Thursday, May 21, 2009

Christianity and Capitalism

Did you know, beginning in the late 19th century, that corporations were granted all of the rights of the individual? -but none of the annoying responsibilities. They lack, almost by design, any kind of moral compass, conscience, or compassion. Basically, corporations are a way to enact sociopathic behavior on a grand scale. In short, they are what make this country so damned great! ~Ray Wise (as the Devil)

One of the push-backs that has occurred due to the Obama administration is the Religious Right's vigorous promotion of capitalism. To read some articles and listen to some ministers (and fellow Christians), you would think that the capitalist economic format is a scriptural mandate. In their resistance to socialism, many in the Christian Right are trying to wed the economic system of capitalism to Christianity in the same way they have tried to tie certain political and social ideas to their faith. To question capitalism or endorse socialism in some churches would bring your spiritual well-being into question.

I am not a trained economist, so my opinions here are limited; but allow me to raise some issues as I see them. It would seem to me that capitalism, at its core, is opposed to the Kingdom of God. Aside from running contrary to many of the economic edicts laid forth in scripture, capitalism makes use of tendencies we are supposed to guard against. It calls us to be first, rather than last. It wants us to be dissatisfied rather than content. It encourages acquisition instead of giving.

So, where do I stand? I think the old axim - Capitalism is the worst system on earth... except for all of the others... - has some truth to it. However, it needs to be critiqued rather than embraced. Capitalism can be very powerful and produces a lot of prosperity for many individuals; but I believe much of its success is because it uses sin as its engine. As a people of faith, we should be suspicious of it rather than endorsing it.

18 comments:

OneSmallStep said...

Not only that, but capitalism is all about what you earn. You work for what you're given. So I don't see how it can be merged with Christianity, when Christianity is all about what you can't earn, but are merely given freely.

Mystical Seeker said...

Great posting, and I think you are right. I particularly like your comment at the end, that capitalism "uses sin as its engine". I am not a fan of capitalism myself, and I agree with you that capitalism at its core is about scrambling to acquire as much as one can for one's self, which lies starkly in contrast to the Kingdom of God. Many people, especially in the US, equate the "s" word with the Soviet system, but I think that there were historical circumstances that led that society becoming what it did, that has nothing to do with the way we could try to build a democratically based management of society's economic resources that would seek to serve human needs rather than the profits of the rich and powerful.

I don't talk much about socialism in my blog or elsewhere because I just feel like it is an uphill battle to explain to people what I advocate and what I think is possible. But the reality is that I am a socialist.

Steve H. said...

Churchill said "Democracy is the worst form of government...except for all the others" and I have used that to also say as you did, "Capitalism is the worst economic system...except for all the others."

The Bible, as it often does, supports both socialism and capitalism...too a point. We are both commanded that if "a man doesn't work...he doesn't eat" and mixed in with that is charity and equity for those that can't help themselves.

Although that a pretty cool line about capitalism haveing sin as its engine...every economic system (or any other system for that matter) has sin as its engine as long as men are running it.

Mystical Seeker may proclaim himself a "socialist" but does so from the prosperity of a capitalist country. I'm sure there are millions who have lived in more socialist based countries that could proclaim their economic system has "sin" as its engine with equal vigor.

I could be wrong, but isn't the US budget for social programs larger than our defense budget? If not I know its pretty close. We are hardly a totally capitalistic system to begin with.

This side of heaven, I'm quite happy to walk a line between the two systems

Steve H. said...

Oh,

I did mean to note I wholly agree with you on the intwining of Christianity and capitalism.

To embrace one should not mean embracing the other

Andrew said...

"Mystical Seeker may proclaim himself a "socialist" but does so from the prosperity of a capitalist country."

Steve, you seem to make some presumption of motive and ethos here - but not in a hope for the best way, but rather in an assume the worst way. I find that tends to lead to conversation ending, or argument starting, but rarely anything insightful. I think most people would enjoy elaborating on their ideas,... if they weren't popped in the nose after their first comment.

