Does Capitalism: A Love Story = Christianity: An Economic Revolution?

My first Michael Moore movie was fraught with highs and lows: he does impressive documentary work (when he stops talking), but that covers maybe a third of the movie.  He also highlights good examples of unconventional business practices, but they do not really prove his larger points.

One of the especially useless parts was his apparent effort to convince Christians that capitalism is morally evil.  He does this with the following (paraphrased) argument:  Two priests I know (from Flint!) and their boss think so.

It is a poor argument for a variety of reasons, but we thought it might be helpful to humor him and ask the question:  Can an economic system be morally evil?  What is the right way for Christians to act in relation to their country’s respective economic system?

Moore’s perspective seems to be that a morally acceptable economic system must provide a certain standard of living for all its citizens.  Thus capitalism’s seeming inability to do so (in a small percentage of cases), coupled with its many opportunities for abuse, is proof of its inherent moral failure.

However, it really is not fair to argue from individual situations that an entire system is flawed (this is known as a fallacy of composition).  Let’s take a look at what our system is based on.

The rules of our economy are simply a set of legal structures, based in an ultimate sense (as all American laws are) on the Constitution.  This includes things like contract law, monopoly law, tax law, etc.  They are designed to enforce a balance that gives competitive opportunity to all while preventing non-competitive practices.  To be sure, they often fail, but that is what the system continually strives for.

This attempt at balance is derived fairly directly from what the Constitution says that the government is obligated to provide as best it can:  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Our economic structures are designed to facilitate those things on a large scale by providing safety, freedom, and opportunity.  In other words, Michael Moore is suggesting that our history has proven this Constitutional goal to be a fundamentally immoral one.

The problem here is that I do not see God calling on his people to take a certain perspective on government systems.  To be sure, the prophets consistently call out leaders and judges for their failure to protect the sick and the weak.  And there is no question but that individuals are told to exercise compassion and love for neighbor.  And God certainly used political circumstances to communicate with his people about his pleasure or displeasure at their actions.

But in all these things, the central concern is not the economic system, but the heart of the individual.  Yes, a political leader will be held to account for how he exercised the sword of governmental authority.  But no, the individual Christian will not be held to account for failing to revolt against a set of economic structures.

This is not to say that Christians cannot participate in politics or business ethics for the purpose of creating a healthier society.  That is perfectly fine, though not a moral necessity.  Instead the rubber meets the road for this concept when Christians think that their act of political participation constitutes the full extent of their responsibility to the weak and the poor.  It does not.

Instead, our role is obedience within the boundaries that God has placed us.  Though our first responsibility is obedience to God, we live in this world and seek to use that position to point to Christ as the only ultimate hope for peace with God.  This means that a Christian can fulfill their highest and most important goals in life no matter what economic system they live under, and thus they have no reason to, “revolt” against societal economic structures.
Lest we forget, let’s remind ourselves of what a Christian’s goals in this world are.

1. Worship God Alone:  In a culture jam-packed with potential idols.

2. Be Faithful to Your Given Calling:  In a culture with so many self-serving options.

3. Be an Ambassador of Heaven to the World:  In a culture that is lost and confused.

4. Proclaim the Gospel Well:  No matter your situation or circumstance.
If you have opportunity to improve our society while doing (or in a way that supports!) these goals, terrific.  But don’t get too caught up in it.  Because contrary to the opinions of Michael Moore, capitalism is not the problem.  Sin is.  Be sure that your life is helping to provide the right solution to the right questions.

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

  • Matt

    Well said. “our citizenship is in heaven…”


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