Do you have an issue with Christianity and Capitalism?
You won’t be after reading this post.
This book, The Victory of Reason, was recommended to me, so bear with me, I’ll tie in the book after my story.
We all have multiple talents, and it’s up to us to find out what they are and use them for God’s purpose and glory. Initially I felt my writing was worthless, although I did get a glimpse of it during my English 102 class with a professor who was Jewish. But I soon buried this bad feeling, as in buried in death, when I took the test in the book, Strength Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. I found out, or really uncovered, my love of ideas and being able to connect the dots and provide insights. But I began to write so I could convey what I was seeing, i.e. I became a writer to express my insights. I work at being a writer, but my insights will encourage me become a better writer.
Writer, thou art loosed
But once I began writing, it took me a long while to be comfortable calling myself a writer, let alone discussing anything remotely about capitalism. But soon after I began writing I found that being a writer is only one part of the writing life, you have to understand the writing and publishing business too, i.e. become a business person.
As I have written many times, colleges will teach you the craft of your business (engineering, writing, law, medicine, computers), but not so much the business of your craft (marketing, sales, taxes, etc.). I became a writer to convey my insights to others, that was the one side of the coin. The other side was learning about business and learning to earn a living from the inauguration of my new craft.
Entrepreneur, thou art loosed
Having written my first book, How to Start a Business: Mac Version, to counter all of the naysayers who say, “If you want to do graphics, get a Mac, if you want to do business, get a PC.” I show how you can use a Mac from a business perspective, not the “point and click point” of view. In fact, I used Apple’s Pages app to both write and design my books, a free app. But as I progressed into becoming a writer, I also progressed into becoming an entrepreneur. I was beginning to see the bigger picture of my new craft from the perspective of capitalism.
It was not just writing a book, but learning book design, marketing, sales, and face-to-face encounters with my readers. One such encounter was with former Navy SEAL Jimmy Graham, also a Mac fan. We became friends and had a number of meetings over coffee in the winter of 2013-2014 discussing our businesses, but also our faith.
Over time, this nagging thought came coming up: How come we don’t ask our pastors about business? Which progressed to: How often have we heard a sermon about faith and work, let alone faith and business? Over the many decades, I’ve heard none, but only recently has it come more into the forefront, but the issue still remains: Christianity and capitalism are not mixing well.
When I ask these questions of faith and business of my friends, they all say the same thing: Pastors are clueless about business and economics. A friend that runs a multimillion dollar enterprise recently told me he’s mentoring three pastors, he echoes the same thing, they don’t get it. But my discussions with Graham prompted me to research and write my second book, HWJDB How Would Jesus Do Business? first as a startup entrepreneur primer for me, but later to share with others how to run a business from the Bible.
As I prayed about writing this content, I found that had God prepared me for my second book with me writing my first book (“All things work together for good”). But as usual, I connected the dots and found that there are other believers with similar faith and business issues around the world. Even in regards to learning from world history versus Biblical history, too.
Capitalism, thou are loosed
A great habit I have picked up is I read at least a book a month (See my Goodreads list) and study my Bible every day. When I read a book and find an interesting fact or idea, I search through my Bible to find something similar, to see what God says about the subject (separating worldly wisdom versus Wordly wisdom). Which brings me to the book, The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark.
Stark’s premise is this: Compared with all of the other societies, national resources, cultures, and religions, etc., Christianity is the only best source of capitalism because of reason and progress. He outlines that this philosophical foundation, reason and progress, propels both individuals and as communities forward. The difference is in seeing progress, moving upward and onward, versus other societies only seeing procession, a “relentless succession of people or things” moving along the same path with hardly any change or improvement.
Theology, is the “formal reasoning about God,” with the emphasis on “discovering God’s nature, intentions, and demands, and on understanding how these define the relationship between human beings and God” (Stark, pg 5). But besides this rational thinking, what about progress?
Going back to my Bible, I’m reminded of a few verses that shows Stark’s concept of progress. First, God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness (Gen 1:26),” so we’re co-creators with God on this earth. Progress. For what purpose? God tells us, “God blessed them [Adam and Eve]; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). Progress again.
Then I found this:
Deut 8:18: “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Even more progress, then this:
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Progress!! Abundant progress!
The moral (and capitalism) foundation of the 10 Commandments (Exod 20:1-17: “You shall not steal” or “You shall not bear false witness” or the basis of all moral failings, “You shall not covet…anything of your neighbor.”). These do not inhibit progress, but ensure that property rights, the blessings and property and production which have progressed, are protected.
But Stark’s book provides more than a philosophical foundation, he gives ample historical evidence of progress, including that the “Dark Ages” were mythical. The Pre-Reformation period showed progress, too, however, corruption and the lack of progress in the Catholic Church helped fuel the Reformation. In truth, the Middle Ages (both pre- and post-Reformation) saw:
- Technical progress: Why should farmers invest in inventions if the productive increase and increase in profits is taxed by those in power and the elites?
- Innovations in production: Dams used for flood control of water were also used to exploit water’s weight and pressure to generate power for sawing lumber, turning lathes, grinding knives, fulling/pounding cloth, and pulp rags to make paper.
- Innovations in sea power and war: Stirrups for horse riding, quality boat construction, and improved metallurgy to create cannons.
- Overland transportation: New wagon design of braking and front axle swiveling and the addition of large teams of horses to pull higher weights developed the means for long distance overland transport of heavy and bulky goods.
- Three tiered farming: Food production increased and improved people’s lives helping them become healthier and more energetic and the grazing of animals, especially sheep, provided “millions of fleeces each year” for sale (page 43).
- Both literacy and numeracy vastly improved and advanced: Business practices included: advanced management, bookkeeping, accounting, and good business (Abacus) schools and practices (no accounting errors in any of their double bookkeeping entries!) during the 1200s-1300s in Florence and Pisa, Italy. While wealth was good, it resulted in many discussions among these new wealth creation capitalists around personal and capitalistic morality, such as reinvesting of income versus frivolous spending.
- Capitalism spread from Italy to England. As wealth creation in Italy expanded beyond the economic stagnation of Feudalism (9th – 15th centuries) and Mercantilism (16th – 18th centuries) and it’s borders, so did the results of creating more governmental control (and venal offices) through taxes and bureaucracy causing over regulation and economic restrictions.
In essence, Stark shows that as wealth is created there is also a centralization of power into fewer hands and curtails economic development. While England was the dominating economic power during the 1700s, it’s wastrel government habits turned America into it’s government “cash cow.” Seeing the nation only as an ATM for their largess government spending.
The American Revolution adopted of a decentralized approach to government. It showed that within a century, “the United States was a manufacturing giant, second only to Great Britain and towering above Germany and France in terms of manufacturing output.” “The need to compete” in the marketplace “impelled American capitalists to invest in technology to make their workers so productive as to offset their high wages, from which everyone benefitted.” High wages also compelled employers “to compete with the exceptional opportunities of self-employment” in order to attract the number of qualified workers that was needed for production (page 222).
While the blessings of wealth creation belong to God and in the decisions both individuals and a society make. So, too, wealth cessation belong to God and in the hands of an individual and a society:
Deut 8:19 It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish.
It boils down to one overriding viewpoint of capitalism:
John 14:15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
When we follow God who helps us create wealth, we’re progressively prosperous. When wealth becomes our God, poverty is around the corner.