"I could be wrong, but isn't the US budget for social programs larger than our defense budget? If not I know its pretty close. We are hardly a totally capitalistic system to begin with."

Again, I am not an economist, but it seems like your assumption is that Socialism is one large welfare system... I don't think that is the case.

Here I will make an assumption. You seem to tie - if a man doesn't work, he shall not eat - to Capitalism. I don't see that it would apply there any more than it would to socialism. Capitalism allows a lot of people to eat a LOT, without ever lifting a finger.

Also, I don't think every system uses sin as its "engine". People may corrupt it, but the system's intent may not have lust,greed, etc... lying in its foundation. For the most part, that is capitalism's starting point. I accept that as part of its model, but it seems to me that many in the Christian Right do not not want to acknowledge this flaw, rather, they treat it as if it is "God's" model.

Steve H. said...

Andy,

You seem to presume that I am suggesting that capitalism is the "positive" and "socialism" is the negative in my argument. I am no huge fan of capitalism...just as I am no huge fan of democracy...I just see both as producing the most civilized societies in a broken world.

My argument against mystical Seeker's proclomation that he is a socialist is the same irritation I find in most blog based arguments. Rather than facts, the declaration is often made to irritate some group that the individual finds themself surrounded by. You don't look around the world and say, "I'm a socialist" because of the huge success countries that have implemented socialism have attained.

It's because capitalists piss you off. They often piss me off to but not enough to declare myself a socialist.

Again, the conflict of the two keeps things balanced in a broken world.

Steve H. said...

I was in a hurry before and wanted to address another point...actually, a couple:

You say:

"Again, I am not an economist, but it seems like your assumption is that Socialism is one large welfare system... I don't think that is the case."

Again your premise assumes I am "anti-socialist" as you put an immediate connotation on the use of "welfare system". I actually support welfare and "some" redistribution of wealth. I have no issue with welfare per se...some of the mechanics and ways it has been implemented in I have had issues with...as do most people.

I wouldn't say that by suggesting that "Mystical Seeker" can proclaim he's a socialist from the proseprity of this country is a "pop in the nose". My challenge to his declaration was (at least in my eyes) civil and fostering of debate and discussion. Again, I have no problem with someone declaring they are socialist...I just find many of the motives in the blog-o-sphere to be suspicious.
Its like when people in Boulder would tell me they are Buddhist. Thats fine, and I generally respect that, but often the real motive was a proclamation that they were not Christian more than they were Buddhist.

Andrew said...

I didn't take your statements to be capitalism-positive, socialism-negative; but how I did interpret it (perhaps wrongly) was that capitalism carries a connotation of work, whereas socialism carries a connotation of welfare.

As to Mystical,I think there is a bit of a pop in the nose, and I think you tip your hand as to why -
"Rather than facts, the declaration is often made to irritate some group that the individual finds themself surrounded by."

I think you extrapolate your Boulder experiences and by proxy assign motive to Mystical. I found his declaration to be a humble, matter of fact statement rather than "a declaration made to irritate". But, if you say you meant nothing by it, I need to assume you mean it as such.

Steve H. said...

Andy,

The problem with e-mail "debate" is some intentions and motivations are unclear or miss interpreted.

I am guilty of trying to understand people's thinking...sometimes to an irritating fault I admit. If someone says, "I don't like the inequality of capitalism and would like to see some greater social policies to address some of those issues" I can understand that as that is the way "I" think. When someone says, "I am a socialist" then I think, "For the most part socialism as an economic model has been disregarded and disposed of across the globe. It has produced a lot of misery in a lot of countries and when immigration is open people tend to enmass leave more socialist based economies for more capitalist based. So what is the REAL motivation for someone to declare they are a socialist?

I am then probably guility of extrapolating from previous experiences where similar situations have occured and suggest for a POSSIBLE motivation.

