August 22, 2016 / Theology
Putting David Foster Wallace in conversation with Andrew Edgar, Benj Petroelje argues that while sport no longer trades in transcendence, it does contain echoes of two elements of a Christian vision of human flourishing.
June 24, 2010
He scattered the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables . . .
But now the money changers no longer need to be driven from the Temple of God because they have built another, more impressive temple, exchanging grace for credit and the perpetual promise of something new. Indeed, for city and suburban dwellers, for texting crazed teens and overworked office managers, for over-styled moms and trying-not-to-be-too-savvy dads, the only place of worship is now within a mall crowded with devoted followers, practicing their religious exercises. Money has built its own temple, creating an idolatry and ideology with its own power and piety. For Philip Goodchild, a British theologian and philosopher, money does not merely facilitate the exchange of goods, but also “demands and shapes time, attention, and devotion” by replacing all previous social orders with its own values and commands (Buy! Sell! Borrow! Lend!), becoming the new god of our times.1 Because money promises the world (of goods) but only delivers itself, money rises up as a rival to theology by declaring an alternative faith, a faith in money involving a metaphysics, a politics, an ethics, and a theology.2 And as we know, one cannot serve two masters.
Within this situation, I want to propose that a principal way we begin to overturn the tables of today’s money changers (the impersonal institutions and mechanisms of global capitalism) is through the Lord’s Table, where Christ himself offers and is offered as a counter circulation to capital. I will lay this out by describing a convergence between the realms of sacramental theology and political economy, represented by the French sacramental theologian Louis-Marie Chauvet and the Japanese philosopher Kojin Karatani.
Symbolic Exchange and Grace
To set the stage for the interaction between the Eucharist and the capitalist nation-state, we must grasp the direction of Chauvet’s sacramental theology by understanding his use of symbolic exchange. Relying on the work of the French sociologists Marcel Mauss and Jean Baudrillard, Chauvet outlines the different levels of value and exchange that are governed by the overarching distinction between value and non-value. Beyond “use,” “exchange,” and “sign” value, all of which occur within the logic of the marketplace in the form either of barter or exchange via money, is the non-value of symbolic exchange. In this exchange, the gift functions outside the logic of the market such that what is being exchanged are not objects, but rather, through the gift of yams, shells, spears, books, or a rose, “the true objects being exchanged are the subjects themselves” in a process of mutual recognition.3 Because every giving of a gift creates a relationship, it follows that every gift obligates the receiver to give a return-gift, minimally as a thank you, in order to complete the symbolic exchange, otherwise the relationship expressed would descend into that of the marketplace.4 Therefore, symbolic exchange, as the generation of subjects and the mediation of relationships, can be summarized as the process of gift–reception–return-gift.
For Chauvet, this symbolic exchange within the symbolic order is the proper arena for discussing God’s grace because from the beginning it situates grace within the realm of non-value. The non-value of grace is seen in its graciousness (freely give) and gratuitousness (abundantly give) because it can never become the “object of a calculation, of a price, of haggling” and because grace “can in no way be demanded” and “we can in no way justify” it. Theologically, graciousness and gratuitousness belong not only to the initial gift, but also to the entire process of gift–reception–return-gift, such that “even the return-gift of our human response thus belongs to the theologically Christian concept of ‘grace.’”5 This return-gift is vital in constituting and verifying a true relationship between God and humanity,6 and as we will see, for overturning the money changers’ tables.
Modes of Exchange and the Capitalist Nation-State
Now, keeping Chauvet’s theological appropriation of symbolic exchange in mind, I turn to Kojin Karatani’s account of the market economy and its various irreducible, yet interrelated, modes of exchange. Karatani distinguishes these different modes of exchange precisely to show how they combine into the formidable trinity of the capitalist nation-state.
The first mode of exchange consists in the reciprocity of gift and return occurring within agrarian communities. This mode is based on the principles of mutual aid and reciprocal exchange. It is rooted in the functional exchange within families, which is called love, that is extended to the local community according to its own communal rules.7 This mode of exchange is very similar to, if not synonymous with, Chauvet’s symbolic exchange.8
The second mode of exchange, rather than being within a single community, is between several communities and is in the form of robbery and redistribution, or plunder and protection. A feudal lord’s taxation of local communities, for example, represents this type of exchange. This is a mode of exchange because, if a feudal lord hopes to keep plundering a community in the form of extortion or taxation, then he must also protect the community from other plunderers.9 Also, the feudal lord must restrict the amount of robbery to a level where the peasants can actually survive, and indeed, he needs to make provisions for the agrarian community so that it will survive. These provisions come in the form of a redistribution of funds, in the guise of public works. According to Karatani’s analysis, what initially occurred in the form of plundering transformed into a system of taxation, and the peasant’s compulsion to pay the feudal lord morphed into an obligation or duty in return for the protection and public works the feudal lord provides.10 With time, what began as extortion became a national tax, and the feudal lord’s personal local armies and local bureaucracy eventually became state functions. This mode of exchange is the basis for the emergence of the state. The matrix of the modern nation-state emerges from a combining of these first two types of exchanges.
