Wednesday, November 26, 2008

God and Free Market Capitalism

There seems to be an assumption in many Christian circles, especially in the US, that God would be a free-market capitalist. (In the UK, people assume that God would be some kind of moderate socialist. Both seem to be completely wrong.) Here's a bit of Amos 8...

Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,
"When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?"—
skimping the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.

Amos 8:4-7, NIV

Isn't it interesting that Amos condemns in the same breath practices we would agree are immoral, like cheating with dishonest scales, and practices we would assume are perfectly legitimate, like boosting the price and looking forwards for opportunities to make more money?

Of course, I'm fairly sure that God wouldn't go down the statist redistributive route either - it quite clearly encourages laziness.

The sort of economic model God seems to be encouraging here is one driven by the priority of worship and rest (New Moons, Sabbaths) as well as hard work, and one driven more by love and concern for others (especially the poor) than by desire for profit and growth of the economy.


Murray said...


anything in particular prompt this?

John said...

Surprisingly, I wrote it during the morning coffee break today - i.e. before said session. It was prompted by the fact the church I go to has been working through Amos this term, and I'm preaching on Amos 8 in a couple of weeks.

But yes, it did seem very relevant to today's session, which I took partly as an encouragement to do more of this.

bcg said...


bcg said...

Or even if that link is too long.

bcg said...

I think there is a PhD in here somewhere..

bcg said...

Perhaps I could have thought more, and posted fewer comments!

Speaker for the Dead said...

Speaking from the perspective of an American Christian who also supports more capitalistic policies...

The early Christians seem to have been functionally communistic (i.e., the early Church functioned as a sort of commune). Acts 2:44-45 is a good example of this.

So I think it's reasonable to say that the modern church should reflect this practice much, MUCH more than it currently does.

However, I do not see the logical connection between the free sharing of property among Christians and the forced sharing of property within an entire societhy. (After all, capitalism hypothetically allows for anyone to share whatever he wants with anyone else.)

As far as I can tell (and I may be wrong), the question of how Christians should shape the legal and economic structures of their societies is not directly addressed in the NT. Because the early Christians almost exclusively lived in an empire, they did not have any legal means of changing the system of government. (Again, as far as I know.) Also, as a persecuted minority, they were not really in a position to bother themselves with such question for a couple centuries.

Now that many Christians live in democracies, a couple questions arise (at least in my mind):

1. How exactly should Christians shape the governments of societies which include large numbers (even majorities) of non-Christians? Is it a sinful imposition to tell other people how they should be governed?
2. Assuming that people will generally behave according to their sinful natures, what will the ramifications of different policies be?

These questions could be answered in different ways. I don't think they can be answered solely theologically - I think we have to appeal to history and economics (among other things) to answer them. Of course, I'm hardly convinced...

There's a big difference between saying "Based on what I know about economics and history, capitalism ends up being better than socialism" and "God is a capitalist." The same applies to socialism and any other economic theory.

And I think there may be a big difference between how Christians should behave economically and how we should force others to behave.

John said...

I agree.

I'm also coming from quite a right-wing point of view - I think, for example, that redistribution of wealth really doesn't work because it encourages laziness.

However, we tend to see economic policies as largely being on that spectrum; I suggest that the whole spectrum is operating under the wrong paradigm.

I also agree that there's a difference between how we should act as Christian individuals and how we should want a non-Christian culture to act. However, I think we can make a very strong case for the duty of even a non-Christian society to protect the weak (e.g. the unborn).

And it's interesting that part of Amos's critique of the fairly capitalistic economic policies of Israel is that they oppress the weak. So I think there's more to it than just Amos being about how Christians should act economically in society...

Speaker for the Dead said...

I guess this is somewhat related.