Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Sin of Capitalism

Exodus 22: 24-25, "If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him."

Deuteronomy 15:1-11 orders the cancellation of all debts at the end of every seventh year.

James 5:1, "Next a word to you who are rich. Weep and wail over the miserable fate overtaking you: your riches ... will be evidence against you and consume your flesh like fire. ... You have lived on the land in wanton luxury, gorging yourselves — and on the day appointed for your slaughter."

Matthew 19: 21-24: "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. ... Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

The first century Didache said, "Do not claim that anything is your own."

Clement of Alexandria said, "All possessions are by nature unrighteous; when one possesses them for personal advantage and does not bring them into the common stock for those in need."

Basil the Great said "That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat in your closet, to the naked."

St. Augustine said, "Business is in itself an evil."

Jerome said, "A man who is a merchant can seldom if ever please God."

St. John Chrysostom said, "How did you become rich? Can you show the acquisition just? It cannot be. The root and origin of it must have been injustice."

From The Sin of Usury; A question for Catholics: Why is a bank purer than a brothel;

...By far the greatest moral evil of our time is what the Bible calls the sin of usury. It is the very basis of the capitalist system. It has made debt slaves of not only the entire Third World, but also most of the First World, where consumers eagerly seek to encumber themselves with debt through credit cards and mortgages. At one time the church called usury "the queen of sins" and refused the sacrament to its practitioners. Though it has never officially abandoned this moral position, very few Christians outside of the Catholic Worker movement have any idea that such a teaching even exists. Catholic Worker groups have always called upon the church to reaffirm its prohibition of loaning money at interest. We recognize that this puts us on the fringe of a society whose very dynamic is fueled by usury, and opens us up to ridicule. But we realize that until relatively recently, the teachings on usury were at the core. In fact, much of the strident language now reserved for feminists and homosexuals was once directed toward those who lent money at interest. A usurer was barred from the church, and usury was denounced not only because it was, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "unnatural," but also because it was prohibited by both the Old and the New Testaments.
It seems to me that both scripture and tradition teach that capitalism is sinful. Why don't we hear more Christians outraged about this?

10,000 people a day die of hunger or hunger related illnesses; primarily as a result of the sin of capitalism. Yet, Christians prefer to selectively view scripture, and make who is sleeping with whom the line in the sand.

I see no consistency in this. Those who insist that personal morality issues are more important than our corporate morality are picking and choosing their issues, consequently I question if they can be advocating for the will of God.



  1. Lots of people blasphemously want to make appear that Christianity is an empty religion focussed on human sexuality only, a religion that condone stealing resources from poorer countries, making people starve, bombing, and the worst sins against our neighbor.
    Thank you very much for the post, which I hope will be enlightening for many Christian readers. It is so sad that many Christians don't realize what the Scriptures actually say.

  2. Thank you Father Jake for this informative post. Now almost 10 years later His Holiness, Pope Francis PP, wrote in his Evangelii Gaudium,

    53. Just as the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say "thou shalt not" to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly home-less person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a "throw away" culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the "exploited" but the outcast, the "leftovers".

    54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about great-er justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us some-thing new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

    Paragraphs 53-54, pages 45-46,

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