Crisis and Kairos
Between Christ and Capitalism
The flourishing of the American economy, however, rests upon three pillars: a robust trust in a free market where choice (not coercion) directs the course of the economy; a stubborn belief that individuals possess, in and of themselves, the seeds of innovation and industry to improve their lives and the lives of their families; and a government that supports the expansion and development of cultural institutions other than itself as the primary means of sustaining economic vitality in the midst of changes (both financial and cultural) that are often difficult to predict or control.
Over the last century, each of these pillars has been weakened by a subtle but sustained (and spreading) belief that economic prosperity and individual achievement are less than worthy goals of a genuinely moral and just nation. Individuals should not be regarded as distinct members of a larger community composed of voluntary associations and as unfettered as possible by government intrusion. To the contrary, their very identity as citizens is, in some ways, directly attached to their association to government control as it has extended its reach into the daily lives of its citizens through excessive taxation, entitlements, and unfair financial penalties on monetary profit.
It's no secret that many theologians and economists regarded capitalistic endeavors as sub-Christian (Tillich termed them "demonic"), de-humanizing (to borrow the image of Weber), and downright vain (Tawney's famous vulgar itch of acquisitiveness). The plausibility that human beings could govern themselves under a system of laws that sought to guarantee equality under the law was unacceptable as this allowed far too many contingencies that were not controllable. A completely "just" society could not be guaranteed without strengthening the powers of a leveling government.
As a result, inequality has become the modern theological understanding of sin in its fullest form, even as atonement and justification have been redefined as economic remedies to cure the ailing wounds of poverty. In the words of the modern Wallace—Jim Wallis—"'Matthew 25 Christians' are truly Christians when they are protecting 'the least of these.'"
As word spreads about the abuse and fraud seemingly endemic to the entitlements of the American government (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security prominent among them), spirituality—particularly the words of Jesus—seems to be the shield du jour of those who seek to protect any reform of programs that arguably keep the poor trapped in downward spirals of poverty. It is ironic that the United States teeters on the edge of bankruptcy somewhere between Christ and capitalism.