The Bible and Culture

The Bible and Culture


Capitalism: A Love-Hate Relationship

posted by Ben Witherington

capitalism_a_love_story.jpg

Michael Moore, our national agent provocateur, is nothing if he is not controversial.  But in a democracy with freedom of speech, it’s good to have prophets and pundits and pot stirrers and he is one such person.  Some find his docu-drama’s infuriating, some find them fascinating, some just find them funny.  I have found them all these things and more over time, and so my reaction to his latest salvo, against capitalism, or at least against its current greedy form in America, was quite unexpected. 

I broke down and cried.  Cried repeatedly as I watched people evicted from their home,  fired from their jobs without severance pay, cheated and swindled out of their life savings and their family homes.  And this movie is nothing if it is not timely in light of the events which began to occur in America about a year ago.  I guess it is also the case that having just written a tell all book, entitled Jesus and Money  my feelings would be a little raw on this subject, especially after watching one prosperity TV preacher after another  lead needy people down the garden path.   I went to the movie expecting to laugh, and I did a bit, but I did not expect to cry and get angry with what America has become. 

Over the course of two hours and a bit,  Michael Moore chronicles how things have changed in America since the 1940s.  He chronicles the deregulation of the banking industry, the rise outsourcing of most blue collar American jobs,  the dwindling of the Middle Class, and cutting in have of the tax rate of the top two percent of all Americans (from 90% to 45%), and the like, and something I had never heard of— FDR’s Bill of Rights for workers.  Something that never got passed and never saw the light of day. Michael Moore is a good story teller when it comes to people’s lives being laid bare and destroyed by greed and graft and corruption. And there are some heroic tales of workers fighting back as well. 

But when I really lost it in this movie is when he interviewed his own local Catholic priests from in and round Flint Michigan who all to a man chronicled the evil effects of capitalism on their flocks.  Even worse, when he modified scenes from Zeferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth so that even Jesus sounded like a prosperity preacher, that was the coup de grace. What Jesus was made to say in this movie, sounding like a corporate exec from a Wall Street Bank, was so incongruous, so out of sych with what Jesus did actually say about unrighteous mammon that the point could not have been made more effectively. 

Jesus surely loves even Bernie Madoff, but he despises  the behavior of those who run ponsie schemes, do predatory lending,  and the behavior of major corporations that secretly make millions off the death of their own employees, and so on.   Fortunately one day they like all of us will have to give an account for the deeds done in the body. No economic system that has so little checks and balances that it fails to take into account the deleterious effects of human fallenness and greed on human behavior is ever going to do justice to the poor and the disenfranchised. That is for sure.

And the sad thing is it doesn’t have to be this way. Moore rightly points out that the U.S. government set up the countries we defeated in WWII (Germany, Italy,Japan) with new constitutions that prevented the very sorts of tyranny of the rich over the poor, or dictatorships of money from happening to the degree and in the way they happen in America. He is right that: 1) you cannot find capitalism in the Bible any more than you can find communism in the Bible; and 2) that there are some serious tensions between a true democracy and so called free market capitalism.  But how to negotiate these tensions?  Therein lies the rub, and the Devil is in the details. And I am not competent to say.  What I am competent to say is that this is a good thought provoking, if tendentious, movie.  And I would suggest now is the perfect time for Christians in America to see it and do a rethink about what is good and godly when it comes to money and the economy. 

 



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JRS

posted October 9, 2009 at 7:04 pm


A few thoughts . . .
It’s curious that Mr. Moore criticizes a system that has allowed him to accumulate considerable wealth.
Why do we expect any economic system to be perfect? Capitalism clearly requires character.
In spite of its weaknesses is there a better system?
Finally, how can we trust a messenger well known for his propoganda to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?



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budcath

posted October 9, 2009 at 8:45 pm


This is a great post Ben. I haven’t seen the movie, but reading the reactions across the media and blogs, it seems he’s made several different movies in one. It’s amazing how people filter the movie through their own biases and world view. Many of the most vociferous critics (Fox News pundits) probably have not seen it, but because they hate Moore, liberals and love Capitalism in its current form, they blast it. I will see the movie. I have often wondered over the years, even before the current Great Recession, how the big time Capitalists running corporations, banks, etc, reconcile themselves with Christ’s teachings. Christ is clear on wealth and on sharing among bretheren. The Jews also are commanded to take care of the poor, widows and orphans. America has come off the rails. I know many of the powerful probably go to church on Sunday and don’t see a problem, but thats just not right. Maybe they ascribe to the prosperity gospel. Thanks for the post.



