Christ the Capitalist

Capitalism is, in this, the most loving economic system and, accordingly, the most “Christian.”

As seen in Canada Free Press

 By Dr. Brad Lyles        Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If Christ were to endorse any worldly economic system, He would endorse Capitalism.

“Blasphemy!”

Nevertheless, the question of Christ’s position on Capitalism should cease to go begging. Instead, it is important for the believing and unbelieving alike to cast the scales from their eyes in order to dispassionately evaluate the true “Christian” nature of Capitalism. Because, having once found Capitalism to be the most “Christian” of economic systems we will never again have to suffer the entirely bankrupt denunciations of its alleged central character flaw: That it is based upon “selfishness.”

Many of us among the faithful believe that Christ has never assumed a position on any worldly issue. We believe the entirety of Christ’s message is focused upon the spiritual life in all of us – and how each of us might draw closer to God. Such teaching has nothing to do with wealth, poverty, or any other material thing or condition. Christ is clear about this.

On the other hand, those who are more comfortable with the literal interpretation of Christ’s teachings consistently and inappropriately misinterpret His message as a pronouncement upon the goodness or badness of particular societal structures or classes. It is these sorts of misinterpretations of Christ’s direction that have led to the Christian Church’s historical ambivalence toward wealth and the wealthy, and by extension, the true nature of Capitalism.

For example, many of the wealthy faithful suffer guilt because of their wealth. Christ does not recommend this. Many presume that if they are wealthy, they are somehow less deserving than the truly impoverished, unless they give away all they own and become poor themselves. Christ does not recommend this either. In fact, Christ has never celebrated poverty. Instead, he celebrates the equal inheritance of the rich and the poor to the Kingdom of Heaven.

At once uncomfortable with wealth, the wealthy presume, by extension, that the focus upon making money or profit is somehow less noble than focusing upon providing alms to the poor. Christ never taught this. Christ taught compassion by all Men for all Men, whether rich, poor, sick, lame, or healthy.

It is Christ who consolidated the Ten Commandments (and the entirety of the Law and Prophets) into two Commandments, the second of which is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Accordingly, it is not inappropriate to conclude that Christ is commanding Man to actually do this, to love himself, in the full knowledge he can shower no love upon another that he does not shower upon himself.

Can it be so hard, then, to understand that for those faithful whose goal is to earn or acquire wealth in this life (as long as this goal is subordinate to love of Christ), are often the very same who create the “wealth of nations” for the rest of us? From another perspective, Christ’s teachings are wholly consistent with the understanding that there must exist rich people and accordingly there must exist people who are focused upon making money. Nowhere in the Scriptures does Christ proclaim that a person can become more holy or more deserving, or more anything, by being poor, ‘slightly’ poor, ‘mostly’ poor, ‘half-rich,’ or giving away all of one’s possessions (unless one takes Matthew 19:16—the parable of the rich man – entirely literally).

Christ’s compassion for the poor, the prostitutes, the lame and the downtrodden is evident throughout Scripture. Interestingly, however, Christ casts no aspersions upon masters of households who earned or acquired great wealth. It is true that Christ clarifies that riches can distract Man from Love of God (first great Commandment) and from seeking, establishing and maintaining a relationship with God (Matthew 19:16). Christ does not castigate the rich for being rich, or demean the rich as less worthy or less honorable than his other followers.

Failing to understand this aspect of Christ’s teaching ensures Man’s continual failure to understand the true nature of Capitalism. Failing to understand the true nature of Capitalism—the operation of the invisible hand (Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations) – Man dooms himself to material poverty coincident with the paradoxical conceit that such poverty is somehow holy—when it is merely poverty.

Man’s 2,000 year history of misunderstanding Christ’s message in general and His message about rich and poor in particular is especially poignant because bothphenomena are consequences of Man’s failure to accept the mystical – the spiritual – aspects of Life. It is only by accepting the mystical/spiritual nature of life that one can accept or understand the singular and mystical nature of Capitalism.

In 1776, the birth of our nation providentially coincided with the publication of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations—the foundational text of Capitalism. Smith’s pivotal insight was his observation that when men focus exclusively upon their own financial gain, they serve Society more effectually than when they exclusively intend Society’s gain, as if they are led by an “Invisible Hand.” This is the central paradox of Capitalism.

It is only by understanding the central paradox of Capitalism that one can understand its true nature—its ability to turn the base metal of self-interest into gold for everyone. Failing to understand this nature ensures Man’s failure to act in ways that actually help people, including the poor.

Capitalism’s detractors find it impossible to believe that good outcomes can result from so-called selfish intentions—as if one’s sweat on the behalf of self and family were ever truly “selfish.” Instead, they believe that it is only possible for good outcomes to result from pure intentions. These people maintain a willful ignorance about the implications of the old proverb, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It is heartbreaking to see such an ancient aphorism entirely ignored by everyone who should know better.

