Sunday, January 10, 2010

Would Jesus Oppose Capitalism?

Here’s an interesting notion:

protectmejesus Would Jesus Christ - the founder of the largest religion in the world, unequivocally recognized as a messenger of peace and love - support capitalism?

It's one of the questions filmmaker Michael Moore, the well-known creator of documentaries such as Bowling for Columbine and Sicko, asks in his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story.

In Capitalism, the filmmaker wonders whether Christ would support a system that, as the filmmaker stated, "has allowed the richest one per cent to have more financial wealth than the 95 per cent under them combined."

Moore, a Roman Catholic, argues that Jesus' commandments to care for others and feed the poor and hungry go against the love of money and greed that make up capitalism. He argues that one cannot be a religious Christian and a capitalist.

Clement Mehlman, a Lutheran chaplain at Dalhousie University, agrees.

"Jesus was a Jewish peasant, coming from an underprivileged tradition Himself, so He would have been what we would call a communist or a socialist," he says. "And there are elements of communism in descriptions of early Christian communities. They pooled their resources. There was not independent wealth, there was communal wealth."

The idea that Christ preached a socialist message would probably scare some conservative believers, but Mehlman has no problem with that.

"Jesus says to follow Him, you have to give everything you own to the poor," he says with a wry smile. "How many Christians do you see doing that? It's a text that should be thrown at the wealthy fat cats."… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Common Dreams>

It rarely happens, but in this case I completely disagree with Michael Moore.  I think Jesus would have no problem whatsoever with capitalism.   But there is a catch.  Capitalism is an economic system in which a free market sets the price of goods and services between an unlimited number of suppliers, with no barriers to entry, and an unlimited number consumers, based on the law of supply and demand.  In Adam Smith’s view, monopolies and oligopolies were the ultimate evil.  True capitalism has no place for corporations, because they concentrate suppliers, create barriers to entry, and form both monopolies and oligopolies, which collude to function as monopolies.  In fairness to Moore, he was referring to our current economic system, but that system is NOT capitalism.  Jesus never raised an objection to the common free market trade of goods and services between individuals, which is capitalism.

Mehlman’s argument that to follow Jesus we have to give all we have to the poor has a problem.  It takes Jesus’ statement out of context.  The person to whom Jesus was speaking was one of the elite theocrats, who was rich from the temple monopoly.  Jesus required this of him only because the man’s life was centered around his greed.  Jesus often dined in the homes of believers who had not divested themselves of all their possessions.  One cannot care for the poor and feed the hungry without the means to do so.

The system we have in the US today is hard to label, but I’ll try to give it two labels.  One is crony corporatism.  We have rule by corporations through the empowerment of corporate cronies.  The other is plutocratic fascism.  I don’t mean Nazism here.  Fascism is a system where access to power is available only through elite status or membership in a group.  Thus, plutocratic fascism is government of, by and for the rich, and the rest of us have to band together into groups to be heard at all.  Economic exploitation by the elite is the norm.  Would Jesus oppose this?  I say yes, and I’m sure Moore would agree, because this is what I think he meant.

The closest thing Jesus encountered to our system was the monopoly on mandated temple sacrifice held by the religious right of his day.  There was no other source of supply for sacrificial animals and the unique currency required to buy them.  These theocrats manipulated the system to fleece the common people.   Sound familiar?  Jesus’ response was to drive them out of the temple.  Unlike the religious right, Jesus would certainly oppose our economic system.

It saddens me immeasurably that the most vocal groups, who identify themselves as Christians, have sided with the plutocrats and corporatists against the poor, contrary to Jesus’ teaching.  This is the opposite of authentic Christianity!


the walking man said...

I doubt Jesus would have given a shit for this system or any other system of government established by humanity. He said obey the laws, speak for them who can not speak for themselves and come to God.

He is not concerned with this mortal temporary world. His rabbinate was to the eternal. his teaching was to get us to see we live in both mortality and eternity but that the greater (eternal) encompasses the lesser (mortal).

The lesson most all faiths, especially Judeo/Christianity as it is currently practiced and Islam as it is currently practiced is that you DON'T walk through life doing as that spirit (not the mind /soul) inspires but rather the here and now is where your riches are found.

Give what you can where you can but keep God, not government in your heart for all governments and systems of governments will pass.

In other words speak out politically because there are many who have no voice, and their lives need to be made a bit easier within the constraints of mortality, but remember every word we utter in this mortal realm is smoke on the winds of eternity.

We easily lose focus on the message by looking at the messenger.

rjs said...

from shini's world: Capitalism is evil? - I decided in just a whim of fancy to look up the word Capitalism on Wiki. Omg !!!! Its orgins are Islamic !!! Do Americans know this? With all their Islamic hatred, profiling, you would assume they would resist the very idea of operating under such a horrific system. Especially as good Christians, how can you work under a system, no matter how much you have modified it, that owes its true alliegence to Allah...

Pauline said...

Succinctly put and thought provoking. Now, how do you get the crony-corporate-elitist-plutocratic fascists Christians to read it and take it to heart?

Mauigirl said...

I totally agree Jesus would have disapproved of the corporatist capitalist system we have now. And that he would agree that you can't give away ALL your possessions and still help the poor and needy. But he did say that it is harder for a camel to get through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. So I can't help but feel that he did have a certain socialist way of thinking, that vast disparities between rich and poor was an undesirable thing.

