30 March 2010

Christian Economic Life - Post 2: Capitalism

Capitalism. What, exactly, is it? Is it a process of running an economy? Or is it a philosophy, or a set of beliefs? And what, if anything, is the "opposite" of capitalism?

My take on popular American culture is that capitalism is regarded as both a way to run an economy and as a philosophy. I also think that, in popular American culture, the opposite of capitalism is communism. Socialism is the soft-form of communism, but it is still viewed as a form of stealing: stealing from those who have worked hard in order to give to those who do not work hard.

I also think that the specter of The Cold War is embedded deeply in American culture. And, since major social experiences typically live on for generations, our culture will carry the shadow of the Cold War for many decades into the future. The shadow of The Cold War provides us with the belief that "Communism and socialism are the enemies of Christianity and the enemies of capitalism, therefore capitalism is a Christian virtue."

This causes many Christians to view capitalism in a very uncritical way. After all, God clearly does not want us to have a communist or socialist society, therefore God must want us to have a capitalist society.

It might surprise some people to hear that I'm actually in favor of capitalism. I'm also in favor of socialist values and I don't think that the two are mutually exclusive.

But I don't believe in free-market, laissez-faire capitalism. I don't believe in the capitalist mantra that allowing capital and labor to flow into and out of sectors according to the laws of supply and demand will result in the greatest social good. I also don't believe in "trickle-down". As I say these things, I also acknowledge that the question of "How should an economy be regulated?" is a difficult one with no easy answers.

And, if I believe in socialism, I'd much rather that the socialism was embedded in our value system of how we want our society to behave. What I mean by that is that my dream is a society where there is a broad consensus that governments, communities and individuals will work to "love their neighbor".

In sum, I believe that capitalism can be used as an operating system to further an objective (philosophy) of "the greater good" or "loving one's neighbor". Using a capitalist operating system doesn't necessarily mean having to follow a survival-of-the-fittest philosophy. And pursuing a philosophy of "pursuit of the greater good" in our society doesn't necessarily have to mean top-down direction and, as far as I am concerned, it certainly doesn't imply iron-fisted totalitarianism.

I'm imagining at least one person saying that pursuing an approach of "loving one's neighbor" is not something that can be legislated, that it requires a conversion experience. I agree. But I am talking here about a Christian approach to the economy. But I also think that, to a large extent, European Socialism does embody more of a social consensus to love one's neighbor and to look out for the poor. I do believe that, however much empathy an American individual might have for those who are down on their luck, that as a society we believe in and embrace the pursuit of profits as the greatest social and spiritual good that we can collectively pursue.

Your thoughts?

28 March 2010

Christian Economic Life - Post 1: Foundation

I'm going to try a thought-experiment here. I want to think about what an economy run on Christian principles might look like. And this is quite literally a "thought experiment". At the moment, I have no idea of what I intend to write in the future, but I want simply to think out loud, building on ideas step by step.

So here are some initial thoughts for a foundation:

1) Christian thinking on economics should begin with Christian and biblical principles, not with economic principles.

2) That being said, it seems to me that a good principle for a Christian thought experiment on our economic life would be: honor God and love your neighbor. (There are actually a number of principles that the bible expresses on economic life that a lot of us might not like; forbidding the giving or receiving of debt is one of these.)

3) As I think and write, I will try to separate "What works" from "What should be". I will recognize that "What should be" doesn't always work well. In separating the two principles, I intend to avoid what seems to me to be a usual problem in Christian economic thinking: "That operational method doesn't work, therefore it is unjust".

4) The unconscious, unarticulated principle of American economic life is free-market capitalism. I do not accept free-market capitalism as being uncritically "good" or "just" in Christian terms. I intend to reject a lot of the values that under-pin free-market capitalism, particularly the view that the possession of money (capital) endows an individual with more status in the eyes of God.

Your thoughts welcome.

27 March 2010

Short Question

Do Americans understand that the current financial crisis was directly caused by a lack of governmental regulation and by the belief that the establishment of free markets will always make our economy come out right in the end?

I think not.

12 March 2010

Church Growth?

A short post, open to your projections and comments. :-)

Once upon a time, the general culture was amenable to church-going for a lot of reasons that didn't have anything to do with God or to a commitment to being a disciple.

Now, the general culture is less amenable to church-going.

Instead of focusing on trying to get people into the door, churches should focus even more on faithful worship, faithful teaching and committed discipleship. If this results in declining church membership, so be it.

Whatever the format is of the above commitments, I don't care. I expect that different formats will appeal to different disciples and I think that's fine. Just let's stop trying to make ourselves attractive to people who are not primarily interested in worshiping or learning about God. All we're doing is watering down the Gospel.


11 March 2010

The Emperor has no clothes

Over on my friend David's blog, Big Circumstance, I managed to blurt out an idea that's been in my head for awhile but which never came out in quite the same way before.

The idea is this: lots of people who want to follow Jesus hate Sunday morning services. They find them energy-sapping and exhausting, like a terrible meeting at work that you really don't want to attend but have to. Only the thing about church is that you don't have to attend if you don't feel like it.

I think that this is actually the real challenge to the Church today and no amount of contemporary worship, no amount of praise songs and no amount of "modern worship" is going to "fix" the problem. Trying to make existing Sunday services attractive to people who would rather go to the dentist is just a no-win game and I think that's what we're trying to do. US congregations, not having yet declined in the way that the Church has done in the UK, seem even more stuck in the mode of thinking that if Sunday services just get more "modern" that more people will come.

Now, my only problem is that I don't really know what to "do" about this. I do think that small groups may be part of an "answer" and I suspect that this is part of where the Emerging Church movement is at. But I think that small groups are going to have to be places where individuals can share of themselves and be real and contribute to the growth of others in the group so that everyone can go out from the meeting into the world. They can't be just another meeting. And they can't be primarily led by one person week after week or they just turn into mini-Sunday services.

Any other thoughts?