I must admit that I am sitting here, looking at my screen, struggling to remember all those thoughts that have been throbbing through my mind constantly. This is the second time I am having to do this this week, the first time was when I wrote my post for my other blog. (The problem is that many of the thoughts that become blog posts actually occur to me when I’m busy praying or concentrating hard on other things, and then when it comes to actually writing the posts, whoosh! they often fly straight out of my head!)
Anyway, because of that, I am going to talk today about a very, very big subject that I have been thinking about in some form not merely for days, weeks, or even months, but actually for years. That is…CAPITALISM.
Anyone who knows me very, very well, that is, going back over a decade or more, will know that I have a huge problem with the consumerism of modern society. I started getting into social justice seriously while at university and I have spent the years since then thinking deeply about the way money works; that is, the way the global economy functions. Since I truly started understanding it, I have been convinced that capitalism is a gigantic lie. The financial system of capitalism goes hand-in-hand with materialism and consumerism which is the worship of wealth and material goods. This is one of the reasons I abhor the prosperity gospel with its emphasis on material blessings. This is basically the deification of wealth and material blessings, dragged into the church and loudly trumpeted in holy-sounding words. It is not that money itself is bad, it is rather that these people worship money and wealth – and then claim that they are actually worshipping God. However it was God Himself (Jesus) who said “No man can serve two masters – you cannot worship God and Mammon” – where Mammon is the pagan god of money. Matthew 6v24
This is also the reason why I abhor the over-emphasis on money in more mainstream churches. One of my main assertions is that even the supposedly mainstream churches seem to routinely exchange the power of God for the power of money. That is, they seem to spend lots of money building beautiful churches, comfy seats, multi-media, great websites etc -and then seem to offer these perishable, temporal things bought with money as proof of the strength and validity of their church life – instead of offering the living power of the living God, through changed lives and changed society, where the power of God can never be bought with money.
It seems to be true in my experience that money is without any qualification the true overriding concern in most churches – even when they talk about God and they make references to “the power of God”.
This is also why I hate any thing that seems to be about selling God or His Word or His power. We are Christians, for crying out loud! Should we of all people not appreciate that God’s word should be free?!!! Yes, ministers do need to be able to put a roof each over her own head, clothes on her back, shoes on her feet and food on her table. However there is a difference between having your needs met, and peddling the Word of God for profit. Both of these issues are addressed in the New Testament: Yes a minister can expect to earn a living from preaching the word of God: 1 Corinthians 9v14, however, Paul, the very same person who writes these words to the Corinthians, in the second letter to these same Corinthians, also makes it clear that he is not peddling the word of God for profit: 2 Corinthians 2v17. In 1 Timothy 6v8-12 this same Paul once again spells out what it means to have your needs met: food and clothing: that is, the basic needs of life. Then he tells us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, which has caused many people to wander from the faith and to pierce themselves through with many griefs, then he advises Timothy to flee from these things:
…8If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.11But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
So in all, the love of money is clearly something evil and dangerous in the true Christian life.
However, beyond that, I have recently come to the place of asking myself whether the Anti-Christ as he is spoken of in the Bible, might not be a physical person…but actually capitalism itself.
Before I go any further, let me define what I mean by capitalism. The topic of “Capitalism” is confusing because there are at least two main meanings. The first meaning is this (simply put): the exchange of goods and services for money. This first idea is almost inevitable to human existence. It has happened throughout time, and there is nothing wrong with it. By this thinking, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob etc were all capitalists.
