Capitalism and Christianity

Is capitalism an un-Christian philosophy?

The answer to this question depends heavily on how you define your terms. “Capitalism” and “Christianity” are both complex words that mean different things to different people. Debating over the meaning of these words is largely pointless; it’s like arguing over whether a glass is half empty or half full. I’ll present my definitions up front, to make my meaning clear. If these words mean different things to you than they mean to me, then your answers may vary.

By Christianity, I refer to the religious and philosophical system taught by Jesus of Nazareth, and recorded primarily in the Bible’s four Gospels. I do not selectively endorse any one denomination or division of Christianity, nor do I reject any. The Bible is confusing, and there is room for honest disagreement among Christians. In my opinion, the key to Christianity is to believe in one man, Jesus Christ. To believe that he’s the son of God, that he came to this world and gave his life that we might be saved. To believe that one of the greatest gifts he left behind are his teachings, recorded for all time in the Gospels. To believe that his system, his philosophy, and not any other one devised by man, is the way to live your life. The parts we understand, we must strive to live in our daily lives, no matter how difficult or seemingly unreasonable. If any part of Jesus’ teachings were trivial or unimportant, he wouldn’t have bothered with them. If the ways of the world take precedence to you over the Gospel teachings, or if you simply don’t care what the Bible says, then read no further, as this essay will have little to say to you.

Capitalism, likewise, has several different connotations. In the course of writing and discussing this essay, I’ve identified three major interpretations of the term. Let me define them as follows:

  • capitalism¹ – a laissez-faire economic system, characterized by the separation of economy and state, “anti-socialism”, free markets, free trade, relatively light taxation, and a minimum of government interference in commerce

  • capitalism² – an industrial model of production, well illustrated by Henry Ford’s assembly line, characterized by heavy specialization of both capital and labor, economies of scale, with the cost of goods reflecting the distributed costs of production

  • capitalism³ – a pseudo-religion of greed, characterized by pursuit of self-interest, often associated with the claim that each individual, by advancing his own self-interest, ultimately advances the good of society

For the remainder of this essay, I’ll use the superscripts to indicate which meaning of capitalism I’m discussing.

I have no real objection to capitalism¹ or capitalism², and in fact reject socialism completely, but this isn’t the meaning of capitalism I wish to discuss. Likewise, to some people capitalism means a commitment to hard work and self reliance. I don’t really object to this, either, having no problem with either working hard or taking pride in your work, though I do feel that “self reliance” can be easily twisted into an insistence that others rely on themselves.

I take serious exception to capitalism³. One of the most important functions of religion is to provide us with a value structure through which to judge right and wrong. Capitalism³ is a philosophy of life that can only be described as pseudo-religion of greed. It usurps the role of religion to provide a distorted morality. “Give to all who beg from you,” Christianity teaches us. “What’s mine is mine,” the capitalist³ answers. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is the Bible’s Golden Rule. “Take care of number one,” is the capitalist³ response. “Sell all your worldly possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow me,” Jesus told one of his questioners. The capitalist³ just laughs.

Let’s not be distracted by the capitalist³ talk of “freedom”, either. Someone who takes a gun and robs a convenience store has freedom. He’s just chosen to use it to evil ends. Freedom implies the ability to chose between good and evil, but doesn’t provide us with a value system to judge between them. This is the function of religion.

So often, when a capitalist³ talks about freedom, it’s really a clever attempt to intertwine capitalism¹ and capitalism³. Anyone opposed to capitalism³ is twisted into an opponent of capitalism¹, and the distinction between the two is glossed over or ignored completely. Anyone who opposes “capitalism” is depicted as a monster socialist who opposed to freedom and liberty. In fact, just because we support capitalism¹, a society largely free from government control over the economy, doesn’t imply support of capitalism³, a dog-eat-dog world where men live like wolves and prey on each other as best they can. Freedom does not imply that everyone lives for himself… unless that’s what we choose it to mean.

These are my main objections to capitalism³:

  1. The values we promote.

    Don’t underestimate the impact society’s values have on people, particularly the youth. We need to teach and practice Christian values, to lead others clearly. Making money shouldn’t be our primary goal, and we shouldn’t allow money to interfere with our commitment to Christianity. Christianity’s two greatest commandments are to “love God with all your heart and all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Nothing’s wrong with working hard, as long as we’ve got the right goals. Our first goal in life must be to seek God’s will for us and put it into effect in our lives. Our second goal must be to love and serve others.

