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Christianity, Economics

Christianity and Capitalism

English: Title page of Adam Smith's Wealth of ...

I have been thinking about the state of the world and the lack of attention to the sin of greed. All the great religions teach us to avoid greed. In the Ten Commandments of Moses, the tenth Commandment reads “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour’s.” – [Exd 20:17 KJV], which basically covers the sense of greed. Likewise Jesus taught:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. – [Mat 6:19-21 KJV]

those who want to get rich fall into temptation and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. [1Ti 6:9 KJV]

Before economics became a science of economic models, theoretical proofs, and irrational rationality, it was called moral philosophy and dealt with how individuals live their lives. A comprehensive philosophy of life was presented during the latter part of the eighteenth century by Adam Smith. In his trail breaking work, The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith described an economic system based on self-interest. This system, which later became known as capitalism is described in this famous passage:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

Thus, the forces of self-interest determine individual actions. It is difficult to reconcile this practical religion of capitalistic societies, however, with any system of thought or morality that can be described as Christian. Surely, an underlying theme in Christ’s teachings is that love and charity toward one’s neighbors rather than self-interest should guide an individual’s actions:

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the [one] cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not [to take thy] coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask [them] not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend [to them] of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and [to] the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. – [Luk 6:27-36 KJV]

Christ also taught us to “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” – [Luk 12:15 KJV] Christ’s message certainly seems to conflict with Adam Smith’s belief that striving for personal gain is a natural human trait, which should be given almost, free reign in society. Greed is pretty much at the root of the world’s problems today. In fact, the Bible is full of examples of how greed is bad and will ultimately destroy everything a person has. Let’s look at the creation story. When Adam and Eve were created, they had everything they could possibly want; a perfect paradise home, a wonderful relationship with each other and with God and an endless future raising a happy family and together working to turn the whole earth into a paradise like Eden, but they took their wonderful gift of FREE WILL and CHOSE, with Satan’s urging, to become greedy and want even things that did NOT belong to them. [Gen 2:15-17][Gen 3:1-7, 17-19] Because of their greed, they became disobedient to God. So the Bible speaks very strongly against greed, but the Bible is not the only religious text to condemn greed. The Quran also teaches that greed is against the will of God (Allah) [Surah 64:15-16]; that merchants must be honest [Surah 17:35]. Likewise, the Quran forbids usury and blesses charity [Surah 2:276-280]. In  Buddhism greed is one of the Three Poisons that lead to evil (akusala) and that bind us to suffering (dukkha). It also is one of the Five Hindrances to enlightenment. In the ancient Hindu epic “The Mahabharata,” Bhishma, son of the holy river Ganges and one of Hinduism’s great yogis, delivers Hinduism’s great treatise on greed, naming it for the faithful as the matrix out of which all other evil arises. However, most religions exert great energy and time on matters relating to the proper ways and times of praying, to placing great restrictions on women to protect men from sins of the flesh, to preaching details such as what food to eat and how it should be prepared, how believers should clothe themselves, even what activities may be performed on the Sabbath. But the sin of greed is largely ignored, even though it has caused so much suffering over the centuries. For example, the enslavement of indigenous peoples for the purpose of enrichment of the “civilized” conquerors was tolerated by the priests, even encouraged by them as a proper punishment for non-believers.

What is greed? The Bible provides us with a rich definition of greed. From a Christian perspective, the core definition of greed is that it is the obsession with accumulating material goods. A greedy person values material goods more than they value God. The Bible also tells us that greed is something that can never be satisfied. The greedy crave material goods as well as they have no desire to exchange anything of value for the object of their desires. The greedy will use deception to acquire material goods. The greedy will lie and use false pretenses to acquire goods at the expense of others. So who are the greedy people in our society? Those who cannot find work or cannot find work that pays a fair wage and so want some relief from the government? No, It is those who refuse to pay a fair wage and who send jobs overseas in order to get labor at an obscenely low price, rather than paying American people a fair living wage, in order to make the biggest profit possible because even though they have more than they will ever need they still want more. Consider this:

People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as “parasites” fail to understand economics and parasitism. A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host, one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalistic society. – Jason Reed

The core definition of greed is the obsession with accumulating material goods. The Bible tells us that God does not reward us by the amount of material goods we accumulate during our lifetime. God judges us by our relationship to Jesus Christ, our love of God, and our love of our fellow man. Luke 12:15 warns us not to be obsessed with accumulating wealth. A key aspect of greed is that greed is never satisfied no matter how much material goods are accumulated by a person. The Bible says we are but “greedy dogs” who are obsessed with material things. Greed has no purpose because it can never be satisfied. Only God can give us true purpose, true peace, and true satisfaction. Isaiah 56:11 advises us that greed is never satisfied. The definition of greed includes that it is deceptive. Greedy people are scammers that accumulate material things under false pretenses. Instead of trying to add true value in the workplace, marketplace, or everyday life, greedy people will do anything to obtain material goods. Greedy people are full of promise on the outside, but inside they are “full of ravening and wickedness.” Luke 11:39 advises us that deceptive persons are full of greed and evil.

