Good morning. This is working theology.
Last week a Harvard economist named Carmen Reinhart argued that the political turmoil in Hong Kong could trigger a global economic recession. “These are not segmented regional effects,” Reinhart said, referring to the US–China trade war and the unrest in Hong Kong. “These have really global consequences. So [the unrest] could be a tipping point that could trigger a very significant global slowdown, or even recession.”
Soon after this article was posted on Reddit, one user commented, “Trigger, maybe, but the kegs of explosives were trucked in by the world’s two largest economies.”
This made me think of the story where Jesus cast demons into a herd of pigs.
In the gospel of Luke, the writer described how Jesus encountered a demon-possessed man. The demons were called Legion, for they were many. They begged not to be tormented by Jesus, so they asked to be cast out of the man and into the abyss. Luke recorded what happened next.
Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and the demonic spirits begged Jesus to let them go into them. He gave them permission. So the demons came out of the man and went into the pigs, and the herd of pigs rushed down the steep slope into the lake and drowned. When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran off and spread the news in the town and countryside.
In an ancient agrarian economy, these pigs were likely the men’s entire livelihood. It’s as if Jesus sank a fisherman’s boat or destroyed a farmer’s crops. He also upset the balance between rich and poor with his teachings, with his flipping the tables in the temple, with his saying to the widow and her two copper coins, “This widow has put in more than all the hypocrites.”
These events took place within the context of a rising power—Rome—capturing land from dominant powers—Greece and Egypt. The further destabilization Jesus brought into this political mess and its resulting economic havoc must have been tremendous. That’s one reason they killed him.
In other words, the kegs of explosives were trucked in by large economies, and the trigger was a small rebellion. That small rebellion ended up destroying economic life in Israel in AD 70, when Rome had finally had enough. Perhaps the economist has a point about Hong Kong.
Rebellions causing economic imbalance isn’t anything new. Think of the tea party or the French Revolution. It’s happened before and it will happen again.
One of my favorite documentaries is a debate between a pastor named Douglas Wilson and a writer named Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens explains their first encounter by saying he had heard a new argument about the Bible from Wilson, and that’s what got him to agree to the project.
Wilson explains how Jesus told his parables to be purposefully incendiary, to destroy the powers that be in the Ancient Near East. The Good Samaritan is one example, where he stoked the flames of racism between the Jews and Samaritans.
At the end of this scene, both say, “Now that’s a recession.”
Many economists and writers have been warning of recession for months. They point to the inverted yield curve, the trade war, falling housing prices, wealth inequality, slow manufacturing, and several other indicators.
But perhaps a recession can be triggered by the belief in an idea, like democracy or independence, that spreads like wildfire. This week, keep an eye on Hong Kong and the events taking place there. That very well may be the cause of the next slowdown.
Thanks for reading.