What's the best thing about Christianity

Good Christians think capitalistically

The churches like to be critical of capitalism - not just before Christmas. In doing so, they fail to recognize their own principles. Actually, good Christians should be real capitalists.

In Christian churches, sermons and intercessions are often used to refer to the market economy, which in the USA is called capitalism without a negative undertone. Adoration of the mammon, social coldness, income disparities, greed, exploitation, profit thinking, exaggerated individualism, hedonism, materialism, environmental destruction - there is hardly any wickedness in this world that is not blamed on capitalism. In contrast, socialism enjoys sympathy simply because of the name, although all socialist experiments have brought unbelievable misery.

As a result, capitalism is more social than socialism. But since Pope Francis spoke of "this economy that kills" in "Evangelii Gaudium" and of money that governs instead of serving, many Christians have felt strengthened in their rejection of capitalism. A commitment to Catholicism (with Protestantism you doubt less thanks to Max Weber) is definitely compatible with the affirmation of capitalism without having to contort yourself.

It starts with the image of man. The understanding of man as an individual, endowed with equal dignity, accepted by God, harmonizes with the liberal image of man. The central roots of liberalism are that every child is granted eternal life from God and that the soul of every human being is in contact with God. Many liberals are not aware of this; the concept of dignity calls for the idea of ​​a higher authority that gives this rank.

Communism in the family

The churches' criticism of capitalism has in part to do with the fact that they displace their individualistic roots and understand the market as an independently acting subject. But it is not the market that acts; it is people who act voluntarily in the market and become guilty. In this "human" market economy there is room for good and evil and there will always be violations of moral rules. Such an order, in which people can prove themselves and are not led by a leash, should be dear to the churches, because forced action hardly has any ethical quality.

Another cause of the tension is the transfer of the laws of the small community to large society, criticized by Friedrich August von Hayek. The ideal Christian community is not the state, but the family (with its modern varieties). In such communities, love, compassion, and social responsibility can serve as links rather than power and hierarchy. Here the social nature of the human being is expressed; communism can even rule here, but not in a city or an entire country.

Search for the common

Four key terms should shed light on the extent to which, as a Christian, one can very well think capitalistically. Let's start with the competition. Catholicism has always struggled with it, even in the market economy-oriented encyclical "Centesimus annus" (1991). Whenever there is talk of competition in Catholic documents, there is practically always a warning against the unrestrainedness of the market. In "Mater et Magistra" (1961) competition was demonized as incompatible with Christian teaching and human nature.

Competition is part of the basic anthropological equipment of Homo sapiens, to which we owe innovation and progress. It must of course be conducted with fair means, but under this condition it is a great discovery process and instrument of disempowerment.

Competition is ethical

A writing of the Evangelical Church in Germany paraphrases this: «Competition is a central element of every market economy,. . . also from an ethical point of view. . . He rewards the performance of the more capable. But this incentive serves the common good. " And in the 13th century Albertus Magnus justly called "what the market estimates the goods are worth at the time they are sold". The churches should therefore praise the competition instead of sketching the caricature of a social Darwinist struggle of all against all.

It's easier with private property. Yahweh's commandment «You shall not steal» presupposes the legality of private property. Thinkers like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and, 200 years before Adam Smith, the Spanish scholastics of the Salamanca school have blessed private property and profit; and the Polish Pope John Paul II knew from experience the advantages of private property. There is no better institution for dealing productively with constantly limited resources and allocating scarce goods.

With the churches, however, the social obligation of property is in the foreground, and they all too often mean unsustainable behavior such as paying higher wages than demand and the market provide. Those who invest their money, make the right decisions and earn money with them, on the other hand, are ostracized rather than applauded. In doing so, the entrepreneur behaves ethically, who in the company (private assets is something else) orientates himself with a cool head on the economic logic and does not endanger companies and jobs with a warm heart.

Christians can say that out loud. The churches are very lax when the state accesses private property, although it thereby interferes with the freedom of the individual, although what is not in private hands is usually less carefully looked after and although private property is the basis of Christian virtues such as Charity and hospitality is. It would correspond to both Christian and Jewish thinking to be skeptical about secular rule.

God as supreme sovereign is the source of justice and justice. Thus the rulers are also subject to law and justice. From this derives the requirement for laws that apply equally to everyone. In general, the distinction between the private and the public in the Bible promotes liberal ideas. "Give the emperor what is the emperor's and God what is God" is a plea for the independence of religious authority from the state in matters of morality, belief and cult. At the same time, however, with all the affirmation of the state, it is a rejection of an overgrown state.

In the rule of law, differences are not unjust, but a natural accompaniment to a dynamic economy.

The churches stand out in particular with their demand for social justice. They confuse income equality with fairness and tend to forget that you have to produce before you can distribute. Gross inequalities can lead to social tension, but that is not an ethical question. As a result of differences in talent, effort, luck and demand, the search process in the market must lead to differences in income.

However, they are not unjust in the rule of law, but a natural accompaniment of a dynamic economy, thanks to which the bottom 20 percent of income earners live better today than the top 20 percent 100 years ago. It is not the redistributive state that punishes performance and promotes entitlement, but the state that does not kill entrepreneurship and thus the overcoming of poverty and does not suppress private charity.

Realism instead of utopia

A prerequisite for a coming together of church and market economy thinking would be a rejection of the transfer of the expectation of salvation to our earth. The market economy is neither a paradise nor creates one. The churches in particular should know that in reality much must remain unsatisfactory because the kingdom of heavenly justice is not of this world; they should recognize that the economy is so complex that one accepts serious unintended side effects with any intervention; and they should understand that an order in which distribution is politically controlled is not more just, more economical and more needs-based than a liberal order.

It is inhumane to strive for a perfectly just order based on a morality much higher than the average. Many Christians, however, go this way in their minds. Augustine already criticized those who tried to squeeze society into what they believed to be an ideal pattern: One should rather create the freedom in which they can behave as they see fit. The liberal market economy offers this freedom, this anthropological realism and this openness more than any other.

Gerhard Schwarz is a freelance journalist. He headed the think tank Avenir Suisse and previously the economic department of this newspaper. In spring 2017, an integral version of these considerations will appear in the “Lucerne University Speeches” series.