Christianity and wealth

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Christianity's attitude to wealth comprises a range of opinions on personal wealth and economic policy. In one extreme is the prosperity gospel which teaches wealth is desirable and a gift from God, while others interpret Jesus as being anti-materialistic and even anti-property. While Jesus does speak about personal wealth, he says remarkably little about Earthly governments which leaves Christians to interpolate the best course of action in economics. Apologists on all sides are often motivated by the desire to justify their own political and personal values, coupled with the human bias to think that "God agrees with me".

Contents

The Bible approves of wealth

Apologists put forward a range of arguments to support their view that the Bible supports the accumulation of wealth, as well as capitalism.

Ten Commandments

Right wing apologists, such as Chad Hovind [1], argue that the Ten Commandments emphasise protection of private property. However, it is a non sequitur and cherry picking to say this promotes capitalism. Other verses in the Old Testament provide a very different view, including the ban on lending money at interest.

"It was Western man's confidence in the validity of the Ten Commandments which alone created free market institutions in world history.[2]"

Jesus was a capitalist

Apologists argue that Jesus taught personal responsibility. Since capitalism supposedly is based on responsibility, they think that Jesus called for capitalism. This is the fallacy of affirming the consequent ("if responsibility is good then capitalism is good") and ignores that other economic systems also may be compatible with personal responsibility.

"One truth shines out from the Bible: Jesus spoke to the individual, never to government or government policy. Jesus was a capitalist, preaching personal responsibility, not a socialist. [3]"

The parables of Jesus are sometimes mentioned as evidence of his capitalist leanings. [4][5][6] For example, the parable of the talents Matthew 25:14-29 Bible-icon.png in which servants are entrusted with money by a rich man. Some of the servants invest the money and generate more wealth for which they are rewarded. The servant that simply stores the money is relieved of his responsibilities.

"Biblical Christianity tends to create a capitalistic mode of life and is a material by-product of the Mosaic Law. Jesus confirmed this worldview and taught the principles of stewardship. In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, three servants are given talents to invest; 10, 5, and 1 respectively. [7]"

The apologist's literal interpretation is hopelessly misguided in this case because parables concerned spiritual matters, in this case using God given abilities in the context of the kingdom of Heaven, not economics. If we are going to take parables at face value, the parable of the vineyard Matthew 20:1-16 Bible-icon.png says to pay everyone equally irrespective of the work they did!

The phrase "the labourer is worthy of his hire" Luke 10:7 Bible-icon.png 1 Timothy 5:18 Bible-icon.png is also cherry picked by apologists, [4] but really refers to giving support and respect to religious teachers (rather than paying workers in general).

Paul the Apostle says get a job

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Paul wrote "if any would not work, neither should he eat" 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Bible-icon.png. This may be a teaching to address a specific problem in that particular church, in this case people abandoning their previous practice of hard work when they converted to Christianity (possibly in the belief the end times were imminent), rather than a general instruction. [8] [9] Some Christian politicians use this verse to justify cuts to government services for the poor.[10] However, this saying supports communism as much as capitalism; it was commended by Lenin in The First Phase of Communist Society and appears in article twelve of the 1936 Soviet Constitution.

God wants you to be wealthy

Main Article: Prosperity gospel

Prosperity gospel is a doctrine taught by some Christian churches which claims that commitment to the church will lead to financial gains and good health. Believers are encouraged to have faith, tithe and give generous donations. Churches that preach this message are often also non-denominational, name it and claim it preachers and faith healers. Some preachers say that your life with go well and have less pain if you follow their teaching; the more radical teachers of the prosperity gospel claim that God's plan is for you to be financially wealthy. [11] Many other denominations consider this doctrine as heretical. Prosperity gospel is often dismissed as heretical by most Christian denominations.

Christian apologist quotes

"We must not cast away riches which can benefit our neighbor. Possessions were made to be possessed; goods are called goods because they do good, and they have been provided by God for the good of men"

Clement of Alexandria [12]

"Riches are not forbidden, but the pride of them is."

Saint John Chrysostom [12]

"There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men."

Billy Graham [12]

"The accumulation of wealth is a process which is of itself morally neutral. True, as Christianity teaches, riches bring temptations. But then so does poverty."

Margaret Thatcher [12]

See also the preachers of the prosperity gospel.