It is the second meaning I am thinking of that is dangerous and evil. And yet this is what our entire global economy is based on. It is this: the exchange of goods and services not for what they are actually worth, but with the desire to extract some profit from the transaction. And then to make matters worse, people never seem satisfied with modest profits. No, they must try to squeeze out every possible penny that they possibly can from each transaction. It might seem innocent, it might not seem that different from the first definition of capitalism. However I put it to you that a little thought will reveal it to be dangerous, evil, exploitative, and something that cannot possibly work. It is relatively new to the world (largely because it so clearly contravenes common sense). It cannot possibly work – and oh look, it is not working! The recent huge recession/depression has been an absolutely inevitable collapse of capitalism (which I predicted back in uni with these simple words – “It cannot work!”). The whole thing is falling apart before our eyes, and yet people still desperately cling on to this financial system – even Christians! I dare you to go into a typical, middle-class, “Bible-believing” evangelical church, and make the case that capitalism is evil – and see the reaction you get – go on! Do it! And yet I can prove to you quite easily that capitalism is anti-christian. Because the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil – and capitalism (by the second understanding) is simply the love of money codified into the official and financial system. And somehow (these “Bible-believing” Christians think) something that is intrinsically evil has become good and noble in the process of being applied over the whole global economy.
Capitalism is anti-Christian
Before I go any further, let me give you a simple illustration of what I am talking about.
Capitalism Definition One is like this:
Say I have two cows and you also have two cows. Your cows are exactly the same as mine – as strong as mine, the same age as mine except, let us say, they are different colours. Mine are blue and yours are red. Your cows are red, but for some reason you happen to like blue cows. However I am happy with cows of any colour. I quite like my blue cows but I would be very happy with red cows too. So we decide to make an exchange: my blue cows for your red cows. So at the beginning of the transaction I had two cows which are blue, but now I have two cows which are red, and you are the one with the blue cows. That is a fair exchange. Admittedly no actual money was involved, but that is still an example of capitalism (OK, it is strictly a form of barter – yeah, I know!) This is the kind of capitalism that has made the world go around since human beings started trading with one another.
Capitalism Definition Two is like this:
Say I have fifty cows, which are blue, and you have two cows which are red. And once again the cows are essentially equal and the same, except in colour -or they could all even be the same colour. The point though is that I have fifty of these cows, and you only have two. Then you come and offer me an exchange: your two cows for all my fifty cows. What would you do if someone offered you that kind of exchange? And yet, that is the basic premise of this second understanding of capitalism – getting out more (often ridiculously more) from a transaction than you put in, getting out more from the transaction than what you put in is “worth”. The word “worth” has a confusing meaning in capitalism. Technically, and most accurately, what something is “worth” is erm… what it is worth! Yes?! So what are two cows worth?! Obviously, common sense tells us that “two cows” are worth “two cows”. They can never be “worth” anything else other than two cows – neither less, nor more. And yet this second definition of capitalism tells us that two cows are no longer worth two cows. Rather they are now worth whatever someone can be persuaded – or forced – to pay for them.
Which brings us to a big part of this question. Why would the second party, with the fifty cows ever agree to such a transaction? Perhaps the main reason would be if they had no choice. These are the kind of things that in our modern world people seem to have no choice over: my biggest bugbear: paying for accommodation. In this, I have no choice. I have to have a roof over my head.
The fifty cows versus two cows analogy is quite straightforward; it is quite clearly an unbalanced transaction. However, when money comes into the situation, it clouds the issue. It is no longer immediately obvious that you are exchanging two things that do not have the same worth. Money itself becomes the measurement of worth, as if there is intrinsic value in money itself. However this itself is a huge lie – money is only valuable because of what it can be exchanged for; it is not valuable itself. It is supposed to be a token of worth.
Let’s go back to talking about cows, because it is a lot easier to picture the injustice of the situation. As I say, the main reason why I believe that someone with fifty cows would agree to such an unbalanced transaction is if they felt they had no choice Let’s say that they forced you to that transaction at the point of a gun (because I can’t think of a stronger analogy right now). Now imagine if everyone was doing this: going around forcing everyone to exchange fifty cows for two cows. And then once they have got those first fifty cows they are not content with those winnings. No! They must go out and extort more cows from other people in ridiculously imbalanced transactions. In fact, they are desperate to own all the cows in the world, far beyond all that they could ever need or even use in multiple lifetimes. However I need my fifty cows for myself. I need them to plough my fields. I need them to transport my goods to market. They are not a luxury in my life that I could casually afford to give up. They are needed. They are necessary. Now after being robbed of my own cows at gunpoint, if I could equally go out and win 50 cows for myself from another hapless victim then I would be fine. However if I could not do that, and the same thing happened…and again…and again and again and again, then quite clearly I would soon end up with nothing…and some people would end up with all the cows.
