Speaking of ologies and economic theory.

‘O.’ Maureen Lipman once quipped ‘you’ve got an ology.’

I wonder if the church needs to pay more attention to the ologys? It sometimes feels to me that we churchy types get so locked into our preferred ways of thinking, behaving, and relating that we risk damaging ourselves and others. I further wonder if the church, just like many other institutions – let’s not be overly hard on ourselves – has submitted to the absolutist hegemony of modern and hyper competitive economic theories?

Let’s be clear, at the very least, economics has replaced at least one ology, theology, as the ‘Queen of the Sciences.’

Economics, or at least game playing economic theories, is in many ways easy work. All it asks of participants is the willingness to is to buy into an off the shelf theory or ideology. And, here’s the magic bit: you can do this as a conservative, as a liberal, as a traditionalist, or as a progressive; you can do it from the either the right or the left, but what you will always be doing is buying in as a competitor in a win-lose game, for economics is the most competitive of disciplines. The magic, however, for willing participants, gets even better, for it comes with a seductive and compelling narrative (or fiction): the pretence that what we are doing is called theology, and the stance we take, for we are all guilty, is called ecclesiology.

But is it? How much of our modern, or postmodern, theology and ecclesiology, and yes missiology, is economics applied to the church, dressed up for good effect, or appearance, under the guise of ‘contextual’ theology? Everyone loves a context but, of course, context can easily be nothing more that construct smartly dressed.

The language of economics is rife in ‘our’ various church debates: ‘the majority of Anglicans….’ is, for example, often used to defend the status quo when it comes to relational ethics; economic utilitarianism applied to denominational polity, perhaps?

The ‘Resource Church,’ is clearly an economic phenomenon in its foundation, for what is economics if not ‘the discipline for allocating scarce resources?’ The very name gives the game away. And of course being a disciplined or systematic allocator is no guarantor of either virtue or success (do we ever hear about the resource churches that fail?)

The Resource Church also, it seems to me, is firmly rooted in trickle down economic theory; ‘if we can make this particular church (through some form of planned economic process) big and successful through the allocation of assets, then the effect should be that its’ success trickles down to other churches,’ so the theory goes (pure Milton Friedman).

But is this true? Or does the resource church ultimately become part of an oligopoly that rather than supporting the eco system ends up undermining it? I suppose only time will tell. My fear is, however, that the Resource Church might end up undermining, rather than sustaining and growing, the whole. We all need to be aware of the rule of unintended consequences.

There is of course a strong relationship between the ologies and economics (behavioural finance for instance), but maybe the time is right to ponder anew the extent to which our own sociological and psychological biases, inform our economic and theological preferences?

I would like to suggest that the modern, or do I mean postmodern, church needs to pay close attention to two syndromes and one complex: Imposter Syndrome, Stockholm Syndrome, and the Messiah Complex.

Staring with Imposter Syndrome I wonder how many ‘leaders’ feel that they live on the edge of being found out (Mea Cupla – I’ve been there), leading to a fight to retain control of self, or others, of assets, of economic decision making, a fight which they are ultimately bound to lose, frequently at great cost to both themselves and others? Modern economic theories, which broker no ambiguity, and allow for little in the way of nuance, are a great prop to the leader suffering from Acute Imposter Syndrome.

And then there’s Stockholm Syndrome, or at least an analogical version of it. I wonder how many of us are imprisoned, rather than liberated by, the clubs or tribes to which we belong? The genius of ecclesiological Stockholm Syndrome is that it provides a set of supposedly objective rules for engagement that keep people in the club, making breaking free a cost that for many, or even most, isn’t worth bearing.

Finally, the Messiah Complex. in business, in sport, in other spheres of life the notion of the heroic leader has become all pervasive, where the hero is, of course, entirely synonymous with the ‘saviour,’ but as we know from Scripture the ‘saviour’ is frequently a false prophet; a false prophet with maybe good intentions, but a false prophet, nevertheless.

Imposters, prisoners, false prophets; three horseman to be wary of; three horseman dressed up finely in economic livery. Economics is these days, whatever, the ologists say is, ‘the queen of sciences.’ But is it a servant queen; that is the question.


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