Honorism, not Capitalism
In my observation, one of the biggest difference between life in America and life in developing countries is this – Americans consume; Central Asians are consumed (by life’s challenges). American society and identity centers around earning money and consuming stuff. Just listen to somebody who just went on a cruise! Even our main barometer of success – GDP – is about how much we earn, spend, and consume. This is the net effect of capitalism: being burdened by stuff.
But the Majority world operates according to a different economic paradigm, what I call “honorism” (a la, capitalism). The primary goal of an honoristic society is… honor. People strive for status, not stuff. Lives are structured to acquire honor, and material items are tools for displaying that honor. Clothes, time, means of transportation, food, job titles, conversations, and gifts are used for the honor (or shame) they convey.
The currency used by honoristic societies to ensure a good life is public reputation, not cash. The ‘rich’ possess mounds of social credit. They are respected and feared. Likewise, NT commentators have suggested ‘the poor’ in the bible connotes social poverty, not simply financial destitution. Status is a strange currency; it is a social construct in people’s mind, not a physical object we can put in our wallet. It is made by other people’s opinions (not a printing press), so it leads to a strong group-orientation.
CAPITALISM vs. HONORISM in theology and ministry
The social economy we live in profoundly shapes our theology. Look at how capitalism is a controlling metaphor in prevailing evangelical theology – our problem is the “debt” we owe, Jesus’ death “paid” for our sin, salvation entails God “crediting” righteousness to us, and we “owe” God worship. Christian ministry employs structures, methods, and goals from the world of business. Ethics views behavior as debts or credits recorded in a heavenly ledger.
What might happen when honorism animates our theology? Our problem before God is “shame”, Jesus’ death “cleanses” and “covers” our shaming sin, salvation is God’s exalting us with an honorable identity. Ethics is a “welcoming and honoring all people for the sake of God’s honor.” Christian ministry can employ the structures and goals of communities and families. One team I know in Asia measures their ministry by ‘friends’, not ‘contacts’ – kudos!
Does this help you understand something in your context, or the Bible? How do you experience the differences between a ‘capital-based economy’ and an ‘honor-based economy’?
I guess one could also say the West did a ‘good’ job in contextualising what the Scriptures already talked about, into an aspect of a well understood concept in our Western world – and it has helped many a person understand factors involved in the gospel, and I, in even the developing world, often use these metaphors when sharing the gospel with accountants and auditors – they really grasp the concepts…..we just haven’t done so well in realising that the same way in which we have honed in on Scriptural descriptions and metaphors in the West, we need to also do in relation to the other contexts where people have variously different backgrounds and understandings.
But hopefully many folk will read your blog and other publications and gain some encouragement to dig deeper into their Bibles and see where God’s word has many more metaphors that can speak into lives in varioius contexts, not least those that emphasise honour and shame.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks Sandra. Yeah, that is a great point that Western theology is also contextualized theology. It is easy to equate our theology with NT theology, as though Western theology with its metaphors is universally applicable.