Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Christianity and Capitalism

The conversation at the WUW? office has had a common theme over the past couple weeks. It seems that each of us have been faced with issues of religion and economics as if they were inherently connected. 

So we ask: what do Christianity and Capitalism have to do with each other that seem to bond the believers of each in desperate unity? Why are Christians are so adamant about the free market and independent wealth? Why do they hate President Obama so much for supporting a plan to provide health care for all Americans? Shouldn't they be the ones pushing for health care - for the entire world? Isn't it their Jesus that came to feed the hungry and heal the sick? 

As we have discussed phenomenon, three themes continue to surface. All three point to how the Christian worldview leads to the pursuit of the capitalist ideology and away from caring for the collective humanity.

1. Fixation on Heaven and the 
Temporality of Life on Earth

Before Tim Lahaye conquered the literary world with his 12 book Left Behind series (complete with bible studies, sermon notes, hats, pens, games, t-shirts and movies - begging the question who is crazier? Charlie Sheen or Kirk Cameron), pastors and theologians have been speculating the "when, where, and how" God would rapture his believers into eternity with him (and yes him, not her, in many circles it is offensive to claim that God is not a male). Christians (all claiming to read the truth of gods word) have argued about when god will rescue them from the depraved earth "he" had created. Seminaries have been centered on god's chosen being raptured before, during, or after the tribulation.

The belief that everything on earth will burn (including those of us who are "left behind") is a favorable foundation of capitalist ideology. The pure market capitalist, adheres to the notion that each man is rewarded for his greed as he competes with other individuals to achieve what is best for himself. If one person can not compete in the free market, it can only be because of a deficiency in that persons character - similar to their exclusion from heaven. With this established, why waste societies time with improving the standard of living, for the living, for one day it will all pass? 

Of course this doesn't stop the Christian Capitalist from fighting hard to protect what god has rewarded him/her on earth. They can't take it with them and you can't have it! Tell me friends, what in the hell (purposeful use of the word hell) do you want to do with all of this material wealth you are so protective of? 

It isn't available to build a better earth and it isn't available for you as you float with god for eternity

2. Individual Salvation
The protestant church is founded on the principle that man has direct access to god and therefore does not need the institution of the church or the community to mediate their communication with god (oversimplified I know - but this is only a blog). Over time, Martin Luther's declaration has become the fundamental truth of the Christian faith. Man + God. 

I have 2 favorite statements that all Christians fall back on. The first statement is: "My salvation (entrance into the heaven that preoccupies their daily thoughts) has nothing to do with anyone else - it is just between me and Jesus." Salvation here is conditioned on a personal relationship with Christ independent of any institution or person (unless of course another individuals salvation came at the hands of a church with the wrong theological adherence - then it is conditional on the institution and other people). 

Before you say "but..." - after that statement, every Christian will make the statement that it is not their place to judge the salvation of man. In the next breath they will start in on correct theology and the nature of "true salvation." Unable to self reflect on the hypocrisy of their conflicting statements, we inevitably move on to the only argument that can support their statement - the absolute truth and authority of the bible and the bible alone.

"Pure market capitalism" (which has never existed and is a misreading of Adam Smith's philosophical inquiry) comes into a natural partnership with Christianity as it contends that the individual, acting on behalf of his/ her own good, creates the ultimate good for the rest of society (all boats rise). The destruction of the earth and the destruction of people groups is inconsequential to the Christian Capitalist because all who do not accept Jesus will burn when the Christ returns. Get what you can while on earth - including salvation, cars, and plasmas. Those who god has chosen will inherit material wealth on earth and entrance to his eternal kingdom.

Unless of course god chooses for you to be poor, in that case accept your fate and wait for eternity to come. If you are jobless and alienated, join the tea party as they fight for the interests that oppress you. If you work three jobs and can't afford a pre-natal visit - just go to church and pray that God reveals his will, but DO NOT vote according to your interests! DO NOT join together in unions to ensure fair representation! DO NOT question the government as they send your sons and daughters to Iraq to protect private oil interests! 

This is why Karl Marx referred to religion as the opiate of the masses. Allow those in control of your economic opportunities to pacify you with church, heaven, individual salvation, and the literal truth of the bible. 

