Capitalism and Christianity at Christmastime: Hubris and Hypocrisy Explored

The holiday season, during the time of a global pandemic, offers us a chance to reflect on issues that are important. I like to think and write about existential issues of seemingly opposing forces and how they coexist. Capitalists and Christians. Wealth and Poverty. Power and Weakness. Takers and Givers. Us and Them. Mine and Yours.

These differences between the two are not always binary and opposed. Issues, things, and people can be fluid since the dynamic between them changes constantly.

Let’s start by looking as objectively as possible at Capitalism.

Capitalism demands Fealty to Growth at all costs. Publicly traded companies are graded on their stock price which is derived by the perception of its ability to efficiently growing profit month after month. It is short-term in its orientation and accountability.

Growing profit requires a reduction in expenses. One of biggest expenses in most companies is labor. Cutting labor costs is generally done by squeezing the most work from the fewest possible people or automation through technological innovation. Conversely and simultaneously, executive compensation continues to increase significantly faster and as a matter of total compensation than that of staff. While executives continue to make more money and their wealth grows at a compounded rate, their employee’s relative income has stagnated.

There are two concurrent, dominant ‘religions’ in America: Capitalism and Christianity.

I think of capitalism as a non-theistic religion. This means that it is a God-less religion where worshippers pay homage to, and are motivated by, the opportunity to get and have material things and wealth. Capitalism demands competition and is inherently selfish.

Capitalism, unchecked, puts the priorities of the individual over that of his fellow citizens. It embraces competition, which pits people against each other.

In a capitalistic society, the negative side-effect is the existence of an extreme divide between the “have and have-nots.”

Those with wealth and power want to retain their wealth and power for themselves, because, in their mind, they “earned it.” Those without wealth or power become resentful of those with wealth and power. Conversely, those with wealth and power have disdain for those who don’t because they didn’t work hard enough to be part of the wealthy and powerful club.

Neither trusts the other. Without trust, love cannot exist. Without Love, there is no God.

I love God. I enjoy traditions of the holiday season. Traditionally, the holiday season is a time for giving and receiving. As we age, giving becomes more important than receiving. Because, for many of us, the karmic reward for giving is greater than that of receiving.

According to Christianity, the birth of Christ, celebrated on Christmas Day, is the gift of redemption for our sins. Jesus Christ was born to teach us that we can be forgiven if we accept him as our lord and savior.

He is The Gift and the reason why Christians give each other presents on this day — so they can celebrate the gift God gave to us through his only son. This is a belief followed by billions of people on Earth.

However, I fear that the holidays have lost their original meaning. A simple act of giving in celebration of Christ being born has turned into something different by capitalism. Businesses selling products and seeking growth try to capitalize on this tradition. A peaceful time has become a stressful time where parents worry about getting enough for their children. And Christmas Day has been overtaken by the NBA who broadcast games all day long.

As far as I know, Jesus didn’t play hoops…

Speaking of Christianity, some say that we are a Christian nation. I disagree without malice. We are not a Christian nation. We live in a capitalistic democracy made up of laws that specifically provide for a separation of church and state. That said, our country is filled with many Christian people who made up most early immigrants trying to find a place where they could be free to worship as they chose. However, there are many other religions that do not believe in Christ and, instead, celebrate the “Holiday Season” instead of Christmas. I was baptized as a Catholic and support many of the teachings of Christ but have genuine concerns with the human interpretation and application of the Bible.

Quickly and quietly gaining ground on Christianity is a nontheistic “religion” in the United States called Humanism. Humanist religions worship humanity instead of God. Humanists are organically predisposed toward and aligned with, capitalism.

This is evidenced through the concurrent decrease in church attendance and the growth in the stock market value.

Social humanism says that human beings have a unique and separate nature that is the most fundamentally different from all other living things. They say that the supreme good is what is best for all human beings.

In America, as mostly capitalist liberal humanists, we combine Social Humanism with a belief in American Exceptionalism. We also believe that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for all.

Since this was written, ‘all’ now includes black people and women. Previously they were considered ‘property’ of white men who held all of the wealth and power.

Combined, these factors have altered how we celebrate Christmas and “The Holiday Season.” The focus has moved from religious celebration to consumption of commercial products to satiate ourselves as a diversion from the original, authentic celebration.

In short, we are in a cultural, moral, and existential tug of war between capitalism and religion.

Has Capitalism already won? I think so.

Capitalism is practiced just about every waking moment through most of our thoughts and actions of consumption while religion is practiced when in church or in need of help for something from God.