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Nathan

posted October 9, 2009 at 10:17 pm


JRS, perhaps wealth is not his highest priority in life, so he feels free to criticize that which he does not worship. I don’t think anybody is saying capitalism should be perfect, however justice matters, and according to scripture it matters to God, and that is a sobering thought. Not all progress, not all knowledge, not all wealth is good. God cares about the poor, but lately we’ve been exploiting them and keeping them in debt at exorbitant interest rates.
In short, Ben’s comments were insightful and worth reading and reflecting on. No need to be distracted by the messenger. (After all, John the Baptist was a crazy hairy guy who lived in the wild and ate weird stuff and baptized people – but Jesus took him seriously.)



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Mat

posted October 10, 2009 at 12:40 am


It kinda ties in with the Dr James C. Howell videos posted before, where he talks about ‘khezed’ and ‘mishpot’ justice. When I see my mortgage statements, I think of the usury scriptures hehe.
I cant imagine how someone can make Jesus out to be a prosperity preacher, but I guess I will have to check out the film.



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Quiddity

posted October 11, 2009 at 3:54 am


That was a strikingly honest review. Moore often presents an excellent case to begin with but then goes too far, as in this movie.



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Rob R

posted October 12, 2009 at 11:51 am


I welcome the criticism of capitalism on scriptural grounds, but at the same time, when I hear that taxes were cut for the top 2% from 90 % to 45 % in the context of criticism, I’m just not confidant that there is something intrinsically injust here. Do we really think that we are better off if the government takes that money.
We are called to share and while I think that the rich should be wary of the spiritual pitfalls of their position and spiritual need to give generously and even radically, I’m not confidant that it the governments place to make sure they don’t keep to much for themselves. It just seems to me that we need to emphasize personal spiritual responsibility here.



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Rob R

posted October 12, 2009 at 5:55 pm


Hmm. I see I should’ve proof-read that. To put my comments shortly, we shouldn’t confuse a tax rate (particularly a high one) with economic justice. I don’t think such an idea could be defended scripturally



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Jeff

posted October 13, 2009 at 9:47 pm


So why isn’t Michael Moore going to dictatorships in Africa and other places that create even greater disparities of rich and poor than capitalism (at least in America someone like Mr. Moore can make a living and be able to give to the poor – which one wonders, how much is he giving? Who is monitoring Moore? – whereas in communist countries, one could hardly make a buck unless they chose to be in the communist party)? And those nations would restrict the likes of Mr. Moore or genuine Christians from critiquing the system. The problem here is that Moore’s solutions are worse.
And, his views of post-war Germany, Japan, etc. are somewhat misguided. Germany’s economic growth was a product of the free market – before it went further toward socialism in the 60′s. And, most true free market economist would say there should be laws to protect against fraud -even severe laws.
Indeed there are problems with capitalism (from a materialistic/wealth issue). Those are easily addressed from the Scriptures. Mr. Moore is the pot calling the kettle black and not the one for this.
The other problem is the assumption that government has a role in here. The call of the NT was never for governments to do more for the poor – but for individuals to serve the poor. This is part of the flaw of the modern Christian calls for service to the poor – most of them seek solutions through political rather than congregational means. Neither Jesus nor Paul nor other writers in the NT went this route – when they had ample opportunity to do so.
Ben’s blog raises some interesting points – but it tends more toward veiled praise rather than objective critique.
Moore doesn’t really advance the discussion in his pieces (this and others) because he is unwilling to represent opposing perspectives very objectively. An edited interview doesn’t get the job done with objectivity.



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Jeff

posted October 13, 2009 at 9:55 pm


Let me put it this way – It would have been nice if BW3 were as objective in this analysis of Michael Moore’s work (which is equally full of Hubris and inaccuracies) as he was with Dan Brown’s work (equally ‘prophetic’ to many). They are cut from the same cloth – Moore’s just a bit more skilled at obfuscation.
Guess it all depends on whose ox is getting gored as to our objectivity.



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Lindsey

posted October 16, 2009 at 4:27 pm


i wish more Christians were like you. Thank you for your words. I am so excited to see the movie, now more than ever.
i would also request that you review “for the bible tells me so” – if you take requests – i would be very interested to hear your thoughts on that documentary, as well.
thanks for your time and insight.b



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Jerboso

posted November 7, 2009 at 10:38 pm


The problem with Moore’s beliefs is that they play on emotion. I think we should help the poor… but, does that mean we should pay for everything? I think that is the opposite of help! Also, it seems that you are equating the tax rate with the biblical concept of helping the poor. Do you really want to equate the US government with God? Shame on you sir!



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