of talents and charisms, and that material wealth is created when persons are free to fully develop these gifts in the process of becoming who God made them to be. It is argued that inequities in the distribution of material wealth originate in a flawed understanding of the purpose of human freedom and that the most frequently advocated solutions to these inequities, referred to here as neo-liberalism and democratic pluralism, are both based upon the flawed conception of human will that accompanied nominalism. Further, it is proposed that any attempt by persons of good will to correct economic inequities must fundamentally recognize that for wealth to be distributed, it must first be created; that it is the creativity of the human person to both create him or herself and to exercise their God-given talents to create material wealth in the process that must be respected and unleashed; that only when this conception of the source of wealth is grounded in an understanding of authentic human freedom as necessarily ordered toward "excellence" does it provide a legitimate and life-affirming leverage point for constructing mechanisms for enabling both the "poor" and the "rich" to create conditions that foster their own human development. Lastly, it is shown that those of us concerned with the task of advancing the kingdom of God on earth and in this life must go beyond merely advocating for a more equitable distribution of material wealth and bring both "poor" and "rich" into contact with the existential mystery of their own lives and with what Jesus Christ revealed about what it means to be human.

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David R. Loy

Our contemporary preoccupation with economic growth belies a new kind of spiritual commitment, a secular salvation nonetheless religious insofar as it offers a different way for us to become happy. If we are not misled by the usual polarity between the sacred and secular, we can see that they provide alternative ways of responding to the sense of lack that shadows our sense-of-self. Monetary and commodification values were not merely an alternative to religious ones: new religious attitudes unintentionally worked to establish the new material values that eventually replaced them. The supposed secularity of capitalist economic and social relations may be challenged by looking at their origins. They were the result of a profound social anxiety that became "liberated" in the sixteenth century and then channeled into this commodifying direction.

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Yoram Lubling

Zionism in its manifestation as the State of Israel has failed to fulfill the promise of Jewish redemption and is in crisis. This failure is due to an ideational confusion between the metaphysical question of "Who is a Jew?" and the moral question of "What is a Jew?" Martin Buber's humanistic version of Zionism is offered as a necessary correction to any reconstruction of the traditional understanding of the movement. Buber's version would have better served Jews in their historical quest for redemption because it best captures the essence, identity, and goals of Judaism. As opposed to traditional Zionism, Buber offers a potentially healing philosophy that has significant personal, communal, and global implications. Its healing force is contained in the empirical and phenomenological understanding of God as a quest for relational amelioration, stability, and redemption.

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Daniel G. Deffenbaugh

Since World War II, the agriculture industry has developed a variety of technologies that have resulted in unprecedented food surpluses. However, with these apparent gains have also come a number of losses: topsoil has been depleted at an astounding rate; prolific use of petrochemicals has raised a number of health concerns; genetically modified crops pose potential threats to biodiversity; and, perhaps most disheartening, rural American lifestyles and values are quickly becoming a vestige of the past. Visionaries like Wes Jackson have explored ways in which rural communities can be revitalized. The need for such a vision is discussed and a paradigm is offered for reflecting theologically on the role of humans in the context of a local ecological community. It is proposed that as a consequence of our creation in both "the image of God" and the "image of the earth, we are the locus where agrae (earth) and cultus (culture), land and spirit, meet; we are, in other words, "agricultural beings." Any separation of these two aspects of our nature is a threat to both human and ecological integrity. Therefore, the "tower of Babel" that has been constructed by modern agriculture must be defied on moral grounds when it seeks to bring entire rural communities under its control.

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Wes Shumar

Late capitalism in the United States has produced a meaningless society in that our ultimate concerns are tied to commodities and the culture of consumption. As social life has become increasingly dominated by the economic, we find ourselves concerned with instrumental and bottom-line goals rather than with things like the welfare of Mankind or how to create a more just and equitable society. Our deepest purpose has come to be construed in terms of things, profitability, and the commercial symbols for things and profitability. Meaning, on the other hand, needs to be tied to the sacred. The above argument is advanced herein in five steps: first, the nature of the sacred will be compared in modern and traditional societies. The sacred is always expressed through symbols, so we will then move to a discussion of the nature of religious symbols. The focus then shifts to Max Weber, who showed in the Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism that capitalism was originally a system of economics that had religious meaning but as it continued to develop, that meaning eroded. The fetishism of commodities and com-modification-arguably the single most important movement of the twentieth century-is explored. The ultimate meaninglessness of a commodity-based world is considered. The possibility of restoring meaning to social life is advanced along with the ways in which this could be done, given the dramatic hold the market has on our time.

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Ben Maddison

As a result of its European history since 1788, Australian society in the 1920s was saturated with the commodity form. Yet alongside this, there was a persistent critique of contemporary commodification. Idiomatically, this critique was organized around the term "commercialization," and occurred across class and political lines. Georg Lukacs' theorization of reification and commodification is extended to provide an explanation of the apparently contradictory situation of how anti-commodification discourse could flourish in a society that had naturalized the commodity form. In doing so, perspectives on contemporary critiques of commodification are provided.

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