Perhaps the individual capitalism that you are talking about, the one on one kind of trade and commerce, would at first keep those disparities to a minimum. But as soon as you evolve beyond barter and start using riches like money, gold or jewels to purchase goods, and greed comes into the picture. Capitalism as a system automatically leads to greed and human nature feeds into this tendency. Of course, communism doesn't work either because that same human nature will lead to a desire for power and wealth so there is no way to enforce the kind of classless society that Jesus would approve. He was relying on individual people to live by his teachings, not to make it a government system.

In addition, as Walkingman says, of course, Jesus didn't really care about worldly goods and systems to begin with. For instance, he said "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." (So it seems he wouldn't be involved in any tax revolts either if he were here today!)

Jack Jodell said...

There is no way I see that Jesus would have approved of our current corporatist and plutocratic system. Jesus preached communal, universal values, not self-centered individualism or exploitation. And He certainly would never approve of Wall Street cheating of the rampant use of lies and deceptive ads to sell products, which is so rampant today.

I loved the cartoon at top and the very accurate and well-reasoned Common Dreams article!

Oso said...

Good article and GREAT elaboration on it by yourself.In particular what you wrote about the "two labels".
Thank you.

TomCat said...

Mark, we disagree again. Our political and economic systems are the framework for how we meet our people's personal and economic needs. Jesus attended to such needs himself, so they were a concern to him.

RJ, that is most amusing.

Pauline, that's the million dollar question. Thanks.

Maui, in practice Jesus was closer to pure communist than socialist. I never intended to mean that Jesus would favor pure capitalism over other other systems. Please see my reply to mark.

Thanks, Jack!

Thanks Oso. My third is that the GOP provides socialism for the rich. The rest of us are stuck with free enterprise.

TOM said...

It's more about how little the poor have, not how much the rich have.

Even true capitalism creates a percentage of human waste.

There are always winners and losers within any system.

I always thought the message was how we treat those that get left behind.

No, Jesus would not approve of capitalism.

He would approve even less, for the system we have developed and evolved into, in America today.

Jesus lessons were not only concerned with the afterlife and how we obeyed God's laws, but how we treated each other while on Earth, which of course, is another one of God's judgments waiting for us.

Jo said...

I don't think Jesus would approve of capitalism as it is practiced today. Capitalism is just a means to an end, the end being making a profit. No one goes into business to lose money, or to break even. They want to make money. I think what Jesus would not approve of today is how that money is ultimately being disbursed. He would look at the obscene wealth on one hand, and the abject poverty on the other, and he would not approve of the fact that the wealthy are not doing more to help the poor. The U.S. is the fourth wealthiest nation in the world, and yet there is still so much poverty there.

"Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to those who thirst, comfort the sick, visit those who are in prison, take care of the Widow, take care of the Orphans."

I don't think Jesus would have been so much concerned about economic processes, as he would about the end results.

You, Tom, I know are not a wealthy man, and yet I also know that you volunteer your time and whatever else you can to help people more unfortunate than you are. Jesus would approve of you. :-) Capitalism? ... Not so much.

MadMike said...

Have you looked at churches lately? They hardly represent the teachings of Jesus, a great man who lived and then died, like all mortal men. Some of these joints have orchestras, huge video systems, large screen T.V.'s and huge SALARIES for the preachers and their staff. They gobble up land and are always seeking to enlarge the "House of God." Jesus' followers are the embodiment of capitalism.

Lisa G. said...

I'm gonna let Jesus decide this one for himself. He and God are all-knowing after all....

otis said...

I am not entertaining the conversation. All we need to do is ask if Jesus approved of sex as well, and then we would complete the circuit: Sex, religion, MONEY, and politics.

Anyway, I don't care what I, or anyone else, thinks about what Jesus thinks, thought, will think, whatever. Last time I checked, He is... something. Omnipotent? Whatever. I think that attempting to speculate on what God or Jesus thinks is akin to playing God, and, if Sunday school memories serve (Catholic and Southern Baptist, no wonder I don't go to church anymore.) that is blasphemy. I'll leave that up to the Evangelicals. Just to stay on the safe side. (I don't know why, according to them I'm going to Hell anyway, but I think I have standard or two somewhere... maybe the 'junk drawer'...)

Holte Ender said...

All men of peace, who rise to national and international prominence, like Jesus, all live short lives or have their lives ended violently. The two great passive protesters of the 20th century, Gandhi and Martin L. King come immediately to mind.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

You made a really clear and (one I happen to agree with) statement of what American capitalism should be. Some more agreement...with Its hard to reckon today's evangelicals with Jesus' teachings or demonstrations. Then again, the Holy See hasn't come close to them either, in my opinion. A good post, TC. :-)

TomCat said...

Well said, Tom.

Josie, your comment about the end results is excellent. No I'm not wealthy. The next step down from where I live in under a bridge, and the only reason I have enough to get by now is winning my SSDI appeal. Thank you. Helping others is my expression of faith in myself, in life and in God.

Mike, were Jesus to walk the earth as a man again, he would not be welcome in our churches. He would choose people as his companions with whom they would refuse to associate.

Lisa and Otis, it was no my intent to associate Jesus with any political system or impel anyone to believe in a certain way. Because so many people associate the word 'Christian' with the American Taliban, and therefore condemn Christianity, I wanted to express that there is another form of Christian representing the antithesis of their gospel of war, greed and intolerance.

Holte, an excellent observation. Dr. King expected to be killed.

Thanks Gwen. I agree.