It is easy to blame the ills of the world on the capitalist system. As Christians, we often see it being in opposition to the teachings of the Bible. Jesus pointed to the poor and downtrodden as the right objects of our love and attention. The Bible contains a mandate to serve the poor and protect them from the abuses of the rich. As God has bestowed his grace and mercy upon us, so should we do to the poor. But is capitalism, as a system, to blame for the poverty, or for the abuse, or for the greed that we see in the world?
One quick way to see if these negative aspects are based on the system itself, is to look at other systems to understand if the issues capitalism face are unique to it. This post isn’t long enough to get into a detailed analysis of other economic systems. From a personal perspective however, having lived in the most laissez faire economy in the world (Hong Kong), a free market, capitalist economy (United States), a socialist market economy (Canada), and a central command economy (Mainland China), I can attest that inequity of wealth and power, greed, consumerism, and depletion of natural resources are by no means the exclusive domain of capitalist economies. While there may be aspects of the capitalist system that help facilitate these things to happen, the issue is really our hearts.
Capitalism can allow us to reflect God’s character, but it can only be fully realized when it is undertaken by God’s people properly reflecting his image in all of their relationships and actions. There is an underlying morality necessary for the system to function properly. We have seen in earlier posts that God created us to be producers, managers, and workers. Entrepreneurship, business, capitalism, investment and employment are all productive manifestations of these. Because of the freedom inherent in the system, capitalism, contrary to popular belief, actually allows us the opportunity to show our love and build our relationships with one another. It provides an opportunity for us to treat one another with respect and dignity. I am not saying this happens all the time, or even enough, but the system makes it possible.
The system seems flawed to many however because there is still poverty and inequality and we see rampant greed and consumerism. But when we work through the arguments, we come to realize that the root problem is not a flaw in the system, but because of the brokenness of our hearts. The Bible tells us that God made us to be in relationship with him. Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden and had a direct relationship with him, but when they disobeyed God by eating the fruit on the tree, they rejected his authority. They were tempted by the prospect of having their eyes open and being like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5) This is what is known as the Fall. They became eternally separated from God and we, as their descendants, continue in our sin and in that separation. And it is this condition which leads us to see the evils we see in the world.
One oft misquoted line from the Bible is 1 Timothy 6:10. It is often quoted as “money is the root of all evil,” but what the Bible really says is “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” It is the love of material things, and power, and prestige that drive us to act in a way that is hurtful to our fellow man and not necessarily those things in and of themselves.
Do you think the love of something and the object itself can be separated?