Spinning round and round
Scream without a sound
Stumbling all around
Losing my place
Only to find I've come full circle
- Octavarium, Dream Theater
A friend posed this series of questions.
· Materialism without Capitalism?
· Capitalism without the West?
· The West without Christendom?
· Christendom without Christianity?
· Christianity without Christians?
· Christians without Christ (i.e. "spiritual but not religious")?
How connected are these? Is it necessary that each is preceded by the one before? I don’t know. And I don’t know if I will know any better by the time I finish this post. But scratching the surface is a good start.
Considering these questions, the first thing that strikes me is that these is a string through history connecting these; one did follow the other in the history of the West. Christ came before Christians, Christians came before Christianity, etc.
While it is so that one followed the other, I guess the question is: must one had to have preceded the other. It is easy to answer “yes” for each specific question; how could there be Christians without Christ, Christianity without Christians, etc.?
But does this suggest that Capitalism (let alone, Materialism) could not come to exist without Christ? I am not familiar with a well-developed capitalism coming organically out of any other tradition (whereas Materialism has been built on many foundations). So, history, at least, presents a hurdle to the possibility – or probability.
Two clarifications: I will define capitalism as respect for property and life. This seems to me the most fundamental necessity. Second, consider that this is a very rough work-in-progress; I look forward to feedback, to help shape my views and deal with these questions in a more substantive manner.
I guess I will start with a couple of concepts, concepts that are unique (as far as I know) to Christianity. Something is telling me that I must start with these.
Genesis 1: 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
All men and all women are made in the image of God. This suggests, rather strongly, a proper means of respecting the dignity of each individual. It does not suggest equality – certainly not in the modern sense of the term. But if I am to treat others honestly – a necessary pre-condition for capitalism to form – it helps to keep in mind that all men and women are made in God’s image.
John 1: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Jesus was God and the Son of God.
Hebrews 10: 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
We don’t have to keep finding a scapegoat. For shorthand, God sacrificed Himself. There is no higher sacrifice we can offer.
Ephesians1: 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace
There is no sin too large that His sacrifice cannot forgive. (Yes, I know there is one – but examining this is beyond the scope of this blog and outside of the questions raised.)
What does all of this have to do with the questions raised? I don’t know if we get to capitalism without Christ. (I will examine the last step – materialism – shortly.)
It should be noted: I included no verses touching on the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection. Clearly, there is no Christianity without these. Christ is not Christ without these. But are these necessary for Capitalism?
I don’t think so. I think the argument made above – and on the concepts identified above – are sufficient. That these (as a group) are found only in Christianity remains true, and necessary for Capitalism. But I cannot connect the Virgin Birth or Resurrection to Capitalism.
Could Jesus have come to earth in another way? I don’t see why not, but this is beyond my theological depth. Did He have to be Resurrected for His sacrifice to count? Again, I don’t see why; but this, too, is beyond my theological depth.
However, it seems to me that for Christianity to be sustained, a sufficient portion of the population must buy into these claims. Otherwise, what is Jesus but a failed revolutionary? So…maybe even these are necessary for Capitalism – but for now I am willing to suggest only that a sufficient portion of the population holds onto the Virgin Birth and Resurrection, else Christianity cannot be sustained (from where we would gain hope – another necessity of capitalism).
As I think about it, how do we get capitalism without consideration for the future – a future beyond our lives? Again, this may not require Christianity, but it doesn’t hurt.
So, what do I take from these verses? If all men and all women are not made in the image of God, why would those not so blessed be afforded any consideration in life or property? A majority of those under Greek or Roman rule were slaves; certainly, something well below the status of citizen. They were not so blessed in the time of the Greeks or Romans; they were not anywhere else in history either.
Sure, I know the objections: “slavery existed in the Christian West until the nineteenth century!” Slavery existed everywhere until the nineteenth century – and it continues in many parts of the world today. It was only in the Christian West where the active role of Christians brought this practice to an end.
As I have asked before: do we expect God to force several thousand years of cultural change on us in a day? This is what is being forced on us today, and it never goes very well. It is what was forced by Lenin, Stalin and Mao – and that didn’t go well either.
Next, if we are not afforded the understanding that we are blessed with a sacrifice that cannot be surpassed, that can cleanse all transgressions no matter how large, how can we live in peace with one another – the peace necessary for property to be accumulated and for trade to flourish? We see today that we cannot. There is no sacrifice large enough to satisfy today’s grievances.
Am I stretching this? Maybe. But where else in history do we find the concepts as presented in Christianity (depicted by the verses above) and capitalism (rights in life and property) developing organically? I haven’t found another example.
This does not mean that everywhere Christianity went, capitalism followed. We know it did not. There was something about the West that was different. Here, Germanic tribes brought their culture and tradition into the mix. Which raises an interesting contrast.
Aryan tribes from the southern Russian steppes went both east and west in the third millennium BC. To the west, Greece, Scandinavia, Italy, and Germany. To the east, India. They brought with them a culture. Karen Armstrong states that “Aryan” was not a racial term, but as “assertion of pride,” something like “noble” or “honorable.”
These tribes had some characteristics that we might consider “Christian.” We can also see in these characteristics some necessary conditions for capitalism: binding agreements were made, sealed by solemn oath; characteristics of loyalty, truth, and respect; the spoken word was like a god; once uttered, a vow was eternally binding.
So, where am I headed? In the East, these Aryan characteristics did not develop into anything approaching capitalism – rights in property and life. In the West, they did. I can think of two significantly meaningful differences, one or both of which could be factors: first, the influence of the Greeks, second, the influence of Christ.
As for the Greeks…not all men were considered as created in God’s image. So, despite all of the wonderful contributions given us by Greek thought, toss them out for rights in property and life. That leaves us Christ, for the reasons above.
To continue with this point: why not the Christian East, and why only the Christian West? I imagine here again I can point to the Germanic (Aryan) tribes. Byzantium took with them the Greek, but they did not have the German. The culture of the region was not similarly influenced – albeit I have read little of this history.
So, to make a long story short, I don’t think we get to capitalism without Christ. But what of the last step, materialism? It strikes me as a desire to hold on to capitalism (or, in the Marxist case, the fruits of capitalism, being production) without the foundation on which it was built.
Do we get to materialism without capitalism? Perhaps not. Capitalism gives us the luxury of ignoring the transcendent; it affords us a means to reduce suffering; it focuses us on goods in this world, as it is deemed the only world. So, maybe the answer here also is yes – the luxury of materialism is possible only because of the abundance of capitalism.
Or the abundance of slaves. Materialism as we know it is a recent idea with roots in the Renaissance, but taking full root in the Enlightenment. It is best (and worst) exemplified in Marxism. But there was the idea of materialism long before Christ – in ancient Greece and in India. I am wondering if this means we have come full circle; I am also wondering if it means the cycle might repeat.
Will the cycle start with Christ, or with an anti-Christ? I don’t mean in an apocalyptic, Armageddon sort of way. I mean in terms of the direction our culture might take.
I don’t know. But either way, I am afraid that we will have to first walk through the valley of the shadow of death.