Consumption is driven by a combination of individual desire and consumer product businesses. They are both sustained and perpetuated by more, ongoing consumption and growth. The products and services are hyped in media, and object-oriented people are conditioned to buy and consume more to find illusory happiness through that consumption. Media supports and reinforces both the desire and availability to help consumers achieve “happiness.”

So, here we are, dealing with contradictions as mostly humanists, giving gifts, during the holiday season, which has become the entire year now that Amazon is literally always selling something on every connected device, during a global pandemic, in a capitalistic democracy that was formed by Christians.

Take a bite out of that sentence!

Most people in the USA think of capitalism as a good thing. And it does many good things. The inherent competition creates better more efficient products and services for consumers. Consumers have more choices and better prices.

However, capitalism in our democracy is flawed because it lacks authentic meritocracy and takes advantage of the weak, stupid, poor and disenfranchised. Our capitalism provides more advantages to who you know, much more than what you know, and is predisposed to preexisting wealth and social class inherited by previous generations.

The byproduct of a system that rewards winners and punishes losers is a growing gap between the two. The gap is a division that leads to envy from losers and disdain from winners. This leads to denigration of the other and, in the extreme, hatred.

Meritocracy on the other hand, is a fair and balanced capitalism that rewards talent, effort, and achievement. Collectively we give lip service to meritocracy, but if we honestly look at causes for racial wealth disparity, we can easily see that minorities are not beneficiaries of the primary mechanisms for wealth creation: real estate investment, stock market investment, and inheritance.

The under-participation of minorities in wealth creation is driven by several factors: lack of available capital for investment and lack of trust in a system set up and run by a white, male patriarchy.

This wealth disparity is also increased generationally because there is much less wealth transferred through inheritance by minorities than by white people.

The disparity in the wealth gap is increased generationally through the inheritance differences by races. I, as an educated, white male, am a beneficiary of this flawed system based on my skin color, education, and upbringing. While I inherited no wealth, I was encouraged to invest in the stock market and real estate. Both significantly increased my wealth.

Look at the recent disparity in economic gain, the working class got laid off or let go due to lack of work during the pandemic. These are mostly renters who live paycheck to paycheck because the wealthy business owners pay only as much as they have to so that they maximize profits to appease investors. Ironically and concurrently, homeowner’s value has soared and the stock market skyrocketed to all-time highs.

***

The mechanism for simultaneous equality and prosperity emanates from fair legislation and taxation. Laws and enforcement of the laws are required to protect everyone and maintain a functional system of governance.

Unregulated capitalism is not a perfect panacea to problems in society, because, lacking balanced taxation and enforcement leads to an extreme gap between the rich and poor.

When capitalists feel that too many laws impede their ability to earn unlimited income, they accuse legislators of socialist tendencies knowing that the accusation of socialism is a scarlet letter that brands the accused as someone who doesn’t love America.

While many on the left are branded as socialists or having socialist leanings, I believe that is an unfair accusation, if we understand that socialism endorses government-owned businesses. Wanting equality and opportunity under the law does not mean that they want everything to be government owned and run.

In our current environment within our existing political structure, our challenge is that our legislators are divided by political parties who demonize one another as evil and divide the electorate (us) by accusing us of extremism by using generalizations to attack opposing views. An example is how the right uses the “socialist” attack to erroneously label those on the left as anti-American.

To further illustrate the wealth gap, we can just look at these contrasting statistics:

There are 600+ billionaires who are getting wealthier each day during a pandemic. They have the means and incentives to avoid paying taxes.

There are more than 38 million people living below the poverty line in the USA.

Should extremes be moderated? If so, how?

Is legislating greater equality considered socialism?

Or is it creating balance by moderating capitalism to best serve the interest of all Americans?

Despite all the identified issues in our society, it is important to acknowledge that we are undertaking the most unique and noble challenge that has ever been attempted in the history of mankind: We are attempting to blend capitalism and democracy in a vast, ethnically diverse country.

***

How does Christianity fit in this picture? What does the Bible say?

Matthew 19:24 “Again I tell you; 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.”

What would Jesus say?

There is a famous historical event depicted on lots of artwork.

Jesus is stated to have visited the Temple in Jerusalem, where the courtyard is described as being filled with livestock, merchants, and the tables of the money changers, who changed the standard Greek and Roman money for Jewish and Tyrian shekels.[2] Jerusalem was packed with Jews who had come for Passover, perhaps numbering 300,000 to 400,000 pilgrims.[3][4]

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade”.

John 2:13–16

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Matthew 21:12–13

Was this a condemnation of thieves in the house of the lord or was it a condemnation of capitalism?

