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Theological Musings on Global Captialism

The following are three abriveated talking points that I presented at a class I am taking on cross-cultural communication and Christian mission.  I’m curious to see what people might think of them. 

Capitalism is Heresy. Capitalism, for Christians should be understood as a heretical way of shaping human life; a way of life that is idolatrous. From a theological perspective, the ultimate problem with capitalism is not that it creates more poor people than other alternatives or that it trains us in greed (though both of those things are probably true). The problem with capitalism is that it de-forms human desires and social relations. It trains us to view all things and people as commodities to be used and dominated. It is what Augustine called the libido dominandi run wild.

Capitalism is Indestructable. From a Christian perspective the most insidious thing about capitalism lies in its ability to absorb counter-movements into itself. Capitalism produces its own antibodies, making them part of its own system. A great example of this are the anti-globalization movements which have become happy fixtures within the capitalist economy. The quintessence of global capitalism are the chic T-shirts, made in Chinese sweatshops bearing the “World Without Strangers” logo. Or Bono’s “Product Red” campaign which encourages people to buy certain products from chains like Gap and Reebock because a “a portion” of the proceeds goes to poverty relief – while the products themselves are made by children under the age of 10 in textile factories in southeast Asia. The point is that capitalism as we know it today is basically an indestructible, unopposable system.

The Kingdom of God is the “Solution” to Capitalism.  The solution to the sins of capitalism is not another economic system such as socialism. The solution is the Kingdom of God; a kingdom which we do not construct or manipulate, but which we receive. This is not a pie when you die “solution” because the Kingdom of God is indeed present now in the life of the church. Whenever the deformed desires and social relations brought about by capitalism are healed through the reconciliation brought about in Christ, we are given hope. The downfall of the economic empire of Mammon lies ultimately in God’s hands. But we see his hands at work through us when we are able to welcome those different from us, when former enemies eat together in peace, when we see people no longer view others as obstacles and commodities to be dominated, but as gifts to receive with love. The Christian response to capitalism is not to find another economic system by which to overthrow the current system, it is rather to find ways of living in the disruptive spaces of freedom which God creates even in the face of a seemingly intractable empire. Even in the darkness of captialism’s hegemony God has not left himself without witnesses. There remain the seven thousand who do not bow their knees to the Baals of our far sexier pantheon of captitalism’s anemic gods. The question for is how far we are willing to go to be numbered among that remnant in which it is clear that the kingdom of God rather than Mammon is running our lives.

7 Comments

  1. d. w. horstkoetter wrote:

    Yep. Sounds about right.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 12:22 pm | Permalink
  2. chris wrote:

    Could you expound a bit on why you chose the word heresy? I don’t see how that word registers.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    I use heresy in the most general sense to refer to something which contradicts what is held as “orthodox”. I view capitalism as just such a phenomenon. Much like when the anti-apartheid theologians in South Africa wrote the book “Apartheid is a Heresy”.

    Do you see it as a conceptual problem? If so, why?

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    Capitalism is also heresy in that, in many ways (as with virtually all of Western thought, good and bad) it has its roots in the Church and (bad) theology.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  5. Hill wrote:

    Your second point is absolutely critical and yes, the most frightening and insidious aspect of Capitalism. It is an important rebuke against Marxists lines of thought which are content to wait around for Capitalism to self-destruct. It will not. The end of Capitalism with be the triumph of the host of heaven over the forces of evil at the end of time. “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  6. Thanks for the apartheid reference. That was helpful.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  7. Daniel wrote:

    You might want to clarify what you mean by capitalism. Are you talking about modern capitalism or capitalism in toto? I know this might sound like a trival point, but there is a tendency to conflate the egregiousness of modern capitalism with capitalism in general. Yet as Marx frequently pointed out capitalism has existed since antiquity. The problem with its modern guise is that it is disembedded from communal structures and hence alienates people’s labor from their products.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

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