An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture (Block, Brueggemann & McKnight, 2016) proposes that the competitive economic and resource-scarce world that is reflected in much of life’s experience is being replaced by a covenantal world characterized by neighborly beliefs.
The free market consumer ideology that the authors believe is dying assumes scarcity of resources, that certainty and perfection are achievable, that acquisitiveness and privatization are essential, and that institutions are required to maintain this ordered culture. The emerging covenantal world is based on the neighborly beliefs of abundance, mystery, fallibility, and the common good. The consumer and globalized culture which dominated much of the 19th and 20th centuries violated neighborly values and perpetuated privilege, competition, self-interest, entitlement, and surplus (unused) resources. By contrast, a new covenantal culture would result in more even distribution of resources and would reduce the obsession to acquire more than we need. The covenantal community requires that individual well-being be reunderstood by paying greater attention to the well-being of the whole community.
The authors view urbanization as one of the primary causes for the loss of community, partly due to the complex systems and empire that has to be maintained as a support to consumerism. This urbanized world lacks a sense of community, of knowing each other, and it ignores the potential of a connection to God. They trace the class system that has emerged and the organizations that support it to a “myth of individual development.” The empire that perpetuates our disconnection from each other is supported by everything from schools to aloof elites who are blind to the social and economic conditions that impact other’s lives. Additional factors that sustain our disconnected life experience include mobility and isolation, unproductive wealth, and the violence that accompanies them.
The alternative the authors propose is to accept an “invitation to covenantal justice, a call to create a more just or equitable world based on covenant.” This covenant is what many would see as a commitment to the common good. And this common good can be achieved by recognizing the abundance of our community gifts and sharing the resources we need. The signposts of such a covenantal community are sharing time, food, and silence. Rather than observing time as a quantity to be managed, covenantal time involves measuring the depth of time – what did we do with time to make meaning and create common good? Rather than seeing food as something to hoard, food should be viewed as coming from nature and therefore freely shared. Rather than viewing silence as a void or absence, it should be seen as a companion to mystery – a place allowing for reflection, discernment and deeper understanding.
In the postscript, the authors express their intent in writing this book, “to shrink the market as the primary means of cultural identity, schools as the sole source of learning, systems as the source of care, price as the measure of value, productivity as the basis of being.” All in all, such propositions sound attractive but the few examples the authors provide offer little certitude of dramatic change, especially in a near term view. An Other Kingdom was more a primer for reflection on the state of our civilization and world’s future than a roadmap to how to make it happen.