Capitalistic Idolatry Vs. Christianity

Capitalistic Idolatry Vs. Christianity March 17, 2011

In capitalistic societies, wealth is deemed as the ultimate good which we should seek to possess. Wealth clearly has been made into an idol, and people are willing to sacrifice many things to attain it (including the livelihood of other people). Is it any surprise, therefore, that Mammon is confused for God? Indeed, many who claim to be Christian, and are Christian through baptism, have turned their back on the true nature of God – a loving God whose heart is with and for the poor—and turned instead to Mammon, saying what they find in Mammon represents God’s true nature.  Since wealth is the ultimate good, if one is to attain God, it follows one will be wealthy. Thus, wealth is seen as a proof of holiness, of one being in God’s good graces.  If you are poor, you have not given yourself over to God enough. Your sins make you poor, and so you deserve all that happens to you.

This notion, of course, clearly contradicts the teachings of the saints. If anything, they think the opposite of this, that those who find themselves impoverished are closer to the heart of God. It is not, of course, that being poor is itself a blessing, but rather those who are poor and impoverished are embraced by God; his heart is for them; he wants us to seek them out, to help them, to raise them up, following his own example where he became a poor man like us to raise us out of the debt of sin.  Riches bring all kinds of trials and temptations to them, making it difficult for those who have them to find salvation. St. Anthony of Padua, a Doctor of the Church, makes this point quite clear:

They have slept their sleep:
and all the men of riches have found nothing in their hands.

[Ps 75.6]

It says ‘men of riches’ rather than ‘riches of men’, because they are slaves to money! When the clouds gather, it is a sign of stormy weather. When worldly glory lifts you up, it is a sign of your damnation! St Augustine says, ‘There is no surer sign of eternal damnation than to have worldly wealth at your beck and call!’ When the clouds roll away it means fair weather, the perfection referred to in the text, If you would be perfect [Mt 19.21].

A cloud looks big. Someone established in worldly glory looks more important than he is, just like a balloon full of wind looks big; but the pin-prick of death will show how insignificant he is. [1]

Those people who claim their riches as proof of their holiness are prideful, demonstrating of course, how far they are from such holiness. Indeed, St Anthony says this is why it is harder for the rich to be saved than for a camel to go through the eye of the needle:

Literally, the ‘needle’s eye’ was a certain gate in Jerusalem. The camel is taught by nature to stoop down when passing through a low place, and to walk on its knees. That is why it has padded knees, so as not to hurt them when it walks on them. It is easier, then, for a camel to pass through, because a camel can lower itself by nature, whereas a rich man can do so only by grace.[2]

Notice: St. Anthony is not saying the rich are going to be damned, that being rich is necessarily evil. He is saying, however, that the association of wealth with greatness creates a haughty nature, the kind which is difficult to overcome. But there is hope. The rich, like all of us, can be saved in and through grace. Many of the rich have been saved and deemed saintly – because of grace. However, cooperation with that grace requires humility, and riches, especially in a society like ours, makes it difficult for people to be humble. If they are attached to wealth, if they think wealth is evidence of their superiority in any way, they have a long way to go; they might even need to give all their wealth away like the rich young man in the Gospels if they want to attain salvation. If they are naturally humble, if they have suffered greatly in life, despite their riches, if they have a heart for the poor and needy, and they live out their lives in service to the poor (instead of being parasites living on the poor), there is hope for them, not only of being saved, but of attaining a holy way of life and becoming a saint.  The Church does not condemn wealth, but its abuse, either in its idolization, or with those who support its unjust distribution, an injustice which ruins the lives of the weak and the poor, causing them to needlessly suffer.