I am addicted to people's thought processes and almost NEED to understand other's logic...again sometimes to an irritating fault.

Mystical Seeker said...

I have already deleted two comments that I wrote here because I just didn't have the time or motivation to disabuse Steve H. of his mistaken notions about what he somehow thinks my beliefs are, and I am particularly not interested in defending myself here from his questioning of my motives--and in general, for reasons I stated in my initial comment, I find these discussions too frustrating. In fact, I stated in my initial comment that it was an uphill battle trying to get past certain preconceptions when I talked about socialism and so I usually just don't bother, and Steve H. so illustrated this very point that you'd think it was some kind of set up. I am really not interested in any further discussion on this subject with someone who questions my motives.

Steve H. said...

Mystical Seeker:

Motives are the only thing that are really worth questioning. I constantly question my own motives so I have the irritating quality of questioning others as well.

Why do you act insulted for having your declaration challenged? Or to infer that an elaboration would be somehow beneath you.

Change my mind...I'm a big boy and have changed my position on a number of issues in the past. Isn't that why we blog on "hot topics"? To foster discussion and diverse opinion.

I was hardly uncivil towards you although, admittedly, did try to provoke a response with my suggestion.

Its unfortunate you don't wish to enter into a discussion. For the record, I too support certain aspects of socialism (I am a big supporter of universal health care...on which over time I have had my mind changed on because of reasoned debate).

However, you can choose not to elaborate...that is your choice :)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, you are looking at things completely wrong. Turn around...and view them from a different perspective.

Capitalism, at its CORE is in tune with and perfectly aligned with the Kingdom of God.

Give, and ye shall receive. In capitalism the only way you are able to make anything for yourself is to FIRST serve your fellow man. I mow your lawn...you pay me. I cure your cancer, you pay me. I grow your food, you pay me. In capitalism, I first must do for you.

This also counters your argument of being first rather than last. First you must serve and lastly you shall receive. In harmony with the Kingdom of God.

Capitalism does not encourage aquisition instead of giving. In fact, it encourages you to give. The only way you better yourself, ist to give and serve others. In fact, the price mechanism makes it plainly clear the value of what you provide. If there is no food, and we need to grow food, food makers will be handsomely rewarded. If there is a need for a cure, doctors will be hansomely rewarded. Capitalism and the Kingdom of God, both as of you to give rather than acquire.

Andrew said...

Anon - I think you give way too much credit to intent here. Also, I think you would have a very hard time making that case scripturally.

Wumpus said...

I know that this post is old, and no one might read this comment, but I'm bored...

Being someone who is both a Christian and who loves the subject of economics I make the following argument:

Company A and B both sell computers. I go to A to buy a computer, but all I get is terrible customer service and ridiculous prices! To top it all of, the computer I buy is a load of crap. Next time I go to buy a computer I choose company B instead. They have better service, better prices, and better goods. Eventually company A either fails or has to emulate company B in order to keep its business. Why? because other people had the same experience as me, and came to the conclusion that B is better than A.

basically the main idea here is that if each person does right by himself, then everyone benefits for it.

Capitalism doesn't have to deal with competition between companies, other entities can be part of the system as well. Charities have to compete with one another to get your donations. The better the Charity the more donations they get.

So its not some evil system that fosters selfish behavior, but rather a system of free choice!

now for my tie in to Christianity:
Didn't God give man free thought so that we might come to him on our own will, to choose him over sin? He could have made us puppets on strings, but he gave us the ability to make our own choices.

Capitalism isn't God's mandate, but it allows us to live the way God wanted us to. With the ability to make our own choices.

Andrew said...

Wumpus- Welcome and thanks for commenting.

