Capitalism, Christmas, and Nature ‘Red in tooth and claw’


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The corporate raider Gordon Gekko famously said in the movie Wall Street:-

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A”

He had one thing right “Greed … captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit”.

Haven’t you ever felt when you watch a nature programme on TV, that there’s something deep-down just plain wrong with predators eating their prey? I see a pack of dogs take down a wildebeest or whatever, and I have this almost gut-level sense that it isn’t meant to be this way. I find it hard to believe that God could look at that bloody scene, at that ultimately oppressive relationship, and pronounce it “very good”.

Indeed, there’s a suggestion in the early chapters of Genesis, that in the beginning, it wasn’t this way.  In Genesis 1:29-31 God says to human beings made in his image:

29 “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

There’s no predator-prey stuff going on there. No redness in tooth or claw. But by chapter 9, immediately after Noah emerges from the ark after God’s catastrophic judgement on humanity’s evil, we read:

1And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”

Somewhere between Genesis 1 and Genesis 9, the principle of killing another creature to eat enters in. Surely its something to do with the Fall of Genesis 3? In response to Adam’s sin, God curses the entire creation, and in comes this principle of struggle, with rivalry entering in between Adam and Eve, and between Adam and the creatures.

The essence of the Fall was a self-seeking. Adam and Eve were deceived by satan into believing that God was a self-centred being, who would selfishly deny them the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In response to believing the lie about God, they themselves became self-seeking. They chose to put their own will before the will of the creator. It might not seem like a big deal, eating some fruit from a tree, but its a catastrophe. This principle of self-seeking, me at the centre, me before you, entered into the creation right there, right then. Augustine and Luther had a name for it “incurvatus in se”, meaning “curved in on self”.

Predatory behaviour in nature is surely the ultimate expression of self-centredness. I put myself before you even to the extent of killing and eating you.  Me before You writ large.

But capitalism – one of the major Idols of our Western world, a foundational presupposition of its existence – operates by the same principal, as Gordon Gekko rightly observed. Its simply systematised, institutionalised, self-interest. Me before you, my financial well-being before yours. Its the survival of the fittest. But its evil.

So God help us if our culture, our governments, turn ever more to capitalism as the solution.

Yesterday I heard on the news that a recent survey in Britain showed that people are increasingly anxious about how they are going to afford Christmas. Apparently 40% will fund Christmas on credit. And I think it was 14% of Britons worry every day about how much Christmas will cost.

What happens when, as a culture, we turn away from the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world, the Son of God, God made flesh – and turn towards an idol, like materialism? Perhaps God begins to hand over such a culture to its idols, so that we experience first hand how deeply unpleasant life really becomes when the idol we have freely chosen begins to master us.

When I look at the feeding frenzy, or orgy to change the metaphor, of materialism that our modern Western Christmas has become, I get that same deep down sense of wrongness – almost a gut instinct – that I get watching a pack of wild dogs disembowel a wildebeest.

How different to God we are. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16.

What greater expression of other-person-centredness could be imagined, than for God the Father to give his eternally beloved Son, to save incorrigibly self-centred people like us?