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Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church

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Christianity Incorporated

Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church, Michael L Budde, Robert W Brimlow

Are capitalism and Christianity compatible, or do they represent fundamentally different and opposing value systems? For many Americans, Christianity and capitalism go hand-in-hand; indeed, Christianity is sometimes portrayed as something which validates capitalism. Others, however, argue for a very different conception of Christianity.

Summary

Title: Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church
Author: Michael L. Budde, Robert W. Brimlow.
Publisher: Brazos Press
ISBN: 1587430266

Pro:
• Well-written, engaging, easy to read
• Explores a Christian critique of capitalist, consumerist society not usually seen.

Con:
• Index of names only

Description:
• Describes how Christianity has adapted to capitalism and how corporations adapt Christianity
• Critiques the ways in which Christian values are lost to capitalism
• Details how corporations have taken over funeral business — to the detriment of consumers

 

Book Review

Normally this might be seen as a conflict between liberal and conservative Christianity, and it is true that the effort to portray Christianity as a handmaiden of capitalism comes more often from conservative and fundamentalist Christians. In Christianity Incorporated, however, Michael L. Budde and Robert W. Brimlow argue for a different understanding. According to them, both liberals and conservatives share similar assumptions about the ultimate role of Christianity in a capitalist society:

    “Foremost among them is the notion that Christianity must be “useful” in order to be a legitimate player in our contemporary world. It must help people perform their duties as defined by the secular status quo, not from within ecclesial traditions unless the two are identical. In addition to enabling people to work within the existing order more efficiently, Christianity must also boost people emotionally and psychologically during stressful times, and must enable them to be good citizens, employees, consumers, patriots, and family members.”
    “Indeed, for Christianity to be relevant today, it must do for the whole of society what chaplains do for the armed forces — meet spiritual needs and personal crises, provide legitimation and explanation for the way things are, and generate loyalties to the collective and its purposes.”

The thesis is that Christianity has become a “chaplain” for capitalism; they take as their model military chaplains who are outsiders with fundamentally different values, but who must learn to function within an alien system without rocking the boat or challenging the system’s premises. As such, Christianity has begun to lose its “soul” and abandon its own most fundamental values:

    “By telling employees that spirituality properly pursued makes for happy corporate functionaries, a wealthy firm, and a stronger nation, corporations further the absorption of Christianity by the capitalist worldview and culture, in the process robbing the church of its prophetic and eschatological qualities. The church falls victim to idolatry on the installment plan.”

The authors are Catholics, but they do not hesitate to find similar problems in the Roman Catholic Church. One entire chapter is taken up by a critique of the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus:

Christianity Incorporated

Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church, Michael L Budde, Robert W Brimlow

    “What the pope describes and justifies...throughout Centesimus is a chaplaincy church. In John Paul’s view, the function of the church’s social teaching is twofold: first, not to responsibly confront concrete problems in all their aspects (presumably because there are other social institutions more expert), but to provide an ideal orientation for these practical practitioners; and second, to try to moderate what he believes are “excessive” outcomes of corrupt institutions and practices.”
    “Thus John Paul simultaneously accepts and justifies those institutions and practices — at least in an abstract general sense — as normative, as the way economics, for example, ought to be, and then complains because the results of economics-as-it-outght-to-be are anti-Christian, unjust, and oppressive. ...[T]he church described by John Paul sees itself as subordinated to the social reality of democratic politics and market economics. By accepting that subordination willingly and deferring to the power of the empires, the church relegates itself to the role of loyal cheerleader, commentator, and confessor.”

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