Capitalism & thinking of the other

By David Tulis

We are caught by the suggestion that capitalism and Christianity share a vital starting impulse, a living spark that prospers our hometown and encourages everyone who understands it.

To delve into this idea in a normal tone of voice we must first put into their corners under dunce caps the abuses of capitalism that the recently removed Occupy Chattanooga protesters decry.

Crony capitalism is a familiar abuse, describing well-connected men of means who obtain an inside track in government and secure federal loans and handouts. Debt and credit capitalism is an empire of businessmen who thrive on the expansion of paper money credit, fueling pointless shopping strips, extending life to wanky projects that the marketplace thinks should fail and exciting the speculative financial spirit that assumes the glory of monetary inflation.

We all benefit from crony capitalism — Waterhouse public relations downtown has a taxpayer funded solar panel on its roof, the better to electrify its PR campaigns and enliven our print and screen preoccupations. EPB has gotten Uncle to fund a checkbook from which it pays for wireless meter reading and fiber-optic cable.

Abusive forms of capitalism share the might of the monopolly, the cartel, and exhibit the sins of greed, as the Occupy placards at the county courthouse claimed. The bad eggs will last to the end of time. That is how long the misuse of force will be part of the human condition. The miscreants in the pantheon of capitalism have the ear of every person who votes at the ballot box. Their operations we as holders of the  American political franchise inextricably share in.

Capitalism is an ideal of Christianity.

Authentic capitalism is all about service, about thinking of the other. Even phonies share in the virtue of thinking about the other. Serving the other is an aspect of the creation and cannot be fully extinguished, even if one lives in the dominion of a Soviet central committee or a Pol Pot re-education camp or happens to have toiled in a Solyndra solar drum production line.

Genuine capitalism is all about service — thinking of the other. Brian May of MayCreate design and branding company downtown devised in 2011 a piece of fabric with which the owner of an iPad can use his device from any angle and keep his other hand free. The product, sold under Mr. May’s Us+U brand, offers the tag “good design + good deeds” to encapsulate Mr. May’s business goals and his ideas about how to bless others with some of his profits.

Capitalism is living out the biblical idea of serving the other person, thinking of what that person needs for his convenience, ease, benefit or profit. Capitalists such as Mr. May want to make a popular item easier to use, more enriching of its owner.

CHRISTIANITY POSITS that Jesus Christ died for the sins of His people and rescues them from eternal punishment for their violations of his law, and also from temporal punishment that, by the standard of his law, He metes out on rebels. His death on the cross is the ultimate imaginative act. Christ wasn’t just trying to help an indifferent mass of people, a group of consumers to be won over or herded into shelter. He was dying for his enemies, people who hate him, people who deny his jurisdiction and government. Initially, the church teaches, the chosen people were the Israelites. Today, under the auspices of a better covenant, it is the church.

The entrepreneur is all about serving the other person. The Christian adds an impossible element to this idea — serving one another in love.

The protestant reformer Martin Luther, whom every practicing Christian in Chattanooga and your hometown must thankfully credit as a spiritual ancestor, lists such “unimportant works such as the following:

Teaching the erring, comforting the afflicted; encouraging the weak; helping the neighbor in whatever way one can; bearing with his rude manners and impoliteness; putting up with annoyances, labors, and the ingratitude and contempt of men in both church and state;  obeying the magistrates; treating one’s parents with respect; being patent in the home with a cranky wife and an unmanageable family, and the like.

In other words, says a commentator, “serving others in love requires costly service in the ordinary duties of life. ‘But believe me,’ Luther went on to say, ‘these works are so outstanding and brilliant that the whole world cannot comprehend their usefulness and worth.’ ”

THE SERVANTHOOD of Christ is an example to all, but particularly to those who profess to love Him and be His children. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others,” we read in Philippians. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-7).

The news feeds on TV3 or capture the daily advances of capitalism and servanthood, but let’s not have a tide of facts wash away a sense of paradox that Luther delightfully captured: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.”

[I first published this essay in March 2012, my second essay on this site. — DJT]

Sources: Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians, P&R Publishing, p. 221; Chattanooga Times Free Press;