America’s Blind Faith in Capitalism

capitalismA very thought-provoking poll was released recently on Americans and their attitudes toward Christianity and capitalism. The survey found that more Americans believe that Christianity and the free market are in conflict (44 percent) than those who think they are not (36 percent). This holds regardless of religious affiliation. Women, Democrats and those of low income are more likely to believe the two are incompatible. Meanwhile, Tea Party members, Republicans, college-educated and more affluent people were more likely to believe the two are not at odds

White evangelicals are more likely than the general population to believe unregulated businesses would behave ethically. Meanwhile, Christians of color overwhelmingly (76 percent) want the church to speak out on social justice matters, and economic issues such as foreclosures devastating the community

So what should we make of this? At first glance, it tells me that there is hope. Today’s economic troubles are opening the eyes of Americans, perhaps. The inequality in this nation – and the flagrant manner in which concentrated power flaunts its excesses – is so perverse that it offends the moral sensibilities and belief systems of everyday folks. If there is any chance of reforming or changing our institutions, it all begins with asking if we expect – or demand – moral and ethical institutions that bend towards justice. Like the flailing, bankrupt Communist system in the final days of the USSR, American capitalism has revealed itself as a sham religion that promises much and operates under deceptive rhetoric, yet ultimately benefits a scant few. Right now, the system seems to be thriving perversely on the economic inequality that is eating society alive. Wall Street profits and executive bonuses are up, rewards for their plunder of the rest of us

And yet, isn’t this the way it was supposed to be? Did capitalism ever have a moral compass? And haven’t capitalism and Christianity always operated in tandem for centuries?

Slavery has to be the ultimate example of unfettered, unregulated markets, laissez faire in its purest sense. The Church blessed slave ships and expeditions to rape and pillage indigenous peoples, and one slave ship was even named Jesus. Earlier forms of the Christian Right endorsed the economic exploitation of slavery and Jim Crow segregation and found justification in the Bible. Even today, some so-called Christians give their stamp of approval on cuts in crucial government programs that serve poor families, or the despoliation of the land by oil companies in the name of economic growth. They even compare the hand of the free market to the hand of God. After all, gun manufacturers have to make a buck, too, the way Jesus wanted it

So, is capitalism at odds with Christianity? I suppose it all depends on which Christianity you use as your point of reference. The Christianity of the rightwing is the imperial, status quo Christianity that helps prop up the rich and the powerful. Then there’s the other side of the coin – the Christianity that believes in social justice, liberation theology and caring for the least of these. This is the Christianity that believes it is easier for the camel to pass through an eye of a needle than it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. It was Jesus who drove the money-changers, the Wall Street bankers of the day, out of the temple. Adherents to this school fought for the abolition of slavery and struggled for racial and economic equality in the civil rights movement. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., they fought for sanitation workers

The early twenty-first century is not the first time capitalism has run roughshod over the people’s rights, nor, sadly, will it likely be the last. The problem is that the counterbalance to capitalism – call it a social safety net, social welfare, the New Deal, socialism or what have you – has eroded in the U.S. And while good people of faith (or no faith at all) struggle to restore it, other so-called people of faith welcome its demise, if they do not manipulate their religion to justify that demise. Sadly, that is as much a condemnation of religion and the way it is practiced as it is an indictment of capitalism

It is easy for Americans to point to the oppression in certain Muslim nations and shake their heads in disbelief. It is quite another thing to look inward at the injustice, the poverty, the hunger and the unemployment that is tolerated in a nation where so many would preach to others about Jesus Christ. Regardless of faith, Americans should be challenged to expect better from government and from society. Many followers of the cult of capitalism drank the kool-aid, believing in the virtues of chasing a dollar above all else. They were convinced, as some still are convinced despite the lack of evidence, that by redistributing the nation’s money in an upward direction, it would trickle down. And why would you want to tax the rich when capitalism has convinced you that you will become rich someday? Of course, for most of us that won’t happen in the land of opportunity, which is the least economically mobile society in the developed world. Moreover, the Tea Party-infused GOP has convinced its followers to vote against their own interests. The diehard followers of the rightwing oppose health care and social programs that ameliorate the effects of capitalism on the grounds that blacks and Latinos will benefit the most

David A. LoveRather than blindly place our faith in institutions that are paving the way for our downfall – yet we dare not touch them because we deem them sacrosanct – America must strive to build systems that nurture us and make us whole. We can create whatever we want. The propped-up, broken structures need to be fixed or replaced. Capitalism as practiced in the U.S. – under-regulated, unaccountable and based on winners and losers and short-term gain – is a system of privatized profits and socialized risk. And it is killing us. But should an economic system be moral? I certainly hope so.

David A. Love
BlackCommentator

About David A. Love

BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor, David A. Love, JD, is a lawyer and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is davidalove.com.

Comments

  1. Every industrial country needed to adjust to the great de-industrialization of the 70′s and 80′s. The United States is estimated to have lost 37 million jobs, according to Harrison and Bluemental in The De-industrialization of America. Europeans believe we took the lazy way out by building the worlds largest prison system, while they focused on retraining people. The capitalists are not into retraining people so the role of the state would have needed to have been very different had we done what was the right thing ,in the beginning of the industrial exodus.

  2. Fiona Mackenzie says:

    So obvious — and yet so broadly denied. To the unfettered eye, it is undeniable that a handful of people who somehow gained custody of more than their share of the nation’s wealth can and will use, are using the leverage it buys to take away the remaining wealth and even financial security from others. Yet the David Kochs of today’s economy keep insisting that others have all the opportunity they need (if only they were as excellent human beings as he is) while systematically shutting down remaining opportunity for others to survive, much less thrive. Those they choose to do their bidding seem quite able to “understand” that funneling all the wealth into those few hands is best for the country and all.

    American Christianity, especially evangelical sects, has gladly filled the role of churches throughout history. They have created the largest deliverable voting bloc in the nation, which they consistently deliver to the most oppressive candidates with the most inhumane platforms, and so share in the wealth drained from the populace. The persistent pressure to force Christianity into American government has been rewarded by a “born again” president permitting a “faith-based” office inside the White House–SO unconstitutional–and his successor continuing to host and, presumably, seek guidance from it.

    Christian hatred toward other religious groups and nonbelievers in American government and much of American society has been growing rapidly. Christianity’s alliance with the very rich and very judgmental must be reassuring to those who are leeching income and even basic needs from Americans for their own obscene profits, to know that victims are at best ambivalent and at most resigned to the growing inequity by the eloquence of their multi-millionaire church leaders, who sup with the heads of industry and government.

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