“Yeah, but what’s your alternative?”

This is a question I invariably get asked when I talk to Christians about my thesis.

When you asked me that question, I internally rolled my eyes.


It isn’t that the question doesn’t matter. Of course, I want to develop practices that allow us to root out the ways we trust Mammon instead of YHWH. But the question is always front-loaded in the conversation because we trust Mammon instead of YHWH. After all, one of the ways we can see how Mammon works on us is our almost metaphysical assumption that reality will provide us with alternatives. If Coke isn’t our thing, there’s Pepsi. If Kia don’t do the job, there’s Hyundai. And if capitalism is awry, then we are trained by capitalism to expect an alternative. That training means that when an alternative isn’t provided, you are not being serviced and you can take your attention on to someone who values it more appropriately. Gladly, capitalism and the marketplace are not reality (even though they are both very real) and in reality it is sufficient to make a diagnosis (the way we have constructed our economies do not match with the Kingdom of God) without being able to offer a cure.

Only in the absurdity of late-Capitalism does the cure precede the diagnosis, such as when pharmaceutical companies synthesize the drug and then have to invent the disease it treats.

Maybe the best we can hope for right now is that we can diagnose what is wrong with the market and yet still be forced to live within it. This would require a patience that Capitalism cannot easily turn to profit. But naming the wrongness we live within also sets on us a course to name other things properly and thus, to free ourselves from our deceptions. Capitalism makes jobs, we say. Apart from all the housing estates where it doesn’t. Capitalism is the machine of innovation, we say. Ignoring whether the things we “innovate” are worth anything except profit. Capitalism serves justice, we say. But whose justice is it serving?

Capitalism is not inevitable. Neither is it fit for purpose. Capitalism must change or die or be killed and one of those things will happen. The internal contradictions (a fancy way of saying the dark corners where nothing makes sense and great harm is done) are too great. It will pull itself apart or be torn asunder trying to keep itself together. What’s the alternative? It’s the same it has always been. Acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.

Your Correspondent, Remembers that revenge is profitable but gratitude is expensive.

5 Replies to ““Yeah, but what’s your alternative?””

  1. I’m currently reading ‘The Economics of Good & Evil’ by Tomas Sedlacek which traces moral philosophy of economics from the epic of Gilgamesh, through the Old & New Testaments & up to present day. Well worth the read if you haven’t already come across it

  2. Wait a minute… Are you suggesting that we are actually meant to do the stuff in that book? I thought we agreed that theologians are just meant to study it. Did I miss something?

  3. Your thesis sounds a lot more interesting than mine.

    “What’s alternative?” is a question I can sympathise with, even if it is often used in an attempt to unfairly stifle criticism. Sometimes it feels like shifts in systems of government are as relevant as cleaning the carpets in Herod’s Temple when it is full of thieves.

  4. yo Kevin,
    I saw that article you posted on Brewdog from Helen’s Facebook account.
    Capitalism is like the feckin’ hydra. You chop a head of and a few more sprout up in it’s place.
    My local pub has actually gotten to the stage where they don’t have Guinness on tap, they stock Porterhouse plain and their own stuff. That would be good I think a if they were happy with that, a sort of local drink. But you can tell they want to open more pubs around the place. I was talking to a guy who works for the brewery one night and he was proud that they would soon be moving to new facilities as they had outgrown their current location. What they want to do is out compete and beat Guinness. It’s that spirit of growing all the time beyond their place that everybody seems to want to do.
    It’s the same with my organic box scheme. They had a good year and now they want to expand their routes and no doubt grow the business beyond locally produced food. Coffee is another one that’s getting up my nose. I don’t want Starbucks or Costa, but at the same time I don’t want all this snobby ‘pissed by a meerkat on a full moon and gathered by Nepalese nun and roasted in small batches craft coffee, that will be £18 per mug and no milk crap. Mammon just keeps coming up with new sneaky ways to get us serving him.
    I remember it saying somewhere in Colossians Remixed that ‘what’s the alternative?’ is the language of Empire, it has so bounded up and trapped that we can’t imagine the alternatives. Maybe it wasn’t that book, but I think that we say ‘What is the alternative?’ because we don’t really believe that God is God and his Holy Spirit in us is stronger than the ways of the world.

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