Saint Basil exhorts us to follow a life in holiness; it is found in the acquisition of virtue, not wealth:

In anticipation, therefore, prepare yourself for your own burial. Works of piety are an excellent burial garment. Make your departure dressed in the full regalia of your good deeds; convert your wealth into a truly inseparable adornment; keep everything with you when you go! Be persuaded to this by Christ, the Good Counselor who loves you. He became poor for us so that He might make us rich through His poverty, and ‘gave Himself a ransom for all.’ [3]

We should beautify our soul, and make for it a garment worthy of heaven.  If we have been given wealth, we have been given it to be its steward, to help in the distribution of wealth so that all get what is needed. We convert our wealth by using it for the common good. We must remember, whatever wealth we have been given is not really ours, but God’s. To try to take it and assume absolute authority over it is to claim to be like God. As Christians, let us make sure we are not be seduced by that tree, by that fruit, ever again.


[1] St. Anthony of Padua, Sermons for Sundays and Festivals. Volume II. trans. Paul Spilsbury (Padua: Edizioni Messaggero Padova, 2007), 301.  “The life of the just man is like the morning star in the midst of a cloud, that is, in the midst of worldly vanity. When cloud covers the ground, we fear thieves. When it disperses, the sun shines with renewed brightness. When you touch it, you feel nothing […]

When this cloud disperses, when the empty show of the world is despised, the sun of grace shines most brightly”  ibid., 300. This comes from a discussion of Ecclus 50.1, 6-8, 10-11.

[2] Ibid., 287-8.

[3] St Basil, “To the Rich” in On Social Justice. Trans. C. Paul Schroeder (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), 57.

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  • Thank you very much for this post!

  • Henry writes, “In capitalistic societies, wealth is deemed as the ultimate good which we should seek to possess. Wealth clearly has been made into an idol, and people are willing to sacrifice many things to attain it (including the livelihood of other people).”

    That may be true, however idolization of wealth certainly is not limited to capitalistic societies. In fact I would say that it’s virtually universal, except among people with a specific reason not to idolize it, e.g. devout Christians.

    Henry writes, “However, cooperation with that grace requires humility, and riches, especially in a society like ours, makes it difficult for people to be humble.”

    Why especially in a society like ours? These teachings are based on Christ’s teachings and the teachings of the Bible. Do you contend that the society of that time was a capitalistic society?

    Henry writes, “If we have been given wealth, we have been given it to be its steward, to help in the distribution of wealth so that all get what is needed. We convert our wealth by using it for the common good. We must remember, whatever wealth we have been given is not really ours, but God’s.”

    I agree with everything you write in this post, except your contention that these truths apply “especially” to capitalistic societies. Is there a society in which these truths do not apply? Or where they apply less than they do to our society? If so, which society might that be, specifically?

    • Is it really that difficult to fathom what is new and what makes it worse today? While greed and avarice has been universal in the world, rarely has there been a cultural ideology which promotes avarice as a good, but that is exactly what lies behind capitalism. When capitalism is raised as a foundation for and central underpinning of our society, the accumulation of wealth is more important than, say, people. Regulated capitalism was understood as a necessity until very recent times; now those regulations are ridiculed and mocked, and anything which gets in the way of an individual making a buck and having absolute control over “their own money”is shown as an evil. Again, once you have the idea of one’s own absolute control (not relative control) of money, the breakdown of the moral system is obvious, leading to everything being of economic value alone, and anything which has no economic value, or hinders economic growth, are tossed aside.

      Selfishness is the capitalistic ethic for a reason.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGMQZEIXBMs&feature=player_embedded

    This is capitalism. This is the “every person for themselves, and have absolute power over their money” view which runs contrary to, well, history, let alone the Christian faith.

    I wonder what Christians posting this video think of God who threatens hellfire for the rich who don’t help out.

    • Dan

      I always find this argument laughable for it’s complete lack of awareness of its own hypocrisy.

      Oliver has committed murder. You feel that Oliver deserves death for his crimes, and pay for the police to haul Oliver away to the gas chamber. George stands still. You feel that George should pay for justice to Oliver. Is it right that you take away his resources against his will to fund the punishment of Oliver?

      It’s ok when we establish laws and allocate public resources to harshly punish criminals (against the wishes of “peaceful citizens” who disapprove of it), but it’s not ok to establish laws that allocate resources to help produce less criminals. And that’s only one example…

    • “This is capitalism. This is the “every person for themselves, and have absolute power over their money” view which runs contrary to, well, history, let alone the Christian faith.”

