Tuesday, November 27, 2007

confessing the revolution--because some things work too well

Confessing the Revolution: Capitalism and the God in Whom We Trust

For what it's worth, I'm not an economist, and I'm not appoaching this person's article as an economist. One reason for that being, as the person himself says...

The first question put to any economic order should be not “Does it work?” or “What is in it for us?” but rather “Does it enable and enhance humanity’s chief end of glorifying and enjoying God forever?” Another way of putting this is to say that the fundamental question that should undergird all other questions we put to capitalism is, “With our economic lives ordered by capitalism, are we able to worship God truly?”

...and since he obviously things that simply saying that capitalism's successes are irrelevant, I don't need to be an economist to argue with and against him.

The quote above is a good place to start--can a capitalist truly worship God?

It's an interesting question. What are the alternatives? Socialism? Communism? Distributism? Barter? Primitive hunting-gathering?

In fact why stop there? Shall we look at forms of government? Democracy? Monarch? Anarchy? Tyranny? Feudalism? What about science? Does Bell, or maybe more the people at the site who have printed this article, think that we should do science different? Shall we discard evolution, because it makes God into some kind of myth-maker? Return to relying on divine providence for healings? Stop finding cures and doing surgeries, because those take our faith from God and put them on science and human efforts?

Why ask those questions? Because his questions are meaningless, and perhaps worse leading. The fact is, there have been plenty of godly people who have been able to worship God while living in a capitalist society, and there have been plenty of evil people in others forms of economy.

In other words, questions of being able to worship God have nothing to do with what kind of economic systems. It does have to do with the godliness or lack thereof of the persons in that system. Heck, I'll even posit the possibility of Christians who are committed communists. They may be misguided, but I willing to admit there is the possibility.

Bell tries to say that the God of capitalism has three characteristics...

The Creator who does not create enough
The God who does not save
The Market Sustains

Concerning the first...

God did not create enough; creation is insufficient. Apparently when God rested on the seventh day, God was punching out a little early. Creation was good, but not good enough. The created order is marked by scarcity. Most theological defenses of capitalism take this as a given, as a rather obvious matter of fact that usually requires no theological support at all. It is just the way things obviously are.

...and he gives a quote by someone named Novak. I know nothing about Novak, and so I'm not sure what his views are. Nor am I so sure that Bell is representing him in the best light. For example...

Creation is full of secrets waiting to be discovered, riddles which human intelligence is expected by the Creator to unlock. The world did not spring from the hand of God as wealthy as humans might make it.

What about these statements is necessarily off-whack? Since Bell didn't italicize the first statement (although there it is in the article) I assume he has no problem with the idea of creations being full of things to discover. But having granted that, why have a problem with the second? It seems almost like saying that God gave up a palate and paints, but we get to use them to paint whatever pictures we want.

Given the account of God as an incomplete creator, what do theological accounts of capitalism tell us about how God acts to redeem us from material deprivation, from sin, death and the devil, here and now? To be blunt, they tell us nothing. This is to say, they tell us that God does nothing to save or redeem the material world now. What is to be accomplished in terms of redemption here and now, what is to be experienced of the abundant life here and now, is entirely a human work.

Right about now, I start to see what's going on, and I smile sardonically. Certainly we should be wary of any thought that says that capitalism is some kind of end-all-and-be-all, a kind of divine command, but when someone tries to tell us that capitalism tells us that God is in essence pulling an agnostic, credibility goes beyond being a bit stretched.

Again, history proves otherwise. Why is it that so many of the people who see salvation as being a product of human work only seem to hold to other forms of economy? Granting the existence of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of capitalism being a great good, usually when one looks at the humanists and their ideas of salvation, one eventually finds that they tend more towards some form of socialism.

Is it any wonder that when one looks at the great non-thiestic efforts of the past century, they have usually been socialistic? Shall we point out the good old USSR? Red China? Cuba? Various other places in the world?

Thus, if we are to confess capitalism as a theological and not merely economic revolution, we should confess not the god of capitalism but the sin that is capitalism. We should confess and repent of the capitalist revolution for the sake of rightly worshiping the God who graciously inaugurated the original revolution in Jesus Christ, whose work of mercy meets the needs of all prodigally.

We should repent of the capitalist revolution that does not really change anything, only managing sin in a more efficient manner perhaps. And we should confess the original revolution that turns the world upside down (Acts 17:6) by setting us free from sin.

We should confess, lest we end up like those whose fate Jesus bemoans in his sermon on the plain, those whose imaginations were so impoverished that they desired nothing more than what this world’s economy offered. Why, Jesus laments, do they settle for so little, when God’s economy offers so much and when God wants nothing more than to give and give abundantly?

Let us stop bowing down before wooden gods, no matter how much gold and silver they have laid on. Instead, let us worship and enjoy the true God. Let us be about the work – the economy– of God which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

So, capitalism is a sin? Only if we accept Bell's definitions.

Let's say for the moment, he's right about what he claims some theologians have said about capitalism. So what? All we would be dealing with, then, is some people's thoughts about it, not the system itself. People may have the right idea, but have some wrong thoughts about the idea. A sick person may be right to trust God, but wrong to listen to Benny Hinn's WOF rantings.

At the first, Bell wants us to look beyond the idea that capitalism either does or doesn't work. That's fair, but it can't be disregarded either. We should be able to look beyond whether something 'works' in the short term, but if a compelling reason from morality and ethics cannot be made against it, then the question of utility, whether something works or not, become of the greatest importance. Would he rather that we adopt a system that has proven to be failing?

This does not mean that capitalism is the perfect form, nor that improvements can't be made, nor even that people cannot take advantage of the system for their own ends and cause bad things to happen. It is saying that such faults can be found in any system put forth, and are more the signs of mankind's fallen nature than of any great problems in an economic system.

People had problems worshiping God and with scarcity of resources and with wrong views of God long before someone thought up capitalism. It has to do with things like original sin, man's fallen nature, greed and idolatry and selfishness and laziness. Nothing new, nothing really special, nothing that isn't universal, and none of the problems can't be found in some form or another in any society throughout history.

So, shall we maybe say that capitalism tends to heighten certain negative human tendencies? That's possible, and not unreasonable. Some seem to say it's conducive to greed. But greed is universal, why else would communism have been so popular? Didn't ancient nations go to war so they could get stuff the other country had? Which is worse, conquering to get an empire so you can control diamonds in India (assuming India even had diamonds, which I don't know), or getting up at four in the morning to go to a Black Friday sale?

Don't answer that.

For what it's worth, I think the fact that capitalism works, and works well, is a point in it's favor, especially considering the failures of some of the other systems. Warnings and cautions about potential failings and trends have their place and uses, but going over-the-top like this guy has done is ridiculous.

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