Hannah Rich, commenting about the annual World Economic Forum, noted that the 2021 conference focused on opportunities to shape a better post-pandemic world. Ms. Rich rightly observes that the COVID-19 pandemic tore through cultures and economies such that going back to the old normal simply won’t be possible. We agree.
Ms. Rich’s also offers her insight that our collective reconfiguration and path forward, the ‘Great Reset’ as the 2021 conference was titled, “will require a deliberate, conscious vision.” Again, we agree.
Ms. Rich’s insight and argument that the Great Reset needs theology, concludes with: “If today’s economy is uniquely susceptible to greater inequality because of the pandemic, it follows that the prevailing ideologies may also be left wanting. Something new is required of us, and theology might well be a good starting point.” We wholeheartedly agree!
What especially strikes us about Ms. Rich’s conclusion – her call to action – is her thoughtful recognition about that something new that is required of us. More than just a return to a theological lens, the something new – what is at the core of an equitable and sustainable Great Reset – is that Theology and Economics need to be reintroduced and shown how to collaboratively talk and listen to each other. Further and frankly, in our view, Theology should take the lead by recognizing its responsibility to Economics. What responsibility? Right. Recognizing that responsibility is a good place to start. Let’s explore that responsibility by doing a little deconstructing and upstream thinking.
The human experience validates that upstream of (or prior to) every outcome is the action or set of actions that led to the outcome. Upstream of the action(s) are the thoughts that guided the action(s). Upstream of the thoughts is the theology (a system of beliefs that explicitly includes and accounts for the Divine) or philosophy (a system of beliefs about the nature of reality that may or may not include and account for the Divine). Our theologies and philosophies are where our outcomes – whatever we may consider ‘good/just' or ‘bad/evil’– are birthed.
A Philosophy that structures human relationships as adversarial and necessarily in competition with each other is a Philosophy that births and fosters economic systems that create fundamental inequities. Imagine a group of people on a sailboat that has sprung a significant leak; would some of them climb the mast and yell down to the majority “your bottom of the boat is leaking”? Yet by and large, that is a fair analogy of our pre COVID-19 pandemic normal and the Philosophy that is currently talking to Economics.
As Ms. Rich observes, ‘something new is required of us.’ Rather than this tried and failed Philosophy, we need a Theology that structures human relationships as mutual and necessarily in cooperation with each other. This is a Theology that births and fosters economic systems that create fundamental equities. Imagine that same group of people on that same leaking sailboat, but this time with a Theology of mutuality and partnership instead of a Philosophy of competition and exclusivity, sharing their resources and skills to fix the leak and right the boat. Yes, at the end of the day some people on that boat may still sleep in bigger berths and drink better wine with dinner than the majority, but not at the expense of the majority who likewise have safe berths and dinner. This Theology of mutuality and partnership, this is the Theology that has the responsibility of replacing our current Philosophy and sitting at the table talking with Economics.
In addition to its responsibility to assert and take its rightful place at the table, this Theology of mutuality and partnership has the responsibility to make clear its core message of mutual benefit. A core message of equity among humankind and core benefit of a sustainably profitable existence, both individually and collectively. Theology also has to recognize the powerful tool and ally that it has in Economics, and the responsibility that it has to help guide and shape Economics.
Theology – and all those who claim to speak on its behalf – needs to recognize and make clear its responsibilities and relationship to Economics, and then Economics has the responsibility to understand it shares a common core message and benefit. In our book Better Capitalism, we make this introduction between a Theology of partnership and Economics, and ignite the conversation. We are confident that introduction and conversation is the ‘something new required of us’ Ms. Rich is calling for, and Better Capitalism offers the substantive framework for the ‘deliberate, conscious vision’ needed for an equitable and sustainable Great Reset.
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