Capitalism’s lay detractors also misunderstand the true nature of economic self-interest. Capitalist philosopher, Ayn Rand, articulated this nature in her essay, “The Virtue of Selfishness.” She points out the obvious truth that Man’s survival is entirely contingent upon “selfish” behavior, i.e. otherwise known as actions taken on behalf of himself and his family. Ignoring this fact, collectivism invariably fails—for everyone. Marshalling the forces intrinsic to this phenomenon, however, Capitalism invariably results in wealth—for everyone. ¬†

When trying to make sense of Capitalism’s true nature, its providential Invisible Hand, it also helps to ponder the implications of Christ’s dictum, “by their fruits ye shall know them (Matthew 7:20).” Christ does not say, “by their intentions ye shall know them,” or “by their good intentions ye shall know them, and most certainly he does not say “by their appearance of good intentions ye shall know them.” Christ was clear. Consequences matter. More importantly, unintended consequences matter as well—and are accounted.

Many misinterpret the “fruits” dictum to operate in the reverse. They believe that Christ’s preamble to the “fruits” dictum, “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matt 7:17), and “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit,” (Matt 7:18) means that if one is good, i.e. intends good, one’s actions will invariably produce good outcomes. The converse is likewise presumed, i.e. if one’s intentions are bad (substitute selfish), one’s outcomes are foreordained to be bad/evil, and furthermore, that nothing good can come from bad (selfish) intentions (a “bad” tree cannot bear good fruit). If anything, Christ is merciless against false piety, public piety or piety in any guise.

After 2,000 years it is time for all of us to see beyond the piety of mere good intentions,and to understand that Christ never intends any of us sinners ever to presume our own “goodness” based upon our good intentions and certainly not to presume good fruit (good outcomes) based upon our good intentions. Likewise, Christ never instructs Man to be irresolute in his provision for his family, i.e. in his “selfish” pursuits. Admittedly, there is one exception in all of Christ’s teachings, an exception to any other direction he might provide. The only exception in any of Christ’s teachings is that any activity of Man must be subordinate to the highest priority, the Greatest Commandment, the Love of God.

The conceit of liberal believers (such as “social justice” aficionados), liberal unbelievers and Hollywood stars who know not what they believe, is that as long as they profess good intentions, publically or privately, outcomes are immaterial. Somehow, even if the well-intentioned violate all of the proscriptions of logic, common sense, history and tradition, they presume upon their good intentions to sanctify any consequence they might cause, be it Cathy Lee’s inadvertent impoverishment of a small village in South America or FDR’s seven year extension of the Great Depression.

The presumption of the well-intentioned serves them not only as a point of pride but as a blinder to prevent acknowledgement of the invariably positive outcomes brought about by Capitalism. This blindness is so infuriating because history demonstrates in each and every case that Capitalism has improved the material well-being of the vast majority of the members of any society free enough to implement it.

All other economic systems have proven to be abject failures, including Socialism, Communism, Crony-Capitalism, Feudalism and all of the flavors in between. Perhaps it is the spirituality, the mysticism, the paradox of Capitalism that makes it possible for so many otherwise intelligent people to remain completely ignorant of its merits.

Christ preaches the importance of outcomes, not the public display of sanctity, or even the private belief in one’s own sanctity. Nothing in his teachings excuses foreseeablenegative outcomes regardless of pure intent. To be fair, however, most would agree Christ’s teachings have nothing to do with material circumstances.

Nevertheless, though Christ preaches compassion for the poor He certainly does not intend Man to be poor in order to receive compassion, or for any other reason. Christ does warn us of the dangers of distraction and that wealth can be so much of a distraction that a “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” (Matt 19:24). Even so, Christ does not impugnbeing rich or becoming rich, nor does he reify poverty.

In fact, inasmuch as Christ teaches compassion for the poor he inevitably teaches when possible it is best not to be poor. Inasmuch as Christ teaches alms-giving to the poor he is likewise supporting wealth because without wealth there would be nothing to give to the poor.

All of this does not diminish the truth that it is better to give than to receive. But then, that’s what Capitalism is all about—one must give, provide, produce, serve—in order to receive—regardless of one’s intentions.

Christ teaches Man the supremacy of the immaterial in a material world. He does not decry the attainment or possession of material wealth. He teaches compassion and charity for the poor. He does not recommend poverty.

Inasmuch as Capitalism is the single most successful economic system in the history of the world and therefore the most likely to enrich Society as a whole, Capitalism is the most likely to eliminate poverty. Capitalism is, in this, the most loving economic system and, accordingly, the most “Christian.”

If Christ were ever to recommend any worldly economic system, it is more than likely he would recommend Capitalism.

Nevertheless, Christ’s message about the ultimate nature of worldly riches should always be kept in mind: “…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19).

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