Christianity and Capitalism

At our recent BreakPoint "Christians in the Marketplace" conference, theologian and scholar Michael Novak told us of a trip he took to Sudan. He went for the State Department to talk to guerilla leaders there about religion, politics, and economics. About half of those men rebelling against their oppressive Muslim government were Muslims themselves. They told Michael that they were frustrated because they felt that their religion provided them with no real framework for democratic reform. Explaining to those leaders how we in the United States had come to our understanding of basic human rights made Michael realize all the more how foundational the role of Christianity is in our political and economic systems. Unlike Christianity, you see, Islam places its sole emphasis on the greatness of God. The Christian faith emphasizes this as well, but it places equal emphasis on the idea of a God who willingly humbled Himself to reach out to His own fallen creatures. Islam does not. The Islamic world has never developed what Michael calls a "theory of liberty" -- the idea of a freely chosen relationship with the Creator. That relationship, he believes, even more important than the law, is fundamental if we're to have a civil society -- because that consensus of belief provides the basis of human dignity, liberty, and equality. And that relationship with the Creator also underlies our system of capitalism. To be made in the image of God, Michael argues, is to be a creator. The Scriptures teach that God gave us the gift of creativity, the power to find and develop the potential within the world around us. As Michael puts it, if you're running a business and not helping the people who work for you to develop their creativity and put it to good use, there's something wrong with your business. The impact of a well run business reaches beyond its employees and even beyond its community. For example, just a few centuries ago, most people lived under tyranny and in poverty. But today, two-thirds of the world's population lives above the poverty line. This development is the direct result of human creativity that is so encouraged in Christian societies. The Christian understanding of the world teaches that it is imperative to help as many people out of poverty as we can. History demonstrates that the best way of doing that is using business to create opportunities for those around the world who need them. Moreover, business development in needy countries will help provide the economic base that democracy needs in order to survive. As Adam Smith demonstrated in his seminal work The Wealth of Nations, when we're trying to help the poor, the important question is not the root causes of poverty -- we don't want to create more of that -- but rather the root causes of wealth, and how to help these people attain wealth. The marketplace today is full of Christians, but unfortunately, many of them don't understand how important their calling is, or how to live out their beliefs in their workplace. They should start by recognizing that when we exercise the creative capacity that God has given us, we not only benefit ourselves. We are helping to transform the world for humankind and for Him. For further reading: Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776). (Random House published it with the title An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1994.) Michael Novak, "The Moral Heart of Capitalism" (his remarks at last year's President's Economic Forum in Waco, Texas), National Review Online, 16 August 2002. Michael Novak, Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life (Free Press, 1996). "President Bush Concludes Week Long Trip to Africa," Congress Hall, Abuja, Nigeria, White House Office of the Press Secretary, 12 July 2003. (The president spoke of the "goodness and the compassion and the enterprise of the men and women" of Africa, and of the continent's promise and potential.) "Christians in the Marketplace," (CD set) a Christian Mind in the New Millennium III conference, took place April 4-6, 2003, at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort and Conference Center in Colorado Springs, CO. At this BreakPoint worldview conference, speakers discussed the role of Christian worldview in today's business sector and marketplace, how businesses should apply ethical standards to their practices, and how our work should be viewed as a calling -- an opportunity to serve God in our business. (An audiocassette set is also available.)


Chuck Colson


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