Is Capitalism Biblical?

3 02 2012

Originally, I wanted to comment on Jefferson Bethke’s viral youtube video and the reactions following. But I realized many people have already done, in nuanced and articulate fashion. Some notable articles are Kevin DeYoung’s “Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really” (and his follow up article “Follow Up on the Jesus/Religion Video“) and David Brooks’ “How to Fight the Man“. But I will make this cursory comment, it seems that this country loves polarization and likes to pit grace against law. Well, as DeYoung explains, it is not because grace leads to law. Which is why it’s puzzling to see a young generation obsessed about justice and injustice without a proclivity towards appreciating law. Indeed, signs of confusion.

But now to Capitalism, or to the question: Is Capitalism Biblical? I won’t answer that here (mainly because I do not think I know a clear answer yet), but Aryeh Spero writes an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “What the Bible Teaches About Capitalism“. His thrust is correct, honest money making is not wrong and voters should not blame Mitt Romney for being rich. But when it comes to the biblical explanation and support, Spero is, at best, spinning everything to fit his claim and, at worst, just plain off. For example,

Both history and the Bible show the way that leads. Countries that were once economic powerhouses atrophied and declined, like England after World War II, once they began adopting socialism. Even King Solomon’s thriving kingdom crashed once his son decided to impose onerous taxes.

Even if it were true that Solomon’s kingdom collapsed because of taxation, I do not think the lesson of that story was to be wary of taxation (or the socialist agenda, for that matter). And further, he touts individuality as a biblical principle:

At the opening bell, Genesis announces: “Man is created in the image of God”—in other words, like Him, with individuality and creative intelligence. Unlike animals, the human being is not only a hunter and gatherer but a creative dreamer with the potential of unlocking all the hidden treasures implanted by God in our universe. The mechanism of capitalism, as manifest through investment and reasoned speculation, helps facilitate our partnership with God by bringing to the surface that which the Almighty embedded in nature for our eventual extraction and activation.

Spero is right to say that individuality and creativity are good things in the bible, but not to an exclusive extent. Community and faithfulness in mundane life are very biblical principles as well. Take for example the ‘image of God’, Spero forgets that the foundation of the image of God is triune. That, in the Trinity, there is, if you will, a society. Spero, whether intentionally or not, decides to leave that important aspect out of his explanation. Capitalism may not be socialist but it is at least very social, and not merely about individualism. But again to our question ‘Is capitalism biblical?’ I am unsure that is the right question, maybe better is ‘How biblical is capitalism?’ Because as all political systems fall short of the biblical ideal, I believe this applies to all economic systems. Whether capitalism is better than socialism, I cannot say. It probably is, according to the economists, but one thing is certain, it can be said that all of capitalism as we observe it today is not biblical in its entirety, most likely piecemeal.


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2 responses

3 02 2012
scythewieldor

Dear Paul’s,
In the Old Testament, the Lord brought the Israelites into a land flowing with milk and honey. Obviously, His intent was to provide them a place where, if they would work, they would prosper without using much money.
Abraham, 470 years before, had left the land of merchants where the Code of Hammurabi had been set up.
Under the law of Moses, there was a sabbath year and a jubilee. All debts were forgiven every 7 years, under the sabbath. Under the jubilee, families that had lost their land got it back.
Not very capitalistic, the Old Covenant seemed to be set up to preserve the liberties of natural born people.
The Law of Christ was aggressive against Babylonian capitalism.
Jesus told the rich young ruler, the Pharisees, and His own little flock to sell their stuff and give to the poor. Later, He told His apostles to teach all nations to observe all His commandments. The community they formed was diligent in keeping the doctrine of the apostles: they held all things common.
And, they had no lack.
The need for support in Jerusalem came after the persecution had driven all believers except the apostles out long enough to establish a church in Antioch. In fact, the help was in response to a prophesied dearth.
How could they prosper without capitalism? Practicing “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, all of them produced necessary things with their own hands.
Finally, when Mystery Babylonia is destroyed, no one ever buys from the merchants, again.
Bye bye, capitalism.

3 02 2012
Paul Park

Scythewieldor, thanks for the comment. I assume you are against capitalism? I am not sure your examples are concrete rebuttals to the biblical validity of capitalism. Not to say that American capitalism is THE economic system of the bible (and of course, to compare Babylonian capitalism to today’s version is something that needs further corroboration), but it is clear that honest investing, diligent laboring and creative inventing are concepts that are valid in the biblical. In that sense, there are great aspects of capitalism (of course, greed is the greater vice relative to the systems of capitalism or socialism).

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