Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Christians Confessing Belief in Capitalism

In just the last couple of months, two public Christians, ostensibly critiquing American economic practices in secular forums, each offered qualified affirmation of capitalism. Jim Wallis is one of these Christians -- himself an ordained progressive evangelical -- and told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show that the problem isn't capitalism per se, but the values guiding capitalist practices (actually quoting Adam Smith). James Martin is the other, a Jesuit priest and culture editor of America, who in response to Stephen Colbert's (apparently ironic) question, "But isn't capitalism good?" replied, "I believe in capitalism."

I propose, in reflection, that we agree on a few guiding principles from here on out:

1) When critiquing capitalist economic practices and policies, do not affirm capitalist economic practices and policies.
2) When seeking to speak prophetically as a Christian, speak unreservedly in the person and voice of a Christian.
3) When responding to unjust or worldly or non-Christian ideologies, attempt to keep the minute commitment not to use the central ancient verbal confession of God -- credo, "I believe" -- with said ideology as its object.

Clearly I have combined the two men's interviews as the object of my critique, for neither fits all three principles; and the overall point need not detract from the legitimate concern of both for the poor. The language and approach of each, however, reflect larger, enormously problematic, and paradigmatic examples of Christian strategies of public speech and relevance that are bound to failure or unfaithfulness, or both.

Beyond "believing in" capitalism, however -- which, I take it, concedes the argument before it starts -- people do this all the time. One "believes in" America, "believes in" democracy, "believes in" social justice, "believes in" this or that political party. Whatever the object, how is it that this use of language on the part of Christians is in any way tolerated or encouraged? At the very least, isn't it possible to offer affirmations and endorsements of ideas and perspectives without using the particular historical language for the faith?

Henceforth, then, a ban on such talk. "We" -- the church -- "believe" -- receive and confess as the sole object of proper human trust and hope -- in the triune God. Let that be enough.


  1. Good food for thought. Thanks. Language not only communicates our ideas, it can foul the process up as well.

  2. This one reference gives a comprehensive of what capitalism, or the adolescent anti-"culture" of competitive individualism has inevitably come to.

    Plus this very sobering essay too.

    I also heard Martin interviewed here in Australia on a religious affairs program--I was very suitably UNIMPRESSED. Jesuits are supposed to be very sharp in their thinking---he was so sloppy as to be literally painful. So sloppy that he would not pass first base in a rigorously demanding Philosophy 101 class at any half-way decent university.