Thursday, March 29, 2007

Capitalism and Christianity

I recently posted my thoughts on what I believed the Bible had to say about socialism and its underlying principles. If you haven't read that and would like to, here's Part 1 and Part 2.

Capitalism is not mandated in the Bible. There is no one "Christian" form of government.For fairness' sake, I decided to do a post on what I believe the Bible has to say about capitalism and its underlying principles. In my previous mini-series, I attempted to let the Bible speak as much as possible, and I will be trying to do that here as well. My guide will be the New American Standard Bible, although I will cross-check translations if something sounds too good/bad to be true. Let's see how unbiased I can be. Let me remind you that I myself am biased in favor of capitalism and against socialism, but I'll do the best I can.

First, let's define capitalism as it pertains to the scope of this post. I would define capitalism as an economic system where assets and means of production are privately or corporately owned, where the competitive free market is a driving force behind prices and growth, and where there is little government interference (if any at all) and consequently more freedom. Once again, since the Bible never says "Thou shalt follow the capitalistic ways which listed below in 8 pt font," I'll see what I can find.

Capitalism, I believe, allows for much more entrepreneurial freedom, and more freedom in general. Socialism says "one size fits all." Capitalism says "pick your own size, to best meet your own needs." More freedom is good because it allows you to best meet your family's needs (which, according to 1 Timothy 3:8, is supremely important)

Admittedly, I found this study a bit more difficult. There are lots of verses in the Bible about the ensnaring quality of money and wealth. But those verses shouldn't be restricted to just the capitalism portion of these posts. Even in a socialist system, a Christian can become ensnared by money. A big portion of socialism is welfare. The Bible has plenty of verses and examples of welfare. What does the Bible have to say about free market economies? Competition? Maybe I just didn't look hard enough. However, I did find some examples which tell of how economic freedom can be a good thing.

One interesting (and very telling) parable is in Matthew 20. It's the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Basically, a landowner hires day laborers at different times during the day. At the end of the day, they are grumbling because even those who got hired late got paid the same amount. Here's the portion that I want to examine:

10"When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11"When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' 13"But he answered and said to one of them, Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?'

Don't think that this is approving of socialism and equal wages for all and whatnot. The landowner chose to pay each man a denarius. There was no government coercion that said he had to pay according to the number of hours worked. Therein lies the redeeming quality of capitalism. The landowner had the freedom to be generous. However, although capitalism can give us the freedom to be generous, it also gives us the freedom to misuse wealth.

Anyone looking to defame capitalism could do so by quoting the many scriptures warning against the dangers of being rich, or pursuing wealth. However, I don't believe that putting the government under a strict socialist diet would cure this. People will always want more wealth. Capitalism can provide the best means under which a person can be a truly cheerful giver. Socialism makes one give under compulsion, and probably grudgingly as well.

6Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Further on down, Paul says this:
10Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. 12For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.

If you are made wealthy, it is because God wants us to supply the needs of the saints. The NIV says "so that you can be generous on every occasion."

Capitalism is not mandated in the Bible. There is no one "Christian" form of government. Each system has its bits and pieces which are good and bad, and we should be willing to concede that capitalism has flaws and socialism has merit.

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  • CappuccinoLife

    I have to admit that most of this is waaaaay over my head.

    But I agree with your last paragraph. We definately run into some problems in the capitalistic system but we appreciate the freedom and opportunity it allows.

    I have some friends who absolutely idolize socialism and who are further encouraged in that by socialist-minded college professors. I often wonder if they've ever had an in depth conversation with someone who actually lived under their supposedly "perfect" system. I know Josiah would be happy to explain the downsides to them, but they've never gotten that far in discussion with him.

  • Anonymous

    Here are a few other passages that relate:

    2Th 3:10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

    Pro 12:14 From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man's hand comes back to him.

    Pro 12:27 Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.

    Pro 14:23 In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.

    Pro 16:26 A worker's appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.

    Pro 24:30 I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
    Pro 24:31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.
    Pro 24:32 Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.
    Pro 24:33 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,
    Pro 24:34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

    Pro 27:18 Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who guards his master will be honored.

    Pro 27:23 Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds,
    Pro 27:24 for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?
    Pro 27:25 When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered,
    Pro 27:26 the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field.
    Pro 27:27 There will be enough goats' milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls.

    Pro 28:19 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.

    Also, the description of the godly woman in Prov 31 has a lot to say about private industry.

    Proverbs also has a lot to say about how to take care of the poor. It is not the government's job, but the job of everyone who has the resources. By outsourcing the care of the poor to the government, we have become distant and unconcerned by their plight.


  • JunkMale

    Heh....like I said, maybe I just didn't look hard enough ;)