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What kind of society does this budget enable?

Andrew Hamilton |  11 May 2016


Theological study is demanding, but it also offers diversions. For example, it makes one alert to the way in which arguments deployed in recurring theological issues are mirrored in political and cultural issues of the day.

Scott Morrison Predestination, for example, in American exceptionalism; the tension between original sin and freedom in feminist theory; the conflict between God's love and mercy in penal policies; salvation outside the church in refugee policies.

To self-assured theologians this shows that all important issues are ultimately theological. I would be content to say that all serious theological, cultural, economic and political issues touch on deep human questions. So we should expect to find recurrent patterns of argument.

These reflections were occasioned by the description of the budget by Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull as a plan. Labor spokespersons, too, give priority to plans over budgets.

This was a refreshing change from the more recent fetish with balancing budgets to the neglect of discussion of national goals. The reference to plans invites questions about what values underlie the budget and about what kind of a society it is designed to encourage.

It offers hope that the election may provoke a discussion of the economy that goes beyond dogma and technical issues to ask how the economy may serve a just and humane society.

At first sight this talk of budgets, plans and the economy may seem centuries away from theological discussion of the divine economy. The word 'economy' referred initially to the regulation of a large household. It had elements of plan and budget. But when speaking of God's economy Christians emphasised God's large plan for the world.

Its stages encompassed God's making the world and human beings for a high destiny, the human collapse into sin and misery, God's accompaniment and education of humankind through the calling of Israel, God's joining the human race in Jesus and freeing it through his death and rising, so offering a transformed way of living and ultimately promising a transformed world.


"This election invites us ask in human terms what the economy is about. It has already produced a budget criticised by those who believe fairness has nothing to do with budgeting."


In short the economy was God's large plan for the world and for human beings. It met the deepest human hopes and was motivated by compassion for those who had lost their way.

In God's governance the plan invited a human response, and so budget-like discipline. This corresponded to the budget, and was often spelled out in terms of justice. Sin and its consequences and penalties, repentance and good works were included in the stuff of discipline.

At many times, however, God's large economy disappeared from view and was effectively shrunk into the human task of balancing the budget. When this happened Christians became preoccupied with divine punishment for sin, on predestination to hell for inherited sin, on matching penances exactly to the severity of sins, on the exclusion on the non-baptised, including babies, from salvation.

God then became a book keeper and a judge, and unfairness lay at the heart of the budget. God's love for all human beings, especially the most disregarded, was channelled through a network with boundaries that separated Christians from non-Christians, Catholics from non-Catholics, sinners and the just, and so on. Lost in all this was the emphasis in the economy that all of God's relationships to human beings were pure gift, not a commercial transaction.

In the Eastern Church the economy was emphasised. It could be appealed to in order to cross budgeting boundaries, such as when reconciling divorced and remarried Christians into full church life. God's nature was to be compassionate. In practice, too, the economy has been emphasised in the retail cash economy (local pastoral practice) of Western Catholic Churches.

This theological excursus is pertinent to reflection on plans and budgets. It suggests the importance in all other human activities of constantly moving from the budget to consider the plan it enables. If the budget is for the whole nation, it should look to the good of all, with each person and business having a responsibility for the good of others, particularly the most vulnerable. When budgets are constructed in such a way that the cost of their balancing is gross inequality and the exclusion of vulnerable people from participation in society, they should be rejected. They do not serve but betray the economy.

This election is interesting because it invites us ask in human terms what the economy is about. It has already produced a budget criticised by those who believe that fairness has nothing to do with budgeting. We may hope against hope that this larger perspective will survive the negativity of the election campaign.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.



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Submitted comments

It's safe to say that election budgets look to growth as a defining feature. That is a plan. God's economy is about growth too. Growth in maturing as hearers of the Word of God, maturing in prayer, maturing in freedom, maturing in solidarity, and maturing in thankfulness and joy. Also, maturing in hope is in the mix. All those are a lot better than maturing stocks & shares. N'est ce pas?

Pam 11 May 2016

God made the world and saw that it was good. But our once good planet Earth is now badly damaged with large scale habitat destruction, heavy loss of species and so much pollution that Pope Francis says it is in danger of becoming just a great pile of filth. POPE FRANCIS ALSO POINTS OUT THE MOST DAMAGING OF ALL DANGERS - CLIMATE CHANGE! Action to mitigate climate change should be a prime focus of church pastors and their congregations. If you are a church goer, you can and should play your role here. If not, reducing your own carbon footprint should be a high priority, as should be giving due weight to the environment when casting your vote at elections. We're either part of the problem or part of the solution! My solar panels generate more electricity than I use. Going green makes good economic sense as well as environmental sense!

Grant Allen 12 May 2016

Hallelujah! Thank you Father Hamilton. Another just and compassionate article. I hope there is at least one good Catholic left in the LNP Coalition to stir the consciences.

Annabel 12 May 2016

I would hope, at some stage, we, as a nation, develop, or rediscover, our senses of community and justice to all within it which permeates the Old Testament and which was very, very much part of Jesus' teaching. The Old Testament Prophets and Jesus precede and supersede theologians. There are good and insightful theologians but I think today we have too many and they often comment from an ivory tower perspective about relatively minor issues. Your article might bring some of them back to reality. Churchgoers these days often speak about 'the unchurched'. I think many contemporary Australians are amongst these 'unchurched' because they regard the Church as irrelevant. I think the Church needs to return to the sort of mindset it had which launched the Social Gospel and other similar movements. Articles like yours are very necessary because they disabuse many Christians who, consciously or unconsciously, seem to have gone over to Prosperity Theology.

Edward Fido 12 May 2016

I think that as we are in the lead up to a federal election, it is good to be reminded of the “social gospel” as Fr Andrew Hamilton has done. Christian teaching tells us that this is a crucial part of the Christian way of life. I think it is very useful to refer to the book of Acts in the New Testament (Acts 2: 44-45), which reads: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need" Some believe that Louis Blanc, the French socialist who coined the saying, "from each according to their ability to each according to their need" actually developed it from these verses. There is also further reference to the early Christians living a communal way of life in Acts 4: 32 - 37. And the Dead Sea scrolls indicate that Jesus was a member of the Essenes, which was a communal group that lived simple lives and devoted themselves to caring for the poor. Today, there are Christians who subcribe to Liberation Theology, which is common in the Catholic Church in a number of developing countries where extreme poverty prevails. I think this should lead all who fervently believe in social justice to only vote for candidates who pursue these values.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock 12 May 2016

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