This is the eighth entry of an extended series outlining capitalism, it's history, oppressive nature, and the fundamental problems with modern Western Christianity as its champion. This entry continues to take a critical approach to Christianity in America and related Christian economic ethic. Cited sources can be found here.
Biblical text presents a church similar to what I imagine Jesus had envisioned of his followers. In the book of Acts, the early church described a setting very similar to following the “golden rule” and other teachings of Jesus. Members of the church “were together, and had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need” (Acts 2:44-45). This phrasing may seem familiar. In fact, Marx used a phrase similar to this description, a common socialist slogan in the nineteenth century: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (Marx, 1875). Those that had material possessions, and the means (ability) to attain them sold those possessions to those that had none (need). The members of the early church did this “day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord… they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart” Acts 2:46).
This is not an isolated incident, either. Another chapter explains that “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one [of them] said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32). This is another instance where the members shared every possession, not keeping private property to themselves. Again it strikes familiar tones with the works of Marx, who stated “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property” (Marx & Engels, 1848, p. 212). It should be noted that Marx is proclaiming the abolition of private property regarding the capital structure, allowing it to be shared among the working class, just as members of the early church shared property amongst themselves (Marx & Engels, 1848).
There are distinct differences between the model of the early Christian church and the prominent modern Protestant church. While different denominations perform different rituals and have different interpretations of the scriptures, most still identify themselves as part of the larger whole of the Protestant faith (McGuire, 2002). Interestingly, however, different denominations tend to draw members of society from certain classes more than others. For example, “Episcopalians and Congregationalists (i.e., United Church of Christ) draw members disproportionately from the upper classes, while Holiness and Pentecostal groups draw relatively large proportions of members from the lower classes (McGuire, 2002, p. 238). Religion also seems to relieve the “tension of economic deprivation by substituting the value of religious achievement for economic achievement” (McGuire, 2002, p. 239). Perhaps this is the reason Marx considered religion to be an “opiate of the masses” preventing the lower classes from seeking revolution (Coser, 1977). Religion also plays a heavy factor in maintaining oppression of others in the social structure. Especially in a capitalist state that is built upon growth through oppression, religion serves to “legitimate existing social arrangements, especially the stratification system” (McGuire, 2002, p. 240). Religion has “historically explained and justified why the powerful and privileged should have God’s approval of their hard work and moral uprightness” (McGuire, 2002, p. 240). These two factors combined allow capitalism to continue to exploit and oppress the masses without fear of revolution.
A 2011 Gallup poll on religious identity found that “78% of American adults identify with some form of a Christian religion” (Newport, 2011). 15% of American adults did not identify with any religion, which means that “95% of all Americans who have a religious identity are Christians” (Newport, 2011). Of those that identified themselves as Christian, 52.5% identify themselves as Protestant. According to Gallup, “in two separate surveys conducted… an average of 55% of Americans said religion is very important in their lives” (Newport, 2011). Gallup also did a study to measure Christians’ “love of neighbor” as stated in Jesus’ Great Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27b). Regarding the statement “I believe all people are loved by God, therefore I should love them too, regardless of race, creed, wealth or place in life,” 76% of respondents agreed that the statement applied completely to them (Gallup Jr, 2003). The statement “I believe that a Christian should live a sacrificial life, not driven by pursuit of material things,” received a positive response of only 50%. Only 44% identified with the statement that "God calls me to be involved in the lives of the poor and suffering," and only 31% agreed that their "first priority in spending money is to support God's work" (Gallup Jr, 2003).
While a majority of Americans profess to maintain Christian beliefs, "there appears to be a fall off on survey items dealing with Christian 'practices'" (Gallup Jr, 2003). This is interesting, as it provides perhaps clear insight into the reason capitalism, though it contradicts core Christian ideology, still remains prevalent among a nation that has a strong Christian majority. The Christian church is strongly alienated from its doctrine, even though the scriptures are available en masse. One Protestant church theorized that “since [Jesus] never required disciples to surrender all wealth to the poor, modern Christians should not surrender theirs either. Rather, they should strive for wealth and put it to good use” (Ribuffo, 1981, p. 209). There is a strong disconnect between the early church and the one that practices its particular brand of religion on American soil, even though the two share the same God and the same commandments.