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Jesus and Capitalism

Thursday, July 9, 2009 8 comments

Holy Policy
Written by Tony Woodlief

It’s a tough row to hoe, making the case that Jesus is a capitalist. For example, there is the fact that the first church appears to have adopted voluntary socialism. And that business about seeking not the treasures of this world—that hasn’t stopped conservatives from spilling gallons of ink to refine our understanding about the camel, the eye of the needle, and the rich man until that discomforting verse almost seems to cry out for leveraged buyouts and complex derivatives. When we put our minds to it, we can work the Bible around to supporting just about anything we like.

This is all to say that it’s a bit unseemly to use religion to justify one’s policy preferences. This observation would have been less welcome at the height of the Christian Coalition’s power. After all, isn’t a believer in the flat tax and a strong missile defense a believer in truth, which is another way of saying a follower of the Truth? It requires a bit of smug self-assurance, this logic, but let’s be honest: We conservatives know we’re right. And while Jesus never released a comprehensive economic plan, we can be pretty sure he didn’t favor self-delusional economic thinking and the waste of resources.

Still, we have to admit He has more important things on his mind. Whether or not we get global warming legislation is probably toward the bottom of the list. This isn’t stopping a new coalition of leftist organizations from taking their case to the pulpit, arguing that failure to enact sweeping environmental regulations is an act of poor stewardship, i.e., sin.

It’s hard to imagine, inside the echo chamber of the right, how global warming could be a real phenomenon. I mean, we all just know it’s junk science. Likewise, it’s hard for anyone inside the left’s echo chamber to imagine how global warming could be anything other than a dire emergency. We know, of course, that we’re right and they’re wrong, that we’ve considered the matter objectively while they’ve just listened to Al Gore. But still, it’s hard to fault them for making a biblical case out of this and other policy matters, given the precedent conservatives have set over the past 30 years. When prominent self-styled Christian leaders opine on everything from health care reform to “taking out” Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez, it’s hard to put the genie back into the bottle now that liberals want to get in on the if-Jesus-were-a-presidential-cabinet-member routine.

All of which, I think, serves the name of Christ poorly. By bringing policy disputes into the faith arena, we bolster the notion that Christianity is just a bunch of self-interested talkers using the Bible to get what they want. We create divisions among brothers and sisters who ought not to be divided. This is evidenced in our affinity for political comrades over faith comrades. By way of illustration, consider whether conservative Christians you know are more favorably disposed toward Ann Coulter or Jimmy Carter. Nothing in Coulter’s behavior suggests Christian love, whereas Carter endeavors to live it out, even when this means giving a hug to every tin-pot dictator he can reach by chartered flight. When politics get elevated to the level of faith, it’s no wonder that we begin to forget who are our real brothers and sisters.

All this is not to say that Christians should be silent about public policy, especially those policies where there is a strong case for biblical guidance (e.g., protecting life, treating prisoners with humanity, caring for the elderly). In fact, maybe it’s a good thing that leftists are coming out now to argue that Christian ethics demand this or that policy prescription. It would be nice, however, if we could all do so with a bit more reverence for the flaming sword that is the Word of God, and with a good deal more charity toward people who are, after all, striving toward the same home as we.

8 comments: to “ Jesus and Capitalism so far...

  • j razz July 9, 2009 at 3:27 PM


    I don't know what is going on with your comments, but I have tried to post several times on several of your posts but could not as this page did not come up for me to do so. I attempted to get to this page by repeatedly clicking on the post comment button and then another and I finally go this page to come up. You may want to check how you have comments set up.

    I have tried on 3 different computers but all using Google Chrome's browser. If no one else is having this issue then it may be a compatibility issue with Chrome and atom. I can post on my own and others who use blogger.

    Just thought I would let you know.

    j razz

  • MikeT July 9, 2009 at 3:57 PM

    I have to disagree with the idea that there isn't a fairly clear set of policy values advocated by the Bible. That may be because I hang out a long a What's Wrong with the World (look it up if you haven't) which is mostly conservative Catholic blog, but there are a number of philosophical areas where the Bible leans strongly toward the conservative side. The main problem is that conservatives are usually unwilling to admit that sometimes it requires them to change their views on things like capital punishment (our current standards of evidence are too weak for the Bible).

    Fundamentally, we are to emulate Jesus and part of his teaching was that his yoke is light. We are to carry that into politics and not burden others with more law and taxes than are genuinely needed for the public good.

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