December 07, 2004

Will Christians Hate Privatization?

Dean Baker offers a reason for Christian conservatives to oppose Social Security privatization -- namely, that they would be forced to invest in immoral companies (especially if the private accounts were invested in some index fund.)

To be sure, that's clever, but I don't think you can "trap" Christian conservatives like this. I'm going to generalize a bit, but Christians in the United States -- especially evangelicals -- have very much become entrepreneurs in their own way. Evangelical megachurches don't money so that they can give to charity; they raise money in order to invest in themselves, to grow and expand and satisfy its congregation, like a corporation maximizing shareholder value. From my experience, individual Christians approach wealth much the same way -- you make money not so you can go out and make the world a better place, but so you can make yourself a better person, and a better Christian. Put simply, it's an investment in yourself as a Christian.

There's a long history of this sort of doctrine -- from the Pentacostalists (see, for example, A.A. Allen's popular books on the scriptural guide to financial success) all the way to Rev. Ike's "Thinkonomics" today. To outsiders, these "prosperity preachers" and "prosperity Christians" look like hypocrites, but they follow a logic of their own, and there's no way to convince them that Jesus Christ really wanted us to give up all our earthly belongings and live sparely. This seems like the trend -- I used to think that you could, at least in theory, drive a wedge in the Republican party between the libertine Wall Streeters who celebrate individualism and the more community-based religious right. But the two camps are slowly fusing their beliefs into one coherent ideology.
-- Brad Plumer 1:55 PM || ||