Capitalism vs. Christianity I: Rule of the Market


Coin of Augustus PAS 200 px sh“Markets, like merchants, are nothing new, but they are central to the capitalist society in quite a new and more abstract way” – James Fulcher

A bit late because of work, illness, bad time management, alien abductions and the birthday of my wife, but here it is: my first post in what will become a series about the incompatibility of Christianity and capitalism. (Click on link for the introductionary post)

Central to capitalism as it is currently defended by a lot of people is not ‘in whose hands the means of production’ are or should be, but the idea of ‘the free market’. And even more: the ‘free market’ itself has to be quite a priority according to those who like to preach capitalism. Not only is it important for ‘the market’ to be ‘free’, it is also important for that ‘free market’ to be really important in all aspects of our lives. And indeed, for some reason unknown to me ‘the market’, together with the whole idea of ‘the economy’ which is centered around it, is seen by some as the center of reality, and even as the only reality that matters.

Not reasonable or logical at all
So what’s my first problem with this ‘marketisation of everything’? ‘My first critique to this is just philosophical: Contrary to what I’ve heard from some people sometimes, there is nothing ‘rational’ or even ‘realistic’ about putting the economy, centered around the so-called free market, as our top priority in life and all human affairs on planet earth, and as a lens through which all of this world has to be interpreted. If you want to look at the world this way, fine, but know very well that it is purely an ideological choice, and if you ask me it’s a very poor hermeneutic which leads to a very bad and unbalanced exegesis of the book of ‘reality’. There is simply no law in or beyond nature that says that everything should follow the abstract concept of ‘the market’ as modern Western humans envision it. And nothing ever does anyway, especially not the economy in our corporatocratic times, with the market being manipulated by multinationals and their stakeholders, and those in power in or behind. (And no matter what ‘small government’ advocates preach, there are powers much darker than a supposed democratic government that influence the economy, including multinationals that are not democratic at all and only meant to make stakeholders richer in the end. What a dumb idea…)

Economic Darwinism goes against Christianity (and even basic humanism)
So what is my main problem with the idea of ‘the market’ being our priority over other things? In the end all this market-talk just comes down to an enforcing of some kind of economic Darwinism: the survival of the fittest in the marketplace. And if there is anything at all that makes us human different from the non-human animals here on earth, part of it would surely be that we as rational and compassionate beings are able to go beyond Darwinism laws of the strongest, which I as a Christian would see as part of ‘the flesh’, or our ‘sinful nature’ anyway, and nothing to be followed. Even from a basic oldschool humanist view, in which the victory of man over nature is important, I would say that this way of ‘free market über alles’-thinking is dangerous, freedom from darwinist ‘market’ survival laws should be quite basic for us to be human!

(Also, I can note that the belief in the ‘invisible hand’ of Adam Smith is just a superstition, which should be rejected by both Christians and humanists even though it’s for different reasons… In real-life the market mostly seems to favor the already powerful and rich, and push the poor and miserable only deeper. Without any influence from the outside chances are big it will only stimulate injustice, as we see in our world around us as we open our eyes.)

Value is more than money
Another problem is that pushing the lens of ‘market’ unto everything turns everything into commodities. A word I use here in the broad sense of any marketable item produced to satisfy wants or need, of which the value depends on the market.

This gives us the problem that we see money as the only value. Which is a devaluation of everything. The things are intrinsically good in themselves, even if no money will be given for them. It is blasphemy to measure the value of things God created (or that we created out of what God created with our God-given creativity) only in money, as if they’re worth nothing if no-one is willing to pay for them. No, anything that exists in creation, and every meaningful act of work that we do has intrinsic value even if no-one will pay for it. Sadly enough we seen to be excelling in creating things that are so disposable it hurts, and a lot of the work we do is just meaningless to us if it were not for the money we get for it. But let’s get not into the topic of alienation here… But let’s note that things that have only value in money have no value at all, no matter what the market says. And add that a lot of things of infinite value can never measured in money. The marketisation of everything is not only nonsense and destructive, it is also blasphemous!

Incompatible with the basics of Christianity
So in all this extreme ‘free market thought’ a lot of people propagate under the name of ‘capitalism’, we have something a christian can only oppose, because it is ccapitalismompletely and utterly incompatible with Christianity. So what is the goal for a Christian? Not money (Jesus said use the Mammon to make friends, so friendship comes first for him over money) nor any abstract idea like ‘the market’. It’s simply the double commandment of love:

Love God with all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your power, and your neigbor as yourself.