      I’m not so sure about that. At the end of the video, it recommends that if you want to “learn more” you perform a web search on the terms “libertarian” and “stateless society”. These are people who would rather have no government at all. Not the same as “capitalism” as most people understand it.

      In my experience, most people who favor capitalism agree that a government is necessary, if for no other reason then at least to act as a referee and to ensure property rights.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I agree with Agellius (is this a first?). The video outlines classical (late 19th century) anarchist principles: the state is a coercive instrument maintained by its monopoly on violence (direct or implied).

      It is only capitalism (or more precisely, anarcho-capitalism) if a similar analysis is not done on economic factors, relying instead on the myths of the free market.

      • David

        Capitalism can, in some way, be said to be anarchist, however, it really isn’t classical anarchism (which would also dismiss ideas in this video, because it would also dismiss what we see about wealth/money as found in capitalism). This is why corporations themselves transcend states, and why states find they have to regulate capitalism. What we see coming out recently, with the libertarian movement and its promotion of capitalism and Rand, is the purification of capitalism, removing many of the limits put on it in the past. Just as we have not had pure socialism, we have not had pure capitalism before; but capitalism, now that it has lost its competition, is free to promote itself more and more, and anything, any morality, which has traditionally put a limit to it, is being cast aside — and this is why we see people taking Rand seriously today, especially in the “conservative” movement. Capitalism has become their ideology; limits are being removed — especially limits such as the common good.

        And I would add, though it “could” be said to be anarchist in that it seeks to transcend the states as they exist today, in its own way, it creates a new political landscape, using money, its ultimately good, also as a thing of power, and money is used to coerce and create “laws” of its own. Those who have money have rights, those who do not, do not. So I would say, its ultimate end, is not anarchy, but a different kind of rule.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Henry, thanks for spelling it out: I now understand more clearly your point (though I am not sure you video made it for you). You are critiquing anarcho-capitalism, or its kinder and gentler cousin, free market capitalism. Anarcho-capitalists claim to be anarchists but are not and are roundly rejected by (most of) the anarchist movement. You put your finger on the grave weakness of these philosophies: they fail to acknowledge that while they diminish or eliminate the power of the state to promote freedom, they do not perform a similar analysis on the economic power of modern corporations (or indeed any massive accumulations of capital). They refuse to see how economic wealth can be an instrument of coercion and violence.

        Perhaps part of the problem is that the world “capitalism” is multi-valent and usually undefined (19th century liberalism notwithstanding).

        • David writes, “Perhaps part of the problem is that the world “capitalism” is multi-valent and usually undefined …”

          I agree.

  • Henry writes, “When capitalism is raised as a foundation for and central underpinning of our society, the accumulation of wealth is more important than, say, people.”

    I will not deny that our society has moral problems which are unique to it and unprecedented in history. My problem with your approach is that you seem to focus only on the economic aspect of those moral problems, which in my opinion arise out of our political system.

    For me, it’s not capitalism that has been “raised as a foundation for and central underpinning of our society”, but rather, government of the people by the people for the people — as opposed to, say, government of the people by God for God. This, in my opinion, is what has led to people raising various idols — which are most certainly not limited to money; good heavens, far from it. Self-rule itself has been idolized, to the point where it’s considered rude, pushy and even fascistic to propose that civil laws should conform to the moral law.

    Henry writes, “Again, once you have the idea of one’s own absolute control (not relative control) of money, the breakdown of the moral system is obvious, …”

    Rather, I would say that once you have the idea of the authority to govern resting in the consent of the governed, rather than in God, that the reasons for the breakdown of the moral system become obvious. Even if capitalism is as you characterize it (which I dispute), it’s an outgrowth of that idea, not its cause.

  • Liberal capitalism, at least at the theoretical level, is not rooted in the claim that maximizing profit at any cost is the highest good. The liberal tradition asserts that the common good, the good of the whole society and every member of it, is best, and indeed only really, achieved when each and every responsible citizen is maximally free. It was asserted since the 18th century by liberal theorists that this freedom of every individual depends fundamentally on two points: political liberty and economic liberty. It was asserted that the loss of one will inevitably result in the loss of the other. It is also asserted that the promotion of both will yield good not merely for a few, but for all.

