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Scott P. Richert

Is Capitalism Christian?

By September 24, 2007

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Throughout the 20th century, the Catholic Church was perhaps the strongest voice in opposition to the communist regimes of the Soviet Bloc and China. For many American Catholics, the Church's opposition to communism seemed to fit well with the American embrace of capitalism. But the Church's social teaching, especially as expressed in such papal encyclicals as Rerum novarum (1892) and Quadragesimo anno (1932), has stressed the potential dangers of capitalism as well.

On Sunday, September 23, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of some of those dangers. In his homily at a Mass in Velletri, south of Rome, the Holy Father declared that "life is always a choice: between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, between selfishness and altruism, between good and evil." Moreover, he said, "no servant can serve two masters . . . you cannot serve God and wealth."

In the modern world, that requires Christians to make some hard choices:

"A fundamental decision is, then, necessary, the choice between the logic of profit as the ultimate criteria for our actions and the logic of sharing and solidarity. If the logic of profit prevails, the imbalance between poor and rich increases, as does the ruinous exploitation of the planet. When, on the other hand, the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails it is possible to alter and redirect our course towards equal development and the common good of everyone. Ultimately it is a decision between selfishness and love, between justice and dishonesty, . . . between God and Satan."

Pope Benedict continued this theme in his weekly Angelus address later that day:

"Money is not of itself 'dishonest', but more than anything else it has the power to lead man into blind selfishness. What is needed, then, is to achieve a kind of 'conversion' of economic resources: instead of using them for our own interests, we must think of the needs of the poor, imitating Christ Himself Who . . . 'though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich'."

The Holy Father made it clear that he wasn't arguing against making a profit, which many would see as the fundamental element of capitalism. On the other hand, he argued, "capitalism must not be considered as the only valid model of economic organization." What he is trying to stress is that economic systems are made for the well-being of man, and not the other way around. Economic "laws" are not like the law of gravity; we can change them through our actions. That, however, requires interior conversion: "the life of Christians calls for the courage to swim against the tide, to love like Jesus Who went so far as to sacrifice Himself upon the cross."

What do you think? Have Catholics become too comfortable with the idea of capitalism? Should we be reconsidering the way we make and spend our money? Join in the conversation in the Comments!

September 25, 2007 at 5:08 pm
(1) JO says:

I think this is a hard question to answer. We all know we should be doing more, but how many of us do it?
I donate to charity and would like to adopt children in the future. I try to support the charities of my church, yet I know I could do more.
Lots of people give as much if not everything they have, I only wish that in time I can follow suit. My biggest ambition in life would be to help as many people as I can, be it financially or otherwise.

September 25, 2007 at 7:05 pm
(2) Mike Drabik says:

I do believe Capitalism hinders the ability to live out a Christian life. The best pattern I see to combat it what the Catholic Worker Movement founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the 1930′s offers the best response.

The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker Movement explain it well:

A simple summary:

>>When we examine our society, which is generally called capitalist (because of its methods of producing and controlling wealth) and is bourgeois (because of prevailing concern for acquisition and material interests, and its emphasis on respectability and mediocrity), we find it far from God’s justice.

In contrast to what we see around us, as well as within ourselves, stands St. Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of the Common Good, a vision of a society where the good of each member is bound to the good of the whole in the service of God.

September 26, 2007 at 6:30 pm
(3) Ray Faber says:

I really believe that in many ways the Church and priests are not leading the way. Why are they not saying and encouraging local efforts and participation? About 50 miles from our home in an area we are very familiar with we attended Mass and the priest actually said he was unaware of any poverty in the area. WRONG. There is a lot of poverty there and the local parish and priest are doing nothing. Our local parish is a sponsor of and people participate by volounteering and also donations of food etc. to the God’s Helping Hands which for many years was located at the parish. What is your local parish and priest doing locally or are they resting easy with the idea that the government should take care of things.

August 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm
(4) phil says:

This is a great question. I think Capitalism has become the overall norm, so people have no other option to consider. Unfortunately, and it is very evident in the battle of Corporations, we are competing and in competition there are winners and losers. When we are dealing with society (humans) to say that it is part of life that some will starve, is unnacceptable. Social Darwinism is an evil thought. I don’t really know where I am going with this and that’s about all I have to say. =]

October 8, 2009 at 2:34 am
(5) Tracey says:

It is very difficult to understand what is going on in our country right now because of the outcry against big government from certain political groups. I can’t say I understand why these groups argue about freedom when what they really mean is freedom to keep their own wealth and not share it with those who are most needy. Our unemployment in this country is skyrocketing..yet the tea-baggers and other groups talk about their consitutional right to hold on to what should be shared in common..the right for all citizens to have decent health care. They don’t want the government to get involved in the kinds of social programs that would help the poor. I don’t believe Capitalism is Christian because..the rich get big tax breaks while the poor are burdened by this economy. It all starts with the way corporations are allowed to bully government officials into making deals..like the lobbyists. It’s very difficult to make people understand that our country would be better if the least among all of us had a better standard of living..such as a living wage, and health care. Until people can believe in a common good for all..our country will continue on a bad path. There is hope for a better day- but those of us who believe in a common good and in sharing the wealth have to start speaking louder than those who don’t want to share. Our country is only as good as the least among us-the poor and needy-are helped to move forward. I think there’s a huge lack of social conscience now-more than ever- and the only way to fight this apathy about the role of government is to speak out for what is good about our country. We have to work together to help each other. We should be praying for our President instead of hoping he’ll fail. We should be standing up for those who don’t have a voice.

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