I understand your point and I am not so much anti-capitalist as I am pro-critiquing capitalism. Specifically, I think the Christian sub-culture has inadvertently added capitalism as one of the pillars of the faith. In their determination to defend it, they give it a pass on its very obvious flaws, especially ones that could produce scriptural conflict. I would be hesitant, in a theological sense, to try to argue that if I just look out for myself, everyone else will get a good by-product. I think there are many fine arguments for capitalism, I just never want the faith community to lose its suspicion of it.

Wumpus said...

I didn't read all the posts, I just skimmed over most of them. One thing I saw was a fairly negative view of capitalism. With my last post, I was trying to paint a better picture of capitalism than what most people are used to.

I agree that capitalism has its flaws, but I feel that its a better system than our alternatives.

I recognize the trend that Christians tend to be pro-capitalist. However, I have never seen a Christian defend it as a "pillar of faith". Maybe I've been out of the loop.

that last paragraph of my last post was merely a passing thought I had while writing. When viewed in that light, it is easier to see how a Christian (someone of strong moral convictions) might support something like capitalism (that evil system that fosters greed and selfishness).

I like this blog. To think I stumbled here by accident...

Anonymous said...

The Misinterpretation of Second Thessalonians:

We have been taking Second Thessalonians completely out of context. It has nothing to do with the world at large, or society at large, or the institutions of national government. This has to do with Paul wanting to set a personal example for the spiritual edification of fellow Christians in Thessalonica.

He was in no way instructing the Romans to cut their social services to all persons Christians judged as lazy. Nor did he set Christians up as governmental monitors to warrant that tax monies never went to a person deemed lazy by Christians. Our use of this to justify hoarding our money, evading taxes and being heartless to the poor is simply bad-faith, out-of-context, self-serving nonsense.

Paul was having lots of troubles in Thessalonica, so in order to prove to them that he was a person of good will, he came down with some other believers. In order to show they were not greedy, or parasitical, they made a point, FOR THEMSELVES to work extra hard and to take no charity, to show they were acting in good faith.

When he got there, he found people of bad faith, AMONG THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, and AMONG THEM, he orders them to work hard, presumably not only to live ethically but to set an example to the non-believing world.

For one thing, he uses the phrase, "if a brother," to discuss one who isn't working who is actually claiming to be a member of their particular communion. That is, the person accused of non-working would be a person that FROM AMONG THEMSELVES they knew well.

However, what we have today is Christians judging non-Christians whom they do not know. So, for instance, most conservatives have an assumption that non-workers are people of bad faith. In some cases, this may be true. However, if a person is not in our own local community, or not of our church or our club, he is a stranger to us and we don't know whether he is acting in bad faith or not.

We might give him a glance over, as my conservative friends do when they see non-workers and say, "He looks fine to me. He's faking it. He's not sick. He's a mooch." Or, these conservative Christians might say, "He didn't really try to look for a job. He's just lazy."

Non-Christians are seeing Christians say to them: "You're lazy!" And they're seeing screaming, angry Christians say, "You'll get no help from us, you bum!" And they're hearing this, and many of them are legitimately unemployed, or mentally ill, or have some illness that is not immediately identifiable on the surface.

The old saw, "don't work/don't eat," quoted totally fraudulently now, was intended for a specific audience in a specific context of a set of arguments that had obviously gone on behind the scenes between the Thessanolians and Paul.

To then take Paul's words, addressed to people with whom he was deeply intimate and had specific knowledge of, and to turn them into a sword that Christians can turn against poverty-stricken strangers is bizarre.

The Bible tells us not to bear false testimony. If we are accusing someone of being a lazy bum, when we don't know their life story and have no current proof that they were ever acting in bad faith or being lazy, then we are bearing false testimony.

I have seen this "lazy bum who doesn't deserve to eat" quote hurled at people I knew, in fact, were people of unimpeachable integrity:

The Apostle Paul would be mortified if he knew we took this letter that he wrote as an intimate communication between fellow believers and used it as a beating stick against non-believers and the general public when they came to Christians for help.

This has been the greatest single scriptural fraud of our lifetimes.

Mel C. Thompson.

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