I’m a Carl Trueman fan, even though he doesn’t want any. He writes incisively and from a theologically conservative, church-historically aware, and self-consciously British perspective. So when he promised to tackle a problem that has been bothering me, I got excited.
Republocrat is a winner. I highlighted something on practically every page, it seemed. Here’s Trueman on this newest release:
The primary reason why I agreed to write this book is my belief that the evangelical church in America is in danger of alienating a significant section of its people, particularly younger people, through too tight a connection between conservative party politics and Christian fidelity. (xx)
I have grown increasingly frustrated with conservative Christians’ knee-jerk loyalty to the Republican party; with their uncritical acceptance of Glenn Beck’s opinions; with their belief in Barack Obama conspiracy theories (his birth certificate is a fake and he’s really a Muslim—just watch this YouTube video*); with their confidence that a hockey mom who can’t answer simple questions from Katie Couric (“the equivalent of being savaged to death on live television by a teddy bear,” Trueman says ) would make a good president; and with their assumption that capitalism is an unmitigated moral good, the only biblical way to do things.
I expected Trueman to be more provocative, but I just kept wondering when the punch line would come. Instead it all sounded pretty clearheaded to me (naturally, I took minor exception to a few points). What has happened to the American Christian church when the Bible’s clear insistence on helping the poor and even honoring the emperor are set aside by a higher allegiance to capitalism and a particular political party?
One of the most important and helpful points Trueman made for me was that capitalism does not necessarily entail individual freedom. From the outside, at least, it looks like China has wedded market capitalism and totalitarianism quite nicely. The students of 1989 Tiananmen wanted political freedom; the Communists gave them cars and iPods, and the government is still standing. (One small criticism [?] here: I have read in a number of places that many Chinese workers have indeed protested their working conditions; I do wonder if the Chinese system can last very long. One friend of mine suggested that Singapore might be a better example of what Trueman is talking about.)
Ten Criticisms of Capitalism
As an incentive for you to buy the book, let me offer Trueman’s ten criticisms of capitalism.
First off, his disclaimer: “I have no doubt that, in the current situation, capitalism of some form is the best means of wealth creation…. [But] just because there is no alternative at the moment does not mean that democratic capitalism is the end term of social and economic organization.” (70)
And now, Trueman’s ten “things about capitalism of which Christians should be wary” (these are all direct quotes):
- It can focus minds on economic prosperity in a way that is not biblical. (71)
- The arrival of the good news is sometimes very bad news for the economy. (As in Mark 5, Trueman says. 72)
- Capitalism does not necessarily foster the kind of behavior, outlook, and ethics that Christians themselves prize…. Consumerism depends on…dissatisfaction with the present and with current possessions. (72-73)
- Capitalism, aka consumerism, has tended to make conspicuous consumption and acquisition of things into a good. (cf. Ecc 2. 73)
- The problem is not simply the gospel of salvation by consumption…; it is also the idea that I am in control of my own destiny, that I hold the answer to my problems, that this lies in the creaturely realm. I can buy this thing, go to that place, spend my money here, and thereby solve my dissatisfaction or reinvent myself or simply make life more pleasant and a whole lot easier.
- In a world where I am the one who determines my own destiny by deciding what I will and will not buy, and where rugged individualism is so deeply ingrained in the culture, then church discipline goes out the window. Discipline me today, and next Sunday I simply give my (spiritual) business to another church (store). (74-75)
- In a world where the consumer is king, ultimately taste and profit margins will triumph. (75)
- The consumer society teaches us all to believe that it is individual consumption that is good for everyone, because that creates wealth, enhances our standards of living, and makes us feel better about ourselves…. I can therefore indulge in [greed] an an act of altrusim. (75)
- If you start down the path of using the logic of the market place to defend traditional moral positions, you leave yourself hopelessly vulnerable when someone comes along who can either refute your economic data or propose something that solves the economic problem. (Case in point: both sides in the gay marriage debate in California appealed to dollars and cents. 76)
- Think of how modern capitalism connects to the entertainment industry, of how even the imagination has been turned into a marketable commodity, with Disney turning classics such as Notre Dame de Paris into sentimental, marketable pap; and children’s minds being more full of the exciting whizbangs of the movies and the countless spin-off toys, than of the somewhat more ponderous exercise of reading. (77)
It is so very important to see that capitalism is not merely a part of our culture but has shaped it in some negative ways we will have to fight to stay aware of. The Bible has a good bit more to say about greed than we do, and that should make us question our assumptions.
*This video was actually sent to me by someone who took it seriously.