MARCH 2020—less than a month after the world went into lockdown and the economy crashed dramatically, Klaus Schwab, the CEO of the World Economic Forum, made this announcement: “To achieve a better outcome, the world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions… In short, we need a “Great Reset” of capitalism” (weforum.org). Schwab makes the Great Reset sound like the logical step to make our economies more resilient post-pandemic. But his ambitious aim to “revamp all aspects of our societies and economies” indicates an even greater goal to redesign global societies in a way that removes any natural limits on innovation, production, and profitability. Schwab does not wish to eradicate Capitalism, but “reset” it in a new, global private-public partnership. The expansive agenda of the WEF is for a transhumanist fourth industrial revolution in which the digital, biological, and technological are fused.
While the Great Reset may solve some socio-economic issues, it would exacerbate others. The ambitions of modern techno-industrial economies have always been to redesign global societies in a way that removes any natural limits on production and profit. Schwab postures the Great Reset as the best solution to myriad social and economic woes that have plagued humankind—corporate greed among them—and yet its outcome would be no different. A cursory read through Schwab’s other writings will reveal a salvific narrative about not only how to recover from economic recession, but eliminate debt entirely. Money is power, and if money is no obstacle, there is nothing that monolithic agencies like the WEF cannot achieve. The Great Reset would tip the already-uneven scales of power around the world, and take away freedom from the grassroots economies of local communities.
At bottom, the ambitions of our techno-industrial economy are incompatible with following Jesus. This may sound radical, but please hear this: it may no longer be enough of a witness to live Christianly in a secular economy. The game has changed, and being a faithful witness to Christ means ordering our lives according to a counter-economy.
The plans of economists like Schwab are not chiefly concerned with preserving sacred, localized histories, traditions, and ecologies. Their only concern is with long-term economic growth. In his essay Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, Wendell Berry warns that elevating economic concerns over people and places inflicts damage on communities. He says, “[t]he global economy does not exist to help the communities and localities of the globe. It exists to siphon the wealth of those communities into a few bank accounts. To this economy, democracy and the values of religious traditions mean absolutely nothing.” A local economy is part and parcel of a community’s common life—those shared rituals and livelihoods are what make a community. Local communities and their economies are born from one place; they know that place intimately, and how to care for it. These communities are in danger of being swallowed up and their cultural values rewritten by globalists like Schwab.
JUNE 2018—a 19th-Century Gothic cathedral in the German village of Immerath was demolished. The church was the last remaining building in the historic village, which had been purchased by the German energy corporation RWE for the expansion of their lignite coal mine. RWE’s nearby mining operations slowly edged out the townspeople from their own homes, making the land unusable to its local farming economy. The residents of Immerath were relocated to a new town, Immerath Neu. The village was a historic piece of German culture, over 1,000 years old.
The same story is unfolding here in Canada. After the court approved the logging of old-growth forests in Fairy Creek, BC, peaceful protestors were cuffed and tear-gassed, having their face-masks ripped off by police officers. While we may not experience this level of intimidation and control, our lives are subject to the interests of these same powerful actors.
C.S. Lewis anticipated this callous destruction of local communities in his science fiction fantasy novel That Hideous Strength—the third and final part of his Space Trilogy. There’s a scene where research fellow Mark Studdock discusses the plans of the N.I.C.E. (National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments) to divert the River Wynd with his colleague Cosser. When told that the river Wynd will be diverted through the village of Cure Hardy, Mark asks Cosser,
We rightly want everyone to get what they need to thrive. However, this should not come at the cost of overall communal health. Berry writes, “[i]n a viable neighborhood, neighbors ask themselves what they can do or provide for one another, and they find answers that they and their place can afford. This, and nothing else, is the practice of neighborhood” (orionmagazine.org). A faithful Christian, Berry’s conviction is rooted in the command to love our neighbours (Matthew 19:19; 22:39). Cultivating this neighbourliness in your life begins with small acts of service—turning from a large-scale economy to an economy of smallness and locality.
This conversation between Mark and Cosser appears to be prophetic about the sad fate of places like Immerath and Fairy Creek. In the same conversation, the “small rentier” and the “agricultural labourer” are seen by the progressive N.I.C.E as antiquated relics of the human past. Cosser describes the farmer as “a very recalcitrant element in a planned community” who is “always backward.” The N.I.C.E. sees all biological life—especially human life—as ugly, dirty and “backwards”. Similarly, the WEF wants to eliminate any sort of limit on human existence, from death to financial debt.
In contrast, Mark’s wife Jane joins a counter community at St. Anne’s Manor led by Dr. Ransom from the previous novels. This community models a pre-industrial economy that is connected to the land and cares for its people. By choosing this economic model, the community at St. Anne’s practices quiet faith in the return of Maleldil (the extraterrestrial name for Jesus). Lewis’s novel reminds us that in order to faithfully follow Jesus, we will likely have to resist the cultural powers that be. That resistance means waiting on the Lord.
If, as Lewis suggests, the economy is at odds with the realities of human life, we need to reevaluate our understanding of what the word economy means. Politicians typically use it to describe the passing of money between entities, but it’s meaning goes far deeper. The etymological root of economy means “management of one’s resources” or, literally, “management of the home” (Oxford Dictionary). Understood this way, the economy is deeply human. Whenever we talk about any economy, what we are really talking about is the best way to order our society. The right aim of an economy is not ever greater wealth, but ensuring that individuals and communities flourish.
As human beings, our created purpose is to cultivate our neighbourhood according to the Creator’s will for it. To approach our work as cultivation is not to rule like an authoritarian regime, but an ordering of existence that helps the Creation flourish. A faithful witness to Christ must include this neighbourhood mindset.
When Jesus called his disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (Matthew 6:24-27), he identified a counter-cultural economy that orders our lives according to the will of the Creator. For this reason, Jesus told his disciples to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The counter-cultural economy of the kingdom that Jesus calls us to is one that ranks profit last, and puts faithful love and obedience first.
The itinerant preacher A.W. Tozer knew this well in his own life. In his book The Pursuit of God, Tozer admonishes followers of Christ that “[t]he blessed ones who possess the kingdom are those who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing.” The counter-economy of God’s kingdom begins rooting in our lives with the painful work of self-denial. Only then can we have true peace in Christ who holds all things together.
The kingdom of God breaks into this world through communities that have been changed by Christ, and not through any human plans. As the community at St. Anne’s waits in simple faith for the return of Maleldil in That Hideous Strength, quietly tending their gardens and loving their neighbours, so must the Church. It has always been the responsibility of God’s people to love and care for our community, and that responsibility is an essential part of our witness in the world today. By ordering our lives according to God’s good design, I believe that we will see a ripple effect of renewal in our communities. And it begins when we respond to God’s call to seek Him first.
Cover photo: © Superbass / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons), 2018-01-09-Abriss St. Lambertus (Immerath)-6148, CC BY-SA 4.0