Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Is Capitalism Compatible With Christianity?

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This past weekend I stopped by a blueberry farm to pick up a couple of boxes of fresh blueberries.

I got my blueberries and a whole lot more.

In the building located on the farm where customers come to buy the berries, the radio was playing Christian music. I told one of the young guys working there I liked the music. And asked, "Where do you go to church?"

He said he went to an evangelical Lutheran church, but the family who owns the farm go to the Romanian church and quickly introduced me to one of the owners. We said hello. I told him I liked and appreciated the music.

He said, "Don't I know you?" After a moment of conversation he said, "I grew up watching your television program. My parents had it on every morning."

His parents had fled Romania because of the persecution of Christians. They had come to America seeking religious freedom and a better life for their family.

He asked if he could show me something--I said "sure." In an adjoining room in the building about 15 to 20 teenagers were sorting blueberries as they bumped along the sorting table. He said these were kids from the youth group at their church and that they were earning money to pay for a mission trip later this summer. He said they were also earning extra money to take with them to give to the people they are going to minister to.

He said I was so thankful to live in America. He said his family has been able to give a great deal of money to their church, the youth ministries and to foreign missions.

He said, "Capitalism is the friend of Christianity, you can't do this in other countries."

Is Christianity and free market capitalism compatible?

I mentioned on the radio yesterday that President Jimmy Carter gave his "malaise" speech to the nation 34 years ago. Our nation was being choked by Carter's policies. Gas was not available some days of the week, so people were adjusting their driving habits. Interest rates had soared to over 20% and the nation was choking.

President Carter told the American people we were experiencing "An erosion of confidence" that "undermined the social and political fabric of our nation."

He told us, "Now we tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns."

Our current President is advancing many of the same policies that President Carter advanced.

Socialism doesn't work, except for a few of the elite at the top.

But is capitalism and Christianity compatible? Or does it steal our identity and cause us to worship self indulgence and consumption?

Gregory Paul is an atheist advocate and activist, who has written a number of articles for the Washington Post and other major newspapers and has authored several books.

A couple of years ago he wrote an article titled, "From Jesus' Socialism To Capitalistic Christianity."

His points in this article are the talking points for essentially everyone who advocates socialism in America. It is a long article, you can read it if you please, however his argument is essentially this:

He makes the case that Christianity and capitalism is a set of profound contradictions that have evolved within modern conservative Christianity. And that Jesus opposes capitalism.

He points out to his readers that Ayn Rand, Herbert Spenser, Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan are all either atheists or strong non believers. He further notes that Palin, Bachman, Coulter, Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Bennett are conflicted hypocrites in their belief in capitalism.

One of his primary points is that capitalism is contrary to biblical teaching. The proof, he says, is Acts chapter 5, the basis for what he calls a "form of terror-enforced communism imposed by a God who thinks that Christians who fail to join the collective are worthy of death."

This, of course, is the story of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the church about their giving. It happened during a failed attempt at creating a communal environment in the early church. The social structure didn't work and was abandoned.

The biblical message in Acts 5 is advocating integrality and honesty before God and one another, not social order.

However, Gregory Paul's points are essentially the talking points of all who advocate socialism over capitalism. You will hear his points advanced from the secular progressive left as well as the so-called religious left.

A Different View Of Christianity and Free Market Capitalism.

1. America was founded out of a desire for religious freedom---not primarily financial gain. Public education textbooks have been revised to tell our children a different story, but those who first colonized America came primarily for religious freedom.In many cases, congregations came to the New World led by their pastors.

2. Despite the religious foundation for the American system of government, the Founders were determined not to permit theological differences to become a basis for political conflict. The solution? Separate the state from the church so it could never interfere in the affairs of the church.

The original intent of that principle has now been inverted and revised to enable the state to control the church. That was never the intent of the Founders, nor was it the intent of Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, assuring them the government was restrained from interfering in their affairs. A wall of protection for the church existed between the government and their church matters---not to worry.

3. In this commitment to avoid religious oppression and conflict, the Founders knew that channeling people's energies into productive, rewarding work was healthy.

Remember the saying, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop?" Well, the Founders knew what our grandmothers knew, and it's true.

That focus led to our current free market system.