    If we have a product or service for which people are willing to pay, we can make money, but be sure not to turn away those who can’t pay. Remember the Christian commandment, “give to those who beg of you”; let’s be sure to honor it! Having money isn’t the problem; the problem is what people will do to get money and then to keep it. The Gospels make it clear that generosity is one of the great virtues of our religion.

    So many times, when someone comes up with some nifty new idea, they immediately start figuring if they can get a patent on it, slap some restrictive license on it, or just keep the details secret. Instead of immediately asking “how can we make money on this?”, we should instead start by asking “how can we best serve God and man with this?” Make the commitment to God and others first; let the money come later.

  2. The kind of society we build.

    Let’s face it – not all the people who try to start a company and make a ton of money actually succeed. Yet enough do succeed to make a difference in our lives – Microsoft, WorldCom, Exxon, GM, RCA. Imagine if as many people who tried to make a fortune instead set out to make the world a better place. Not all would succeed. Yet enough would succeed to make a difference, because it’s the attempt that counts. Little by little, we’d find ourselves living in a world of love and hope. Instead, little by little, we find ourselves living in a world of greed and despair.

  3. The legacy we leave.

    What do we want our children to say about us? Do we want them to answer with pride that their parents sacrificed to make the world a better place? Or are we content to let them shrug and say, “Yeah, they made a lot of money“? How do we want our age remembered by history? Are we willing to risk being judged along with the conquistadors and robber barons? Or will we sacrifice now, so that we may be judged along with the prophets and saints? Let’s decide that the future will look back on us and say, “these people did everything in their power for the good of others”.

  4. The treatment of dissidents.

    By “dissident” I mean anyone who won’t adopt the capitalist³ philosophy. My personal experiences in a capitalist³ society are far from pleasant. In my youth, I began quite adept with computers, and ended up working for some major computer companies in the early 1990s. Yet I couldn’t stomach the secrecy with which the technology was developed, and I decided that any software I wrote was going to freely available to anyone who wanted it. That decision cost me my livelihood and turned me into an outcast on the fringe of society. And for what? Because I wanted to write software and publish it for free on the Internet. We need to build a world were people won’t be ostracized just because they won’t go along with “the system”.

A man cannot serve two masters. If he attempts to do so, the demands of his masters may for a while coincide, but ultimately will diverge. The two masters will demand two different courses of action, and then you have to chose. Christianity and capitalism³ are two different masters promoting two different value structures.

Christianity teaches us to “give to all those who beg from us”. So long as we keep this firmly in mind, fine. Yet the capitalist³ philosophy is often one of selfishness. “I take care of myself; nobody else will take care of me.”

Of course, the capitalist³ would no doubt raise a flurry of objections:

  1. Capitalism³ works…

    …in the real world,” I can almost hear you adding. Well, Christianity never claimed to work in the real world. In fact, Jesus taught that Christianity would be rejected by the world, and that his disciples would be persecuted and killed.

    Consider also that capitalism³ is not the world’s only “success story”. Fascism worked. By the end of 1940, fascism had conquered all of Europe. Germany was fascist; Italy was fascist; Spain was fascist; Poland had fallen in a couple of days; France a matter of weeks. Fascism ruled the entire continent. Fascism was a “success”. Hitler felt so confident he invaded Russia.

    Communism worked. By the middle of the twentieth century, between Russia and China and their various satellites, communism ruled half this planet. Communism turned a backwards, rural nation into an industrial super power, put the first man into space, and cast its intellectual appeal to many of the world’s left-wing thinkers. Cuba looked to communism. Angola looked to communism. Communism was a “success”. Kruschov pounded his shoe on the table and declared, “We will bury you!”

    Other notable “successes” include Negro slavery; the conquest of native Americans by both the Spanish and the Anglo Saxons; the establishment of global empires by Britain, France, and Holland; and the military dominance of the Mediterranean by Rome for nearly a millennium.

