Friday, April 22, 2011

Can capitalism be godly?

Here's an interesting research finding: most U.S. citizens and most U.S. Christians don't think capitalism is compatible with Christianity. At least three quarters of us say we are Christians.

The finding is a product of a Public Religion Research Institute/Religion News Service survey. Democrats and the religiously unaffiliated are most likely to think there is an incompatibility of values here. Political independents are more evenly split and a plurality of Republicans think capitalism and Jesus go together just fine.

Digging into the data, the differences may be more about income than any other variable.

Nearly half (46%) of Americans with household incomes of $100,000 a year or more believe that capitalism is consistent with Christian values, compared to only 23% of those with household incomes of $30,000 a year or less.

I guess you don't think God's seal of approval applies to systemic greed if the system hasn't been good for you. With rising inequality, the incompatible side of this ethical divide is likely to grow as the comfortable upper middle sector shrinks.

I'm reminded of the striking finding in American Grace that most of us are more likely to change our religious affiliation to fit our politics than to change our politics to fit the pronouncements of the branch of religion we identify with. As with that finding, I wonder if this poll suggests simply that the people of this country have very little articulate descriptive language with which to discuss their political or religious values, so the survey is measuring some vague impressions, not strong values-based opinions.


Damon said...

One of the most interesting books I've ever read was Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism". It's not the most exciting read, but his theories from 100 years ago really tie religion and capitalism together, in ways that seem to have been taken to extremes these days.

janinsanfran said...

Thanks Damon. I should go back and read some Weber. Encountered him in college, but that was a long time ago.

MadPriest said...

In England, the socialist movement grew out of the churches, especially non-conformism and anglo-catholicism. Therefore, for the last hundred years or so, socialism has been equated with Christianity. I have heard many, many sermons extolling socialism but I have never heard a single one defending capitalism. It's not that English people are not capitalist (we're just as greedy as everybody else), but, I think, subconsciously we all know it's wrong.

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