Christianity vs Capitalism by Hal O’Leary… The Catholic Church has declared there to be seven deadly sins and an equal number of virtues. It should be presumed, therefore, that…
The Catholic Church has declared there to be seven deadly sins and an equal number of virtues. It should be presumed, therefore, that those souls professing to abide by the faiths handed down from Abraham should at the very least attempt to honor them. Was it not Jesus who drove the money changers from the Temple? Are the explicit prohibitions of usury found in the Old Testament, the New Testament as well as the Qur’an simply to be ignored in the face of a capitalistic system, the very essence of which is legalized usury?
“Thou shalt not give him thy money upon interest, nor give him thy victuals for increase.”
“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”
What is the devout Christian to do in regard to those commandments? Dare I mention the word hypocrisy, or should we simply accept the fact that it is impossible to exist in a capitalistic society without the acceptance of “legalized usury,” or is that an oxymoron? This should be enough to establish an irreconcilable divergence between Capitalism and Christianity. But, let us compare the two in terms of Saints or Sinners to see if there could be any compatibility.
Let us begin with Christianity’s Seven Deadly Sins, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride. The first four are generally considered Corporal sins, and can, with the possible exception of sloth which occurs as the result of a failure to satisfy the first three, be more succinctly summed up as selfishness or accumulation of material wealth in excess of need and at the expense of others. In its absolute need to constantly grow, isn’t capitalism reliant on the consumption of more and more of the earth’s resources, and isn’t that consumption best fed by the very selfishness which Christianity considers a sin? Isn’t it obligatory for any capitalistic enterprise to concern itself, first and foremost, with the so-called “bottom-line”? Isn’t it through a vast expenditure of promotion and advertising that the unnecessary need is created, and doesn’t that artificially-created need lead, all too often, to over consumption, planned obsolescence and the production of a wide variety of disposable consumer goods, all of which amount to sinful waste?
Then, of course, there are the “Spiritual Sins” of Wrath, Envy and Pride. These sins, while not the same, are realized as the result of what I consider the more pervasive sin of laissez-faire competition. Capitalism and competition are synonymous. The mandatory need to compete begins with Envy, which leads to excessive pride for the winner or wrath for the loser. Competition, I contend, pits man against his fellow man. It fosters that ridiculous concept of the “rugged individualist” so championed by the system. Such rivalry is in sharp contrast to the concept of brotherhood found not only in Christianity but in all major religions, a brotherhood that is indispensible for the survival of humanity.
Should any of this ring true, wouldn’t it be difficult not to think of the person in the pew as being one and the same as the person in the penthouse? Can the penthouse be thought of as being nearer to heaven than the gutter? Mother Teresa might not think so. But, speaking of St. Mother Teresa, let us turn to the Seven Heavenly Virtues, Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence Justice, Temperance, Fortitude. These are divided into three “Theological Virtues” and four moral or “Cardinal” virtues. The three Theological Virtues–Faith, Hope and Charity (or as some translate it, “Love”) serve as a commitment that bind the believer to the moral or Cardinal Virtues that define what it means to be human: Prudence, the ability to determine right from wrong, Justice, the promise to treat our neighbor rightly, Temperance, the ability to control our emotions, desires and passions, and Fortitude, the courage to persist in righteousness. Unfortunately, the virtues of Christianity are all too often perceived to be weaknesses in the every-man-for-himself society that capitalism, by its very nature, is destined to produce.
Now, lest we presume that the Church has retreated in the face of economic necessity, and that its antiquated dictates can be ignored with impunity, I would remind the reader that Pope Francis has denounced the “autonomy of the marketplace” and “financial speculation” as tyranny in his 84-page apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:
“Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills ( . . . ) A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.”
In response to the Pope’s exhortation, Rush Limbaugh had this to say:
“This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope.”
I would then ask that we contrast the pope’s words with this dictum from the father of capitalism and come to a reasoned conclusion as to whether Christianity and Capitalism can be compatible:
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”