Herod’s Temple, referred to in John 2:13, as imagined in the Holyland Model of Jerusalem. It is currently situated adjacent to the Shrine of the Book exhibit at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

In Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47 Jesus accused the Temple authorities of thieving and this time he names poor widows as their victims, going on to provide evidence of this in Mark 12:42 and Luke 21:2. Dove sellers were selling doves that were sacrificed by the poor who could not afford grander sacrifices and specifically by women. According to Mark 11:16, Jesus then put an embargo on people carrying any merchandise through the Temple, a sanction which would have disrupted all commerce.[1][5] This occurred in the outermost court of the gentiles.

I think that the teachings of Christ and the words of the Bible have been twisted by the desires of the leaders of churches who are susceptible to the lust for wealth and power.

Jesus preached peace, empathy, and love. He had no known occupation during the three years that he was in public life. By his actions, it appears that he was not fond of capitalism.

According to my understanding, the Catholic Church, which was built on his teaching, requires capital to function. It solicits donations in church. It holds fundraisers. People pay to have funeral and wedding services in churches. It sells advertising in the weekly bulletin. It has vast real estate holdings that will never be transferred outside of the church because those holdings are church-owned not human-owned. And celibate priests cannot have children, so there is nothing to inherit. It pays no taxes.

Yet, it is a huge business. According to the Associated Press, 112 parishes diocese in the United States had over $10 billion in cash and other funds at the beginning of the global pandemic in 2019. This does not include vast real estate holdings.

It runs itself like a business by grading churches and diocese on their viability including parishioners, priests, donations and overall financial performance. If a church is not generating enough money, it is often consolidated with another church or closed. If closed, it can be sold, in

some cases to residential developers. If a bishop determines that a “grave cause” exists — dire financial burden, a dwindling number of faithful or extreme physical disrepair, to name a few — the church can be relegated to “profane but not sordid use,” according to canon law.

The church also has significant political influence. It preaches right to life. It condemns homosexuality as a sin. It is opposed to same sex marriage. It honors men who make big donations. It has exclusive schools that charge a premium for a select group of students.

If I had to guess, I would say that Jesus would condemn some of the financial dealings in the very church that was built to honor his name.

So, how do they coexist? Capitalism won. The church doesn’t oppose it because it practices capitalism as noted above.

Yet the capitalism victory is pyric because the church has abdicated its moral authority by not condemning sinners like Donald Trump who uses the imagery of himself holding a bible and hoodwinks the Christian right by appointing supreme court justices who they hope will do their political bidding.

So, the catholic church exists here in America as an entity run like a business and is subservient to the pervasive culture of growth-hungry businesses and superficial, self-serving consumption by the populace.

No wonder why the holiday season is such a stressful time for so many people — they are caught up in the subliminal moral conundrum of a conflicted society that embraces unconstrained consumerism while occasionally going to church and hearing stories about Jesus Christ who practiced simple living and loving.

Practicing hypocrisy is not fun to live with no matter how much stuff you have…

We already know that religion was created as a mechanism to for society to control the masses and for the individual to give meaning to life.

Let’s look.

In my book Deep Dive, I analyzed how we humans spend tons of time avoiding thinking about the things that really matter like what are we doing here? What is our purpose?

If you really reflect for a few minutes, isn’t that the most important question we can ask ourselves individually and culturally?

Why do we avoid asking ourselves or pondering the most important question in our existence on this planet?

Because we already have an answer provided by religion: Faith. Faith in a God that supposedly has a divine plan for you and me as individuals, above all else. What if our plans conflict? Who does God choose? Why me over you or you over me?

Why did that happen? “It was God’s plan for me.”

Really?

Faith teaches us to disregard facts, ignore reason, and have blind faith in a narrative that was created to tell us a story about who we are and what we are doing based on a bible, written by men, that says we are the son of God: That we are special. That the earth was made for us to rule. That all living things were meant for our pleasure and consumption.

Since this story pleases us and allows us to act like we are Gods, we use a circular argument by pointing back to a bible and saying that it is the word of God, to justify our behavior.

“See: It is okay. God said so.”

Oh, and Christianity also has a special prize for us in case we act too selfishly, kill too many, ruin the planet: We are weak. We are sinners. We were made that way. It is not our fault. We just need to ask forgiveness. Repent and be saved from spending eternity in hell.

“Bless me father for I have sinned.”

Culturally religion keeps people working hard and trying to do the right thing because as the story goes, we are here on earth to spend our time worshiping a God who has a plan for every single one of the billions of people and then that God will decide how we spend eternity.