    Clearly, judging “success” is a difficult matter, made easier by the passage of time and quite difficult without the hindsight of history. Yet even if communism or fascism had genuinely succeeded over the long term, neither of these societies I’d want to live in! Success shouldn’t be measured just by the expediance of the moment, but by moral and ethical considerations. To blandly declare “Capitalism³ works,” and to use this as a trump card to cancel all other considerations, to also to accept these other societies, because each, at some time and in some way, “worked”.

  2. You have to survive.

    Total relativism. People had to survive in Soviet Russia; the way to do it was to become a communist. People had to survive in Nazi Germany; the way to do it was to become a fascist. This argument can be used to justify anything.

    Jesus’ answer to this question was not to worry about survival; let God take care of your survival. My answer is slightly different. We do have to survive, and the way to survive is to take care of each other and to build a society where people can take care of themselves, and walking into Safeway with a $20 bill doesn’t count. If you’re dependent on another man for your food, freedom quickly becomes an empty euphemism. Government welfare programs simply replace one form of dependence with another.

    The capitalists³ don’t want freedom, except for themselves. You don’t make a lot of money by setting people free. In fact, quite to the contrary, the way to make a big pile of money is to make people dependent. Bernard Ebbers didn’t build WorldCom by making long distance communications free. The way to build a WorldCom is to put a switch on every telephone line in this country, then sending people a bill every month and turning off their service if they don’t pay.

    Under capitalism³, everyone “has to survive” because everyone is dependent on the capitalists³ for food, housing, clothing, transportation, and pretty much everything else in life. The Christian solution is to love our neighbors, and one of the best ways to do this is to make our neighbors self-sufficient.

      “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day;
      Teach him to fish, feed him for life.”

  3. We don’t have raw, naked capitalism³; it’s regulated by the government.

    A good point, but not one want we’d like to carry to its natural conclusion.

    Why do we have an Environmental Protection Agency? Basically, because a bunch of people decided that it was in their business interests to build factories that dumped all their waste into the nearest river. It’d be nice if the people building factories would design them to be clean, but then those factories would be more expensive, they wouldn’t be able to compete, and the clean factories would all go out of business. Eventually, people got sick of not being able to swim in their rivers, clamored to their government for a Clean Air Act and a Clear Water Act, and now every factory in this country is regulated by the federal government.

    Why do we have anti-trust laws? Basically, because people like John D. Rockefeller realized that their oil companies could make a lot more money if they also owned the railroad companies and charged competing oil companies ten times as much to use the same rail lines. All the competing oil companies would have far higher operating costs and eventually go bankrupt. It was a smart business decision. Eventually, people got sick of having their oil prices dictated by a monopoly, the government passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and now every major business deal in this country requires government approval.

    Why is Microsoft now embroiled in an anti-trust lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department? Because Bill Gates is acting in the heritage of Dow Chemical and Standard Oil. He’s putting his own profit interests ahead of the better interests of society. So Microsoft keeps all their source code secret, engages in restrictive licensing practices, violates networking standards, and deliberately breaks the backwards-compatibility of their software. These are good business decisions, and the trend is clear. Eventually, the entire high-tech software industry will be regulated by the federal government.

    The capitalists³ love to gripe about socialism, but capitalism³ itself is one road to socialism. The capitalists³, by a constant pattern of abuse, will create a society in which all aspects of everyone’s lives are eventually regulated by the government.

    We don’t want raw, naked capitalism³, nor do we want massive government regulation of our lives. The only alternative is for people to take responsibility for their own actions and do what is in everyone’s best interest. Otherwise, the only way we’ll have a decent society is for the government to force it on us.

  4. Capitalism³ gave us everything we’ve got today.

    Maybe, but I won’t argue the point. I don’t think we have to give up own modern technology to live as Christians. Even if we did, given the choice between a modern, advanced, rational, scientific world, and living a simple, primitive life according to teachings of Christ, which would you choose?

  5. You can’t run a business like that.

    Then don’t run a business! Run a charity, or a philanthropy, or a non-profit organization. If the word “business” gets in your way, discard it, because almost anything can be done in a Christian way. Jesus doesn’t tell us what kind of house to build; he just gives us a foundation to build upon.

