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Is “Christian capitalism” Christian?

Is “Christian capitalism” Christian?

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, writing in the Washington Post, discusses “Christian capitalism.” Is it Christian? Is it an oxymoron?

Read it all here.

h/t to Susan Russell

Americans sharing more equally in the burden of pulling our country out of massive debt, and using tax revenue to stimulate the economy and create jobs isn’t “class warfare,” it’s actually Christianity.

Many Christians are starting to find the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few very rich people to be an enormous moral and ethical problem. Catholic theologians and ethicists took pains recently to challenge Speaker Boehner on Catholic values in regard to his views, particularly on the economy.

But not all Christians agree with those perspectives. Today, not only is economics a political battleground, it is a faith battleground particularly in Christianity. According to some Christian conservatives, unregulated capitalism, with all its inherent inequalities of wealth, is God’s plan.

“Christian Captialism” in their view, isn’t an oxymoron, it’s God’s will as revealed in the Bible. God wants you to own property and make money, and if some make a lot more money than others, that’s okay. In fact, it’s God’s will too.

These competing views are very influential in our current public debates. The Christian conservative viewpoint, however, has been more instrumental in shaping our political shift to the right in recent years, not only on social issues, but also on economic issues. You can see this display in the “God Hates Taxes” signs carried at Tea Party rallies

Capitalism isn’t “God’s Plan,” it’s an economic system that runs on the human desire for more, our own self-interest. This is not necessarily evil. It can actually be a very productive system, but it is not beneficent. In order for there to be good values in our economic life, capitalism needs to be regulated so it does not wreck the whole ship with unfettered greed (as happened in the banking industry starting in 2008), and it needs to be supplemented with social safety nets and tax policy to achieve an approximate (not absolute) “freedom from want” as in Franklin Roosevelt’s wonderful phrase. It was Roosevelt who translated “freedom from want” into a series of government programs to make it a reality such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, aid to dependent children, the minimum wage, housing, stock market regulation, and federal deposit insurance for banks.

The Christian approach to economics is to be the conscience of the nation and to insist that we regulate capitalism so it does not become reckless and destructive.

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Dave Paisley

The title would be better as “Is Capitalism Christian?”, to which the answer is no. But then that’s the same answer to “Is Communism Christian?”.

Adam Wood

@Rob

Jesus, and the early Church, did not attempt to reform the Roman Empire, or the puppet Jewish Kingdom.

I find statements like this:

“The Christian approach to economics is … to insist that we regulate capitalism”

First of all, I find that to be completely insane. But that’s fine, everyone is entitled to their own understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

But what drives me really crazy about this viewpoint is the common corollary message of “You’re not really a good Christian if you don’t agree with my political/economic views.” And also, “The federal government should do X, because that’s what Jesus wants.”

That sort of thing scares the crap out of me when conservatives do it. I don’t like it any more when liberals do it, either.

Bill Carroll

If Christianity is committed to the common good and the least of these and unregulated capitalism is incapable of serving either, then regulation of some kind seems a minmum implicit commitment.

Rob Huttmeyer

@adam

I did not read the article the same way in which you did. I do not understand her as saying that Christianity endorses any system. Rather, that there is a system in place in which Christianity speaks to. Therefore, the question becomes how does one understand God’s realm and its commitment to justice. Some of this will be a commentary on the current economic system. And I would also say that in addition to (or should I say “before,” not sure) changing laws or policy, the church should also act justly within its own economic affairs. However, to limit God agency to individuals and not to organizations, as you seem to suggest in your last paragraph, goes against the witness of the Gospel also. I think it is more of a both/and rather than an either/or.

Adam Wood

Jesus, and the writers of the new testament, do not endorse ANY economic system. And to say that Christianity calls us to “regulate” capitalism is as misguided as saying Christianity specifically calls us not to regulate it (or to institute socialism, communism, or any other economic system).

Jesus turned over the tables in the temple because the religious system was wrong, not the economic system. When asked about taxes, he said only that they should be paid- without giving any indication about how they should be levied. Given the opportunity to speak with local government on the matter (his encounter with Pilate), he chose to speak about his Kingdom, “not of this world.”

Christianity is not about government policy and economics.

It bothers liberals when conservatives want to use government to impose their religiously-motivated moral values on other people (laws against gay marriage, for example); but the liberals want to do the same thing- use government policy to enforce their religiously-motivated moral values regarding social justice, economic equality, and so forth.

It’s a bad thing, either way. It is not the example Christ set for us, and runs the risk of believing that (inherently corrupt) human institutions can or should take the place of God’s agency in the world.

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