The third mode of exchange is commodity exchange between communities via money, ultimately blossoming into capitalism. This commodity exchange is “definitively different from the exchange of plunder/redistribution” and is irreducible to that of reciprocity and return, even though it could not exist without either of them.11 The exchange of commodities via money occurs through mutual consent established by contract, creating an asymmetrical relationship between commodities and money that privileges money. This asymmetry of money will be discussed, but it is enough to say that money allowed for trade between communities outside of the type of exchange established through the plunder/redistribution by feudal lords, even if the former is dependent on the latter. It is dependent because if the contracts of mutual consent established between parties are to be valid, they must be enforced under threat of violence, a violence only held by feudal lords, and then later by the state. Commodity exchange is also dependent on agrarian communities for the production of the land and the perpetuation of labor through biological reproduction, both of which occur outside the realm of value according to market exchanges.12
Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, the emerging monarchies conspired with the merchants to topple local feudal lords, even while they sought to foster national identity, both for the sake of consolidating power for the monarch and creating a homogeneous market for the merchants. Since this point in history, each mode of exchange began mutually reinforcing the others, creating the formidable trinity of the capitalist nation-state, impervious to attack. This makes it relatively impossible to undermine only one aspect of this unholy trinity of capital, nation, and state, for
when individual national economies are threatened by the global market (neoliberalism), they demand the protection (redistribution) of the state and/or bloc economy, at the same time as appealing to national cultural identity. So it is that any counteraction to capital must also be one targeted against the state and nation.13
For Karatani, unless we truly understand how the exploitative trinity of the capitalist nation-state was formed and sustained, we will never truly know how it might be decomposed, a decomposition occurring at the site of the circulation of money rather than production of commodities.
Money, Circulation, Resistance
Karatani’s main concern regarding capitalism’s dominance through the nation-state is the asymmetrical relationship between money and commodities. Commodities cannot be exchanged in capitalism without the mediation of money. Adam Smith and other economic philosophers of his time thought that commodity exchange was similar to all other exchanges, moving from one commodity to another commodity through the mediation of money. This process is represented as Commodity–Money–Commodity or C–M–C. But for Karatani, it is Karl Marx (a lesson which later Marxists overlook) who shows instead that the initiative of this movement is “seized and controlled by the possessor of money,” such that in a capitalist economy, money is always in search of more money; or rather, investors with money produce commodities in the hopes of receiving more money in return.14 This process is represented as Money–Commodity–Money, or M–C–M. The possessor of money has the advantage over the possessor of a commodity because those with a commodity need to sell their commodity in order to get money, whereas those with money can buy anything they want at any time. Likewise, those with labor-power commodity need to exchange their work for money in order to purchase the things they need to live, putting them in a lower position than the person who buys their labor.15 Therefore, while commodity exchange via money is freely entered into by mutual consent, it certainly is not equal, and it quickly leads to distortion and exploitation; the only true fraternity is between those who already have money and between those who do not have money, but never across the divide.
But this is not to say that capitalists hold all the cards. While those holding money carry an asymmetrical advantage over those without money, the return on an investment is not complete without the commodity being sold on the open market. In other words, the value of the commodity is not realized unless it is sold and transformed back into money—that is, more money, or M.