The Bible rejects wealth

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Christian apologists are cherry picking the Bible and ignore the message of the gospels to avoid material possessions and not to plan for the future Matthew 6:25-27 Bible-icon.png. The Bible also condemns the love of money and possessions, sometimes referred to as mammon.

"But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

1 Timothy 6:8-10 Bible-icon.png (emphasis added)

"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

Matthew 6:24 Bible-icon.png

"I'll say it again--it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!"

Matthew 19:24 Bible-icon.png

"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy"

Ezekiel 16:49 Bible-icon.png

"Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on."

Luke 12:22 Bible-icon.png

"But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."

Luke 16:25 Bible-icon.png

"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you."

James 5:1 Bible-icon.png

"But whoso hath the world’s goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?"

1 John 3:17 Bible-icon.png

Many people have interpreted these verses as a rejection of the accumulation of wealth:

"Those who refuse to accept the fact that Jesus Christ was a progressive, a liberal, and a socialist are either in denial of what the Gospels say, or they are hopelessly ignorant; content to be misled by the charlatans whom their tithes support. Study the Gospels and you will have no honest choice but to conclude that Jesus Christ was a radical liberal in his deeds and ideas. [13]"

"you can’t call yourself a capitalist and a Christian, because you cannot love your money and love your neighbor"

— Michael Moore [14]

The early church was communist

Christian churches often try to emulate the early church but it is rare to hear of modern Christian churches holding their goods in common or shared ownership - a practice that is often associated with communism. This only now occurs within monastic orders and the Anabaptist/Mennonite movements. This is another instance of the selective use of the New Testament by mainstream Christians.

"And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."

Acts 4:32-35 Bible-icon.png

"and they sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all men, as every man had need."

Acts 2:45 Bible-icon.png

Apologists argue that Christianity differs from communism by one is voluntary and the other is state sanctioned.

"However, this is voluntary benevolence—not coercion, which socialism requires of the state. [15]"

However, all Earthly states have some degree of coercion, including capitalism. Condemning a system because one attribute is imperfect commits the Nirvana fallacy. If an Earthly government type had to be selected despite the unavoidable fact they are all coercive to a degree, would not communism be the most Biblical?

Jesus said to give up all possessions

Many times, Jesus commands that Christians should sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor. [16] This is often ignored because of Christian's selective use of the New Testament.

"Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth."

Luke 12:33 Bible-icon.png

"Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."

Matthew 19:21 Bible-icon.png

"So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."

Luke 14:33 Bible-icon.png

"When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me"

Luke 18:22 Bible-icon.png

Jesus says give away everything first, then follow me. Christians try to focus on the second step and never quite get around to the "give everything away" stage. Jesus compliments a widow who donates all her meagre wealth. Mark 12:42 Bible-icon.png Also, do not save or lay up treasures. Matt. 6:19-21 Bible-icon.png Christians are to renounce worldly attachments and possessions. 1 John 2:15-17 Bible-icon.png Colossians 3:2 Bible-icon.png James 4:4 Bible-icon.png Based on the teaching and personal example of Jesus, sell everything and give the money to the poor. Mark 10:21 Bible-icon.png Luke 21:1-4 Bible-icon.png Luke 18:22 Bible-icon.png

"Is this the same teaching, when Christ says to the rich young man, 'Sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor'; and when the priest says, 'Sell all that thou hast and—give it to me'"

Søren Kierkegaard [17]

Apologists try to dismiss these commandments by claiming it was for the specific person Jesus was speaking to [18] and not a general rule. This ignores the overall teaching of Jesus on property and specifically ignores Luke 12:33 Bible-icon.png, which is a reiteration of the commandment in a different context (it appears at least twice in Luke). Therefore it is a general rule that applies to all Christians.

Apologists argue that Jesus refusing to arbitrate an inheritance dispute Luke 12:13-14 Bible-icon.png was in support of capitalism. [5] However, the parable immediate following (Luke 12:15-20 Bible-icon.png) shows that Jesus was rejecting planning and investing in the future entirely! This shows that just using the first quote is cherry picking.

