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The Christian Faith and the Financial Crisis
Part One: The Christian Faith (8)


Griffiths sometimes says he is not arguing that Christianity is intrinsically tied to a free market economy (10) but in fact that is exactly the case he is making. And he justifies it historically by saying that the most successful wealth creating culture the world has ever seen (ourselves) was Christian. He quotes Brian May's The Third World Calamity to the effect that the poverty of the third world is due to an inadequate religious culture. 'Iranian culture' for example, 'has been taken up with poetry, philosophy, the arts and dreams of the past and future.' No wonder they're in such a bad shape! 'By contrast a Western-type economic system requires a rationalistic culture of the kind emphasised by Weber' (Creation of Wealth, p.35). He even develops an argument that the doctrine of the Trinity (ibid pp.53-5) is favourable to the interaction of persons we find in a free society. By contrast 'When in religion the One is given preference, as in Islam, the consequence has been a form of totalitarianism which attempts to discern the will of Allah.' For some reason he neglects to mention Judaism in this context. 'The relevance of the Trinity is to emphasise both the individual and the state, as well as a large variety of mediating institutions which form the basis of of a pluralist society.' I lived for some ten years in France. Confronted with something like that I find myself reverting to a French expression: 'N'importe quoi'!

(10) 'In arguing that a socialist economic system is not the logical outgrowth of the Kingdom [of God - PB], I am not for one moment suggesting that the market economy or democratic capitalism or some such concept follows logically either. The point about the Kingdom is that by design it is God's and not ours.' Creation of Wealth p.63. I think this may be a little guilty nod in the direction of what he would have learned at the feet of Martyn Lloyd Jones or John Stott who were not advocates of a social Christianity, whether socialist or capitalist.

What the backward countries of the world clearly need is a cultural/religious revolution. They need Christianity as he understands it. It seems that Christ came into the world not so much to save sinners as to lay the foundations for the rationalistic culture that could sustain a Western-style economic system and enable us to fulfil God's wish for us that we should be good stewards of His world by transforming it into motor cars, aeroplanes, TV sets and computers.

He can only sustain this argument by equating Christianity with Protestantism. From my own Orthodox Christian point of view, the Protestantism that encouraged and facilitated the creation of wealth was a betrayal of the Christianity that encouraged and facilitated the renunciation of wealth - monastic Christianity.

Griffiths refers to monastic Christianity occasionally and in passing as a marginal phenomenon, a temptation to be resisted, a danger we might fall into if we take the words of Jesus too literally: 'The call to seek first the Kingdom of God is not a call to the life of the monastery or to a narrow-minded form of personal piety which rejects the material world' (Creation of Wealth, p.61).

But for 1,000 years, between the conversion of Constantine in the fifth century and the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Christianity in all its divisions - West Roman, East Roman, Irish, Armenian, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Slav - was understood to be a monastic religion. It occurs to me as I write that one could, if one were of a mischievous disposition, suggest that that 1,000 years was the Millennium - the 1,000 year personal rule of Christ, followed by the rise of non-monastic Christianity as a religion of the antichrist. I'm not sure anyone has ever suggested that but it would be an amusing variant on certain equally farfetched Protestant millenarian notions.

Monasticism is characterised by the renunciation of personal goods and personal ambitions in order to devote oneself to the pursuit of the Kingdom of God. It is, in other words, based on a literal understanding of the commandments of Christ, an understanding that isn't in need of explanatory footnotes. The monastic life does not renounce work but it tends to favour work of a routine kind that does not engage strong feeling - the atmosphere of the stock exchange is not favourable to a life of contemplation, of communion with God. And anything resembling competition would immediately be recognised as an offence against the commandment to 'love thy neighbour as thyself.'

Protestantism as a distinct, new, quite unprecedented religion could be said to have started on the day Martin Luther left his monastery. Anti-monasticism is the heart and soul of it. And it is surely difficult not to see a similarity, even a logical continuity, between the destruction of monastic Christianity in, for example, Britain in the sixteenth century, and the ultimately less successful, less thoroughgoing destruction of monastic Christianity in the USSR in the twentieth century. And in terms of sheer bloody massacre it would be interesting to compare the action of the Bolsheviks in the USSR with the action of the Protestants in Ireland in the seventeenth century. (11)

(11) In this context I might refer the reader to the article The English in Ireland and the Practice of Massacre on this website.