There is nothing that can ever go beyond this love of God an fellow humans. And any ‘high goal’ that seeks to go beyond this and to which the lives of human beings have to be sacrificed is just evil and should be called out and renounced by Christians. The ‘free market’, when it becomes more important than taking care of all people (no-one excluded) and the rest of Creation is detrimental to this, and should be shunned as an idol.

In the end it boils down to this: The economy is there for the people, not the people for the economy!

We should not let ourselves be dictated by some abstract ‘market’ that needs to be obeyed, we need to seek the best for our fellow humans and all of creation. If this means ignoring or negating the ‘laws of the market’, there is no problem at all. We are modern humans who can go beyond the laws of nature and build machines to fly and talk to someone half a planet away, with an almost unlimited possibility of inventing new ways to go beyond the limitations of nature. There is no reason at all why we would have to follow some ‘laws’ of economy that only exist somewhere in the realm of the abstract and that keep in place a world-order which brings a lot of evil to our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate than us, and all of creation.

We humans should not be enslaved by such nonsense!

Concluding thoughts
Concluding we can say that there is no way a Christian can agree with those who see ‘the market’ as the most important principle by which we should interpret and organize our world. For a Christian the most important goal should never be something like ‘the economy’; more something like ‘the Kingdom of God’, or translated the common good of all of Creation*. The market and the economy should be subject to the well-being of all people, and of all of creation, not the other way around.

Otherwise something is really wrong!

What do you all think???

peace

Bram

the posts in this series:
Introduction
Part 1: Rule of the market

* Don’t take my statement here as ‘social justice only’-Christianity. I only highlight one dimension here because that’s the relevant element here.  Care for humans and Creation is only one dimension of the Kingdom of God, which is about a life reconnected to our Creator and all of His Creation. While it is true that ‘every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights’, it’s not because I emphasise the ‘horizontal’ dimension here that I do think that merely social work will automatically be bringing the Kingdom of God. Without God there is no Kingdom…

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8 responses to “Capitalism vs. Christianity I: Rule of the Market

  1. Bram,
    You have done a great job. One dimension of this in America is the whole “new promised land” idea of the Pilgrims and how this is a birth right given by God. The Protestant Ethic of Weber talks about this and how it instills the idea of the market into America. Not only as an economic factor but as a religious one.

    One of the things I just don’t understand is how Republicans, who claim to predominantly be super religious Christians, can’t, by nature of the their political commitments, care for the poor as they are instructed. For instance, in Kansas, they just just adopted a new health care system that lumps all people in need of state care into a system where they no longer have personal case managers and the care they receive comes from the lowest bidder. They promised, I even saw comments by one of the governor’s assistants, that they would not lump those with long-term disabilities into the law. For over 2 years, they insisted that would never happen.

    Last Sunday night, after midnight, they took away the waiver for long-term disability. Now, people with birth defects and genetic diseases will be treated the same as people who have been injured, become disabled, or are just using the system. The system is not perfect. But, with a long term disability, consistent care is critical. Now they have to call into a phone number and be treated just like everyone else, with no case worker and no one that knows their story.

    On top of that, they are lowering compensation for care givers. So, in some cases, a care giver that has been with someone for many, many years may no longer be able to serve them because they are paid too much (a few dollars more than minimum wage). In the meantime, the companies that pay the care givers, can pocket any mandatory pay changes without ANY penalty for not passing the money on to the workers.

    Market driven everything means that the poor, the orphaned, the widow, the disabled, and the sick will be abandoned because they don’t make money and they don’t make a product. Even though Jesus says they will always be with us and are our problem; they will be abandoned to die.

  2. Are you saying that Christianity itself is not about the economy but about love? Because we should definitely want the economy to grow as Christians and then the next question to follow is what helps it grow the most?

    • Is that what they preach in America?
      “growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”.
      A growing economy all the time is just impossible, and will one day collapse. We should find an economy of balance and ‘enough’, and not see the economy as the end to which everything else are means but something in function of all of us, even the poorest (and even nature). But that’s a later post…

  3. Pingback: Capitalism series: intro | Brambonius' blog in english

  4. It’s interesting that the Christian Right in the United States fully endorses economic Darwinism and to some degree social Darwinism yet at the same time opposes biological Darwinism.

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