    If you’re running a restaurant, turn it into a soup kitchen. This doesn’t mean you have to run off your regular clientele, move to the inner city, and spray paint grafitti over your logo. Just make sure that when somebody comes it without money and asks for a meal, feed them! It doesn’t have to be the broiled lobster tail. Don’t hide or disguise this policy; make it clear to your workers and customers. If you have trouble paying your bills, let your suppliers know about your Christian practices, and if necessary find new suppliers who will reciprocate in kind. Go directly to the farmers if need be, and move your operation to a friendly church’s banquet hall if you can’t pay your rent. If some people leave and don’t come back, so be it. You can’t please everyone, but make sure one of the people you please is God.

  6. That sounds very noble, but I’m sick of working every day and want to be my own boss.

    This is the great lure of capitalism³. “Sign up for own system,” they say, “then you can work for yourself.” Well, I signed up seven years ago. I ran my own computer consulting practice, then I found two partners and started a regular company that eventually grew to have about a dozen employees. To make a long story short, there’s no better way to uncover the myths of capitalism³ than to run your own business. You don’t work for yourself. You work for the marketplace. You don’t make your own decisions. You do what sells. Unless you’re a sole proprietor, you’ll have salaries to pay, a significant tax burden, probably rent and insurance as well. If you don’t make money, you’ll lose your employees, be evicted from your space, go out of business and still have the government chasing after you for back taxes. If you can manage as a consultant or sole proprietor, you’re a lot better off, but don’t risk asking yourself if this is the best you can do for others. The answer may cost you your livelihood.

    Independence in capitalism³ is largely a myth. If you’re not aggressive and somewhat ruthless, you’ll always be a small player, still largely dependent upon the marketplace. The only way to become a big player is to go along with the program. It’s like going into a restaurant and being told that you can order anything off the menu, so long as it’s fish. If you love fish, that’s great, but what if you wanted chicken? You probably won’t come back to that restaurant, no matter how good the food, but the capitalists³ want every restaurant in town to serve only fish.

  7. This isn’t Christianity.

    One of the great advantages of Christianity is the Bible. We don’t have to take anybody’s word for Christianity; we have Jesus’ teachings, written down and preserved for us over 2000 years. To know Christianity, read the Bible, particularly the four Gospels, praying for wisdom and understanding. Don’t take my word for it, or anyone else’s. Remember that not everyone who claims to be a Christian will be saved. By the same token, don’t let the ways of the world and the opinion of others distort your interpretation.

  8. Christianity is based on faith, not works.

    This isn’t what Jesus said, and it isn’t what James said either. Faith is the basis of Christianity, but we’re clearly charged by the Gospels to put our faith into action.

  9. This just doesn’t make sense.

    Jesus never attempted to justify his philosophy by invoking reason or logic. These are the tools used by human philosophers to justify their systems of thought. Logic worked very well for science; it laid the foundation for all the technology we use daily. Scientists had developed logical systems to explain physics, chemistry and biology, perhaps philosophers could also develop systems to explain and govern human society. Thus, in the last few centuries, we’ve seen fascism, based on the logical, rational, scientific ideas of Charles Darwin; communism, based on the logical, rational, scientific ideas of Karl Marx; and capitalism³, based on the logical, rational, scientific ideas of Adam Smith. On the other hand, Christianity isn’t based on reason or logic, it’s based on faith.

  10. This is what “the people” want.

    A tricky argument that attempts to intertwine democracy and capitalism³. Democracy can not be used as a trump to justify any course of action. Suffice it to say that capitalism³ must be judged on its own merits, not based on how many people support it.

Let’s not put our faith in capitalism’s false, worldly pseudo-religion of greed. Christianity is a real religion, with a real God, a real savior, real prophets, and real salvation. “For God so loved the world that he he gave his only Son” to us. Will we accept him, and live his teachings in our lives, or turn him away?

10 thoughts on “Capitalism and Christianity”

  1. Christianity Endorses Capitalism

    Christianity not only does not condemn capitalism, it COMMANDS capitalism. For the civil magistrate to go beyond his role as God’s minister of justice according to His Word (including the stoning statutes), and become a redistribution center is considered tyrannous and sinful by God. God’s ministers are not to go beyond their appointed roles. While I would certainly agree we must be generous to the poor, to declare that capitalism as a system is evil is simply far flung and false. Capitalism properly applied with voluntary charity is thoroughly christian.