    Now, there may be reasons to disbelieve this account of promoting the common good through the promotion and maximizing of personal liberty, but if one is to oppose capitalism on theoretical grounds, I would think it best to do so on its best representation of itself. From a Catholic perspective, some of what capitalism asserts is good and true. Ideally, persons should be free to pursue their interests, both politically and economically. Indeed, the ideal of subsidiarity means that, all things being equal, the world prospers when decisions and the cultivation of the good occur at the most local level appropriate to the issue at hand. It is, at least in part, the good that comes from an economic system in which the real, personal contribution of individuals, their personal “stamp” on their work and on the world as they cultivate it, which the economy is meant to promote.

    Now, the Catholic faith has been, and remains opposed to the radical atomizing of human persons and society that liberalism promotes. There are realities, such as families at the small scale, and communities, cities, and states at the large scale, that are also real human goods. These are not merely aggregates of the individuals who make them up, but realities to which the members owe due respect and whose good they are bound morally to promote. To be sure, the common good and the private good are not competitive; the common good is only achieved when members actually thrive. However, the private good is always ordered to the common good, as a part is to the whole. This is why the capitalist model, for all of its laudable promotion of individual persons and their private good, and even hoping thereby to serve the public good, will necessarily fall short.

    Happily, most people who have promoted liberalism have also had certain commitments about human nature, what human flourishing looks like, etc., as well as of higher goods than the earthly common good, e.g. the promotion of the Gospel. This has, at least historically, prevented the less happy parts of capitalist theory from being as harmful as they might have been, in a way that, e.g., Marxist societies have, by attacking the faith directly, more clearly and rapidly assaulted the good of the whole society and each of its members.

    Still, we would do well to promote those goods that liberal economic theory is less equipped to promote, at the very least so that those goods capitalism does seek to accomplish will not come about, or minimally not so readily, accompanied by the abuses that have historically attended it. This is all the more true with the rise of a more efficient, and potentially ruthless, globalization of the market, removing economic decisions from the very place liberalism wanted them to be, i.e. as interactions between persons at a human, personal level.

    • Obviously some of what is found in capitalism is good, just as some of what is found in communism is good. However, when you start adding qualifications to capitalism, it is not pure capitalism. Capitalism does not seek after “the common good.” Capitalism is not about any ethic, it is about the accumulation of wealth. Some ethics might have been thought as helpful, but as things developed, capitalism puts them aside as it finds they restrict access to that accumulation, and when they are removed, new products (porn) can be used to create more wealth. And the harmfulness of capitalism has been reported by many encyclicals which dictate its damage is equal to communism, and find them the twin shipwrecks of modern society.

      Oh, and in its nature, capitalism is about the creation of that efficient form of creating capital; that is why it leads away from morality, and the further its assent, the more it finds excuses to overcome old moral ethics, because, after all, it limits the only real good from being produced.

      • Henry:

        I think your mistake is in speaking of capitalism and those who favor it, as if they must always refer to what you understand as “pure” capitalism. I think most people who consider capitalism a good thing, only mean that it’s good to let businesses, and persons conducting business, to do so as freely as possible, to the extent that doing so doesn’t harm others.

        I think that when they say they favor capitalism, they mean it’s better than total government control over the economy; that when government lets the market work, freely it works most efficiently; but that if the market leads to obvious abuses or injustices, then restrictions ought to be put in place to mitigate them; but as few restrictions as are strictly necessary to prevent abuses and keep the machinery of the market running smoothly.

        I know quite a lot of conservatives, but I have never met one who thought that money was the highest good and ought always be the highest consideration in our society. You may think that capitalism may be reduced to that idea if taken to its logical conclusion. But to argue against its being taken to its logical conclusion, strikes me as tilting at windmills, since hardly anyone is arguing that it ought to be taken that far. (Or if you know of someone who does argue that way, maybe you should argue against that person in particular rather than “capitalists” in general.)

