Wednesday, November 22

Jesus under Capitalism

“For the love of money is the root of all evil” – Paul (1 Timothy 6:10)

A sobering warning, and one that is more relevant today than the day it was uttered. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus had quite a bit to say on the economic situation of the society surrounding him. Jesus implored the ‘middle class’ of Jews to see money as a means to an end, a way to earn your own subsistence and to provide food and shelter to their family. All excess of wealth or resources were encouraged to be given to the poor, and to help those who had few. Indeed, how an individual treated the least of their brethren was the only measure of judgment in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46). The wealthy in society, the ones who horded their gold and an over abundance of luxurious and lavish goods, were condemned by Jesus. Very famously, Jesus had proclaimed that it would be easy for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). Whenever he was approached by men of wealth, he told them to sell all of their possessions and follow him (Luke 18:22-23). The issue of wealth was very clear cut for Jesus, and anyone who had an attachment or trusted in their riches would have to sever that tie before he could follow Jesus.

The temptation of wealth has been prominent in all the ages of mankind, but the creation of free market capitalism has brought about increased money lust in every economic rung of society. At the very least, money has become the means of a new end, that of consumer materialism or prestige. At worst, money has become an end to itself, where people strive merely to expand their now online coffers. The goal of having more money for yourself is one that I dare say most all people have (I am not excluded), and even though real incomes in Australia has tripled since the 1950s, 62% of us believe that we are not able to afford everything that we really need (the logic of that escapes me, since Australia is not a third world country). This radical economic structure that has been instilled in the western subconscious is not a choice, but forces its values on all. Due to the increasing disparity of wealth in all the world today (from America to Uganda), those who are not born into extremely fortunate conditions will have to work strenuously hard in order to cope with mortgage repayments and consumerism and exponentially rising living costs.

Nietzsche is right; God is dead, and we have killed him. The God of Abraham and Isaac has been replaced with a new God, known as the market god: “Although it is a human creation, it acts on us daily- rising or falling, plunging or recovering. It has emotions- jittery, nervous, capricious, buoyant, or confident. It requires sacrifices and promises rewards but, demanding propitiation, is nevertheless beyond complete human control or prediction. This jealous God demands single-minded loyalty and resents rival deities… The Market God becomes the measure of everything.” (Taken from Marion Maddox)

All is not lost, however, for some very bright people have attempted to transplant Jesus to work under this market god, so that the name of Christianity can be preserved. Jesus in today’s 'market Christianity' can serve as a furtherance of our capitalistic goals, or a safety net from the insecurity of the market God. Truly, with the prosperity gospel, which in its number of different degrees of severity is extremely popular, sees people praising the Lord with the belief that doing these ‘Christian’ things will help them become prosperous. The servant of God will become prosperous and achieve more wealth, because those who love God are blessed by God. The reasoning is simple and deceitfully reasonable, but could not be further from the truth. Jesus promised his followers discomfort, no place to rest their head, and especially not wealth. The prosperity that was spoken of by God was not an economic one, that expanded our material goods and external pleasures. Rather, it was an inward prosperity, that gives a happiness and joy that only life eternal could provide to a soul.

Alternatively, Jesus can be used as a counterweight to the extremes of the market. Because the market god can be seen as too insecure and dynamic; and it tears away safety nets so the market god can curse you by sabotaging family and community life. Also taken from Maddox, the market god “has to make Olympian room for another deity, one who brings ‘Us’ a renewed sense of the security the Market God took away. The repressive God of racism, authoritarian ‘family values’ and exclusion tries to make ‘Us’ feel more secure by turning our anxieties upon ‘them.’” The combination of the market god with Jesus in our existence, characterised by an incredibly materialistic lifestyle together with a firm belief in the doctrines of the church, is the philosophy underpinning a lot of the conservative churches that exist today. There is a reason that the religious right is in bed with the republicans, and it is not because of abortion and homosexuality. The freedom of the market releases the market god from the restraints of government regulation (and even more frightening international regulation), and makes a perfect mate with the market Jesus that calms the anxieties of the market god’s playthings.

Severing ourselves from this wealth fixated society is not possible, and even if it were it’d be foolish. The message that Jesus has for Christians is just this, “lay not up for yourselves treasures on this earth.. for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) A necessary requirement to following Christ is to rid ourselves from affluenza, and to appropriately identify when our actions and attitudes are serving the market god, and not Jesus.


Blogger Jay said...

It is so easy to adapt Jesus around the values that have been taught to us by our society. I definitely agree that attachment to riches is prohibited by Christ. I also feel as though Jesus not only called us to detachment from material wealth, but trust in God's provision and using our wealth to provide for the poor. Would you agree? And, what do you think about investing in the stock market and Christian principles? In what ways should Christian disassociate themselves from the market God, and in which ways can we remain involved in the market?

5:09 AM  
Blogger the_burning_bush said...

Hi Timothy,

I had to read your article twice because you are deserving of a fair read -and I suspect we have differing political views. You write like you're saying, "Society should overthrow the free market idol" and then at the end you dismiss that option as impossible and foolish because the important thing is personal obedience in the end. In some ways you write like me, struggling with your words to find clarity. You seem to be victorious.

You seem to be coming from the left wing on a few issues. It's important to realize what it can tell you about your priorities, in this case that you don't want to worship money. At the same time no political view can fully explain to you who you are -just as you admit that removing this capatistic society is foolish and impossible.

My struggle (as a middle class person) is to avoid resenting people for being rich. It is good for me to remember that righteous Lazarus did not resent the rich man for being rich while he was alive. So many people I think have gone raving mad with class-envy. And they vote to steal money from those who earn it.

On the other hand I do struggle with falling into the idolatry of money as well. Your post was edifying in that regard especially in the seriousness of Christ's warning.

The repressive God of racism sounds real bad. The God of 'family values' may not be the God of Abraham (although he did love Isaac), but -as Jay relates- the God of 'social values' is (spiritually speaking) detestable.

Thanks for the read. Keep them coming!

A favorite line: "The prosperity that was spoken of by God was not an economic one, that expanded our material goods and external pleasures. Rather, it was an inward prosperity, that gives a happiness and joy that only life eternal could provide to a soul."

May your holiday season burn with love for your neighbor and for God!

6:53 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

Just to clarify, when I say that it is easy to adapt Jesus to the values that our society teaches us, I mean that it is easy to make Jesus into a figure and a supporter of capitalism and its values of self-interest and accumulation. These are the social values that I am referring to. Contrary to capitalism, I think Jesus teaches us that blessed are the poor (I would say that Christ has a preferential option for the poor), that wealth is an obstacle to faith, and that following Christ means selfless solidarity with the underprivileged. I believe that God cares about social values, but that God's social values stand in conflict with American social values such as nationalism, capitalism, the use of violence, and "family values" as espoused by the religious right. That's all.

I just wanted to clarify my thought.

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