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Friday, December 5, 2014

God and Capitalism: Seven scriptural principles that contradict modern American Capitalism

Many folks from the Religious Right have assumed that God and the Bible endorse the principles of modern American Capitalism. Are they right? Before you answer that question, you may want to consider the following:

1. Capitalism has been defined (in part) as the individual pursuit of economic self interest which results in what is best for society as a whole.
Paul told the saints at Corinth to take their brothers and sisters into account when enjoying the liberty that Christ had provided for them. He wrote: "Don't be concerned for your own good but for the good of others." (I Corinthians 10:24) He also wrote to the saints at Philippi: "Don't look out only for your own interest, but take an interest in others too." (Philippians 2:4)

2. One of the fundamental features of American Capitalism has been the notion that all citizens aspire to enter the wealthy class - to "keep up with the Joneses."
On Mount Sinai, God is purported to have told Moses: "You must not covet your neighbor's house. You must not covet your neighbor's wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor." (Exodus 20:17)

3. American Capitalism has always been defined by the virtually unfettered ability of its citizens to purchase and sell land at whatever price the market will allow.
Compare this practice with what is recorded in the Old Testament:
"When you make an agreement with your neighbor to buy or sell property, you must not take advantage of each other. When you buy land from your neighbor, the price you pay must be based on the number of years since the last jubilee. The seller must set the price by taking into account the number of years remaining until the next Year of Jubilee . The more years until the next jubilee, the higher the price; the fewer the years, the lower the price. After all, the person selling the land is actually selling you a certain number of harvests. Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 25:14-17)
"The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me. With every purchase of land you must grant the seller the right to buy it back. If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell some family land, then a close relative should buy it back for him. If there is no close relative to buy the land, but the person who sold it gets enough money to buy it back, he then has the right to redeem it from the one who bought it. The price of the land will be discounted according to the number of years until the next Year of Jubilee. In this way the original owner can then return to the land. But if the original owner cannot afford to buy back the land, it will remain with the new owner until the next Year of Jubilee. In the jubilee year, the land must be returned to the original owners so they can return to their family land." (Leviticus 25:23-28)
"Anyone who sells a house inside a walled town has the right to buy it back for a full year after its sale. During that year, the seller retains the right to buy it back. But if it is not bought back within a year, the sale of the house within the walled town cannot be reversed. It will become the permanent property of the buyer. It will not be returned to the original owner in the Year of Jubilee." (Leviticus 25:29-30)

4. For many Americans a seven-day work week is part of the reality of their lives.
Notice another one of the Big Ten in this regard: "Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you." (Exodus 20:8-10)

5. Another prominent feature of modern American Capitalism is our banking system. As part of that system, the lenders of capital commonly charge interest on the loans that they make to the public and each other.
Notice that this subject is broached in both the Old and New Testaments:
"If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and cannot support himself, support him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident and allow him to live with you. Do not charge interest or make a profit at his expense. Instead, show your fear of God by letting him live with you as your relative. Remember, do not charge interest on money you lend him or make a profit on food you sell him." (Leviticus 25:35-37)
"Do not charge interest on the loans you make to a fellow Israelite, whether you loan money, or food, or anything else. You may charge interest to foreigners, but you may not charge interest to Israelites..." (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)
Christ is purported to have said: "If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid." (Luke 6:32-35)

6. American capitalists have generally sought to compensate their workers at the cheapest rate possible, and these wages have traditionally been paid out on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. Hence, many workers have complained of inadequate compensation for the work that they perform for their employers and have struggled to budget that money so that it will last between paydays.
Notice that the Biblical commentary on this topic also extends to both Testaments:
"Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay." (Leviticus 19:13)
"Never take advantage of poor and destitute laborers, whether they are fellow Israelites or foreigners living in your towns. You must pay them their wages each day before sunset because they are poor and are counting on it. If you don't, they might cry out to the Lord against you, and it would be counted against you as sin." (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)
"'At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,' says the Lord of Heaven's Armies." (Malachi 3:5)
"When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned." (Romans 4:4)
"For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven's Armies." (James 5:4)

7. Another prominent feature of American Capitalism is the often scrupulous and detailed financial planning that we engage in for the future. Business owners worry over investments, production, promotions, personnel decisions, etc. and make plans that stretch for months and years into the future. Likewise, the average citizen worries about how to finance a home and is willing to sign a mortgage that lasts anywhere from ten to thirty years into the future. Many of them begin planning for their children's college education when those children are still in diapers, and almost everyone worries about their retirement to one degree or another.
Notice something that Jesus is purported to have said in this regard:
"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be...No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life - whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?...So don't worry about these things, saying, 'What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?' These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today." (Matthew 6:19-34)

I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like a full-throated Biblical endorsement of American Capitalism to me!

**All Scriptural references taken from the New Living Translation**


  1. One minute you're a Liberal pointing out scriptural fallibility, next you're appealing to Biblical Authority. Tells me you, like most humans, are unable to shed cultural religious programming.

  2. As you know, many folks on the Religious Right are fond of employing a technique known as proof-texting to support their beliefs. In this instance, I used it to demonstrate that their beliefs are clearly not supported by the Bible. If you appeal to some authority to buttress your argument in support of something, that authority becomes fair game for those who would challenge you.

  3. I'm confused a little:
    Are you associating Capitalism with the American political Right?

  4. No, but I think that many on the Religious Right feel that they have a proprietary interest in the concept of Capitalism. Personally, of the systems available to us in the reality of this present world, I prefer American Capitalism to the other models (an opinion which I'm confident that I probably share with a good many people from both the Left and Right). Having said that, American Capitalism is clearly flawed and imperfect from a moral perspective. Moreover, as I suggested in the post, the Religious Right is barking up the wrong tree when they appeal to Scripture to support their views of the subject.

  5. Well, I'm not getting the point of this thread as we would both agree that the Bible is not an authority and having been collated with disparate writings over hundreds of years, can be used to prove anything, for example Saturday/Sunday/No-day Sabbath can all be argued from the contradictory mess of the New Testament alone!

  6. You're forgetting that I don't dismiss Scripture - I don't accept it as the sole source or authority for determining God's will. Most of my friends on the Religious Right do regard the Bible in that fashion.

  7. So you DO accept it as a source of authority! That is very telling.

  8. I accept Scripture as providing some insights into the Divine and its will for us. I do not accept it as THE source, the FINAL authority or the ONLY source available to us.