(Paul contradicts Jesus saying that one should provide for one's house/family. 1 Timothy 5:8 Bible-icon.png)

Money lending and usury

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From the founding of Christianity to the 16th century, lending money at a guaranteed interest rate was banned in Christianity. There was toleration of investing when the risk of the investment was shared both lender and borrower. This rule was loosened when writers including John Calvin argued that low interest lending would be permissible. [19] His influence in protestantism made profit driven enterprise seem more acceptable in those denominations.

"But, according to God’s word, loans to the poor had to be interest free (Ex. 22:25 Bible-icon.png; Lev. 25:35-37 Bible-icon.png) and forgiven at the end of six years (Dt. 15:1-2, 7-10 Bible-icon.png). [7]"

Since lending money at interest is forbidden, following the Bible makes capitalism impossible since it relies on interest being paid on loans. Also, lending to one's countryman is also forbidden in Deuteronomy 15:6 Bible-icon.png.

Jesus also said to lend money without to expect it to be returned, which makes capitalism unworkable:

"And if ye lend to them from whom ye hope to receive, what thanks have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil."

Luke 6:34-35 Bible-icon.png

Paul also said to avoid owing anything, which makes capitalism impossible. Romans 13:8 Bible-icon.png

The poor are blessed

Jesus said the poor are blessed, while the rich are cursed. Lk 6.20–26 Bible-icon.png The poor will also enter the Kingdom of Heaven Luke 14:15-24 Bible-icon.png.

"I will never understand how politicians who call themselves Christian can read the Gospels and then treat the poor and the sick like dirt."

— James Martin, Jesuit Priest[20]

Christian apologist quotes

"For all riches come from iniquity, and unless one were to lose another could not gain. Hence the common adage seems to me to be very true: The rich man is unjust or the heir of an unjust one."

St. Jerome [12]

"When someone steals another's clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor. [elsewhere:] While we try to amass wealth, make piles of money, get hold of the land as our real property, overtop one another in riches, we have palpably cast off justice, and lost the common good. [and:] Resolve to treat the things in your possession as belonging to others."

St. Basil of Caesarea [12]

"The rich are like beasts of burden, carrying treasure all day, and at the night of death unladen; they carry to their grave only the bruises and marks of their toil. [and elsewhere:] There are people who hope from him riches or perishable and transitory honours, in short they hope to get from God things which are not God himself."

St. Augustine [12]

"Great abundance of riches cannot be gathered and kept by any man without sin."

Desiderius Erasmus [12]

"The Lord commonly gives riches to foolish people, to whom he gives nothing else. [and elsewhere:] Poverty hath slain a thousand, but riches have slain ten thousand. They are very uncertain, they promise that which they cannot perform, neither can they afford a contented mind. [and again:] Not only the adoration of images is idolatry, but also trust in one's own righteousness, works and merits, and putting confidence in riches and power. As the latter is the commonest, so it also is the most noxious."

Martin Luther [12]

"it must be plain also that we should not anxiously strive for riches and honors by relying on our own diligence or cleverness or by depending on the favor of men or by trusting in the notion of good luck"

John Calvin [12]

"It is a sin directly against one's neighbour, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them."

Thomas Aquinas [12]

"O blessed poverty, who bestows eternal riches on those who love and embrace her!"

— Clare of Assisi [12]

"Riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity. [and elsewhere] Any 'Christians' who take for themselves any more than the plain necessaries of life, live in an open habitual denial of the Lord. They have gained riches and hell-fire."

John Wesley [12]

"That is true plenty, not to have, but not to want riches."

Saint John Chrysostom [12]

"These days there is a lot of poverty in the world, and that's a scandal when we have so many riches and resources to give to everyone. We all have to think about how we can become a little poorer. [12][elswhere:] And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. [21]"

Pope Francis

"The pathology of the rich white family is the most dangerous pathology in America. The rich white family is cursed with too much money and privilege. It is devoid of empathy, the result of lifetimes of entitlement."

Chris Hedges [22]

"the economism that rules the West and through it most of the East [...] is directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching. Jesus said that we could not serve both God and wealth, and it is obvious that Western society is organized in the service of wealth."

— John B. Cobb, Jr. [23]

Taxation and socialism

Care for the poor should be done by individuals not government

Apologists argue that the Bible does not ask government to care for the poor.

