So U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thinks capitalism depends on “traditional Christian values” to succeed.
Odd, it always seemed to me that it was the lack of traditional Christian values that allows capitalism’s greatest successes.
Then again, maybe Scalia has a point: Wasn’t it Napoleon Bonaparte who said, “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich”?
But seriously, folks. Here’s a bit of what Scalia said in a speech at the Lanier Theological Library on Friday, according to Houston Chronicle reporter Cindy George:
“The cardinal sin of capitalism is greed, but the cardinal sin of socialism is power. I’m not sure there’s a clear choice between those evils. While I could not argue that capitalism as an economic system is inherently more Christian than socialism ... it does seem to me that capitalism is more dependent on Christianity than socialism is. For in order for capitalism to work — in order for it to produce a good and stable society — the traditional Christian virtues are essential.”
Scalia’s wrong, of course. Capitalism is a tool, an efficient and effective system for organizing an economy and expanding wealth. Like any tool, it is inherently amoral. A person can use a hammer to build a house or commit a murder, but the hammer itself is neither good nor evil. God certainly doesn’t hate the rich, but in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, he sure seems to judge them based on how they acquire and use their wealth. Oh, and not for nothing, but atheists and agnostics are perfectly capable of exhibiting the virtues essential to producing a good and stable society, too.
Jesus himself wasn’t a huge fan of riches. Asked by a rich man what was required to get to heaven, Jesus ultimately told him to “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor,” a prospect that disturbed the young man greatly. It was Jesus who also said it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. He encouraged his followers to do good works and thereby lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, rather than building bank accounts here on earth.
Oh, and it was Jesus who entered the outermost courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem and disrupted the capitalist enterprise going on therein, telling the money changers and those selling animals to pilgrims for ritual sacrifice that they had turned the house of God into a den of thieves. (Interestingly, Den of Thieves would not be too ironic a name for an after-work lounge located near Wall Street.)
It was Jesus who condemned the religious leaders of his time, in part because they loved money. In his recent book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” scholar and University of California, Riverside professor Reza Aslan argues that Jesus was the Karl Marx of his time, come not to establish the kingdom of God in the hereafter, but a more just society in Jerusalem of the first century.
Aslan argues Jesus was a rural peasant who chafed not only under the prospect of the holy city governed from distant, Gentile Rome, but the oppression of the Jewish people by their own religious leaders, temple priests who could drive regular folk into bankruptcy with the fees they charged for animals to be offered in sacrifice to God to atone for their various sins. For Aslan, the temple incident was a decidedly political act.
But whether you take Aslan’s view of a nondivine Christ seeking to liberate his fellow Jews from economic and political repression, or Scalia’s Roman Catholic understanding of Jesus as the son of God and redeemer of mankind, one thing he’s certainly not is a capitalist.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.