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The Prodigal Son and Capitalism

I have been seeing a lot of “yay capitalism, and boo socialism,” from Christians lately and I find it really puzzling. Am I missing something? Why do Christians feel the need to shill for capitalism? Does the Bible explicitly instruct us to create free markets? Did Adam Smith write a book in the New Testament? Do we feel like capitalism is somehow oppressed by socialism? Its not like capitalism has a shortage of people, corporations and lawmakers doing its bidding. Our culture is a 24/7 deluge of focus grouped, data mined, market researched, corporate driven manipulation molding us into the image of the god of consumption. Our gold-ensconced president is the love child of regulation-light markets and conscience-free capitalism. It seems like things are going pretty well for capitalism so why the need to guard it like the Holy Grail.

Often, not always, but often, when I hear the praises of capitalism juxtaposed with the evils of socialism, I hear something to the effect of “everything I have— I earned and I don’t want lazy welfare dependent people who don’t work as hard as me getting a free ride or taking what’s rightfully mine.”

I know, there are a million proverbs that one could use to support such a perspective. Let me give you one just to save you time writing your comments,

“33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior.” Prov. 24I am all for personal responsibility, however, Proverbs is just one perspective on Wisdom in Scripture and laziness is named as just one cause of poverty along with famine, unfair business practices, slavery, sickness, government corruption, excessive taxation, natural disasters, physical and mental disabilities, war, and being orphaned or widowed to name a few.

Therefore, to equate all causes of personal poverty to laziness is to pathologize poverty for all who experience it. When we do this we normalize the idea that the rich are righteous and the poor are wicked, a concept that is never argued in Scripture; in fact, Scripture often argues the exact opposite —that it is much harder for the rich to connect with God than the poor.
Where does this deification of capitalism in the church come from, then?

There is a story in the Bible, maybe you have read it, it is about a wealthy father, his two sons and the just conveyance of wealth. The younger son asked the father for his inheritance early so he could sow his oats and see the world. The older brother, wisely stayed at home to work for their father to ensure the viability of his inheritance. The younger brother quickly spent all his money on wine, women, gambling and adventure and found himself working as a farm hand eating pig slop. He thought to himself, “my father’s workers live better than this, if hard labor is to be my lot, I would rather serve my father.” So he returned home to beg the forgiveness of his father for his foolishness. As he approached his father’s house, his father recognized him, ran to him and welcomed him with great joy and relief that his son was alive. He was so overjoyed he threw a party to celebrate his son’s return. When the older brother returned from a hard day in the field making money for the father only to see him throwing that money away on a party for his brother, he lost his mind and raged against the injustice of his father’s mercy to his good-for-nothing brother. The father replied, ” ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’

This story was originally directed to Jewish listeners to remind them that their greed and self-centeredness had caused them to violate their promise to God to share God’s blessings with the other nations of the world In the same way, like the older brother, we scheme to keep our wealth by sanctifying capitalism. We don’t want anyone, especially the government controlling how we share our wealth and privilege because that takes away our ability to be judgmental and play God with our resources. If we even decide to share at all, we want to choose who is worthy to receive our hard earned money and privilege. We don’t trust God to work through government or anything that we can’t control how much and to whom we give.

Just to be clear I am not advocating socialism, theism, or communism or rejecting capitalism. I am merely proposing that we recognize that everything we have belongs to God and is a gift, albeit through complex processes of providence and free will that are too much to get into here, for the good of others and we stop using capitalism as a vehicle to justify our greed, racism, nationalism, classism, issues of entitlement, and overall selfishness

As always, this is me keeping it 100 and who cares what I think.

Mike Ballman

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