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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Politics of Envy Is Contrary to the Bible

Wall Street Journal op-ed, What the Bible Teaches About Capitalism, by Aryeh Spero (Caucus for America):

As the Ten Commandments instruct, envy is corrosive to the individual and to those societies that embrace it.

Who would have expected that in a Republican primary campaign the single biggest complaint among candidates would be that the front-runner has taken capitalism too far? As if his success and achievement were evidence of something unethical and immoral? President Obama and other redistributionists must be rejoicing that their assumptions about rugged capitalism and the 1% have been given such legitimacy.

More than any other nation, the United States was founded on broad themes of morality rooted in a specific religious perspective. We call this the Judeo-Christian ethos, and within it resides a ringing endorsement of capitalism as a moral endeavor.

Regarding mankind, no theme is more salient in the Bible than the morality of personal responsibility, for it is through this that man cultivates the inner development leading to his own growth, good citizenship and happiness. The entitlement/welfare state is a paradigm that undermines that noble goal.

The Bible's proclamation that "Six days shall ye work" is its recognition that on a day-to-day basis work is the engine that brings about man's inner state of personal responsibility. Work develops the qualities of accountability and urgency, including the need for comity with others as a means for the accomplishment of tasks. With work, he becomes imbued with the knowledge that he is to be productive and that his well-being is not an entitlement. And work keeps him away from the idleness that Proverbs warns leads inevitably to actions and attitudes injurious to himself and those around him. ...

No country has achieved such broad-based prosperity as has America, or invented as many useful things, or seen as many people achieve personal promise. This is not an accident. It is the direct result of centuries lived by the free-market ethos embodied in the Judeo-Christian outlook. ...

The motive of capitalism's detractors is a quest for their own power and an envy of those who have more money. But envy is a cardinal sin and something that ought not to be. God begins the Ten Commandments with "I am the Lord your God" and concludes with "Thou shalt not envy your neighbor, not for his wife, nor his house, nor for any of his holdings." Envy is corrosive to the individual and to those societies that embrace it. Nations that throw over capitalism for socialism have made an immoral choice.

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in many translations the word is "covet," which derives from the latin for "desire," and is usually defined with reference to seeking something without due regard for the rights of others. the investor capitalist who takes money out of an operating business at the expense of workers is "coveting" money in the sense the scripture forbids.

Posted by: r. willis | Jan 30, 2012 12:02:53 PM

This argument simply assumes the presence of envy without support - there could be any other number of reasons to criticize capitalism - so the whole thing is one long straw man. It is also interspersed with inaccurate hyperbole about the success of American individuals. It rather depends on how you measure success. Americans might own more tvs than any society before now, but that's not exactly the only way to measure "personal promise." Also, we're no longer at the top in terms of standard of living, anyway.

You'd think the WSJ would be more careful about their writing.

Posted by: Liz | Jan 30, 2012 4:11:39 PM

Interesting how there is only one commandment against Murder, but two against wanting things that don't belong to you. Perhaps to squash the early #Occupyjudea movement?

Posted by: Georg Felis | Jan 30, 2012 7:30:56 PM

And a camel has a better chance of passing through the eye of a needle than a rich man has of getting into heaven. If this is true, then why would we want to elect a hellbound guy like Mitt Romney as President? To paraphrase a wise man, even Satan can quote from the Ten Commandments for his purposes.

Posted by: Max Johnson | Jan 31, 2012 2:29:09 AM

You rich bible thumpers are too funny.

I'd stick to capitalism is a darwinian system whereby the rich exploit the poor to maximize their wealth. Unregulated, it is back to Dickens. Regulated properly can acheive good results. Trying to justify it using the Bible is a losing cause.

My chaste, poor nuns who took a vow of poverty taught me the Bible was about fairness, helping the downtrodden, turning the other cheek and honoring the meek. I don't think they ever mentioned envy and keeping their money from the less well off. As I recall, Mother Theresa worked in Calcutta, not on Wall Street.

So what sayest thou ritghteous ones about those dominant themes in the Bible and Christian Religion?

Posted by: John | Jan 31, 2012 6:24:11 AM

Jesus took a knotted cord and chased the parasitic money changers from the temple.

We could use him on Wall Street right about now.

Posted by: save_the_rustbelt | Jan 31, 2012 6:17:34 PM

To John: Amen!!

Posted by: Max Johnson | Feb 1, 2012 2:32:53 AM