RJ Moeller offered a non-Christian an opportunity to make the case that no true Christian could support capitalism. It opens the door for an interesting debate, if the guy’s case wasn’t a weirdly disjointed mess of non sequiturs and rhetorical base-stealing.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it is. His case seems to be built on the belief that every person who earns a profit through his work is the moral equivalent of Harvey Korman’s character from Blazing Saddles. It’s a given that capitalists love money more than anything and that they absolutely hate poor people, in spite of the fact that the US is strewn end-to-end with schools, libraries, hospitals, and charitable foundations built by capitalists from Carnegie on down. And everything that Jesus said about money is taken to apply to apply to governments, because we all know that’s why Jesus came to earth: to minister to and die for the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Bureau of Prisons.
So, after that train wreck, Moeller gave another contributor a chance to make a Christian argument in favor of capitalism:
We all live with in the economic system to which we were born; some of us will develop divergent views based our on exposure to competing systems. We may not readily endear our self to all the systems in our culture, realizing that they all are flawed to some extent, but must continue to endure these systems in order to provide for the needs of our loved ones. We may not like the system we have, but we make the best of the situation.
While Jesus had an audience just about everywhere he went, he was strangely silent on the merits of different types of political and economic systems; many of his references to money are in parables, using what common to people in order to communicate spiritual truth. There are many references in the remainder of the New Testament about giving to others in need; individual Christians and the Church gave to others based on the circumstances of the people who received help. In these cases, Christians gave personally or as a group of Christians, rather than using the government as a means to distribute money or goods. Giving is done to provide for the needs of others as an expression Jesus’ love.
Politics and economics are cultural issues which influence our decisions about everything; yet what we primarily learn from Jesus is not about these topics, rather that he came to embody the pursuing love of God. Jake [the capitalism-isn’t-Christian dude] and I are loved deeply by God, and God pursues each of with that love- because we need it. All of our political and economic systems are broken since they are formed and practiced by broken people.
I appreciate the effort, but that is some weak tea, and at the Cynical Christian household, we like our tea with chunks of stuff in it. A Christian defense of capitalism should have more teeth than that, because not only is capitalism compatible with Christianity, it’s the economic system that is most compatible with Christianity. Let me explain…
God Wants Generosity
Generosity is a pretty important part of Christianity. In fact, the whole operation is founded on the sacrificial gift of Christ’s life in payment for our sins. So, you can see how the whole concept of “giving” would be kind of a big deal.
Like the Christians-can’t-be-capitalists guy noted, there are lots of places in the Bible where Christians are called to be generous. It’s a refrain repeated so frequently that Christians kind of assume that generosity is one of the things that God wants to cultivate in them, along with love, hope, forgiveness, and other “spiritual fruits,” as we say down home.
So, score one for Christians-can’t-be-capitalists guy: yes, God does want us to give our money away.
Generosity Requires Ownership
But more than that, God wants us to decide to give our money away. The desired outcome of a Christian act of charity isn’t money; it’s a more generous spirit in the giver. Just as we learn to love and forgive by doing more loving and forgiving, every little act of generosity teaches us how to become more of a sacrificial giver like Jesus.
However, when you’re forced to hug your brother, that doesn’t make you more loving. And when you’re forced to give something away, that doesn’t make you more generous. Learning to live like Jesus means choosing to give of your own free will.
And giving something of your own free will means it has to be yours to begin with. You can’t be generous with something you don’t own. All of the Biblical admonitions toward generosity assume as a precondition that we have something to be generous with, and that we have the freedom to do with it as we will.
Ownership Means Private Property
Therefore, the Bible implicitly rejects the idea of communally owned property. God holds you accountable for what you do with your money, because it’s yours. It’s not a societal benefit to be equally spread among all citizens through some politically-approved definition of “fairness.” You did build that, sayeth the Lord, now what are you going to do with it?
Private Property Is Capitalism
All “capitalism” means–contrary to Christians-can’t-be-capitalist guy’s belief that it’s some dark cult of money-lust and ritual beatings of the homeless–is that an economy’s means of production are owned by private citizens, as opposed to being owned by the government. Your labor, your car you use to get to work, your machine you use to print up t-shirts, your t-shirt canon you use to fire them into crowds… you get the idea. In a capitalist system, all these things are owned by individuals, so the profits that result from their use rightfully accrue to the individuals who own them.
That means that the property (i.e., money) you gain from your work is yours to do with as you please, which means that you therefore have the opportunity to honor God by being generous with it.
Capitalism is not a dirty word, and it is far from being un-Christian. It is the system that is best suited for allowing us to grow in Christ through our own economic decisions.