News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Xtian Economics 101

Friday, January 06, 2006

Xtian Economics 101

In a short article, Rick Wolff analyzes the contours of contemporary right-wing evangelical thinking on economics. Without going into the biblical passages or theology that backs up this thinking, Wolff provides the general framework and concepts that the evangelicals use to justify their acceptance of and general proselytization for American-style capitalism. ...

According to Wolff:

For rightist evangelicals, the sick and the miserable are those whose insufficient faith and resulting bad behavior drew God's punishment. Yet, that punishment is also a merciful test of their faith to see if they can and will repent and thereby emerge from their tribulations. The healthy and prosperous are those who have passed God's tests by means of faith and moral behavior. It follows, for example, that for the state to help the sick and miserable is to interfere in God's will and God's ways, to deprive sinners of the freedom to respond to God's will and pass His tests which is their only real hope for alvation.
Xtendom has been dealing with translating Christ's message into social, cultyural, and economic reality for 2,000 years now. As far as economics go, numerous societies have existed in the past that in no way resemble today's cpaitalistism. The English Catholic detective fiction writer, GK Chesterton made a decent case that the Medieval guild system was as egalitarian and equitable as any economic system before or after it.

There have been other attempts at envisioning a more just and equitable economic system. Simone Weil, for example, learned much from Karl Marx's writings. Even before her powerful religious experience, she had identified the weaknesses and strengths of Marx's critique of capitalism. After her religious experience, she continued to work on the outlines of a socio-economic system that would approximate the vision of truth and justice she believed was buttressed by a transcendent reality. She makes the most systematic presentation of her ideas in The Need for Roots. (See my commentary on this work at wikipedia.)

The Islamic radical, Sayid Qutb, accuses Christendom of having no ethical or religiously inspired framework for a just economic system in his Social Justice in Islam. I believe this is a true statement. Whether or not Qutb is correct in believing that Islam itself provides that framework, it's unquestionable that Christianity has a different take on what a just or equitable socio-economic system might look like. Thinkers and theologians like Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin have attempted to outline such a framework. Inspired by Aristotelian categorical metaphysics, Aquinas' is perhaps the most rigorous.

What's distinctive about each of these efforts is that they stand in stark contrast to the assumptions and outlook of modern capitalistic thought.

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