So, be good, work hard, trust the plan, go to church, or else…

Individually, we are social beings in desire of approval by others. The structure of the church provides a fraternity where we can be with others of like-minded beliefs. This is a circle of reinforcement which self-perpetuates:

Go to church, support the church, give money to the church, ask for forgiveness to the priest in our church, support the community that does the same, and so on….



Capitalism and Christianity are seemingly at odds:

Capitalism is competition. It demands consumption, winning and constant growth.

Christianity teaches kindness, sharing, sacrifice, and teamwork.

But are they really at odds with each other?

Christianity is inherently evangelical. It is the largest religion in the world.

Perhaps I was wrong? Perhaps it and Capitalism are not opposed but symbiotic?

Why do people give money to others? Why would s struggling Hispanic family give their hard-earned money to a church that has billions of dollars in assets?

Giving money is transactional: It is an exchange of something of value for something of value in return. In a church donation where a parishioner gives money, what do they expect in return? What does the church provide for the donation? It promises a better relationship with God using the priest as a conduit. Perhaps they can provide a better path to heaven after death?

If they give more out of guilt, perhaps they will be honored? The more they give, the more they are honored. Go to Notre Dame and see the beautiful buildings with names on them? Were they gifts of greed (big businesses making profit by paying employees only what they can get away with) or guilt (look everybody, my name is on the building, so I am a good guy! I am not a sinner!) or both?

What about that Hispanic family? What are they getting? — A promise for the potential of something that may or may not happen to them after they die unless they proclaim Jesus Christ as their lord and savior? …hmmm. Something fishy about that value proposition?

Back to Christianity and Capitalism.

Both require perpetual growth. Both support each other on the Christian Right.

Maybe that is why Christianity is Right to Life: More Christians! More Consumers!

Maybe that is why Christianity collects so much money from parishioners? More Churches! More PAC money!

Maybe that is why Catholics offer Redemption? More donations to absolve the guilty! More buildings with names on them!

Maybe that is why priests can’t have kids? More money that can’t be inherited but just stays with the church!

Churches are huge businesses but aren’t taxed. They are left alone to manage themselves. They largely stay out of politics unless they want to invade the body of women to try to abolish abortion in the name of being pro-life.

Yet, ironically, and concurrently, they are also lenient on the issue of restricting gun control.

Guns kill many more innocent people in the USA every year than legal abortions.

Politicians are tasked with managing society, yet they subsidize churches and don’t scrutinize their behavior. They have been historically reluctant to hold pedophile priests accountable. They provided billions of dollars in subsidies to the catholic church during the recent Coronavirus pandemic.

Churches get a free pass from the capitalist government because they don’t condemn the immoral, self-serving politicians.

Politicians get a free pass from judgement by church leadership because they let the church operate as a business without oversight.

Let’s be honest, we can clearly see that certain politicians are mostly in their job because they care more about getting elected and reelected than they do about their constituents, our country, or our planet.

The recent actions of Donald Trump to stay in power at any cost after losing an election and Joe Manchin to reject climate-saving legislation that will help save our planet long-term versus the short-term value of appeasing the people who claim to care more about deficit spending than the viability of living on this planet for our kids and grandkids.

They both secured huge donations by special interests (business) that has corrupted them. They prioritized power and wealth over the people and planet.

It all comes down to Hubris. We want what is best for us (me), right now. Let the future or others be damned as long as I am getting mine (individually) and business is growing (culturally).

Is there any accountability by anyone or do we just keep blaming and killing each other and our planet in the name of progress and wealth, with the ‘blessings’ of capitalism as ‘growth’?

Yet, here we are at Christmastime, spending money on things we don’t need to placate ourselves while ignoring that gnawing, undeniable, subliminal, uneasy question we should be asking ourselves more:

“What am I doing here?”

What is your answer? How about this?

Find your passion by asking yourself what is important to you.

This leads to your purpose.

Let your purpose guide you.

God is in that process.

Faith? Have faith in the love in your heart.

God is there.

Have faith in the process of discovering your purpose.

Manifest your purpose in your daily living.

God is there.

Live in harmony with everything by sharing love, not judging, others.

God is there.

Have empathy not disdain.

God is there.

Be a giver not a taker.

God is there.

Practice kindness

God is there.

Practice living the Serenity Prayer: by accepting the things you cannot control, controlling the things that you can and be smart enough to know the difference…

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Dan Beeman

Dan Beeman

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Published author of Deep Dive - Existential Essays for Personal Transformation and Zeitgeist Chronicles — Essays about Issues in America. www.danbman.com