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Capitalism vs. Christianity?

            I once read an article in a traditional conservative magazine that argued that in the long run capitalism was more damaging to Christianity and the family than communism.  After Black Friday, I’m inclined to agree.

            Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating communism or socialism.  Communism is oppressive politically and economically.  Socialist economies seem to work, at least temporarily, only in countries that became wealthy in an earlier capitalist phase.  No, capitalism has shown itself to be a wealth-producing system.  However, capitalism’s success is precisely the reason that in its consumerist phase it has been so effective in undermining the family and Christian commitment.

            There was a protest against stores moving their “Black Friday” opening time to Thanksgiving Day.  One even complained that Christmas was invading Thanksgiving.  I sympathize.  In the rush of Christmas shopping, I have felt how much more pleasant Thanksgiving is as a time for families to meet over a meal and give thanks to God for all that they have. Christmas, which is meant to celebrate God’s provision for our deepest need, has been swallowed up in a limitless consumerist craving for more and more material possessions, and it is now gobbling up Thanksgiving too. 

            We cannot stop to give thanks when we are always craving more, and no matter how much we get, we’ll always want more.  The prophecy of Micah 6:14 has come upon us.  “You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be a gnawing hunger within you” (NRSV).

            And let’s not blame it all on the greedy retailers and their marketing partners.  I’ll grant that the plea that they’re just trying to serve the customer is hardly ingenuous, but most people want Black Friday and are angered at any hint that they should limit their cravings.  We, Christians and non-Christians, are caught in a vicious cycle of uncontrolled passion.  We desire more and get more.  We are tempted with more and so we desire more.

            A Black Friday commercial shows a woman feverishly devouring the contents of a newspaper full of sales.  She looks into the camera and explodes with glee.  The rest portrays her frantically preparing to beat out others for the great deals.  The eager awaiting for the Advent of Christ has been superseded by the advent of shopping sales.

            Is there no hope?  Can we be saved from Black Friday?  Yes, but only by looking squarely in the face of another and blacker Friday when God took on the sum total of human lust on Calvary’s hill and overcame it.  We, the slaves of our passions, can be freed to proclaim, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20).

            Only Good Friday can overcome Black Friday.  Strange as it may seem, the best way to start celebrating the Advent season tomorrow is by meditating on the cross of Christ.

4 thoughts on “Capitalism vs. Christianity?

  1. I was nodding and uh-huh-ing as I read, Bill…and then got hit smack between the eyes by the image of two Black Fridays. I’m going to be pondering this for a while. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Ruth, for the comment. I think that I was struck by the two Fridays because I have often wondered at our calling the day of the crucifixion “Good Friday.” It is because we rightly understand the cross by means of the resurrection. This is, of course, right, but we also need to remember that the resurrection is possible only because of the cross. I believe that we as the people of God are going to need in the coming years to reflect once again on the centrality of the cross and what it means to be crucified with Christ.

  3. Good stuff, and well balanced. You do realize we as a nation have now tied consuming to patriotism, since being frugal and living within your means hurts the economy. Aldous Huxley here we come!

    1. Yes. I also read that when FDR attempted to move the date of Thanksgiving up so as to allow more time for Christmas shopping one of the concerns stressed was that it might cause people to spend more than they could afford. We’ve come a long way, baby, and I think it’s the wrong way.

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