This is what modern capitalism is like. Despite the technically correct first definition of capitalism, it is the second definition that reigns in our world. It is like a global pyramid scheme where I pay some money to someone in the expectation that someone else will pay me more. These schemes always eventually collapse because people eventually work out that not everyone can get out more from a system than they pay in. However capitalism is propped up by the fact that the people at the bottom of the system, those being exploited the most, have absolutely no choice but to keep investing in their fresh fifty cows, the hours of their days, for the benefit of those at the top. At the bottom it is nothing but legalised slavery.
And yet for those of us who are not technically “at the bottom” we too are constantly being robbed of our own 50 cows and being forced to go out to recoup our losses. And here’s the thing: everyone is doing it. Everyone is exploitatively charging me fifty cows for various necessities of life. And this is why I have to pay all these people: because these things are necessities, and I cannot do without them. The “shotgun” in each of these situations is that each of these things is a necessity that I cannot live without. I believe that the most precious possession that we have is our time. Because of capitalism, because of ludicrous prices for accommodation and other absolute essentials of life, we are on a constant treadmill where we are forced to exchange our time for money just to manage the bare essentials of life, just to keep our heads above water financially. What capitalism steals in the real world is not our cows but rather our time. However I need my time for myself. I need it to work for my God. I believe that it is because we are spending so much time working to earn money to survive in this ludicrous system that we as Christians do not have time to do what we are actually called to do; things which equally take time – to spend time for instance reading God’s word, or praying, or preaching the word of God. And these pastors, in these churches, proclaiming the supposed word of God, do they speak out, and condemn this world order? This unbiblical use of time? This sharp imbalance of Christian life, where no-one actually has time to do what we are called to do, because we are all too busy literally slaving away on the work treadmill? No these “Bible-believing” pastors sit down and welcome all these things, seeming to gladly embrace the power of money that comes in as a result as a valid substitute for the power of God.
Beyond all this, I am thinking that capitalism is actually the anti-christ, because John says in one of his epistles that “the spirit of anti-christ is already in the world”. 1 John 4v3 (There though, it has nothing to do with money or greed, but rather not confessing Jesus) This makes sense, because the spirit of capitalism is actually the spirit of greed, or exploitation, and that has certainly been in the world since the fall of man. Secondly, a verse that has always puzzled me in Revelation: where it says that the anti-christ will have power even over Christians Revelation 13: I’ve been puzzling for a long time over what kind of person might arise to have this kind of power. But recently it struck me that capitalism certainly has power over Christians. It largely defines our time priorities. It constrains us in our pursuit of Christ and Christ’s kingdom. Yes, it is identified as an actual person in Revelation. However, in many ancient texts, including the Bible itself, concepts would be personified to make them easier to understand. Think for instance how the Greek and Roman gods often embodied concepts, as in Nike, the goddess of Justice (now apparently the goddess of athletic shoes!) Acts 28v4: the actual Greek text refers to the goddess of justice, not merely the idea of justice. A typical example from the Bible is where the people of Israel are together welded into a single individual, and referred to as God’s Son as in Hosea 11v1.
Ultimately, I could be wrong, and I am not about to make this a doctrine. However I believe that it is at least food for thought. I think that as Christians we need to think of ways of freeing our lives as much as possible from the shackles of capitalism, and embracing simplicity, which is often scorned even in the Christian world. If nothing else, this will be to enable us to focus on our true priority as Christians down here on earth, which is not to run around endlessly amassing lots of perishable earthly wealth, but rather to live for God, to preach His word, to proclaim His Kingdom.
1 John 4v3:
3 and every spirit that does not confess that[a] Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
Photo of Dollar Bills from Pixabay