Friday, January 29, 2010

God & Mammon

A friend and I have been reading the book “Money, Greed & God...Why capitalism is the solution and not the problem.” The author Richards believes we are presented with two competing messages,
1) wealth is bad and causes much of the world’s suffering
2) wealth is good and God wants you to prosper and be rich
Can we find a middle path between guilt and prosperity? Is there another way?
You may find our following e-mail conversation interesting...

I just finished reading the intro....I find myself pushing back, not because capitalism is evil (all economic models fail, because we are sinners), but just because capitalism does seem to be built on greed, which Jesus talks a lot about.

Perhaps, capitalism rather than being motivated by greed; encourages creativity, risk, imagination and hard work to invent things we rely on...blackberry phone, cat litter, cars with good gas mileage.  Countries that are mired in poverty struggle because capitalism has been squelched (think Haiti). Many of these countries have convoluted private property laws, high income taxes, and complicated regulations to start a business. Many westerners are able to be generous because of the freedom their economic systems allow. (Americans give 1.67 of their GDP to donations, twice that of any other country.)

See Matthew Chapter 6:24:
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

I'm beginning to believe more and more that Jesus' teachings don't fit into any economic model and that is the point.  We are called to stand amidst all the political and economic realities as points of light that shine because we live differently.

In the book we read that Adam Smith said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Capitalism is grounded in looking after yourself. The Bible is clear that we cannot serve God and Money. Does capitalism present an unresolvable conflict for Christians when God wants “our everything?” Indeed we have to ask at what cost, but does God give us another way. In God’s plan we have ample opportunity to give generously, use our talents to help those in need, to be the Good Samaritan to someone else.

One of the troubles with capitalism is it is built on the premise that accumulation is good for you...and your soul.  Jesus seems to say the opposite. Of all the 'systems' capitalism may be the best at elevating the standard of living, but at what cost...if it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, perhaps making people 'better off' draws them away from a relationship with God...the Father who longs to supply our every need. 

Is it possible to confuse accumulation with hoarding. Consider the parable of the talents (Matthew 25). The master commends the servants to whom he doubles his original 5 talents. But the master reserves the harshest rebuke for the servant who dug a hole and hid his talent in the ground. Clearly this parable has greater implications than investment strategies, but the economic insight should not be overlooked. Hoarding is discouraged as it says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19 But accumulation and then voluntary effective distribution can can help many (Gate’s Foundation).

The conversation ended at that point..and finished with Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer,
Lord, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.


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The Friess Family said...
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