October 05, 2005

Christianity and the American Dream

I ran across the article “Capitalists make bad Christians” the other day. It is one of those articles that has so many fundamental points that are difficult to argue with, but the end conclusion just seems so far off base.

The article has a lot of points that the church in the U.S. probably ought to take to heart. For instance:

  • “How can individuals call themselves Christian but not make great strides to help those in need?”
  • “Living in a fully righteous manner in accordance with Jesus’ true philosophy would mean giving up the American way of life.”
  • “Even so, many challenge the accepted meanings and translations of scripture in order to make their otherwise reprehensible actions and values seem Christian in nature.”
  • “If America is a Christian society, one should be able to see true Christian values in the actions of the nation and the people comprising its citizenry.”

I can hardly argue with that. The church in America—at least, the church composed of those that label themselves a part of the church—is hardly a model Christian. We don’t even understand the grace given to us properly, nor to we live by it. We live lives devoted to anything and everything but our Savior. We are so focused on “success”—whatever that is—that we brand it spiritual and never consider storing our treasures in Heaven.

But the author continues:

“Capitalism, and the mentality that it espouses, stand in stark contrast to any serious interpretation of Christ’s words.”

Isn’t that precisely the jump in logic that the whole article is built on? Capitalism obviously makes one a pig. If you are capitalist, you will become a one, and have no hope of following Christ.

Is that necessarily the case? Not at all. Yes, capitalism has much of its basis in, “How can we best grow an economy?” But it also has it’s basis in the idea of freedom. Everyone is given a chance to run their business as they see fit by their conscience. You don’t tell me what to do, and I don’t tell you what to do.

(As an aside, there is an emphasis on responsibility that can often be lacking in this discussion. We’ll leave that for a later date, however.)

Isn’t that kind of freedom dangerous? Doesn’t it let people take advantage of other people? Yes, it does. At the very same time, however, it allows us to be as generous as our conscience leads us. We don’t have our “goodness” dictated to us by the government.

There’s a kicker, here, though; one that I just realized this past week. This kind of freedom is precisely what helps us understand grace.

Legislating all the good things that have to happen doesn’t work with humanity. The good things might happen—but our hearts suffer. We think that we will be “good enough” as long as we follow all the rules and pay our taxes to contribute to welfare and social security. When tough times come, we expect everyone else to help us out—because they are “supposed to.” They don’t—and we complain. We complain that the feds didn’t get there soon enough. We complain that there just won’t be enough food. We complain that the manna poured out from Heaven doesn’t last on the seventh day. We complain…

I’m a big fan of freedom. It allows us to disagree. It allows us to hash things out and truly start to understand what is right. It allows us to be who God created us to be.

It’s that freedom—both in the economic and political senses—that makes me proud to be an American. Sure, I’m not always happy with where we are at. I’m especially disappointed with how rarely solid, rational debates happen in our sound-bite politics today. But I’m excited for what this country can be, if we are willing to make it so.

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