The more I think about it, the more I realize how opposite these two terms really are. Between my Bible study and church, we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about tithing and giving: “we should store extra so that we can give to those in need”, “we should be humble in our spendings so that we can donate to the less fortunate”, “we should give away more than we think we can, because we can always do with less”. But, any business person knows that this is bad business practice. Like, if my profit margins are too small at the end of the quarter, then I’m not growing my business. If I give away a free lunch here, and a free lunch there, throw away a half used Expo marker, pour a little more wine in the craft than dictated, then all of that adds up to a very large sum that cuts into my business. Or, if I give my employees a little higher bonus at the end of the quarter, because I think we will be stashing too much into savings, then I’m not gaining interest on that money, and then that drops the competitive rankings for my company. As our society becomes more capitalist, I believe the more difficult it becomes to enact a Christ-like life.
(As a disclosure, I realize that I am using the term ‘Capitalism’ in a very broad and rudimentary sense here).
Besides just money and profit margins and investments, Capitalism tells us to live selfishly, survival of the fittest, every man for his own; I don’t want to share that business idea with a competitor, because he may steal it, and then I don’t make as much money; I only want to help promote that company IF they will promote mine; everyone spend all of their free time liking all of my business pages so that I can have more numbers and be rated some kind of ‘best’. When businesses fail, it is because THEY did something wrong–bad marketing, not cool enough interior, the manager wasn’t friendly. But, the Bible teaches us to be selfless–to not talk about yourself, to support others in their endeavors, to not be competitive; we should share our ideas with our competitors so that they, too, can experience success, be able to feed their families, and give to the wounded, the poor, the helpless. We should never pin our existence on the number of ‘Likes’ we get on social media, because numbers are arbitrary and worldly objects, and we should rest in the fact that God loves us. When we see our friend’s business fail, we should not rejoice that we can now steal all of their clients, but rather, offer them a stake in our own.
And, in Capitalism, competition thrives, because by pinning ourselves against each other, we produce better products. Competition and “being the best” is something that also runs against the grain of being a Christian, but is certainly supported in order to propel Capitalism. Especially in suburbia, we live in a society that is dominated by first place trophies. As a coach, I’m often very conflicted between these capitalist desires, and being a Christian. Because, society tells me that my work is only valuable if I “win”, but the Bible tells me that perhaps I don’t win, so that someone else who needs it more can; society tells me that being #1 offers me fame and fortune, and college scholarships, but the church says that is a dangerous and diseased road to walk down; society tells me that I should criticize the coach, and the school, and the officials, and the other players when our team doesn’t win, but Jesus tells me to see all of those as broken, to love nevertheless, and to remain silent.
(….this is why I think Jesus would have been a Liberal…)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it very difficult to live truly as a Christian in the most recent months. I feel like I’m constantly bombarded with these ‘every man for himself’, ‘save Big Business’, ‘if you weren’t born rich, then that sucks for you’, ‘make all federally funded organizations for-profit’ messages across my social media, my news stations, my conversations with others. Of course, we certainly cannot live in a society that is fully dominated by one or the other–that is not functional; we can’t have a society that is always giving out, because then we don’t have businesses that run, and we cannot have a society that is strictly run by money-making schemes and competition, because then we don’t build relationships, we are unhappy, and we don’t progress. But, as the pastor said in church the other day, perhaps these two things do not need to be held exclusively against each other–Capitalism and Christ don’t have to be opposites. Perhaps I don’t have to either care about the welfare of other people OR the welfare of myself–perhaps I can care about both simultaneously, and perhaps bring a little bit of Capitalism in Christ, and a little bit of Christ in Capitalism.