Religion has always been a power influencing different spheres of life. However, in the developing world, many religions are experiencing challenges connected with political, social, ethical, and other issues. In this paper, the contradiction between capitalism and Christianity will be studied in detail. The research will focus on the key principles of both Christianity and capitalism and the difference in their understanding of human nature and attitude to benefit and money. As an important social, moral, and economic issue, the conflict between these ideologies will be studied from the point of view of social policies and likely outcomes of the contradiction.
Christianity and its Challenges
Christianity is one of the oldest and most widespread religions with the Bible as the main source of all its values and convictions. According to Williams (2017), the ideas of the common good and civil responsibility are at the core of the church’s teachings. The Bible calls for being committed to the benefit of the community, working hard for the sake of the overall welfare, and respecting others. Williams (2017) finds that some of the ideas of Christianity, such as orientation towards the common benefit, are closely connected to liberalism; these principles have significantly influenced social and economic realms. At the same time, in this dynamic world, religions often go through periods of decline due to changes in different spheres of life. The economic system of capitalism is something that contradicts Christian teachings and triggers discussions and doubts about the truth of both.
Recent research showed that the tensions between Christianity and capitalism are increasing. According to Kim (2018), half of the young adult population assumes that capitalism does not bring welfare but harms the community. The factors that define this opinion are mainly connected with the different views of capitalists and Christians on the economy and overall flourishing. Capitalism is often associated with individualism and structures of exploitation, denounced by the Bible, which encourages collectivism (McLaren & Jandrić, 2018). Besides, differences in the attitudes towards human nature and an individual’s place in society make people doubt whether Christianity and capitalism can coexist. For example, social ties in Christianity are much stronger than in capitalism, and the Bible urges people to live in peace and work together for the sake of the common benefit. The ideal of Christianity is a society based on love, while in the capitalistic theory, love can be seen only through its absence (McLaren & Jandrić, 2018). Therefore, the conflict between the two ideologies is not only based on the power of money; it covers more profound notions like human nature, love, freedom, and general attitude to life. These and other aspects are going to be discussed further in this paper.
Theories and Contradictions
The Conflict Theory and Human Nature
Conflict is what underlies the challenge that Christianity is experiencing. Marx emphasized the conflict between classes, which is a perpetual problem that occurs in different periods, including today’s world (Roberts & Yamane, 2015). Even though he also mentioned the uniting power of religion, many theorists are convinced that modern society is divided by the unequal powers of particular social groups (Roberts & Yamane, 2015). The conflict between Christianity and capitalism is finance-centered and results in social pressure and turmoil.
Understanding the key principles of Christianity is necessary to analyze its contradictions with capitalism. According to Christian teachings, love for one’s neighbor should be the basis of human nature. Capitalism, on the contrary, is a system with self-centered moral principles. In the capitalistic theory, self-love is the main driving force of people to achieve benefits in trade (Fraser, 2018). It is important to emphasize that capitalism was also rooted in the idea of public benefit, although today, it is based on the self-regard, which is discouraged by religion (Fraser, 2018). Therefore, the conflict between Christianity and capitalism lies in different attitudes towards the center of human nature and the ways to gain benefit.
Main Concepts of the Issue
The concept of self-interest, which can be identified as the significance of personal benefit, can be considered the basis of the described conflict. Christianity and capitalism take opposing positions in terms of the significance of one’s self. While Christianity is based on equality, the importance of personal effort for one’s success, and the principle of collectivism, capitalism focuses on individualism and competition (Williams, 2017). Therefore, in the described conflict, the views of human nature define the way people understand and achieve benefits.
Other important concepts that define the discussed theory are desire and power. According to Hiebert (2019), people in the capitalist system are led by their desires and perceive themselves as consumers rather than citizens. In terms of capitalism, the concept of power can be interpreted as unbalanced social stratification and social injustice created by the unequal distribution of wealth. This situation creates instability in society, which demonstrates the destructive force of the analyzed issue. The conflict theory implies that the contradiction at the social level is caused by the prevailing power of a smaller fraction over the inferior majority (Roberts & Yamane, 2015). The power of money is what defines the degree of upper-class domination, undermining Christian moral principles.
