Halteman on Adam Smith’s Moral Foundation

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Yesterday, Rodney and I were discussing the use of non-Christians, and sometimes a-theists, economic systems (notably, Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, and Karl Marx). Adam Smith rejected Christianity, and the moral code as it were as produced by Christianity. Does this matter? Can it be compatible with Christian ethics and morals? James Halteman (warning, pdf) has an article up which admits these things, but concludes, somewhat (and I am paraphrasing it almost out of existence) that capitalism is the best we can offer. He concludes,

“(S)eeing market capitalism as God’s plan for economic life has been a common course of action (for Christians). On the other hand, withdrawing from the ambiguities of the world and retreating into enclaves of spiritual purity is hardly consistent with the life of Jesus…Somewhere on a continuum between these to extremes there is room for debate on how Christians should respond… the task of Christians need not be to save the secular system from collapse by infusing Christian principles into the system…What Christians can do is provide an alternative model showing how life can be more meaningful than the best the world can offer. By doing so they effect change on the margin without selling out to the spirit of the world.” (ht)

As we see our economic system crumbling around us, thanks in part of an apathetic American citizenry which has yet to fully educate itself on what is actually going in Washington, believing for some reason that the only two things needed to know about a politician was his stance on abortion and gay marriage, I think it’s time we asked the question of from whom did we get our current economic system? Further, is it compatible with Christianity?

I do think that deism allows for a more libertarian view, but that is more psychological analysis than empiricism from me.

This is an article about Adam Smith and the Christian Hope. There are, of course, a lot of defenders and detractors for Capitalism and Christianity.

(note, for new readers, Rodney and I are pretty far apart on a view things, politically speaking, but I have found him a valuable friend in discussing these sorts of issues. You can read his recent review on a book about the ‘divine economy’.)

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One Reply to “Halteman on Adam Smith’s Moral Foundation”

  1. There is no place for theology in economics. At least, there isn’t a place beyond the individual making decisions with their money based on their personal morality, which may or may not be informed by a religious system.

    In short, *all* economics, as discussed by Adam Smith, is a product of individual interactions guided by their interests (whether mutually or singularly beneficial). However, I’m vastly over-simplifying Smith here. What we find in a free society is the practice of maximizing self-interest which, ideally, should result in the most good for all involved parties.

    Sadly, our Mercantilist Overlords -don’t kid yourself into believing that America has been even remotely Capitalist, particularly in the last few decades- protect their self-interest at the sacrifice of the people who elected them in the first place. As we are seeing, this is flatly unsustainable. If there is a theological/moral angle, it should be sharply pointed in the direction of leaders who rule over instead of support their constituents (to borrow a thought from Greg Boyd’s great “Myth of a Christian Nation”).

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