Christianity and Capitalism

With Christian ethics in the news -- by way of the "Is there a hell?" debate among conservative evangelicals -- it's worth highlighting this interesting survey result from the Public Religion Research Institute:


PRRI explains:

Overall more Americans believe that Christian values are at odds with capitalism and the free market than believe they are compatible. This pattern also holds among Christians. Among Christians in the U.S., only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values while 46% believe the two are at odds. There are significant differences by gender, party and income.

Assuming this result is accurate, I'm actually surprised by the number of Americans unable to reconcile capitalism with Christianity. As it happens, they are absolutely correct; the Gospels are incredibly short on issues we associate with modern "values voting" -- abortion and homosexuality, mostly -- and incredibly long on reverence for the poor and disdain for the wealthy. Of course, that hasn't made much of a difference to the United States, which through its history, has combined religious piety with stunning accumulations of wealth.

That said, there is a good explanation for the particular willingness of Republicans/Tea Partiers to see congruence between Christianity and capitalism: In short, they're conservative evangelicals. At the risk of oversimplification, the politicization of conservative evangelicals has long since become a politicization of evangelical theology (Andrew Sullivan calls it "Christianism"). Accordingly, the broad acceptance of income inequality has had a place in evangelical thought for at least several decades. What's more, this is all related to a broader willingness to accept existing social inequalities as divinely ordained (for instance, segregation), but that's a different and longer post.

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