Christianity and Capitalism: Windows to Hell (Part 3): Why Christian Enthusiasm for the Free Market Doesn’t Make Sense

Photo by Ikiwaner

An icon takes something material and makes it transcendent by pointing away from itself. I think the economy should work like an icon. That means the meaning of market activities cannot be found in a market. This is something we forget a lot of times. Part of what it means to be in a market society is that we work ourselves to death and never bother to ask, “Why?” Maybe I am nuts or maybe I am naive, but I don’t think this is what life is supposed to be like.

When I imagine the kind of life I want to have – the kind of life I think most people want to have – it’s equal parts work and leisure. Work is not cursed. Adam and Eve were to work in the garden of Eden. They were to be its caretakers. Expelled from Paradise, Adam had to work in a barren land. The curse of our ancestors is the curse of work that is barren.

In addition to my 9-5, most mornings I am up at 3:30 to read and write (independent scholar stuff). Nobody who knows me would call me lazy, so I have no problem with work. But work without purpose is work that is under a curse. It is work that is not, in the language of Paul, “being saved.” Our labor is to be redeemed as we are. (That is why Christian theology prefers the language of “vocation.”) I am not saying the market should not be a “nanny.” But I think the mark of a good economy is that it enables us to live outside its rhythms. A market should know its limits.

Photo by Michael LoCascio

We live by the rhythms of the market most days. It is our liturgy (a word that means “work of the people). It gives us new holy-days (like Nurses’ and Sweetest Day) and redefines the holidays we already have (some Christians talk about a war on Christmas, but it is a war we lost a long time ago).

In my criticism of capitalism, some would slander me as a “socialist.” Usually these people have no idea what socialism is. I do not believe in the power of unbridled capitalism, and I think anyone who thinks our plutocracy is free has not been paying attention.

The job of a market is simply this (as Amartya Sen would say): to give us capacities to live lives we value and have reason to value. The wealth of a society is not in the money it prints or the things it produces but the opportunities it provides its citizens.

I am a Christian, but I am not an economic theocrat. I do not want to legislate something like a “Christian economy,” whatever that means. Rather, by limiting the power of the market, I want to re-empower those left behind by it in order that anyone who so chooses may have the opportunity and capacities to live a life that begins to correspond to the future for which we hope.

Stay tuned later this week for a new guest post by poet and author, Karissa Sorrel, on women in Orthodoxy.

3 Comments

  1. jeff May 8, 2012 12:18 pm  Reply

    David, I did not find part 2 of the series. So, I may be missing something. That said I think you are onto something I would be interested in reading more about. My push back with most things I read along this line is, tell me what the alternative looks like in real life? How does it happen? How is it sustained? Who will be “the least of these” and how will they be cared for any differently?
    To the point, while I too hate the red claws of capitalism and the many opportunities for abuse. I don’t see anything on the horizon that will work any better.

    • davidjdunn May 8, 2012 12:30 pm  Reply

      Jeff, I will try to respond with more later. In the meantime, I fixed the problem that buried post #3 between #’s 2 and 1. Hopefully you should be able to find it now. If I have a chance, I will try to hyperlink to it as well. Thanks for your comment.

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