Here lies the problem for the capitalist. If a commodity is not sold on the market, then its value is not realized, and the flow of capital is arrested.16 This is the problem of overproduction and the need for a consumer society. In this situation, those workers who are exploited during the process of production return to a place of power as consumers in the process of circulation.17 And if this is the case, then “resistance—the countermovement against the exploitation—must also take place [. . .] in the domain of the circulation process, in which neither capital nor state can ever take control.” This domain consists of the boycott. Rather than a general strike during production, which the state can break in favor of capital, or a revolution against the state, general boycotts of major capitalist products during circulation are “legal and nonviolent, at the same time as being most damaging to capital.”18
If a general boycott functions within the circulation process to disrupt exploitation, Karatani also advocates the organization of consumer/worker co-ops that function outside of capitalist production through the use of an alternative means of exchange. Borrowing from Michael Linton, who developed the idea of “Local Exchange Trading Systems,” or LETS, Karatani explains how these LETS would offer an alternative currency for the exchange of goods and services organized according to a sum-zero count, meant to ensure that the C–M–C process does not transform back into the M–C–M process. In this way transactions are always equal, without the possibility of profit or interest occurring in circulation, ensuring that the only debt incurred is that between the actual commodities themselves, either objects or services. This type of exchange, which Karatani names “associationism,” is similar to the “exchange of mutual aid in traditional communities and that of the capitalist commodity economy,” minus the psychological compulsion of traditional communities and the imposition of interest in capitalism.19 This associationism would consist of shared mutual aid without participating members feeling closed off within a traditional community, and it would be able to facilitate exchanges across time and space without requiring the asymmetrical relationships generated by money.20
Returning to Chauvet in light of Karatani’s analysis, how might Chauvet’s utilization of symbolic exchange be supplemented? How might the modes of exchange presented by Karatani, especially the commodity exchange via money, expand Chauvet’s conception of the symbolic exchange of grace, especially in its economic and political registers. And more importantly, how might the symbolic exchange enacted in the Eucharist offer a proper basis for Karatani’s resistance to the capitalist nation-state? Turning again to Chauvet and his textual analysis of the Eucharistic Prayer, I will outline how the Eucharist not only offers a possible form of resistance to capitalist exploitation, but is rather an actual witness to, and participation in, the divine economy of grace that restores and redeems the exploitative relationships between production and consumption. And because of this, celebrating the Lord’s Table is the contemporary means by which Jesus overturns the tables of today’s money changers.
Symbolic Exchange and the Eucharistic Prayer
In his analysis of the eucharistic prayer, Chauvet notes how one principal theme is given in three narrative parts. This theme takes the form of the people giving thanks to God, expressed in the opening phrase and concluding doxology of the prayer. However, it is not
natural for us to render thanks to God in a Christian manner. To carry out the Eucharist requires that the Church first gain this competence. It is precisely the text that allows the ecclesial subject to gain this competence. This text thus makes the assembly follow an itinerary which, by means of certain “transformations,” has for its goal the assembly’s conversion: it is not God but we ourselves who are changed by the Eucharistic prayers.21
Because of this, the principal theme in which the participants give thanks and glory to God is supplemented by three narrative programs that circulate the historical, sacramental, and ecclesial body of Christ, rendering the participants competent to give praise to God.
The first narrative program (NP) begins with the initial thanksgiving and culminates in the Sanctus. This thanksgiving narrates the Father’s gift of the Son in his historical body. Or as Chauvet represents it:
NP1¬: God (Father) ? Historical Body of Christ ? We
The second narrative program, in the form of a petition, consists of the epiclesis, the words of institution and anamnesis. This petition “entreats the Father to send the Spirit of sanctification to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.”22 In the words of institution, it is Christ himself who offers his sacramental body to us, and the anamnesis declares the accomplishment and offering of this sacramental body. This is rendered:
NP2: God + Spirit ? Sacramental body–blood of Christ ? We
The last narrative program, in the form of a supplication, “begs the Father to send the Spirit over it [the Church] so that it may become what it has just received” such that the sacramental body of Christ might give rise to the ecclesial body of Christ.23 Having received the sacramental body of Christ, the church asks that it might indeed be the ecclesial body of Christ. Chauvet thus renders this narrative program:
NP3: God + Spirit ? Ecclesial Body of Christ ? We
Through these three narrative programs, it is noted both that it is God who creates in the assembly the capacity to give thanks and glory to him and that this is done through the successive gift of the body of Christ, to the people of God, in historical, sacramental, and ecclesial form. These narrative programs outline the basic structure of the circulation of Christ, mediated through the sacrament, within the church. In the prayers and practices of the Lord’s Table, God gives the gift of grace in Christ, enables the assembly to receive the gift by the Holy Spirit, and therein the assembly begins to live in Christ such that they can offer the return-gift of love to each other, and therefore God.