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Agellius writes:

        I know quite a lot of conservatives, but I have never met one who thought that money was the highest good and ought always be the highest consideration in our society.

        I have known some conservatives (perhaps not as many as you) and they also did not think this. But what you think (sincerely) you believe and what you seem to believe by the way you act are often very different things. Zizek in his analyses of capitalism, points to its “grotesque, unspoken, underbelly”: the reality that belies the system’s self-description. The 19th century robber barons are an extreme example. Many of these men were sincere, church goers, generous in their personal charity, and really believed in the common good. But in retrospect, it is clear that despite their professed beliefs, they worked in, upheld, and in some cases enforced by violence a system that degraded and oppressed the masses of industrial workers.

        In this regard I think the ideas of structures of sin put forward by liberation theologians, are relevant. In some cases it matters less about individual inclinations and dispositions that the structural forces which constrain and shape actions. Capitalism, in its pure form as Henry is criticizing, is such a structural force: amoral, omnipresent, and oriented towards the maximization of wealth.

        Henry, I am not sure if this agrees with your original analysis above, since it moves it from the realm of conscious belief and introduces unconscious beliefs and motivations (one of the features I find interesting in Zizek’s use of Lacanian psycho-analysis).

        • David writes, “In this regard I think the ideas of structures of sin put forward by liberation theologians, are relevant. In some cases it matters less about individual inclinations and dispositions that the structural forces which constrain and shape actions. Capitalism, in its pure form as Henry is criticizing, is such a structural force: amoral, omnipresent, and oriented towards the maximization of wealth.”

          Amoral and omnipresent, I agree that it is. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s a “structure of sin” since only people can sin. A structure in and of itself is neutral. Like all inanimate things, our use of it needs to be governed by the moral law.

          However I think that railing against “capitalism” itself is pointless, if you do not advocate structures that are capable of ensuring that civil laws are governed by the moral law. Otherwise, in advocating that the structures of capitalism be made just by, say, government regulation, when that government itself refuses to acknowledge the obligation to adhere to the moral law, you are basically suggesting that one amoral structure be governed by another.

    • An excellent explanation, Dominic, thank you very much.

      You write, “Liberal capitalism, at least at the theoretical level, is not rooted in the claim that maximizing profit at any cost is the highest good. The liberal tradition asserts that the common good, the good of the whole society and every member of it, is best, and indeed only really, achieved when each and every responsible citizen is maximally free.”

      I agree with this entirely. When I say that capitalism, or “the free market”, is a good thing, that’s precisely what I mean: That everyone benefits when the market is allowed to operate as freely as possible — and by “the market” I don’t mean some impersonal entity, but individual persons and businesses minding their business.

      Obviously as a serious Catholic, I don’t take it so far as to say that the free operation of the market is the highest good. Only that the more freely it can operate, the better it operates, meaning the more efficiently it can distribute its benefits to the highest number of people. When any individual agent in the market acts unfairly, unjustly or illegally, certainly he should be called to account, and rules and laws should be implemented to make sure that can be done when necessary. And I think no economic activity should be allowed which deals in immoral activity as its product.

      I’m quite sure this position is not at odds with Church teaching.

      • Free market is not the same thing as capitalism.

        • Henry writes, “Free market is not the same thing as capitalism.”

          I submit that it is the same in most modern people’s minds. Capitalism is considered as the contrast to communism, which (in practice at least) has stood for central control of the economy. I submit that the vast majority of conservatives who claim to favor capitalism, understand it as I have described above.

          Again, if you are arguing against a theoretical idea of capitalism as indeed standing for money being the highest good, I doubt you will get 3 conservatives out of a hundred who would dispute what you say.

  • Henry writes, “… capitalism, now that it has lost its competition, is free to promote itself more and more, and anything, any morality, which has traditionally put a limit to it, is being cast aside — and this is why we see people taking Rand seriously today, especially in the “conservative” movement.”

    It might be helpful to me in understanding where you’re coming from, if you could name some people who are “taking Rand seriously” and arguing for money as the highest good, etc.?

