A recent opinion article in the Wall Street Journal found capitalism embedded in the Biblical message.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero wrote that work is the engine developing mankind's accountability and keeps people from idleness. He sees the capitalistic impulse as being in God's image. "The mechanism of capitalism, as manifest through investment and reasoned speculation, helps facilitate our partnership with God by bringing to the surface that which the Almighty embedded in nature for our eventual extraction and activation," he said.
Spero's examination is part of a broader public debate on the role of government, social justice and the place of free market capitalism in society and in religion.
But Spero admitted the Bible is not a business-school manual. "While it is comfortable with wealth creation and the need for speculation in economic markets, it has nothing to say about financial instruments and models such as private equity, hedge funds or other forms of monetary capitalization," he said. "What it does demand is honesty, fair weights and measures, respect for a borrower's collateral, timely payments of wages, resisting usury and empathy for those injured by life's misfortunes and charity."
An essay by Rit Nosotro at HyperHistory.net argued the Bible doesn't support laissez-faire, hands-off capitalism, but a "modified market capitalism" that "controls the human desire for riches and greed through more regulation."
Nosotro raised the dangers of a Darwanistic approach that doesn't protect weaker segments of society.
"From the ruthless, Darwin-based capitalism of the pre-Depression era in America to temperate capitalism practiced on Biblical principles, religion retains its inextricable ties to economics," Nosotro said.
Gary North, however, said on his financial website the Bible mandates free market capitalism. "When Christianity adheres to the judicial specifics of the Bible, it produces free market capitalism," he said. "On the other hand, when Christianity rejects the judicial specifics of the Bible, it produces socialism or some politically run hybrid 'middle way' between capitalism and socialism, where politicians and bureaucrats make the big decisions about how people's wealth will be allocated. Economic growth then slows or is reversed. Always."
Not all Americans see it this way.
Religion News Service reported on their poll released in April 2011 with the Religion Research Institute, which found 44 percent of Americans "see the free market system at odds with Christian values." Thirty-six percent did not see it as being at odds. Those numbers held up whether those polled were Catholics, mainline Protestants, white evangelicals or minority Christians.
Tea party members, Republicans and college graduates find Christianity and capitalism more compatible.
Andrew Walsh, a religion professor at Culver-Stockton College, summed up the opposition by contrasting capitalism with being "our brother's keeper."
"The idea that we are autonomous individuals competing for limited resources without concern for the welfare of others," he told RNS, "is a philosophy that is totally alien to the Bible, and in my view, antithetical to genuine Christianity."
Gregory Paul in the Washington Post found Christian love of capitalism peculiar. "Many conservative Christians, mostly Protestant but also a number of Catholics, have come to believe and proudly proclaim that the creator of the universe favors free-wheeling, deregulated, union-busting, minimal taxes especially for wealthy investors, plutocrat-boosting capitalism as the ideal earthly scheme for his human creations," he said. "And many of these Christian capitalists are ardent followers of Ayn Rand, who was one of — and many of whose followers are — the most hard-line anti-Christian atheist/s you can get."
Gregory Paul described early Christianity as where, as stated in the Book of Acts, "the believers were together and had everything in common."
"Now folks, that's outright socialism of the type described millennia later by Marx — who likely got the general idea from the Gospels," Paul said. "The pro-capitalist Christians who are aware of these passages wave them away even though it is the only explicit description of Christian economics in the Bible."
Jay W. Richards responded in the Washington Post to Paul's essay by saying no serious biblical scholar or economist would call the early church's practices Marxist. No serious biblical scholar, or economist, would mistake the practice of the early Jerusalem church for Marxism. "First of all, Marx viewed private property as oppressive, and had a theory of class warfare, in which the workers would revolt against the capitalists — the owners of the means of production — and forcibly take control of private property," he said. "After that, Marx thought, private property would be abolished, and the state would own the means of production on behalf of the people. There's none of this business in the Book of Acts. These Christians are selling their possessions and sharing freely."
Richards said the Bible's "underlying principles are most consistent with the free economy. He said St. Paul told Christians to "earn their own living," and "anyone unwilling to work should not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3: 10, 12).
Sarah Posner, responding to similar ideas at Religion Dispatches, swang back. "The kingdom Jesus is expecting upon his return is a free market system? Novel," she said. "I'm sure Wall Street is thrilled with the biblical endorsement."