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Six ways that capitalism fails the church

The religion blog forum Patheos is hosting a Public Square conversation called “Has Capitalism Failed?” largely in response to Pope Francis’ scathing critique of capitalism in his Evangelii Gaudium. One blogger made the point that the answer to the question depends on what we call “capitalism.” There’s a difference between the free market system itself and what might be called the worship of the market. It’s possible to navigate the free market system without worshiping the market. The problem is that passive participants in the capitalist market do end up making it their god insofar as they allow the market to determine the value of the created objects in our world in place of God. So here are six examples of how market forces can corrupt the church’s agenda when we are not actively resisting their dominion. Continue Reading

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The three “family values” behind Black Friday

As I was reading several interviews with people standing in line for this year’s Black Friday, it hit me that we’re misdiagnosing Black Friday if we think that it’s merely a reflection of America’s greed. Greedy people don’t need to put the dishes in the sink after a Thanksgiving lunch and rush over to Best Buy. They can be greedy any day of the year and spend as much money as they need doing it. The problem with Black Friday is that it feels like something you’re supposed to do to show that you’re a responsible middle-class American because it’s rooted in three key “family values.” Continue Reading

David Brooks on America’s abandonment of #Biblical values

In David Brooks’ New York Times Thursday column, he shares the story of Walter Judd, who paid his way through college at the beginning of the 20th century by washing dishes. His father had refused to pay his tuition since he thought that the manual labor would be good for his character. Brooks shares that “people then were more likely to assume that jobs at the bottom of the status ladder were ennobling and that jobs at the top were morally perilous” since they presumed that “the working classes were self-controlled, while the rich and the professionals could get away with things.” He writes that today our values are the opposite: wealth is applauded as the evidence of hard work, while poverty is presumed to be the product of laziness or immorality. Brooks attributes this shift to an abandonment of Biblical values in our culture. Continue Reading

Is private philanthropy more efficient than the state at helping the poor?

CNN today features an article talking about the corruption in America’s charity industrial complex. One of the things that has happened most recently is that many charities are funneling most of their donation money to the for-profit fundraising firms they use to solicit people. CNN gives the example of the Kids Wish Network foundation which gives 3 cents out of every dollar to the kids that it raises money for, the rest going to consultants and for-profit fundraisers. One of the basic assertions of the Reagan era of the last three decades has been that private philanthropy is always better than the government at taking care of people in need. I’m pretty sure that even the least efficient government bureaucracy can do better than 3 cents on the dollar. It seems like the profit motive does a plenty good job of creating corruption and waste. Capitalism at its finest!

How did Jesus come to love guns and hate sex?

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If I were a non-Christian looking from the outside in, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to think that American Christians’ two highest priorities right now are keeping the government from taking away our guns and stopping gay people from getting married. And I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to assume that Jesus sure must love guns and hate sex. But should these really be our priorities as Christians? And if not, how did they rise to the place of prominence they have? Continue Reading

Amazon and the Soviet Consumerism of 21st Century Capitalism

When I was a child in the eighties, I remember having a conversation with my father about communism. He explained to me that kids in the Soviet Union had crappy toys because the people who made toys had no reason to try hard to make good toys since there was no competition. In our country, if you made crappy toys, somebody else would make better toys and everybody would buy theirs (in theory anyway). I think that we have entered a time thirty years later when our experience as consumers under a global capitalism that has increasingly detached itself from the manufacture of actual physical products has become quite similar to the experience that we presumed Soviet consumers to have in the Cold War. Continue Reading

James KA Smith summarizes the battle of the 21st century

I’ve just started reading James KA Smith’s new book Imagining the Kingdom. Smith’s basic argument is that our actions are not really based on conscious rational choices but rather on how ritual behaviors have caused us to imagine the world around us. Most Christian thinkers from the beginning have unconsciously bought into a Platonic “rationalist” conception of human nature in which our behavior is supposed to be regulated by our conscious rationality, and the fact that it isn’t reflects our fallenness rather than a condition innate to our humanity. Continue Reading

Lust, patriarchy, and capitalism: a response to Dianna Anderson

I had an interesting twitter conversation today with a Christian feminist blogger named Dianna Anderson about lust. Rachel Held Evans had tweeted a link from Anderson with the quote, “Lust is not about sexuality, but about power and control.” I wrote to Anderson to express some disagreement, because power and control are volitional words, and it isn’t honest to my first-hand experience as a man to describe lust as a willed act. Anderson wanted to make a distinction between sexual attraction and lust, whereas I see a very fuzzy line between the two. To me, avoiding lust is about avoiding stimuli. But here’s the problem. Conservative evangelical men use a similar argument to say they can’t help being lustful, so women should have some sympathy and burka up. And that’s a bunch of crap! Continue Reading

Looking Back on 2012: Oct-Dec

Since it’s the last day of 2012, I have to cover three months in this final post of looking back so I’m going to give myself 12 posts from the past three months instead of just 10. This fall, we experienced two alternatives for responding to an election season: preachers endorsing political candidates from the pulpit or Christians coming together across the political spectrum to celebrate communion. Jerry Sandusky got convicted for his crimes, so I asked what would need to happen for him to enter into God’s kingdom and feast at the heavenly banquet with the boys he molested. I watched with anguish and tried to be fair in what I wrote as Israel and Gaza went to war. And Rachel Held Evans became this year’s Rob Bell after her Year of Biblical Womanhood drew a furious reaction from the evangelical establishment. So here are 12 from October to December. Continue Reading

Is God a capitalist? (John Locke and the Romans Road)

One of the theories Doug Campbell advances in The Deliverance of God is that the “Romans Road” account of salvation which has dominated American evangelical Christianity for the past half-century cannot really be blamed on Martin Luther or John Calvin. The Romans Road is paved through the reconfiguration of the Reformers’ theology to fulfill the “decision for Christ” salvation formula of Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and all the sidewalk pamphleteers of the Four Spiritual Laws, who are more indebted to the 18th century political and economic philosophy of John Locke (and others like him) than the Reformation itself. In other words, the debate is not where we think it is: John Calvin vs. Jacob Arminius over the question of free will. They have both been repurposed according to a set of 18th century British presumptions about capitalism, rationalism, individualism, and liberal democracy. Continue Reading