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Henry, I was doing some reading today to respond to Agellius (A: see below) and it seems that your argument strongly parallels the argument made by John Paul II in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. The passage I found is very long, but I want to quote this bit:

    This general analysis, which is religious in nature, can be supplemented by a number of particular considerations to demonstrate that among the actions and attitudes opposed to the will of God, the good of neighbour and the “structures” created by them, two are very typical: on the one hand, the all-consuming desire for profit, and on the other, the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others. In order to characterize better each of these attitudes, one can add the expression: “at any price.” In other words, we are faced with the absolutizing of human attitudes with all its possible consequences.
    Since these attitudes can exist independently of each other, they can be separated; however in today’s world both are indissolubly united, with one or the other predominating. Obviously, not only individuals fall victim to this double attitude of sin; nations and blocs can do so too. And this favors even more the introduction of the “structures of sin” of which I have spoken. If certain forms of modern “imperialism” were considered in the light of these moral criteria, we would see that hidden behind certain decisions, apparently inspired only by economics or politics, are real forms of idolatry: of money, ideology, class, technology.
    (paragraph 37)

    Here we have, in the Pope’s own words, the idolatry of “liberal capitalism.” On “wealth” (in the form of private property) he said:

    It is necessary to state once more the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine: the goods of this world are originally meant for all.78 The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. Private property, in fact, is under a “social mortgage”,79 which means that it has an intrinsically social function, based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods. (paragraph 42)

    In stating this, the Pope is drawing a very sharp distinction between the absolutization of private property (rendering it a virtue) in liberal capitalism.

    Finally, a side note: Agellius, the Pope repeatedly uses the term “structure of sin” in the sense in which I meant it. Yes, he points out that all sin is personal sin, but he forcefully points out the effect personal sin has in creating structures (social and institutional) that promote evil or turn people from the good, and so should be called “structures of sin.” For instance:

    If the present situation can be attributed to difficulties of various kinds, it is not out of place to speak of “structures of sin”, which, as I stated in my Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, are rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove.65 And thus they [structures of sin] grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people’s behaviour.

    The pope is clearly calling liberal capitalism, as he read it in 1987, a structure of sin.

    • David,

      Yes, the social encyclicals, especially those in more recent times, have seen through the problems inherent in capitalism; and some statements are quite strong — since communism has “failed,” capitalism has been seen as “ascendant” and to offer solutions — only to show it fails, too. Of course, I have many other influences (Basil, John Chrysostom, Belloc, William Morris, et. al.) influencing my line of thought….

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      William Morris?! Interesting. I have only read bits of him: when I taught a class on Utopian literature I considered using News from Nowhere, but in the end opted for Bellamy’s Looking Backward. (A better choice since it still resonates with certain authoritarian streaks in American society.) I have been reading a lot about anarchism; I have a volume on Christian anarchist thought I need to start.

      • David

        Ellul’s work on anarchy?

        As for Morris, yes; he has some great essays, and they influenced many people who also have inspired my like, like Tolkien. It’s through Tolkien I got to study Morris…

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        No, I have only read Ellul at second hand, through stuff in the Catholic Worker. I am dubious of his treatment of technology. No, this is a new book that a colleague in the religion department suggested: “Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel”, by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos. It appears to be a critical synthesis of other thinkers in this area.

  • David writes, ‘Here we have, in the Pope’s own words, the idolatry of “liberal capitalism.”’

    You seem quite sure of yourself, so I want to say that in all honesty, I’m not trying to be obtuse. But I don’t see where the Pope identifies “liberal capitalism” with “idolatry”.

    He says that two “attitudes” are typical of attitudes opposing the will of God and good of neighbor: The thirst for power at any price, and the desire for profit at any price. That those things are idolatries, I will not dispute. What I dispute is that capitalism, as most commonly understood, is equivalent to, or defined as, “the desire for profit at any price”, or in other words, making money the highest good.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Then I commend to you a close reading of the entire syllabus. The Pope makes it abundantly clear that he is equally critical of “liberal capitalism” and “marxist collectivism”; identifies both with imperialism (both political and economic) and goes on to criticize them as ideologies and as idolatry. How you define capitalism is secondary: my point is that this is how the Pope defines it and criticizes it—in terms remarkably consonant with the argument that Henry originally made.