    1. Thanks for your reply!

      Philip Bartlett wrote:

      Christianity not only does not condemn capitalism, it COMMANDS capitalism. For the civil magistrate to go beyond his role as God’s minister of justice according to His Word (including the stoning statutes), and become a redistribution center is considered tyrannous and sinful by God.

      I agree. Christianity does not command us to give to the government so it can give to the poor; it does not command us to give to the church so it can take care of the needy; it commands _us_ as individuals. “Give to all those who beg from you” does not invoke any civil magistrate; it is a direct command to each of us.

      God’s ministers are not to go beyond their appointed roles. While I would certainly agree we must be generous to the poor, to declare that capitalism as a system is evil is simply far flung and false. Capitalism properly applied with voluntary charity is thoroughly christian.

      What I perceive in capitalist society is a philosophy of social darwinism; each man for himself; trade secrets, hoarding, a flat out “no” to requests not accompanied with a credit card. Are the airlines voluntarily charitable? the supermarkets? the gas stations? the software makers? Some small proprietors, yes, but the overwhelming majority of social institutions, both business and government, seem to me to reject charity, unless someone else is giving it.

      The solution is not some government system imposed by fiat. The solution is for us as individuals and leaders in society to put
      Christianity into effect in every aspect of our daily lives… voluntarily.

  2. Erick and Stacy Lee wrote:

    Hello!

    My friends and I have been actively trying to reconcile Christianity with the ideals of socialism and capitalism for the past several weeks. Your essay shed some valuable light on the subject and was a very pleasant read. In your attempt to define capitalism for the sake of your essay, you assert that you “in fact reject socialism completely.” Aside from the facts that Marx patently rejected religion, and socialism under both Stalin and Mao had a particularly bad flavor, what is it about the fundamental ideas of socialism that you find unworthy of pursuit by the Christian church?

    First and foremost, the socialist rejection of religion. Rejecting man’s spiritual existence leads directly to materialism, and materialism quickly turns into brutal expediency. Communism, for example, trumpeted a “worker’s paradise” and talked about “from each according to his means, to each according to his needs”, but this was just propaganda. The truth? Read the last six (or so) paragraphs of the Communist Manifesto. Armed revolution – that’s communism. Stick AK-47s into the hands of the peasants, shoot up the country, take over the government, install this brutal dictatorship of the proletariat – that’s the communist solution to all the world’s problems.

    Next, the political nature of socialism. Christianity is a pretty non-political philosophy. That doesn’t mean it can’t be applied to worldly leadership, but it doesn’t prescribe any system of government. In my opinion, there are several reasons for this. First, government is about coercion; if people would do things voluntarily, there’d be no need for government. Jesus didn’t let himself get manipulated into a position where he’d have to coerce others by force. He spoke; he taught; he never forced. Also, his teachings speak directly to us as individuals. He doesn’t tell us to give our money to the government so they can take care of the needy, or to give our money to the church so it can operate charities. He tells us, directly, as individuals – “Give to all those who beg from you”. Christianity is, first and foremost, a personal spiritual philosophy that each of us can put into effect in our own lives, while political philosophies tend to be collectivist and coercive by nature.

    Finally, my perception of socialism as a “rational” force. The trend seems to be that reason and science have worked wonders through technology, and given us almost unimagined control over the natural world. Perhaps the same techniques can be applied to men? Perhaps we can design human society the way an engineer designs a bridge? So, for the last two hundred years or so, political philosophers have been trying to devise some “system” to run peoples lives. Socialism, with its appeal to scientific thought and rational management, plays right into this. Yet I believe that the way to live our lives was taught 2000 years ago by Jesus, and it’s not based on reason – it’s based on faith. Reason presupposes that men can figure their own solutions to our problems, and we’ve seen the results of that! The basis of Christianity is the belief that Jesus came here to teach us the path to righteousness and God, that we wouldn’t have found by reason alone.

    One of the beauties of Christianity is that after rejecting force and coercion as tactics, just about the only thing you’re left with are real solutions to the problems.

