By “capitalism” I mean that system of economics that uses the accumulation of wealth as its organizational principle, and contextualizes its response to human need within free market principles. Capitalism was once a mere economic system but it has become a worldview, one might even say it has become a religion. When wealth becomes our highest value, and property becomes our ultimate credential, we only work for human welfare to the extent that someone profits from it. So, if we can make providing health care profitable, a capitalist will do it. If not, the capitalist will let poor languish. If we can make saving the planet from climate change profitable, a capitalist will do it. If not the capitalist will let the species perish as a cost saving strategy.
When one tries to be a Christian within a capitalist worldview, the religion sets people up to be victimized or to victimize others. When the people hear sermons defining material wealth as “blessings” from God, they are being set up to live their lives in pursuit of an illusion. When the people hear prayers for our troops, but not our enemy’s, they are being prepared to be chess pieces in some rich person’s war game.
When Jesus told us to renounce wealth, to renounce status, and to turn the other cheek, he was calling his followers out of any culture that places a higher value on power, or wealth or glory than it does on humanity. It is not possible to follow Christ and to submit to the greed and violence of this or any culture. When the shepherd’s crook of Jesus is replaced by the invisible hand of the market the people feel called to empty their lives into the vain pursuit of profit. When Jesus’ call to nonviolence is replaced by the trumpets of holy war, the people feel called to spill their blood in the vain pursuit of national glory.
One who would follow Jesus must stand against all that is inhumane, including one’s nation and one’s church and one’s economic system. One must either renounce capitalism or Christ; for, under capitalism, the good shepherd is the butcher’s best friend.