  • David writes, ‘Then I commend to you a close reading of the entire syllabus. The Pope makes it abundantly clear that he is equally critical of “liberal capitalism” and “marxist collectivism” identifies both with imperialism (both political and economic) and goes on to criticize them as ideologies and as idolatry. How you define capitalism is secondary: my point is that this is how the Pope defines it and criticizes it—in terms remarkably consonant with the argument that Henry originally made.’

    I have read the encyclical, and I still don’t see where the Pope defines “capitalism” as “idolatry”. He does say that “structures of sin” have developed, and that they are the result of personal sin. I read this as meaning, that personal sins committed within both the systems of capitalism and marxism, have resulted in structures of sin. I see it as saying not that the systems themselves are idolatrous, only that idolatry takes place within them. Which I have already agreed with.

    But the Pope does say things which support another of my arguments, which is that militating for government regulation, control and moderation of the system of capitalism, without militating for a system of government which takes God-based morality into account in the first place, cannot make things any better:

    “It will thus be seen at once that the questions facing us are above all moral questions; and that neither the analysis of the problem of development as such nor the means to overcome the present difficulties can ignore this essential dimension.”

    “In the context of these reflections, the decision to set out or to continue the journey involves, *above all*, a moral value which men and women of faith recognize as a demand of God’s will, the *only* true foundation of an absolutely binding ethic.” [Emphasis mine.]

    “Furthermore the Christian who is taught to see that man is the image of God, called to share in the truth and the good which is God himself, does not understand a commitment to development and its application which excludes regard and respect for the unique dignity of this ‘image.'”

    “Development which is merely economic is incapable of setting man free, on the contrary, it will end by enslaving him further. Development that does not include the cultural, transcendent and *religious* dimensions of man and society, to the extent that it does not recognize the existence of such dimensions and does not endeavour to direct its goals and priorities toward the same, is even less conducive to authentic liberation.” [Emphasis mine.]

    Thus, based on the principles laid down by JP2, advocating that our government moderate and control the capitalist system for the sake of justice, when the government itself acknowledges no duty to submit to the moral law, and fails to recognize man as being made in God’s image and is therefore officially ignorant of man’s true nature and purpose, is no solution at all. Since it can judge only by human standards, the government is bound to modulate and channel and regulate the capitalist system in ways that violate human dignity every bit as much as unregulated “pure” capitalism itself would do — and for the very same reason: The failure to acknowledge and submit to the moral law, and to recognize man’s true nature and purpose.

  • In fact upon further reflection, it seems to me that condemning capitalism because it often has bad results, is like condemning public education because sometimes kids learn bad things, sometimes they don’t learn at all, and sometimes they get molested by teachers. Sometimes, in fact, public education is treated as an idol. And sometimes kids treat their school’s sports teams as idols, in the sense that nothing matters more than making the team, or winning the championship.

    But the fact that idolatry and various other evils take place within the public school system, does not justify condemning public education per se.

    One point that I think you can take away from JP2’s encyclical, is that *any* human system or activity can result in evil if it is undertaken without a true understanding man’s objective nature and purpose, and the willingness to value things in their proper order: Economics, certainly; education? oh yeah; religion; literature; movie-making; marriage; music; church-building, etc.

    And, obviously, government itself. There is no reason communism could not work, in theory, as long as it was undertaken with a true understanding of man’s nature and purpose, as it was (apparently) in the book of Acts. But when undertaken without that true understanding, the result has been catastrophe, and misery on a massive scale.

    The same, naturally, goes for democracy, as we see in the case of our own government and the 40 million human beings deliberately killed. I would avoid living under a modern communist system like the plague, because they are expressly atheistic and therefore incapable of governing in accord with objective human nature and promoting genuine human goods. But as a matter of fact, I’m not sure that an atheistic democracy is a whole lot better.