In Chauvet’s summary of his analysis of the eucharistic exchange, the convergence between Chauvet and Karatani becomes clear:
The “object” placed into circulation in the exchange is Christ himself and that he comes to us in his threefold body, through the Spirit: he is the gratuitous gift announced in the Scriptures [historical body . . .] he is the object sacramentally received in the Church’s “giving thanks,” the entire liturgy of Christians [sacramental body]; he is the object entrusted to the ethical responsibility of believers—by the “spiritual sacrifice” of their agape, he raises up a body for himself within humanity [the ecclesial body]. This “object” does not change the structure of the game itself. But [. . .] it demands another reading of this structure, and this changes everything.”24
The structure of this game, however, is not only on the anthropological level of the symbolic exchange, as Chauvet explains it, but also on the economic level of exchanging commodities via money, as Karatani explains it. In this light, the circulation of the Christ “object” demands another reading in relation to money and capitalism, a reading which in return will offer another reading of money and capitalism itself. In this way, the Lord’s Table overturns the tables exchanging money such that in the circulation of Christ we would live according to the debt of love rather than the demand of profit.
Christ in Circulation
There are three ways in which this Trinitarian gift of grace within the Eucharist offers another reading of Karatani’s resistance to the trinity of the capitalist nation-state, offering seeds of an alternative economy. I will provide only a brief outline of them here.
The first concerns Karatani’s constitution of the worker/consumer. Objectively, Karatani argues for the worker/consumer to enter creative boycotts, but he never makes the case for why a worker/consumer would even desire to take up the burden of resistance, rather than simply minimizing her own exploitation by passing it off down the chain of workers globally (from advanced to developing nations). The reason for this problem is that, for Karatani, the moments of being a worker, and then a consumer, are separated in time and space, constituting a rather large gap to overcome in the minds and imaginations of these workers/consumers. Yet in the eucharistic exchange of grace, the very moments of being a consumer (reception) is marked within the moment of being a worker (offering). Because the moments of worker/consumer are united in the Eucharist, living-in-grace means engaging in each act as a consumer with an eye for its correlative action toward the producers of that commodity, no matter how far removed temporally or spatially the object may be. This living-in-grace with each other, before God, would refuse the benefit of displaced exploitation (veiled by the supposedly neutral exchange of money), opting to spend more to ensure the transparency of production.
The second way the Eucharist presents another reading of Karatani concerns the circulation of money within capitalism. Just as the Eucharist unites the moments of the worker/consumer, the eucharistic exchange also unites the production and circulation processes as God the Father and Holy Spirit put Christ into circulation as the historical object, the sacramental object, and the ecclesial object, given for the life of the world. In putting Christ into circulation, the Father institutes an alternative economy where production and consumption are identical. Here, the object circulated (the body of Christ) is not exhausted but multiplied in consumption, and the object produced (the church) is not sold on the market but given away. This circulation functions according to the logic of abundance rather than scarcity, encouraging cooperation rather than exploitation at the level of production, and sustainability rather than profitability at the level of circulation.25 In each individual or corporate action as the body of Christ, the church ought not only to arrest the circulation of money through non-exploitative purchasing as a resistance to the capitalist nation-state, but also as a continuation and fulfillment of its very identity as the body of Christ circulating in the world.
Lastly, turning from Karatani’s analysis of resistance centering on consumption and circulation, the final offering of another reading concerns Karatani’s concrete proposals. As mentioned above, in addition to disrupting the normal flow of capital through a general boycott that directs money toward less damaging sectors and agents, Karatani advocates (1) creating an alternative currency that would not create interest and (2) creating producer/consumer cooperatives where workers have full ownership of the means of production and transparent relationships with the consumers. Both of these options seek to create an alternative space for non-exploitative production and consumption beyond the constraints of the capitalist nation-state. From this perspective, it is again clear that the church, as constituted by Christ in its reception of Christ, is already governed by an alternative currency beyond currency, propelled by the “continuing debt to love one another” (Rom. 13:8), which is perpetual living-in-grace. Being governed by the debt of love, which is repaid in the currency of actions (and therefore assimilates all possible currencies), opens a space for halting the circulation of credit and debt created by money. Concurrently, the church is the proto-type of a consumer qua producer co-op where the object of Christ is consumed sacramentally and produced ecclesially so that Christ might also be produced/consumed ethically in the world. Therefore, in the gift–reception–return-gift circuit of the symbolic exchange, the return-gift of ethics as the verification of grace in us joins together the separated poles of producer and consumer, creating not only an optimal space from which to resist the capitalist nation-state, but indeed, the very in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.26
In these three ways the circulation of Christ closely mirrors the reciprocity of gift and return in agrarian societies, but functions transnationally and without coercion (as would associations for Karatani). Indeed, living in Christ, for Paul, as the continuing debt of love, overcomes the bloodlines of traditional communities (the family of Abraham extends beyond the Jews: Gal. 3: 26-29; Rom. 9:7-8) and moves beyond statist taxation and capitalist asymmetry (via the Gentile collection for the Jerusalem poor: 1 Cor. 16: 1-4; Rom. 15:16, 26-27). In these and other ways, agape “is accomplished as an infinite exchange between peoples,” because we have already been given the “possibility to love because we are given the true shape of love [. . .] within the series of Christ’s continuous and coherent actions, and in the series of exchanges between him and his followers.”27 This obligation to love (as the circulation of Christ) resists the obligation of profit (within the circulation of money). This agapic obligation functions on the consumer side of the circulation of money, fulfilling Karatani’s condition for the possibility of resisting the capitalist nation-state, but it also replaces the object of circulation (money), not merely with a sum-zero currency, as in LETS, but with a currency of infinite abundance in Christ, which finally unites the worker/consumer positions in a eucharistic subjectivity that materially discerns and enacts alternative valuations.28 With these unities, the Trinitarian circulation of Christ unties the knot of the trinitarian capitalist nation-state, woven by the circulation of money. In these ways, the material body of Christ is placed in circulation, overturning the immaterial exchange of money.
1. Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money (London, UK: SCM Press, 2007), 6. See also 41, 77-125.
2. Ibid., 216.
3. Louis-Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament, trans. S. J. Patrick Madigan and Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995), 106.
4. Ibid., 102.
5. Ibid., 108 (emphasis added) and 109.
6. For some, the insertion of grace here, where a transcendent God guarantees the gift, constitutes ideology at its highest. But this need not be the case because Chauvet understands grace and gift as “dispossession,” fitting easily within Slavoj Žižek’s Christian-atheist critique of ideology on an immanent level (because they are both drawing from the same Lacanian source). Of course, John Milbank has argued in the other direction in “Can a Gift be Given? Prolegomena to a Future Trinitarian Metaphysics,” Modern Theology 11:1 (1995), 119-161.
7. Kojin Karatani, Transcritique: On Kant and Marx, trans. Sabu Kohso (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 202.
8. Ibid., 12. Karatani here sides more with Pierre Bourdieu’s suspicion of gift exchange as implicitly coercive. See Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1992), pp. 98-111.
9. Karatani, Transcritique, 13.
10. Ibid., 202.
11. Karatani, Transcritique, 13. For a similar argument, see Goodchild, Theology of Money, 92-95.
12. Karatani, Transcritique, 204.
13. Ibid., 281.
14. Ibid., 208.
15. Ibid., 201. Also Goodchild, Theology of Money, 94. For an elaboration of this, see Francis Hutchinson, Mary Mellor, and Wendy Olsen’s discussion of the forced transition from self-provisioning on common lands without the mediation of money to the situation where one can only receive the necessities of life through money gained by selling one’s labor commodity (The Politics of Money: Towards Sustainability and Economic Democracy [Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 2002], chapter 4, “Capitalism—The Elimination of Alternatives”).
16. Karatani, Transcritique, 9-10, 154-156, 207-208.
17. Ibid., 288.
18. Ibid., 296 and 206.
19. Ibid., 299. It is exactly here that Karatani would disagree with the extension of the reciprocity of gift and return of agrarian societies to our society made by Marcel Mauss in The Gift, trans. W. D. Halls (London, UK: Routledge, 1990), 65-83. For Karatani, Mauss’s social democracy stems from the failure to distinguish the three modes of exchange.
20. Karatani, Transcritique, 276.
21. Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament, 269 (emphasis in original).
22. Ibid., 270 (emphasis in original).
23. Ibid., 271 (emphasis in original).
24. Ibid., 289 (emphasis added).
25. See Kathryn Tanner, Economy of Grace (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 105-139.
26. For an application of Chauvet to the practices of giving thanks, returning gifts, and consecrating property within capitalism see Andrea Beiler and Luise Schottroff, The Eucharist: Bodies, Bread, and Resurrection (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007), 91-128.
27. Milbank, “Can a Gift be Given?” 149 and 150 (emphasis in original).
28. For the helpfulness of Goodchild’s suggestion of creating alternative institutions of valuation to counter the valuations of money and to therefore regulate sources of credit beyond mere profitability (Theology of Money, 244-258), he structurally excludes the moment of subjectivity (36-45) and therefore creates an impossible demand. Who will create and direct such institutions?
Geoffrey Holsclaw is a co-pastor at Life on the Vine (www.lifeonthevine.org) and a PhD candidate in theology and society at Marquette University. He is an editor for the Church and Postmodern Culture (http://churchandpomo.typepad.com/) and writes at geoffreyholsclaw.net.