Following the thread of Richard’s post on the NHS …
Such is the apostasy of much American Christianity, particularly of the evangelical variety (though, mercifully, things are changing), that in the US Capitalism is considered to be not only compatible with but expressive of Christianity. Of course given the widespread acceptance of the myth of American exceptionalism and the pledge of allegiance to a flag that often hangs in churches, this Capitalist Captivity is not surprising in a country whose business is - business. Morover, there is a venerable traditon of the “gospel of wealth” in American Christianity. That such beliefs are so tacit and unquestioned demonstrates not that Americans are theological morons (given the existence of Margaret’s Market and Westminster Abbey, the English, if not the Welsh, should not skim stones across the Pond); no, what it demostrates is that Capitalism, and its buddy Militarism, are the Gog and Magog of contemporary (Pauline) powers, which reign, not least, through deceit and absorption.
Now we cannot destroy Capitalism. If we think we can, it simply confirms how complicit in the System we are: the powers are that strong. It also indicates how faithless we are: Christ has already defeated the System - all Systems (cf. Colossians 2:15). So Christians are in a position, at least, to subvert the System both by preaching the word of the cross, naming the devil, reminding him that his days are numbered, and ridiculing him (that really pisses him off), and also through the tactical exorcisms of cooperatvies, Fair Trade, and the like.
And we can teach the two fundamental reasons why Christianity and Capitalism are absolutely incompatible, one sociological, the other psychological - and both, needless to say, theological.
The sociological reason concerns the notion of “private property” that underwrites Capitalism. C. S. Lewis puts it unforgettably in The Screwtape Letters. As the Senior Devil tells Wormwood: “The sense of ownership is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and Hell and we must keep them doing so …. And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father [Satan] or the Enemy [God] will say ‘Mine’ of each thing that exists, and specially of each man.”
A perusal of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, Amos and Isaiah, alone shows that the Bible knows nothing of freehold, only leasehold: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). The sabbath regulations (above all, the Year of Jubilee), the laws of gleaning (capitalists would call it “stealing”), the admonitions of the prophets regarding the tratment of the poor, etc., all demonstrate that Capitalism is a perversion of God’s socioeconomic order. For the Christian, (following Aquinas) the ownership of property and the possession of wealth have a specific telos, viz. the common good, which, however, is intrinsically impossible to achieve through the self-interest that drives the capitalist machine.
And the psychological reason for the incompatibility of Christianity and Capitalism? Discipleship, sanctification, growth in holiness is a process of the redirection of the self to the other through the reconfiguration of distorted desires. Capitalism, however, lives and thrives on a diet of distorted desires: the conflictual, antagonistic interpretation of the neighbour; the commodification and fetishisation of the “product”; the stimulation of perpetual restlessness, the vicious cycles accumulation and consumption; the transformation of pleasure into a (patriotic) duty (remember Bush after 9/11: we will not let terrorists derail the American way - we will shop the sonovabitches to death!); and so on.
There is also, as I have suggested, an intrinsic connection between Capitalism and Militarism (as the missile-makers and oil tycoons amply bear witness). If Christians need a nail in the coffin of Capitalism, that’s it. But this post is for Mammon. Mars will barge in again soon enough. “The “Lion of Judah”, anyone?