4. Free market capitalism had never been practiced in exactly this way. It incorporated the principles of civil government and the society with the principles of the Bible. John Quincy Adams told his generation that was exactly how his father, John Adams, and other Founders framed this new country.

Capitalism has a down side, but then so does socialism.

Capitalism can foster greed and as President Carter said, "A worship of self indulgence" and the perversion of personal identity.

But it provides opportunity for individuals to dream and to become. To use their gifts. To prosper. To help others. To create a better world for many. And to pursue happiness.

But socialism extinguishes the idea of personal identity. Individuals become the masses, with no real opportunity to use the God given gifts that each of us have been given. It is repressive. There is no opportunity to create or experience social worth. Socialism so oppresses individuals that survival becomes the highest priority---except for the few at the top. The elite.

Christianity cuts through the arguments for socialism or capitalism, because unlike other philosophies or religions, it is neither.

True biblical Christianity is a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. It is internally driven. Philosophy and religion are externally driven.

Whether living in an atheist, secularist socialist society or a free market capitalist society, the essence of life is whether we have accepted God's gift of His Son Jesus Christ into our heart.

Spiritual freedom found in Jesus Christ, is the only basis for true freedom.

Given this truth, what is the best and most productive way to live our lives?

5. A case for free market capitalism.

Forget Ayn Rand and all the others.

America is often criticized as immoral and driven by greed. All people who are outside this relationship with God are driven by these impulses. The Bible tells us all have sinned. Mankind is essentially sinful.

Our Founders not only created a new nation under God, but a better way to live under God.

Free market merchants were historically looked down upon, considered by the elite as corrupt and those who worked for them cursed.

The Greeks looked down on the merchants, the Spartans tried to do away with the whole idea of marketing goods, and Confucius said in his Analects, "The small man understands what is profitable."

Muslim historians (such as Ibn Khaldun) have taught that "conquest is preferable to trade because conquest embodies the virtues of courage and manliness."

Christianity is different. Consequently, America is different because America was founded on these very principles.

Drawing from the writings of John Locke and Adam Smith, our Founders altered this moral hierarchy from the ancient world.

They said trade based on consent and mutual gain was preferable to plunder.

They created a system of trade that serves the self interests of entrepreneurs and workers alike and directs it toward the wants and needs of others.

Obviously this is not a perfect system and leaves open the possibility of greed and corruption. Remember all have sinned. Mankind is prone to sin. That's basic Christian doctrine.

Free market capitalism does not create sin or sinful acts. That comes from the heart, regardless of whether one lives in capitalism or socialism.

Our Founders knew this. James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition." He called theirs, "A policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests."

Competition is a good thing. It brings out the best in all of us and provides a market centered check and balance.

Immorality, greed and evil acts are a condition of the individual's heart, not the form of government.

Free market capitalism, based on Christian principles, has given the world the most free and prosperous nation in the history of the world.

And it has provided the resource to help more hurting people around the world than any other in history.

The most recent reports show that in 2011, Americans donated $290.89 billion. One might think that much of that came from big corporations, but that's not true at all.

Corporations gave 5% of that total. Foundations gave 14% and Bequests by individuals represented 8%.

The biggest source of donations was from individuals. You and me. Individuals gave over 80% including their bequests---that's 4 out of every 5 dollars given came from individuals. If you include family foundation giving in that total, individuals donated 88% of the $290.89 billion.

Total giving by Americans last year was up 4% from the previous year, even in difficult financial times.

The prosperity of America has given the Christian church the opportunity to share the gospel with the world in ways not imagined by our forefathers.

In these ways, our Founding Fathers reordered the ancient ways, allowing hard and industrious work to become a virtue rather than to be scorned.

The Greek scholars said "virtue" was the equivalent of knowledge.

Paul wrote in the New Testament that people would be ever learning, but never coming to an understanding of truth. Knowledge is not virtue, nor is it freedom.

It was President John Adams that reminded us that, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

If those who seek to secularize America should succeed, our form of government cannot survive.

For these reasons, I personally am willing to stand for what America represents, not only in the blessings of the moment, but to the hundreds of millions of people around the world who are helped by the generosity of the American people.

Because of our ability and willingness to give, people will hear the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thank you for standing with me.

God bless you.