"Nowhere in the Gospels, not once, did Jesus tell the government to take care of the poor. It was to individuals, especially his people, the Christian believers, to whom he assigned the task every time. [24]"
"Nowhere in the Bible does God grant the government the authority to redistribute wealth [7]"

On the other hand, it doesn't say the government shouldn't care for the poor.

"First, Jesus said nothing about implementing any Christian principles in government [25]"
"That seems to me to be making a virtue out of an unfortunate reality. [...] The truth is that Jesus didn't explicitly say anything about what his followers should vote for or try to accomplish by means of government. [26]"

However, Paul taught that Christians should pay taxes to support the government. This is because God "ordained" them to do good on his behalf Romans 13:1-7 Bible-icon.png, including punishing wrongdoers (and not helping the poor is wrong Ezekiel 16:49 Bible-icon.png), and giving approval/commendation/praise to those that do good Romans 13:3 Bible-icon.png. One obvious way to show approval of workers in public services is to give them wages and material support!

Government workers are also people with their own values. As freedom of conscience apologists frequently say, we can't expect government workers to leave their personal values at home. A person in authority would presumably be allowed to follow their conscience and direct state resources to help to poor. Pope Pius XI commented:

"Quite agreeable, of course, was this state of things to those who thought it in their abundant riches the result of inevitable economic laws and accordingly, as if it were for charity to veil the violation of justice which lawmakers not only tolerated but at times sanctioned, wanted the whole care of supporting the poor committed to charity alone. [12]"

The state is expected to do good because authority is a "minister of God to thee for good" Romans 13:4 Bible-icon.png. Since the good government does is for everyone, we can say the government can work for the common good.

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"The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the State, since the common good is the reason that the political authority exists"

— From the Catholic Church's Social Doctrine[27]
"What right do we have to tell God He can’t bless a single mother who’s been crying out to Him for help through the WIC or SNAP food assistance programs because we want to be the ones who hand her a bag of groceries? [28]"

Taxation is theft

Pro-capitalist apologists argue that if taxation is left and theft is forbidden in the Bible, therefore taxation is wrong. However, this depends on the unsupported assertion that taxation is theft, which is not itself supported by the Bible.

"As we saw previously, socialism is morally flawed because it is built on theft, in violation of the Eighth Commandment. Motivated by envy and covetousness, socialism violates the Tenth Commandment. [7]"

The motivation of socialism is a red herring because we should judge it on its consequences. While some apologists say taxation is wrong, Jesus shows remarkable indifference. After pointing out the face of Caesar on Roman money he said:

"Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”"

Mark 12:17 Bible-icon.png

The Old Testament does prescribe a number of tithes, which were a systematic and widespread transfer of goods and money to support the poor and those with insufficient income Deuteronomy 14:28 Bible-icon.png. [7] While of questionable direct relevance to Christians, it does indicate that wealth redistribution was acceptable in principle.

Notably, Romans 13:6 Bible-icon.png says that people should pay taxes to support God's work that he performs through state authority. It does not get much clearer than that!

Contribution should be voluntary

While Christians generally accept the principle of charity, there is sometimes controversy if Biblical charity is used to justify taxation and pending on social projects. Apologist are that donors and local communities should administer charity rather than state institutions. They point out that helping the poor and tithing were voluntary contributions that were not enforceable or administered by the state. [29]

"And if government takes your money by force and gives it to other people, what credit is that to you? How have you fulfilled Matthew 25:31-46 Bible-icon.png if you had no choice in the matter? Will you be praised or rewarded if you had no choice but your money was taken from you by force? [5]"
"However, this is voluntary benevolence—not coercion, which socialism requires of the state. [30]"
"The Christian view is that people should freely choose to give, such that things like welfare states are not needed. If we must be compelled to give, what does that say about us? [31]"

Apologists are quibbling over charity being voluntary while they also believe that God says give alms to the poor. That makes it non-voluntary to Christians. If a state enforces socialism using the justification of charity, it is hypocritical for Christians to say it should be non-voluntary, because they contradict their own Bible.

Even if we assume the Bible does not support state socialism, it does not necessarily mean socialism is wrong (that would be denying the antecedent).

It is doubtful if Christians should be complaining since Jesus said to tolerate these types of requests:

"If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."

Matthew 5:41-42 Bible-icon.png

In any case, Paul the Apostle teaches that takes should be paid so that the government can do God's work:

"Pay your taxes too, for these same two reasons. For government workers need to be paid so that they can keep on doing God’s work, serving you."

