I got to thinking a little more about the whole Jewish charging-for-membership thing. I think it comes down to yet another example of the scarcity mindset vs. the abundance mindset.
Scarcity thinking says "there are limited slices of pie, we’d better charge for each or we’ll never break even".
Abundance thinking says "if we invite everyone into the kitchen, we’ll wind up with five pies and probably some cake to and ice cream to boot".
In the computer industry, scarcity thinking brought us shareware, exorbitant software licensing fees for broken software, and a whole host of applications and business models that are being rapidly obsoleted. Abundance thinking brought us Linux, Firefox, the Web, and an array of Open-Source code which is rapidly becoming the foundation of your technological life, whether you realize it or not.
Scarcity thinking says that as a skilled knowledge worker, I should charge for everything I create. Instead, I blog about my ideas and release my code to the world as Open Source projects. Instead of one-time fees, from this practice of abundance I get a network of contacts who will ensure that should I ever lose my job, I’ll be hired again within a month.
Jesus, always one for the pithy quote, said "cast your bread upon the waters…". Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that Christian churches have for the most part embraced the abundance mindset. Open your doors, give people something they need, and ask – but don’t demand – money or other contributions.
Jewish congregations – perhaps still trapped in an immigrant mindset of penny-pinching ("because who knows where the next meal will come from?") – have embraced a scarcity worldview. We offer a service which costs money, and that money has to come form somewhere, so fees must be levied.
Guess which one is growing faster?
And the thing is, I’ve embraced abundance. I’ve decided to model my life on principles of giving what I can whenever I can, with the understanding that the Universe will bring those investments back to me many-fold. And I’m simply not interested in involving myself with groups that have totally internalized the scarcity mindset.
.. but just to be my old critical self.. I can think of a few stipulations that make the choice not necessarily quite so simple.. or rather, perhaps one that is clear, but also greatly shaped by the historical and social context that you are in.
I state this not because I also don’t find the abundance mindset superior for how I want to view life.. but because I do think that to encourage this abundance mindset, we should be aware of the underlying structures that help enable it.
To go back to the concrete example–I would point out that the Jewish religion, on the whole, has remained fairly consistently coherent over the past 2500 years or so. It has done this by adhering to and enforcing a rather strict coherence of laws, traditions, etc… While I acknowledge that there has certainly been change in the religion.. it still has, from what I know, a strongly contiguous core of beliefs.
Christianity, on the other hand, has constantly evolved and changed in starkly radical ways throughout its history. Early on, it most certainly embraced a more “abundant” type of mindset–but it also sprouted numerous heresies and divergences that made it not particularly coherent. In some ways this is good, but it also means that if you look back the history of any particular christian sect, you will find that probably 90/100 particular applications of Christian belief have gone extinct.
Furthermore, when Christianity did become dominant–it did, for about 1/2 of its existence–take on a much more “scarcity oriented” mindset–and its belief system remained far more consistent during this time period. With the Protestant Reformation, of course, and subsequent splitting, you have again, over the past 500 years (and especially the last 100) seen this abundance mindset come back–but again, you see the continuous splintering of what it actually means to be a Christian.. with many various protestant (and esp. fundamentalist) sects claiming that everyone else is not christian, etc etc… and many of them going under.
In any case.. what I’m getting to in a round-about manner, is that there seems to be the necessity of certain circumstances for the emergence of an “abundance” style of life that make it possible.. and which allow for the creation of numerous adaptations and even improvements… but that these circumstances are often predicated upon stuff that came out of more scarcity oriented situations.
Moving from religion to computers–obviously, a lot of the really cool stuff now (linux, open source, etc) is entirely dependent upon the existence of a linked system of networked computers. The basic computer itself–and the idea of networking them, however, was a creation of immense governmental defense institutions whose whole existence was predicated upon scarcity notions. They were trying to build communications systems that could survive dire threats to their existence–so they created incredibly cool levels of redundancy and distributed processing… but to do this, they spent TONS AND TONS OF MONEY OVER DECADES…
Once, of course, we have this immense cool new toy, it didn’t take long for people to figure out how to utilize it in ways that generated abundance for a lot more people–and to develop new abundance oriented traditions and products…
But still..all of this abundance orientation is predicated upon the existence of a network created by scarcity-orientation…
Thus, perhaps, my final thought after this rambling is that the two are not either-or choices.. but rather closely inter-related strategies that could learn from each other and appreciate each other for their different particular strengths and weaknesses…
You’ve pretty much summed up my father’s feelings on Judaism.
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