The Cause of the Issue
There have been many discussions about the cause of the analyzed issue. Some of the researchers note that capitalism was not supposed to oppose the ideas of Christianity. Adam Smith, the author of the capitalistic principles, assumed that his classical free market theory would be grounded in Christian convictions. For example, in his teachings, self-interest was not originally interpreted as selfishness but was connected with self-love (Royster, n.d.). According to his ideas, pursuing individual happiness is an essential component of overall well-being. However, capitalism became corrupted over time, and the concept of self-love was later replaced by consumerism and self-centeredness (Royster, n.d.). The industrialization and free labor movement led to social injustice and dislocation, causing significant concerns of the Oxford Movement back in the middle of the nineteenth century (Fraser, 2018). Today, Smith’s free market is transformed into a value-free market (Hiebert, 2019). These major changes in the essence of the capitalistic economic system led to the concerns of the church, and the poor implementation of capitalism is considered the main reason for the current social turmoil.
The Possible Outcome of the Problem
The discussion around the contradiction between Christian and capitalistic values leads to concerns about possible social changes. It is clear that if the two ideologies cannot exist at the same time, their contradiction can have an impact on public policy. Today, many researchers call for modifications of the current policies connected with economy and society; some of the proposed changes are large-scale and demand total reformation of the entire economic system.
Many people assume that effective changes in social policy are necessary to prevent society from inequality and the domination of particular social groups. Today, economists state that if the world continues embracing capitalistic ideas, the major part of the overall wealth may be held by small groups of people (Royster, n.d.). Therefore, possible social and economic reforms should include proper control over corruption, markets, and redistribution of wealth.
At the same time, it is necessary to note that these measures do not imply the complete abandoning of capitalism. Researchers mention that some of the capitalistic tendencies like globalization of markets allowed many poor people to have greater job opportunities, which led to their consequent well-being (Kelley, 2014). According to Royster (n.d.), the major obstacle lies in the attitudes towards money and human nature. Therefore, the outcome of the issue can also be found in the balance between Christian and capitalistic values. The effective economic and social policies need to be based on the principles of common welfare and promote common prosperity, which means that capitalism needs to return to its original condition.
In the history of humanity, many efforts have been made to eliminate poverty and reach overall prosperity. The establishment of capitalism was one of such attempts; however, the current tensions between the Christian church and this economic system demonstrate that the principles of the latter have been put into question. Both Christianity and capitalism originally implied the significance of the common welfare, but the differences in their modern attitudes towards human nature, money, and self-love made them contradictory by nature. Researchers see the solution in major economic changes that would regulate social equality and distribution of wealth. Not everybody supports this position, as some of the researchers see the core of the problem in society itself. However, to achieve social harmony and the common well-being, capitalism needs to return to its origins, when it was based on the same moral tenets as Christianity.
Fraser, G. (2018). Are capitalism and Christianity really compatible? UnHerd. Web.
Hiebert, D. (2019). The mechanisms and morality of capitalism: A brief Christian critique. Journal of Sociology and Christianity, 9(1), 65-81.
Kim, Z. (2018). How capitalism enables Christians to promote flourishing? Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. Web.
McLaren, P., & Jandrić. P. (2018). Karl Marx and liberation theology: Dialectical materialism and Christian spirituality in, against, and beyond contemporary capitalism. TripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. 16(2), 598-607.
Roberts, K.A., & Yamane, D. (2015). Religion in sociological perspective (6th ed.). SAGE Publications.
Royster, H. (n.d.). Christianity and capitalism: Does the Bible support self-interest? Light Workers. Web.
Williams, R. (2017). Christian ethical distinctiveness, the common good and moral formation. In C. Pearson (Ed.), Imagining a way: Exploring reformed practical theology and ethics (pp. 161-174). WJKP.