    Maybe I should write another essay on “Socialism and Christianity”…

  3. Now a quick comment on your essay.I think that you see capitalism and Christianity as two opposing ideologies.I do not think that this is a correct view.I see capitalism as a by product ,or extension even of a larger Christian worldview.Comunism,since we are talking about economic systems,in the same way,is an extension or by product of a humanistic,materialistic worldview.Capitalism grew out of a system that has respect for the rights of the individual,and therefore allows the individual to pursue its own destiny economically or otherwise.Capitalism is not evil in itself,but merely the result of a certain way of thinking.Capitalism must be like every thing else couched in a larger right view of the world,man and God. A tool is a good or bad thing only in the context of whose holding it.

    You’re not the only person to reply along these lines, so I think this is an oversight in my essay. Let me elaborate my views. I mentioned at the beginning of my essay that capitalism means different things to different people. Just as the word “fair” has two totally different meanings (are we talking about a condition of equality or something with horses, 4-H clubs, and carnival rides?), I distinguish between two different definitions of capitalism. Let’s call them capitalism(1) and capitalism(2):

    1. Capitalism as a government policy of “laissez-faire”; i.e, give people the freedom to choose how they spend their money and time.
    2. Capitalism as a “pseudo-religion” of greed, perhaps best illustrated by a remark made by a famous CEO (Michael Dell), along these lines:
    3. We don’t do things because they’re nice. We’re capitalists, and we do things because they benefit ourselves and our shareholders.

    It’s capitalism(2) that I take such exception to, and discuss at length in my essay. Let me elaborate on capitalism(1), which obviously is what comes to your mind when you think of capitalism.

    I have no objection to a laissez-faire government policy. Government is by nature coercive; if it were not, there’d be no need for government. But a hands-off government doesn’t mean a dog-eat-dog world, and this is what is so often advocated in the name of “capitalism”. You reason well when you compare capitalism(1), in the sense of laissez-faire government, to a tool that can be used for either good or bad. My concern is the advocacy of selfish ends in the name of “freedom”, and how capitalism(1) is quietly converted into capitalism(2).

    Let me illustrate this with quotes from Houman Shadab’s “Capitalism FAQ”, a pro-capitalism Internet essay: http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~shadab/

    In answering his first point (“What is capitalism?”), the author states:

    Laissez faire capitalism means the complete separation of economy and state

    He then begins the next paragraph:

    The essential nature of capitalism is social harmony through the pursuit of self-interest

    Note the transition from “complete separation of economy and state” to “pursuit of self-interest” with nary a whisper. This, to me, is typical of capitalists. They start talking about freedom, then as quickly and quietly as possible shift gears into self-interest. In fact, it’s two different things. What I advocate is a society featuring complete seperation of economy and state, with “social harmony” through the pursuit of God, Christianity, and self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

    Later in his essay, Mr. Shadab continues:

    In regards to morality, capitalism is the only moral (meaning pro-human-life) social system because it safeguards a human’s primary means of survival: his mind.

    Notice the curious definition of morality. I don’t think morality is pro-human-life; morality is a function of religion. Jesus taught us what morality is when he stated “Love God with all your heart and all your mind; love your neighbor as yourself”. “Give to all those who beg from you; and if anyone asks to borrow, lend to him without expecting anything in return” is moral; “social harmony through the pursuit of self-interest” is amoral.

    Mr. Shadab introduces his essay with this claim:

    all accusations that are made against capitalism rest upon a flawed moral theory or an economic fallacy, or in other words, to condemn capitalism is to misrepresent capitalism.

    I hope I’m not misrepresenting capitalism or Mr. Shadab, in fact, I’ll be sure to send him a copy of this email, and solicit his response. I contend that it’s capitalism itself that rests upon a “flawed moral theory”, to wit, that men don’t need God and that we’ve now got a better way to live our lives that what Jesus taught us 2000 years ago.

