II Corinthians 10:5

"Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

October 15, 2009

The Economics of Jesus

A few weeks ago I was watching an interview between ABCs Terry Moran and filmmaker Michael Moore. The interview was about Moore’s view on economics most recently voiced in his newest film, "CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY". Now besides the fact that it is the capitalistic system that has allowed Mr. Moore to create the films that he has, I decided to (after choosing each word with painstaking precision) look at this subject through the lens of Christianity.

First off, let’s take a look at some of the comments he made during the interview.

“Capitalism is an evil. And you cannot regulate evil. This is probably public enemy number one as far as I'm concerned.” Moore went on to say that his views were founded by his deeply held religious convictions. “Well, I'm radically in love with this country. I believe in democracy. And I believe in the core Christian values that I was raised with. I think it's (capitalism) anti-Christian. It goes completely against the values of Jesus and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha, all the great religions say that the pie at the table is to be divided fairly. And that you're not to leave a whole group of people behind, and that you will be judged by how you treat the poor. And capitalism, our form of capitalism today, is all about gimme, gimme, gimme, make as much as you can and to ( ) with the other guy.”

The first obvious sign that Moore’s religion is slightly off kilter would be that he believes the values of Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha are the same, and that there is more than one “truly great religion in the world”. Anyways, those points aside, I’ll take a look at whether or not the Bible and Christianity actually believe that the “pie at the table is to be divided fairly”, and also if capitalism is indeed anti Christian.

So does the Bible say (or imply) that the pie is to be divided fairly? Well, while the Bible does clearly teach us that we should care for the needy (Proverbs 21:13, “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.”), it never says that we should just distribute goods equally, without people having to work for them. In fact, the Bible actually teaches the opposite. Proverbs is full of verses that talk about wealth following work. For example, Proverbs 12:11, “He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread, but he who follows frivolity is devoid of understanding”. Clearly this Bible verse teaches against Moore’s view of an equal slice of pie for everyone. This verse also introduces the principle of incentives (motivation to do something based on the rewards it will bring about), which is perhaps the biggest force behind our capitalistic system. The New Testament also supports the idea of incentives. 1 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” Common sense will also tell us that when people’s rewards or results are directly correlated to the effort that they expend, people will be more willing to take personal responsibility for their actions. Now, that being said, I do believe that there does come a time to extend help to those people who are doing everything they can, and still don’t have enough to meet their needs. In 1 Timothy, Paul sets up very strict guidelines in determining whom among the widows of Timothy’s congregation should be receiving help. “Honor widows who are really widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God…Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: of she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work…If any believing man or women has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve whose who are really widows.” (1 Timothy 5:3-16) As a general rule, the Bible teaches people to take personal responsibility for their needs, and then, when someone is in real need of help, the church (not the government) is to help them.

Now, I will briefly address the second point (which has been partly covered already), and that is the idea of whether or not capitalism is anti-Christian. Or perhaps the better way to put it would be: why do most Christians closely align themselves with the economic system of capitalism? According to Dr. David Nobel, “The Christian approach to economics is less concerned with money and how to get rich, than it is with freedom, justice, and order.” In communism we see a loss of personal freedom, as there is a higher authority that determines how to use our resources. We see a lack of justice when people who don’t work hard get the same benefits as those who work hard for them. And finally, we also see diminished order when people catch onto the idea that they can pretty much do what they want, and they will be rewarded for it. Dr. Nobel goes onto say that “…capitalism is most in accord with biblical teaching and principles. It is this system that provides not only for personal responsibility over resources, but also for retaining the freedom of all people.”

Now, I’m not saying that capitalism is THE perfect economic system…we live in a fallen world, and people often twist a good thing into a bad thing. I’m sure that in the name of capitalism and free market, people have cheated and exploited other people. They have probably used it as an excuse not to help someone in need. But the system as a whole does give people an equal playing field, and it best promotes the Biblical principles of personal responsibility, justice, freedom and order.

-Meagan Wanschura