Posted by: gmscan | April 27, 2011

Christianity and Capitalism, Part Three

As it turns out this series on Christianity and Capitalism is pretty timely. USAToday published a story on a new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute on behalf of Religion News Service. The PRRI release about the poll says:

Overall more Americans believe that Christian values are at odds with capitalism and the free market than believe they are compatible. This pattern also holds among Christians. Among Christians in the U.S., only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values while 46% believe the two are at odds. Religiously unaffiliated Americans look similar to the general population and to Christian Americans, with a plurality (40%) saying capitalism is at odds with Christian values, compared to 32% who say they are compatible; 14% say they do not know.

Hostility to capitalism is not confined to liberal congregations.  USAToday wrtites:

although conservative Christians and evangelicals tend to want their clergy to speak out on issues like abortion and homosexuality, they also tend to hold left-of-center views on some economic issues.

The article quotes Andrew Walsh, author of Religion, Economics and Public Policy and a religion professor at Culver-Stockton College as saying:

Throughout the Bible, we see numerous passages about being our brother’s keeper, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and healing the sick. The idea that we are autonomous individuals competing for limited resources without concern for the welfare of others is a philosophy that is totally alien to the Bible, and in my view, antithetical to genuine Christianity.

All of that is true, but it doesn’t mean that it is the government that is responsible for those activities, especially in a society with a progressive income tax that taxes only half the population to pay for the charitable instincts of the other half. It is easy enough for me to vote to raise your taxes so that the poor will be aided at no expense to me. This is charity on the cheap.

I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible that Jesus called on his disciples to circulate a petition to Caesar asking for a tax increase to ease the suffering of the poor. Rather, he called on us to help people directly.

But there is a broader issue here. There is a trend among some self-styled Christians to want to abolish injustice, poverty, war, and prejudice here on Earth. They think they are able to do what the Bible says only God can do, and that is the biggest sin of all. It is the exact same sin committed by Lucifer. I will get into this more in my next post.



  1. Actually, I think Christianity makes room for both capitalism and socialism.
    It does so, I believe, to attract both mindsets.
    Apparently, G.K. Chesterton agrees with me.
    He writes in “Orthodoxy, ” in Chapter 6, Paradoxes of Christianity:
    Page 41 “It separated the two ideas and then exagerrated them both. In one way Man was to be haughtier than he had ever been before; in another way he was to be humbler than he had ever been before. In so far as I am Man I am the chief of creatures. In so far as I am a man I am the chief of sinners.
    Page 42 “It (Chritsianity) came in startingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. It was not enough that slaves who stole wine inspired partly anger and partly kindness. We must be much more angry with theft than before, andf yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”
    Click on Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton Adobe (.pdf) file.
    Chapter 6 is 9 pages.
    Don Levit

    • Thanks, Don. I will read that. I agree that Christians can thrive in any economic environment. The distinction I make is that capitalism enables people to use their God-given talents to the fullest.


  2. Greg,
    As you were concluding that it is the “exact same sin committed by Lucifer,” I thought you were going to say it was the exact same sin committed by Adam. It wasn’t so much the tree of knowledge as it was the the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Presumption of knowing good and evil is first great sin of self-righteousness. This is to be distinguished from the righteousness of God. Perhaps this makes humility an essential part of the path to righteousness.
    Gerald N. Yorioka, M.D. (Jerry)

    • I was thinking about that when I wrote it, but decided that Adam thought he could live without God, while Lucifer wanted to displace God — become God himself.

      The idea that we can create a Paradise on Earth is putting ourselves in the role of God. Only God can create Paradise — a place without war, without poverty, without jealousy, without sin. This is impossible for fallen Man. Our feeble attempts to do so have two big consequences —
      1. They always fail spectacularly. Witness Naziism, witness Communism, witness every utopian society ever cobbled together. We end up with conditions far worse than when we started.
      2. They detract from what we SHOULD be doing — the Great Commission given to us by Christ himself. Namely preaching the gospel. Ultimately what is the good of feeding the poor if we don’t help them realize Salvation.As Jesus said to the woman at the well — “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never be thirsty again.” (John 4:13)


  3. Interesting discussion! Seems to me Adam put his will before God’s in order to “become as God”. “His servant ye are to whom ye obey.” He started self-worship, or humanism.
    Socialism collectively does by force what God requires to come from the individual heart: giving to others. Problem is, whoever does this by force is breaking the 8th Commandment: thou shalt not steal.

    • Greg:
      Some Chasidic Jews consider the tree of knowledge of good and evil to introduce complexity to the world. Up until that time, man knew only good.
      C.S. Lewis has an interesting take on good and evil.
      He writes, in effect, one who thinks he is all good is truly evil.
      One who knows he has evil in him is closer to being good.
      In “Orthodoxy,” G.K. Chesterton seems to say there is room for various isms, including capitalism.
      Page 43 “it is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb, the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is a brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is – Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem the Church attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved.”
      Don Levit

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