  4. I wonder as I read your essay and responses regarding it, if maybe the point is missed. Is capitalism compatible with christianity , is communism? Is anything? Thats what I wonder. Did Christ set his thought beside others or above? Did He say “render to ceaser” because he was copacetic to taxation? Did he buy food at market with money he earned or did he usually create it out of nothing? Would He be strenuosly opposed to marx while rubbing eldows with adam smith? Wasn’t our lord a sublime and ironic contrast to the daily hubbub of premodern economic life and by ‘economic’ I mean any monetary system existing as a guide for disrtibuting wealth between a particular society’s consumers. Did He care that the money always migrated to the top of the food chain. Did he care that the Romans overtaxed his people? Was it proper for Christ to pay his taxes with ‘fishey-money’ or did he live outside this system of commerce to lay bare the kings new duds? As you have properly perceived already I do consider Christ as the eternal outsider. Why? Why sould He not accept the way we run buisness, why do I suspect He is mightily ashamed with His laodicean namesakes? He was different, unique, weird, unruly at times, Jesus was God out of our box! Well you may say that through his blood and your faith you have houdini’d the box yourself. But wait, define the box please. As you will soon see you have escaped your sinful chains but all people people christian or non are bound by the system that locks up their food. In the former soviet russia they waited in line for food and life’s amenities in ‘God’s’ star spangled America we trade our best (in labor and self-effort) for money which we take to Giant Eagle and wait in the same line for our food. Is it just me or did Lenin simplify it. Hey were not communists or captialists were Christians. That’s right as opposed to every other system of man. Not unlike the amish who never left the bronx. You never heard of them, you know its sad neither have I.

    1. Anonymous wrote:

      I wonder as I read your essay and responses regarding it, if maybe the point is missed. Is capitalism compatible with christianity , is communism? Is anything?

      Good point. I do think that part of capitalism (the freedom aspect) is salvageable, but I don’t make this clear enough in the essay. I’m working on a revised essay that will more clearly address the points that have caused confusion by my readers.

      I do think that “anything” is a bit strong. Freedom is compatible with christianity, if people use freedom to pursue Christian goals. Democracy/monarchy may be compatible with christianity, if the majority/king pursue Christian goals. Yet some things (selfishness) are incompatible with Christianity, and I’m still attempting myself to draw these lines – thus the essay, the follow-ups, and the revision I’ve got in the works.

      Thats what I wonder. Did Christ set his thought beside others or above? Did He say “render to ceaser” because he was copacetic to taxation? Did he buy food at market with money he earned or did he usually create it out of nothing? Would He be strenuosly opposed to marx while rubbing eldows with adam smith? Wasn’t our lord a sublime and ironic contrast to the daily hubbub of premodern economic life and by ‘economic’ I mean any monetary system existing as a guide for disrtibuting wealth between a particular society’s consumers. Did He care that the money always migrated to the top of the food chain. Did he care that the Romans overtaxed his people? Was it proper for Christ to pay his taxes with ‘fishey-money’ or did he live outside this system of commerce to lay bare the kings new duds?

      Excellent points. I suspect he cared about all these things, but what’s interesting is that he didn’t prescribe political solutions – his solutions were personal and spiritual in nature.

      I recall a memorable sermon whose basic premise was that if you could ever justify a campaign of political liberation, it was 2000 years when Rome was the terror of the Mediterranean, the Israelites served the emperor, slavery was as commonly accepted as money, idolatry was practically a state religion, etc, etc. Yet Jesus didn’t organize a single protest march, and given his powers, he could have conquered Rome. Some people (Simon Peter) were looking for a political messiah, and had to be convinced otherwise. The sermon stuck in my mind, because I, like Peter, have a tendency to look for political solutions.

      One of my great questions is, how would Jesus react to democracy? 2000 years ago it was a moot point, but what happens when Caesar invites everyone to take part in the government? How do we chose leaders in a Christian way, and can a true Christian be a politician? I don’t know.

      As you have properly perceived already I do consider Christ as the eternal outsider. Why? Why sould He not accept the way we run buisness, why do I suspect He is mightily ashamed with His laodicean namesakes? He was different, unique, weird, unruly at times, Jesus was God out of our box! Well you may say that through his blood and your faith you have houdini’d the box yourself. But wait, define the box please. As you will soon see you have escaped your sinful chains but all people people christian or non are bound by the system that locks up their food.

      Amen to that, brother. Note that at the end of John, Jesus makes a point to tell Peter three times – “feed my lambs”, “tend my sheep”, “feed my sheep”. The emphasis on food is significant. If we could feed ourselves, it might mean more than all the other freedoms put together. See my essay on Robotics for some rudimentary thoughts on how we might achieve such a goal using technology. I really want to pursue the ideas in that essay; I think it would be such a wonderful thing if people didn’t need money in order to eat.

