|The Rev. Alisdair Smith, Business Chaplain at
Some years ago, I was working on a small team, building a wealth management course for credit union staff. The expert we had hired to help us was frustrated with me one day as I struggled with an apparently simple financial concept.
She put her pencil down, peered over her glasses at me and said, "All you have to realize Alisdair, is that the market is based on two emotions; fear and greed."
I began to think, perhaps, that might be one of our problems. And certainly from a Christian ethic, based on courage and compassion, an economic system based on fear and greed would be, to say the least, a challenging reconciliation problem.
More recently though, I've been wondering, if my teacher was being a little too rhetorical. The market, or the capitalist economy, has served so many of us very well, and there's a lot to be said for the basic premise that an individual has the right and responsibility to contribute in his/her living to the health and welfare of him/herself, family unit and community.
Perhaps then it is not so much a fundamental problem with the market economy, rather, the problem is how we Christians engage with it. Perhaps by changing how we live into the market, we might make it serve us all, more equitably. I wonder if the answers to two questions might begin to help us consider new ways to engage with the market economy as Christians.
When is enough, enough? Jesus uses the image of a rich man entering heaven being as likely as a camel getting through the eye of a needle. (Luke 18:24 - 30) One reading of this story is that our choice to focus on acquisition prevents us from doing the work necessary for our own health and the health of our communities. It may be that this story is not so much about rich people being bad, rather it is about their choices. What about the choices you and I make at work? Are they choices of courage? Compassion? Health?
How do I describe my relationships with people? We are not simply consumers, we humans are far more than that; we are made in the image of God. A danger of describing each other as 'consumers', or 'management', or 'workers', is that we objectify each other, and therefore deny our inherent personhood. By working on imagining people as subjects and not as objects, we might move away from being afraid of each other and trying always to get the better of each other, towards a market that showed more respect and trust.
The challenge for Christians is not then that the market economy is by definition bad, rather, like so much else in our lives, it comes down to how we choose to live into it. Our tradition keeps reminding us of the importance of choice: "I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life - if you and your offspring would live" (Deut 30:19 JPS) May God give us all the courage and compassion to make the right choice.