Culture At Large

Finding a Christian response to the economic crisis

Andy Rau

Who's to blame for the economic crisis currently sweeping the globe? Democrats, Republicans? Socialists, capitalists? Greedy banks, greedy consumers? Most everyone I've talked to has a theory about whose failed policies or bad ideas damaged the U.S. market, but I'd not read a serious attempt to stake out a specifically Christian perspective until I read The Freedom of the Christian Market, an essay at Reformation 21 by Carl Trueman.

There's a lot to digest there, but his basic point is that as Christians, we have a unique perspective on this (and any) market crash: it's not the result of any one specific actor or policy; it's simply what happens when fallible humans devise a market system that is based on the economic needs, desires, and decisions of fallible human beings. Trueman words it more eloquently:

So who is responsible for the current disaster? We all are. We are all complicit in a world that has increasingly taught people that value in life is a function of the market. This is not a return to the Great Man Theory of history; none of us as an individual carries all responsibility; but just as every mass event in history is both the result of macro-economic and social forces, and the result of countless individuals behaving in particular ways, so this crisis is both a product of our times, and an action in which we have all had a hand. We are all complicit in creating and fostering a culture of material acquisition, and a world which, in order to ensure insane levels of economic growth, instills insane levels of material aspiration in its people. [...] And we are not victims of this; we are all at best hapless and willing dupes, at worst active perpetrators, whether borrowers or lenders; we are all part of a system that is designed simultaneously to satiate greed and exacerbate avarice.

Trueman's argument is not that we should all become anti-free-market anarchists or start calling for a glorious revolution against the Man. Rather, he suggests three changes in attitude that Christians should adopt in reaction to market turbulence:

  1. Recognize that a free market is the "best" way of organizing an economy only insofar as it's not as bad as communism, fascism, feudalism, or other methods. (Reminds me of Churchill's quote about democracy—it's the worst option, except for all the others.)
  2. Don't attach moral qualities to impersonal market systems. Trueman puts it: "Markets have no morality above and beyond that which is exhibited in the lives of those who buy and sell in them; and as these people are fallen, we should not be surprised that the markets ultimately reflect that fallenness."
  3. Avoid playing the predictable "blame game"—as Christians, we know any problem with the market runs much deeper than one political party or piece of legislation.

What do you think? Is this a healthy—and more specifically, a Christian—way to approach an economic crisis? Is it accurate and helpful to say that we're all to blame for the crisis... and if so, how do we go about "fixing" market problems when we can't "fix" our sinful nature?

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Social Trends, North America