The Faith of Economic Policy

A few people have asked me from time to time why I rail against “capitalistic Christianity” so much. I think one person believed I was somehow making a case for “socialistic Christianity” or “communistic Christianity” being better or more preferable, which wasn’t what I meant.

My disdain for capitalistic Christianity isn’t because I don’t like capitalism, though it’s true that I’m not the biggest fan of that economic system. Capitalism has a tendency to view and label people based on their earning potential. A very small percentage of the population owns an insanely huge part of the nation’s wealth; subsequently, the majority of the nation’s power rests in the hands of the wealthy who are not the majority, and so now you have a tiny group of rich folks making the decisions for everyone else. But we throw in a voting booth and call it democracy. It’s a different breed of a caste system, in a way. It delegitimizes the blue-collar worker and exalts the white-collar sector, paying the latter atrociously more money than the former, when it is actually the former upon which society finds its foundation resting.

Socialism doesn’t work, either, because it’s too easy for the people in power to get greedy and hoard for themselves (like capitalism). It also flies in the face of peoples’ notion of what is fair. Now, concepts like “grace” and “salvation” are never fair since they are for everybody, and we love that idea, but when it comes to our money, we don’t want the distribution of our wealth to be a grey area. We want it to be black and white as apportioned by our number of working hours. Capitalists, when it comes to their money, want to receive what they deserve. (Deep down, then, capitalistic Christians probably wouldn’t even believe in this “faith” they profess, for to truly receive what they deserve would be a payment borne out of the blackness of their hearts, a perpetually accruing interest labeled “death,” for all have fallen short of the glory of God. Suddenly, putting capitalism and Christianity together doesn’t seem so appealing.)

But back to socialism. Americans don’t like it because they believe the government will take what they worked so hard for and then give handouts to people who don’t “deserve” it. Curious that this sounds a whole lot like Jesus all of the sudden, what with the way in which he reached out to the hookers, swindlers, and destitute. So now Christ is a socialist, right? Even saying those words sounds absolutely ridiculous because we know it to be harebrained what with how it grates against Jesus apolitical ministry. But somehow people are perfectly comfortable with putting capitalism and Christianity together to where it doesn’t sound asinine in their heads. How’d it get to that?

What about communism? It doesn’t work, either, which is a real shame given that it’s the best system in an idyllic sense. If it could work, it’d be wonderful. The early Church lived in true communion, sharing everything with each other. It’s a beautiful picture of unity. But as a political system, again, greed enters the scene, and it just can’t work. Not on a big scale.

So I’m clearly not making a case for any one financial track, despite how it may come across at times. Another person missed the adjectival part of my dissatisfaction with this whole “capitalistic Christianity” thing and just assumed I was railing against Christianity, which also isn’t true.

My response to them would be, “No, my issue is with the Christians.” It makes me simultaneously sad and angry to see people (and myself; at this point I need to include myself in this picture of people) feeling the need to doctor up and augment their Christianity by marrying it to an economic ideology. Perhaps this is a pretentious statement I’m about to make, but this is how it comes off to me: Our faith is weak. Shallow. Tepid. Synonyms abound on this one. Essentially we proclaim our faith is not big enough, or rather, our god is not big enough, and so we bring in an economic policy that “aligns” with our faith. This is a foolish aim, though, given that no monetary ethos gels with Christianity, except this one: Give everything away.

Who in America does that? A lot of people like to give, and a lot like to give away, but that word “everything” trips us up. I know I’ve never given everything away. I give some and keep more than enough for myself.

Instead, we try and receive some sort of allowance from Scripture to do this economic exaltation. When we stand around debating and poring over Scripture trying to figure out which fiscal system fits best with our theology, the only message we’re giving people is that we encountered God and came away dissatisfied, convinced that the message of his love needed something else added to it so that we could fully know how to live. Or, really, it’s not even our theology we’re interested in. Sometimes we pore over Scripture trying to determine what business ethic best coalesces with God’s theology, as if our Federal Reserve tour of the Bible is a true supplication and searching out of the heart of God. The answer is simple in that there is no answer. Maybe Jesus was too busy healing people to get caught up in a financial debate. God is not the god of capitalism. He’s not the god of socialism. He’s not the god of communism. But he is the god over all of that.

Just because he’s not a proponent of either system doesn’t mean they can’t all fall under his eye. Each system has great tenants to it: capitalism, its emphasis on work ethic; socialism, its desire to meet peoples’ needs even if they can’t pay for the service right away; and communism, its desire to have everyone sharing the bounty together. Those are just some of many examples. Obviously in a fallen world greed enters any of these pictures and everything breaks down, but that doesn’t change the fact that in each of these economic systems there are all good things worth encouraging.

This is not to belittle all the businessmen who are genuinely interested in how God views economics. To them I would simply say I think it wise to look at how often Jesus says to treat people. If your economic policy or your boss or your personal financial goals get in the way of that, well then something probably needs to go by the wayside. But don’t twist and bend who God is in order to make it all fit. Something’s liable to snap, and it most likely will not be God, but rather, the world we’ve constructed for ourselves. The eternal always wins out over the temporal.

Much love.

  1. Ooh. I really like what you’ve said here Nelson. Greed is in there messing everything up. It’s a world of politicians trying to get elected, huge marketing campaigns manipulating the public, families stressing to “keep up with the Jones’s.” There is not much difference in big corrupt government and big corrupt business, and the line between them seems to be getting blurrier.
    It’s hard for me to believe that any of our current economic woes are going to be solved by electing people to political office. Not to say we shouldn’t vote, but I think it will take a grassroots movement; I think it will start with the gospel of love taking hold of people’s hearts. We can be kind to each other and the environment. We can choose who to buy from. We can choose not to swallow manipulative advertising. We can choose to help others, giving not out of guilt or pride, but in love, wanting to see them continually blessed. Our generation has the freedom and power to transcend religious and political walls like never before. God will not be the mortar holding these bricks of man’s lies together any longer. God is the fresh air we will breathe, the light in which we will see our neighbors’ faces, the drinks we will give them. I’m praying for a culture of stability, balance and laughter. We will all forgive, because we will recognize our need to be forgiven. God help me give more away.

    • A sad but true observation, Cheyenne. It seems business and government are becoming as seamless as the internet and television. Snippets of truth like that that make me wary of voting, and I begin to question its significance (but more on that later in the form of a future post). I like that you mention our buying power. I’ve always felt our decisions at, or away from, the grocery store have more political impact than we might initially think.

      But I agree. Any real change comes grassroots. Just look at the Middle East right now. They moved the masses to stand up to their governments. I’m not necessarily a fan of revolutions and the carnage they produce, but you have to wonder if Capitol Hill will have to face one from her own people in the next fifty years.

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