Economic and power relations are the place where any set of lofty religious or humanistic ideals come to ground, where the rubber hits the road. And for those atheists who care about making a better world (rather than just making religious people look dumb) this is a place where atheists and the religious can help each other face a most formidable, perennial, intractable challenge: how to structure institutions for the benefit of their members or the public at large while discouraging exploitation and the use of institutional power for the private gain of trusted leaders.
My current favorite of the atheist religions–which don’t generally consider themselves religions–is Nonviolent Communication or NVC, and I was confirmed in my positive regard for the NVC movement when I came upon this piece by Miki Kashtan on Tikkun’s blog addressing crucial questions of money, higher values and inner peace. Kashtan attacks the problem of money in a mode of full-fledged utopian dreamery, offering ideas and experiments that point toward the reform of our society’s whole economic exchange structure. She summarizes some of her intentions thus:
In how I engage with money and resources, I continually strive to move closer to my vision of how I want to see these operate in the world at large. I aim to move from considering exchange value to valuing people and life; from seeing relationships through the lens of exchange to participating in a flow of generosity; from allocating resources based on output equity to caring for everyone’s needs; from making things happen based on the ever-s-subtle coercion of money incentive to complete and wholehearted willingness; from thinking about our merit to sharing our gifts; and from wondering about what someone “deserves” to contributing to everyone receiving all we need. (Miki Kashtan, personal communication)
But I want to focus on a specific problem she raises: how can she offer her services as a trained NVC teacher and practitioner in a way that is consistent with her values? She is, from what I can gather, in considerable demand in the NVC world, but many of the people and organizations who would like her help have little money to pay for it. Does she sell her services only to those who can afford it? No, that would not fit her values. But how can she meet her own financial needs otherwise?