Romans 13:6 Bible-icon.png (Living Bible)

Only God may punish those who neglect the poor

Libertarian apologists argue that the state should not collect mandatory taxes to find social programmes because a state have no right to punish those who are not charitable.

"Of course, while the state is not to punish the sin of neglecting the poor, God nevertheless does. [32]"

However, Paul the Apostle said that those in authority are also Gods servants for "your good" and should be obeyed Romans 13:1-4 Bible-icon.png. Therefore you should pay taxes to support the good that the government does on behalf of God Romans 13:6 Bible-icon.png, to avoid punishment and because it is the right thing to do Romans 13:5 Bible-icon.png. There is no Biblical argument that states may not punish wrong-doers (and not helping the poor is wrong Ezekiel 16:49 Bible-icon.png). Jesus never said the Romans should not be taxing and spending on roads and aqueducts.

"So the purpose of government, according to Paul, is to protect and promote. [33]"

Taxation based on tithing

Some politicians have claimed that a tax system based on tithing 10% of income would be a Biblical practice. This is cherry picking and ignores the other forms of taxation specified in the Bible:

"Early religious authorities struggled with the question of just how much charity one should do and concluded, based on Jacob’s example, that one should set aside 10 percent of one’s income to help the poor. But it wasn’t that simple. Those who actually needed charity were relieved of the obligation, and those with little to give were asked to give something less than 10 percent. However, those with significant assets were actually asked to give more, up to 20 percent of their assets. Thus, far from being a flat tax, as Carson suggests, this practice was actually progressive in nature. [34]"

Was Jesus a socialist?

Since Jesus was against the accumulation of wealth and involvement in worldly affairs, as well as showing indifference to governments, it would be questionable to claim he supported any specific government system. His concern for the poor is in common with socialism but he may have rejected other aspects of it. Since wealth is the central feature of capitalism, Jesus would probably have opposed it.

"Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one's work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no "swank" or "side," no putting on airs. To that extent a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist."

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Socialism is idolatry of government

"Today, socialists put the State as the supreme provider, giving it a character and function completely outside God’s purposes. To accept that role for the State imposed by socialism is to embrace idolatry and fall into serious sin against God. [35]"

Socialism is no more idolatrous than other forms of government. It is arguably less idolatrous than capitalism, which idolises capital/money and provides a bureaucratic framework for contracts to be enforced. The Bible repeatedly and specifically warns against love of money!

Causes of poverty

In contrast to Jesus's strong emphasis on helping the poor, many Christians would rather blame the poor for their situation. This is another example of the moral failure of mainstream religion.

Main cause of poverty, according to various demographics[36]
Group Lack of effort Circumstances
U.S. white evangelical Protestants 53% 41%
U.S. Catholics 50% 45%
U.S. Atheists 31% 65%

Relevance

Christianity has no bearing on economics

"Individuals who really think Jesus or God gives a hoot what economic system a tribe, group or people or country has or would endorse or promote a specific should really stop representing themselves as christians. [37]"

The Bible is wrong

Skeptics and those of other religions might say that the Bible is not a suitable guide for personal or government economic policy.

References

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. 4.0 4.1 [4]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 [5]
  6. [6]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 [7]
  8. [8]
  9. [9]
  10. [10]
  11. John Piper - Why I abominate the prosperity gospel
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 12.11 12.12 12.13 12.14 12.15 azquotes.com
  13. [11]
  14. [12]
  15. [13]
  16. God is imaginary, Proof #19 - Notice that you ignore Jesus
  17. [14]
  18. [15]
  19. [16]
  20. [17]
  21. [18]
  22. [19]
  23. [20]
  24. Comment by Brigit Morris on Charity: A Duty for People, Not Governments
  25. [21]
  26. [22]
  27. Principles of the Church's Social Doctrine
  28. [23]
  29. [24]
  30. [25]
  31. [26]
  32. [27]
  33. [28]
  34. [29]
  35. [30]
  36. [31]
  37. JRook, [commont on Pastor Was so Frustrated With Christians ‘Brainwashed Into Thinking That Jesus Was a Socialist or Marxist’ That He Penned This Book], Aug. 20, 2014

See also

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