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McCabe on Capitalism

“What is wrong with capitalism is simply that it is based on human antagonism, and it is precisely here that it comes in conflict with Christianity.  Capitalism is a state of war, but not just a state of war between equivalent forces; it involves a war between those who believe in and prosecute war as a way of life, as an economy, and those who do not. … Christianity is deeply subversive of capitalism precisely because it announces the improbably possibility that men might life together without war; neither by domination nor by antagonism but by unity in love.  It announces this, of course, primarily as a future and nearly miraculous possibility and certainly not as an established fact; Christians are not under the illusion that mankind is sinless or that sin is easily overcome, but they believe that it will be overcome.  It was for this reason that Jesus was executed – as a political threat.  Not because he was a political activist; he was not. … But he was nonetheless executed as a political threat because the gospel he preached — that the Father loves us and therefore, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, we are able to love one another and stake the meaning of our lives on this — cut to the root of the antagonistic society in which he still lives.”

–Herbert McCabe, God Matters (London: Continuum, 2005), 192-193.


  1. Matt wrote:

    I think this is probably true

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  2. Pontificator wrote:

    Is not the gospel equally subversive of socialism and communism, both of which require statist, i.e., coercive, political systems?

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  3. Matt Wiebe wrote:

    Ahh, great to hear theologians restoring disrespect and scandalousness to Christianity…

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  4. coldfire wrote:

    I am no advocate of capitalism, but I don’t think capitalism is the primary problem. As pontificator noted, the gospel is probably equally subsersive of other unjust economic systems. In fact, just and economics are difficult to rectify (just is an interesting word to use here; perhaps a better word would be fair). Capitalism was meant to be a system built on mutually beneficial relationships where everyone benefits because everyone does what he or she is good at. Everyone should theoretically be blessed because everyone is working as hard as they can and taking risks for the economy as whole. I think the main problem, from this point of view, is to understand that bad relationships are the primary problem.

    All economic systems have their downfalls and their cracks in the system. As Christians, we are called to these cracks in the system.

    Monday, March 3, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  5. Hill wrote:

    I think these comments raise some interesting issues regarding what exactly we mean by capitalism and in what sense it is appropriate to construe capitalism as a/the central force at odds with Christianity in the (modern?) world. I think there is certainly a case to be made for the latter, but one must be attentive to the former in order to do so properly. There are substantial theological problems with a narrative that pits Christianity exclusively against the specific historical phenomenon of capitalism as an economic system emerging in the 17th century. The central problem being: what was Christianity doing before that time? Of course, Christianity is at odds with capitalism (especially under the broad definition associated with various strands of “postmodern” thought), and I think that this conflict is very theologically rich. To be coherent, however, it must be integrated in to the historical life of the Church, including the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, etc. So we must avoid accounts that imply that some sort of watershed in the Church’s mission took place upon the publication of The Wealth of Nations, and instead seek to understand the ways in which the logic of the satanic powers and principalities of this world, against which the Church has always been in conflict, have been especially focused in what we call “capitalism.” The NT tells us: “for the love of money is the root of all evil.” This ought to provide the starting point for an account that describes how the logic of “capitalism” which has become so brazenly satanic in the late modern period has in fact been with us from the beginning. I think this would necessarily result in the fruitful clarification of a lot of ambiguous and overly general rhetoric.

    Monday, March 3, 2008 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  6. Blackhaw wrote:


    I think you hit on a good point. Rich Mullins once said that democracy is bad math. 1,000 corrupt individuals are just as bad (if not worse) as 1 corrupt individual. He was not advocating something besides democracy but was just point out that democracy is not the saviour of mankind.

    I think your idea about “bad relationships’ is good. Capitalism works well and is almost Christian if it is done with good relationships. I do not see a better economic strategy personally. But I do not think there could not be one. And I despise Bush’s plan that democracy alone will free the people of the Mid-east etc..

    Christ is the only thing that will change people here in the U.S. or abroad. He will put the governments upon his shoulders.

    Monday, March 3, 2008 at 3:20 pm | Permalink
  7. coldfire wrote:

    Thanks Blackhaw,
    I disagree that capitalism is the best economic system. I think true communism (not a government socialism or any other experiment) as seen in the family where people take what they need and work as they are able is the best system. Unfortunately, communism on planet earth only seems to work on a small scale. This is my case for why the church should be a truly communist endeavour in the midst of capitalism. The economics is a bit fuzzy as I have not fully developed my thoughts, but I do agree that relationships are most central.

    Tuesday, March 4, 2008 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

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