3. Belief in the Absolute, Truth of the Bible
My second favorite statement made by every Christian is: 

"I don't base my faith/beliefs on what my church, friends, or any book says. I only rely on the bible to know what god wants for my life." 

What is funny is that many of the Christians that say this have different opinions/beliefs about what the bible is actually saying to do, about what is moral, about what is sin, about Jonah and the wale, about homosexuality, about tithing, about baptism, about heaven, about salvation, etc. etc. etc. But they all believe in the absolute truth and authority of the bible. This belief informs their disposition to the world, their family, coworkers, the poor, the lazy, the deserving, and the eternal saved. This variable truth of the bible is what informs Christians that the earth will burn with everything and everyone not redeemed and that their destiny on earth and in heaven is based on their individual relationship with Jesus Christ (also know as god or the holy spirit). 

Finally, this belief in an absolute, knowable truth, leads Christians towards other principles which seem concrete and true. Capitalism, seen as the economic principle that capitalizes on the "fallen," "sinful," and "selfish" absolute nature of man, is a natural partner for the Christian worldview. In capitalism, we see individuals rewarded for their hard work while all those who do not achieve personal success are held responsible for their poverty and treated as second or third class citizens that don't deserve the basic blessings of a society in late capitalism. The innovation in medical procedures and technologies, supposedly made possible by the "free market" of capitalism, should only be available to those who "work" for what they have. 

Of course these statements made by the bible believing citizens of America are perversions of economic theory, fit to reinforce the elevated structure of the upper middle class Christian worldview.

Arrogance seeps through the doors of Christian churches and poisons the world with its non self-reflexive, judgmental, selfishness that co-opts other theories about politics and economics to reinforce a vision of being God's chosen people.

 - BREATH - 

All of this brings me back to the contradiction of Christian Capitalism or Christianity itself. Are you selfish in your pursuit of personal salvation and succeeding in the free market of competition or are you called to serve the poor and feed the hungry?

Christians cannot continue to act as if the two absolute truths they adhere to are not in direct conflict with one another. Is it yours or is it gods.

Christians that live poor and exploited can not continue to numb their minds with useless chatter and prayer about deliverance from misery in heaven. It doesn't make sense that your god is two different entities... a choice needs to be made...

If you are going to praise George W. Bush for being a godly man while he was committing international war crimes (see the latest Human Rights Watch Report) and chastise Obama for not being godly because he is taking your money to provide health care for all Americans - I think you should take a harder look at your beliefs and the way they inform your actions.

And Now Back to More Music Releases,



Anonymous said...

I suppose you have to have lived a life with and without faith in God, church,and religion to have answers for your questions and comprehension of your thoughts. I am one of those people. You're correct from your perception in many facets. It's unfortunate that the masses that profess to be Christians have totally misrepresented what God intended for any of his children. Capitalism really has no business being tied in with God, and like you said they believe that God will judge them. He will, but it's not going to be the outcome they think they will receive.

Billy D said...

Its tough for me to respond because I don't fall into either camp you are describing and don't desire to defend one to the other and take a blanket side. I will say there are questions you do not answer, you only assume. What if these Christians you describe believe capitalism is the best way for a society to prosper, all classes of people? What if these Christians want to freely give their money to causes that matter to them instead of having the government decide where it goes (sending money to overseas, to homeless shelters, etc instead of government welfare or programs)? What if these Christians think that government is the least effective system and has a proven track record of becoming bloated, inefficient and ineffective? I could keep going and going but you don't address the fact that there reasons why people believe in Capitalism beyond selfishness. The truth is, there is no set of government that perfectly mirrors the bible and Christians are simply asked to live out their faith in any government system they find themselves citizens in. Also many Christians that describe themselves as Libertarians (this is where I find myself more and more) simply want freedom in their country, so their personal beliefs can be expressed and practiced freely, but not forced upon anyone else (and vice versa). I find it frustrating you continually simplify a deep and layered subject. You are smarter then that but simply feel the need to push buttons because of your past experience and the culture you have been surrounded in for most of your life. I find it simply affirms one's chosen side (left or right) instead of engaging any type of conversation, finding common ground, or of being any real benefit.