This longer and much more coherent response to Sunday Sequence on the above question was submitted by my good friend and co-polemicist Stephen Graham. Personally I’m not sure what was more of a concern: the results of this poll or the fact that they asked the question.



Dear Sir/Madam

In a recent poll the majority of listeners to Sunday Sequence (most of which are Christian) stated that they believed capitalism to be incompatible with Christian faith or with God.

This is, to me, a Christian capitalist, quite a worrying piece of information. However, as with any poll, voters will inevitably have different definitions for the terms in which the question is asked. I suspect that the word ‘capitalism’ is not in most cases being understood accurately. Instead, a great many people have a definition of capitalism that is erroneous, an understanding that has been skewed by the opponents of capitalism who have done a remarkable propaganda job of making capitalism a dirty word. Capitalism is now most widely used as a byword for oppression and exploitation: oppression and exploitation of the poor by large and powerful multinational corporations. The word ‘capitalism’ brings to mind images of third world sweat-shops and businessmen lining their pockets without giving any thought to their conduct in so doing. And obviously such things are indeed incompatible with Christian faith.

However, none of the above understandings of capitalism is accurate, nor any of them inherent in a capitalist system. Capitalism itself is about economic freedom – freedom from government interference. Capitalism is the only politico-economic system that upholds the rights of individuals. Socialism, on the other hand, merely treats individuals as means to ends – not as ends in themselves. Individuals, under socialism, are disposable in favour of the collective. Under capitalism each individual is entitled to keep the produce of his own effort. He or she can learn a skill, put in some time applying it, and reap the rewards of his or her effort. This is what capitalism is about.

One of the ironies of Christian opposition to capitalism is that many Christian critics advocate socialism as an alternative. Capitalism is to them an unchristian political philosophy because they think it exploits the poor. However, in advocating socialism they are supporting a political philosophy that effectively justifies state theft of individual property and money in the name of “a fairer distribution of wealth.” Socialism robs individuals of what is rightfully theirs and gives it to those who have no right to it, since they have not worked for it. It also denigrates personal responsibility – which is the very foundation of any coherent notion of morality. This is supposedly more ‘Christian?’

Capitalism is not, as many Christians seem to fear, in tension with the notion of charity either. On the contrary, it advocates private charities as opposed to government hand-outs. Historically, it is private charities who are by far the most efficient when it comes to dealing with such matters. Government schemes more often than not are incredibly wasteful of money and resources. Moreover, under private charities people who are most in need of help are more likely to receive the help that they need. Under government systems a great many people are allowed to simply leech off the system with little or no motivation for actually bettering themselves, thus diverting funds from the few who need help to the many who do not.

Capitalism, as I have said, is about freedom – the freedom to choose. This freedom brings with it personal responsibility. This means that individuals are responsible for themselves, and whilst they may be able to get help and assistance from others they cannot expect this help as some supposed ‘right.’ If you want money to buy something for yourself then you need to work to get the money, and save up if necessary. No one has the automatic right to possessions or wealth. One must either inherit wealth and property or, in the vast majority of cases, one must be prepared to work for the possessions and wealth they desire.

Moreover, under capitalism there is much more chance of additional new wealth being created. When people are encouraged to look after themselves and earn their own wealth, it is quite obvious that more wealth will be created. When more wealth is created, investment and trade increase. When investment and trade increase businesses can grow. When businesses grow there are more jobs. When there are more jobs there is more money. When there is more money the population of the country can in turn spend it on those things that they want to buy, which itself assists trade and investment, and the cycle of growth continues. What motivation is there to create wealth when one loses the product of one’s own effort to those who did nothing to earn it? Under capitalism each person is encouraged to do the best he or she can, since he or she will be the direct beneficiary. Socialism, on the other hand, encourages people to get away with doing as little as they can, for why should they do more work if they do not reap any further benefit? This in turn causes economic stagnation, and stagnation puts pressure on already limited resources.

Interestingly, advocates of socialism will probably argue at this point that the view of human nature I have used above is unrealistic in that it supposes that people will do as little as they can in cases where doing more brings them no more benefit. Instead, they will argue that human beings are much more altruistic than this. But all that this demonstrates is a tension at the very heart of socialism. On the one hand we must assume human beings are altruistic in that they will work primarily for the benefit of other people (which adherence to the maxim “from every man according to his ability: to every man according to his need” requires), but on the other hand we are also frequently told that capitalism is to be avoided because human beings are greedy and will hoard their wealth rather than share it around, that they will tread on the heads of others just to line their own pockets, and that their selfishness will know no bounds (and thus that we need a handful of altruistic, upright, and good socialists to guide the rest of us lowly mortals). Socialists are typically confused about human nature (perhaps one of the reasons why many socialists deny the very notion of human nature), and the contradiction above is proof of that confusion. Capitalism, on the other hand, realises that most people are primarily self-interested – in that they naturally look after their own needs before anything else – but also that most are not so self-interested as to ignore the plight of those who are living a substandard existence.

Capitalism simply allows us to choose whether or not we want to be charitable or miserly. Capitalism does not advocate either, contrary to popular belief that it encourages the latter. It is left up to each individual whether or not they wish to donate money to help others. If Christians or any other group wish to support charities or impoverished people then they are perfectly entitled to do so. Anyone who believes in redistribution of wealth is entitled to do just that – with their own wealth – if that is what they wish. All that capitalism denies to people is the right to redistribute the wealth of others without their complicity.

Sometimes Christian socialism is justified by appeal to Jesus’ own teaching about the poor and the oppressed. However, concern for the poor and oppressed is not the same thing as being socialist, and the fact that many people tend to equate the two is further proof of the fantastic propaganda coup perpetrated by advocates of socialism. I am a capitalist and I have as much concern for the poor as do my more socialist Christian friends. I just consider capitalism to be the best system to deal with poverty: and the best system for each and every single individual who wishes to look after himself or herself. Anyhow, Jesus teaching about looking after the poor presupposes personal responsibility. His message was one for each and every individual. Nowhere does Jesus ever teach socialism or state redistribution of wealth. He teaches freedom, personal responsibility, and moral conduct, and these are actually hindered under a socialist system, which takes the power and responsibility that individuals should have over their own lives and concentrates it in the hands of the administrators of the state. A socialist system does not allow individuals to dispose of their wealth in a moral way. Their wealth is taken from them and used in whatever way the government sees fit – whether that be for homeless people or for the promotion of generally non-Christian ideals – such as gay and lesbian societies. Removing freedom and personal responsibility – thus removing the very basis of morality – can hardly be compatible with the ethos and teaching of Christ. Lets be very clear – to call Jesus a socialist is extremely anachronistic and, moreover, is to ignore some central tenets and implications of his teaching.

The central tenets of capitalism (properly understood) are therefore not merely compatible with Christian faith but directly mirrored by some central Christian themes. If the listeners of Sunday Sequence had a proper understanding of what capitalism actually is, rather than what it’s opponents say it is, I suspect the outcome of the poll may well have been very different.

Stephen Graham