      In the former soviet russia they waited in line for food and life’s amenities in ‘God’s’ star spangled America we trade our best (in labor and self-effort) for money which we take to Giant Eagle and wait in the same line for our food.

      Q: What’s the difference between capitalism and communism?

      A: In communism, you stand in line to get into the store.
      In capitalism, you stand in line to get out.

      (one of my favorite jokes)

      Is it just me or did Lenin simplify it. Hey were not communists or captialists were Christians. That’s right as opposed to every other system of man. Not unlike the amish who never left the bronx. You never heard of them, you know its sad neither have I.

      My dread terror – becoming the Amish who never leaves the Bronx. Thanks for your wonderful comments, and sorry it took me a week to get back to you. Keep me in your prayers; I’ll do the same for you.

  5. Mr. Baccala has written an interesting essay. I disagree very much with his reasoning, but I like his conclusions.

    You may find it interesting to consider an alternate perspective on the moral instructions given in the Gospels.

    For a moment, consider Jesus as a teacher, teaching a technical subject like computer science. First he reviews elementary discrete math. Then he teaches basic programming in a beginner’s language — perhaps Modula-2. Then he teach real-world programming in C++. Then he covers software engineering.

    During the software engineering class, he does not refer to discrete math at all. None of the lessons are meant as absolute truth — all are dependent on the condition of the students.

    Later, some of the students compile a fragmentary collection of lecture notes. Those are the Gospels. All of them are certainly true teachings, but they are so incomplete that one cannot get an accurate sense of the teaching process. As a result, the lecture notes allow for a certain, narrow approach to computer science, but they are vastly inferior to actual instruction by a competent teacher.

  6. Yes! Somebody finally said it…

    I would just like to comment that I am seriously impressed by the quality of works here. Mr. Baccala’s essays on capitalism vs. Christianity found more than a few notes of resonance within me. He echoes things that I had been thinking about, but never had the guts to openly express, let alone frame so completely and succinctly.

    Some near-random thoughts…

    Can any system be compatible with Christianity? Is the incompatibility fatal? I wonder sometimes. Are we destined to an endless cycle of revolutions, spewing recycled ideas over and over again like some broken record? If we cease, are we destined for a perpetual 1984? Ok I gotta stop now this is too depressing…

    How much will the net revolutionize the process of revolution itself?

    ‘I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full.’ Yet also ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega.’ What is the limit of ‘having life to the full,’ when it bumps up against the Omega?

    How far short have we fallen from that in our assembly-line thinking?

    Odd. As an engineer I abhor inefficiencies and breakdowns. Yet they may be the one thing that saves us from systematizing ourselves.

  7. Brent,

    This is one of the most lucid descriptions of capitalism-as-pseudo-religion I’ve read. I’ve long held that capitalism *is* a (false) religion insofar as it usurps the authority of religion in the domains of ethics and morality in our modern world.

    As for myself, I realized years ago that capitalism has appropriated Christian holidays such as Christmas in much the same way that Christianity appropriated many primitive pagan holidays. Though not a Christian myself, I no longer celebrate Christmas because I don’t feel that the acquisition of material goods is an appropriate way to commemorate the birth of a revered Master, regardless of denomination.

    I’ve also realized for some time that capitalism and communism are simply two “sects” of the *same* pseudo-religion, competing for mindshare in much the same way as the Sadducees and Pharisees did in ancient times. Edward Edinger, the Jungian analyst, makes the distinction thusly: “free enterprise” is *private* capitalism, whereas communism is *public* capitalism. The only real difference lies in *who* controls the capital. But, as you correctly pointed out, the government will eventually control it all in either case.

    Thank you so very much for this essay. I will visit these pages often to see what others have to say about this fascinating subject.

    Sincerely,
    James S. Elkins

  8. Is starting a business not in the best interests of Christ’s teachings? How are we suppose to support our families by not going out into society and making a decent living?

    I am a Christian and liked your article. I am in the process of starting a consulting business and managed service business. I will have to check my motives.

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