Capitalism or Socialism? Or Would Jesus be in Line on Black Friday or Would He be Protesting a Wal-Mart Somewhere?

Posted: November 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

It’s Black Friday.  A day when people line up outside of stores and even throw elbows to snag this year’s version of Tickle Me Elmo or X-Box 360.  Progressive Christians love to post blogs about what Black Friday says about our rampant consumerism while conservatives post links to online deals. 

What side would Jesus take? Are neo-Marxist, liberationists like Shane Claiborne right that Jesus would be living in a commune today while saying things like, “budgets are moral documents”? Or would he be patting hyper housewives on the back with a smile while they readied themselves like sprinters on a starting block ready to fight for a handful of Squinkies?

The truth is probably neither.  Jesus’ admonition to his followers to be generous and avoid materialism does not logically translate into government policy.  Furthermore, Jesus did not attack capitalism.  His advice to the Rich Young Ruler was not given to everyone (Peter and John still had a home, boats, etc.) and his attacks on the rich need to be kept in historical context–to be a rich Israelite at the time meant you had to play ball with a corrupt Roman Empire.

Progressives counter that America follows the same imperial ideology as Rome but this is a poor argument.  Empires colonize with no intent of leaving a country but America is the only nation in history to repeatedly fight for the freedom of citizens of other nations and then leave while swallowing the bill for the liberation of the foreigners. 

But is capitalism good for people? Doesn’t it just lead to shallow consumerism? What’s wrong with socialism where everyone is guaranteed employment and the government determines the amount of goods that are supplied?

There is a school of philosophy known as reliabalism and, to grossly over simplify matters, there is a strand in that school that teaches experience matters.  A way to judge right and wrong is to look at what has worked and what hasn’t regardless of whether it makes sense to those making decisions or not.

If we look at capitalist nations, and there isn’t a true example of pure laissez-faire economics anywhere in the western world, there is greed that drives supply and demand.  Capitalism inevitably produces materialism which produces a type of bourgeois shallowness. 

Yet, if we look at socialist nations we often see totalitarianism which normally produces some type of atrocity e.g., Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Castro’s Cuba, etc. 

Which path should a follower of Christ take?

Consumerism is a real concern in that it produces an attitude of superficiality but totalitarianism may, and often, becomes monstrous.  Moreover, in the wake of the fall of Soviet sponsored communism, we know that socialism doesn’t kill greed, it only drives it underground.  The black market thrived in eastern Europe as it does today in Columbia and parts of China.

Capitalism may create a culture of greed but at least there is still a choice for a person within the culture to reject it where socialism offers only life within the system or persecution of even death if one dares to question it.

I don’t think Jesus would be line on Black Friday and I think he is, in fact, saddened by it but I think his warning about the dangers of totalitarian governments (1 Samuel 8…is there really a difference between a king and a dictator?) still holds for today.

Consumerism may be the biggest obstacle the church faces in the west as is evidenced by fellow Christians all but turning Target and Macy’s into a UFC cage match today but whoever said sanctification was easy?

John Wesley may have been as right then as he is now, “Make as much you can, save as much as you can and give away as much as you can.”

  1. The Phil says:

    I love that you called Claiborne a ” neo-Marxist liberationist”

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