The Bible tells us not to make consumption the center of our lives. We need to be focused on giving of ourselves, both materially and spiritually, instead of being obsessed with consuming things. Consumption is not a lifestyle, but a means to an ends. God has blessed us with abundant resources. A consumer society trusts in temporary riches versus the eternal things of God. A consumer society is driven by lust and is quite useless to God. The proliferation of numerous religious sects over the centuries is largely the result of the greed for power on the part of preachers claiming that they alone are the true believers, and have a better understanding of their faith, than anyone else. The split in the Muslim faith into Sunni and Shia resulted originally from a quarrel as to who was the real heir of the Prophet Mohammed.

For more commentary and Biblical advice concerning a consumer society, let’s see what the Bible has to say:

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. – [1Ti 6:10 KJV]

The purpose of a consumer society is to maximize consumption. From God’s perspective, a consumer society has completely corrupted God’s purpose in how resources are to be used by mankind. We are supposed to balance our use of God’s resources to bring increase and at the same time preserve God’s resources for His future purposes and future generations. Genesis 2:15 explains God’s purpose for how mankind should use the Earth’s resources and to preserve it. The Bible tells us that we need to be focused on giving of ourselves, both materially and spiritually, instead of being obsessed with consuming things. We should use the resources that God has provided to us to add value to the world. We should not be focused on accumulating wealth and consuming our way into happiness. The way to joy and happiness is to righteously “giveth and spareth not” to others and to God. Proverbs 21:26 advises us that all-consuming lust and desire is never satisfied. God expects us to be good stewards over these resources. He expects us to use our resources to increase God’s kingdom. Resources like our skills, our time, and our money are to be used and consumed, but for God’s purpose. Proverbs 6:6 advises us to be industrious like the ant and not be a sluggard. As a consumer society, we are focused on material things and not on the spiritual things of God. We trust in temporary riches versus the eternal things of God. We are so driven by lust that we become useless to God. Greed enslaves man and causes him grief. The greedy cares only for collecting fortunes without stopping at any limit. Whenever he achieves a goal, he works for achieving another and, so, he becomes the slave of avidity until death strikes him. He, also, exerts laborious efforts for collecting riches, but he is the less beneficiary. He tires for gaining fortunes, but death comes unexpectedly upon him to deprive him of enjoying that fortune. The heirs, then, enjoy his fortune very easily. Furthermore, greed takes to the slips of sinful matters that produce problematic situations in the world to come. It also hinders from doing charity.

The present economic crisis is mainly due to the excessive greed of managers and directors of banks and financial institutions who used investors’ money to generate huge short-term profits for themselves and associates. The list of risky investments that they have developed during the last few years is endless: unsecured loans – crazy new securities based on nothing more than projections for other securities (so called derivatives) – reinsurance schemes to generate huge premiums – many more crazy schemes. All of them created for no other reason than to generate fast short-range profits, with no thought to long-term consequences. Paul says:

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. – [2Ti 3:1-5 KJV]

And this is what we see today in the Republican Party and the so-called “Christian” Right; they pass laws that benefit the wealthy and seek to make the poor even poorer, they boast about their Christianity while acting un-Christ-like, they judge others, they cut funding for the elderly, young , poor and sick, they make war with other countries for no other reason than to rationalize their military spending and create more wealth for their greedy masters, they commit adultery while condemning others for their sin, they refuse to accept others for their differences etc… Just read my other posts to see what I mean.

But don’t blame others for all the current economic problems. You may also be partly to blame. Have you purchased a much larger house than you need, nor can really afford, purely because you have been offered a so-called easy low-cost mortgage? Have you created large credit-card debts just because you were offered extra credit cards without credit checks? Do you buy the very latest gadgets, without considering how you will pay for them? Do you habitually buy imported cars, even when American made vehicles of equal cost and quality are available? Do you drive 15 minutes to a huge discount store to save a few cents, instead of supporting your neighborhood store? The fuel you use may cost more than the potential saving!

Now I know that this post may make it seem like I am condoning Communism over Capitalism but that is not entirely true. Communism has its own set of problems and in fact, there is no perfect economic system that we know of today. Christianity and capitalism may contrast sharply, but it can be argued that the outcome of an economic system based on capitalism has socially redeeming characteristics. The same can be said of one based on Communism or a blending of the two, but the truth is that those benefits are dependent on the implementation of the system more than the system itself. more importantly a system that works on a smaller scale does not necessarily work on the global scale of the modern world. So what we are faced with is a system that can no longer maintain balance on its own. What we need is a whole new system that can remain fair and balanced in a world of robotics, cheap foreign labor, and growing populations, without destroying the Earth that God gave us. That is beyond my abilities to conceive but I do know that if we must continue with the system we now have we must act unselfishly and try to improve the situation of those that are less fortunate than ourselves until someone comes up with a new system.

© Waymond D. Horton and Modern Religion & Politics, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Waymond D. Horton and Modern Religion & Politics with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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About waymonddh

Waymond D. Horton believes environment should be the first consideration not the last; that all people should be treated equally; that education should depend upon ability not wealth; that health care should respond to need not bank balance; that the gap between rich and poor should be reduced not widened; that the public should own essential services and infrastructure; that law and dispute resolution should be the basis of treatment of citizens, and of relationships between citizens of all countries; that it is better to treat causes than symptoms, to prevent rather than cure, in health, social or environmental matters.

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