All that followers of Christ are to be and do rightly flows from God's intentions for human life together, and the fullest revelation of that comes via the life of Christ. The call to imitate Christ is an expression of this reality. Our blog explores the implications of imitating Christ for all aspects of human existence.
Well, a guy goes away to eat a little turkey, and the natives get restless:) Seriously, some excellent give and take in the comments. So much so, in fact, that I decided to use a blog post in hopes of extending the discussion. First, it is not my intention to name blog commentors, since I'd surely forget someone important. Having said that, I must admit I did get more than a smile out of seeing someone else on the receiving end of Philip's keen analytic skills. I have been trying to get my arms around the underlying argument from your interlocutor, and I have found myself having some trouble nailing that down.
At first, I thought the claim about capitalism (roughly: Capitalism is the morally superior form of economy) was viewed as something for which an argument need not be supplied. There are, I think, three reasons why someone might argue that some proposition P need not be rationally defended. First, they take P to be self-evident. But, as one of my doctoral mentors once noted, it is very strange to argue that some P is self-evidently true after someone else has provided an argument against P. It might turn out that P is true or false, but it cannot be self-evidently true. Second, one can argue that P is a "first principle," and, with Aristotle, note that one does not argue or first principles. However, things that count as "first principles" are not generally composed of things as complex as the moral superiority of a given economic form. It is hard to see how this would count as a first principle. Third, one can presuppose P is true. I suppose one can presuppose anything one wishes, but it is hard to see why one would think anyone else should believe P to be true just because they presuppose it to be true. So, that was going nowhere.
Then, as I read further, it seemed that something like an argument was developing. P (the claim about the moral superiority of capitalism) was true because humans are created in the image of God, which means they are creative, and the morally superior form of economy is one that maximizes creativity. Well, here we have numerous problems. First, the theological conclusion about creativity is highly debatable, but I'll return to that below. Second, the claim about moral superiority connecting to maximization of creativity is problematic. What is the argument for that? Surely, on the same grounds we argued above, this is a claim that would need an argument. Third, if you can get there (which I seriously doubt), you'd still have to show how P is the conclusion to this argument. Even if one were to agree that the morally superior economy is one that maximizes creativity, you'd still have a monumental task to prove that capitalism is that form. There seemed to be other arguments developing as well. One that replaces "creativity" in the above argument with "libertarian freedom," but again, that argument would fair no better than the one on creativity. There seemed to be others developing, things about small businesses vs. big businesses (how does one decide which ones go on which side of the line? and the answer to that invites more), etc. etc.
So, at the end of all that, I find myself wishing someone could reduce the argument that concludes the beneficent things about capitalism into a set of premises that lead to that conclusion. That would be very helpful. Then we could see where the open questions, if any, are.
There are three theological points that raised their head in the course of the discussion that I would like to address. One has to do with the image of God in humans. One has to do with the issue of libertarian freedom and it's status as a summum bonum. One has to do with the core tension between capitalism and Christian faith. Let us handle them in this order.
Is it the case that the tradition has seen the image of God in humans connected to creativity? Well, yes, but the major focus has been elsewhere. Of the ways in which the image of God has been understood to be expressed in human nature, two predominate. One is the view that human rationality is primary (one thinks of Thomas Aquinas). Those who focus on the unity of God often end here. Another is the view that relationality is primary. Those who have a heightened sense of the significance of the doctrine of the Trinity often end here. Being a strong trinitarian, I have often argued that the main point of the image of God in us is our creation for being in relationships that imitate the divine life. Scripture consistently calls us to be "other centered," and this focus on the communal aspect of the divine image gets after that. Once one sees the importance of relationality in our imitation of the divine nature, we can see how God's commands to care for the poor and marginalized arises from our communal nature. We are not just created for relationships, but for relationships of mutual inter-dependence, as one of our interlocutors suggested. And once we go this way, it becomes much less clear how it is that capitalism is the best way there.
On the issue of libertarian freedom, I fear we have allowed our thinking to become far too focused in the last few hundred years. Christians, who make liberarian freedom the summum bonum have, I suspect, become much more Lockean political liberals than Christian. To see how evident it is that one cannot simply assume such a high standing for libertarian freedom, one only need observe that perhaps more than half of Protestantism denies humans even have such a thing as libertarian freedom. So, one would need to provide us a pretty good argument as to why libertarian freedom is the central point around which economic structures should be formed. After all, when in the OT we are told that "everyone did what was right in their own sight," that was not a good thing. By the way, in Scripture, the idea of "freedom" in Scripture is more often connected to the notion of freedom from sin--not to the abstract idea of freedom to choose (here one thinks of Jesus saying, "When the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.")
Finally, as I have written elsehwere, there is a fundamental and irremedial tension between capitalism and Christian faith. According to Scripture, from early on til the end, the biblcal call for those who would follow God is to be motivated by the interest of others and not self-interest. In fact, many of the church's great theologians have considered sin, most essentially, to be our being motivated by self-interest. Captalism elevates and sanctifies self-interest; we are told to have the mind of Christ in elevating the interests of others over ourselves. Now, some defenders of capitalism have tried to get around this by saying that it is okay as long as we are motivated by enlightened self-interest. Supposedly, the term enlightened covers a multitude of sins and makes us act in ways that are "good" for others because we are enlightened to the fact that our good is connected with the good of others. This seems at best naive. Let's just be honest, if we are to act in our own self interest (even longer term self interest), Thrasymachus (from the Republic, by Plato) was correct. He argued that the best way to go was to give the appearance of being concerned about the interest of others while really acting in our own self-interest.
So, while it may be popular lore in the US today that capitalism is the "best" form of economy and that capitalism is taught by Scripture, I think those popular conceptions require examination. Consequently, it would be a grand thing if we could set these aside and move to a more nuanced discussion about the outcomes we want from our economy, and then to a discussion about how best to get there. I do not expect a pure form of any of the popular ideas will get us there, but a creative combination might.....