In his book, Jesus in Beijing, author David Aikman describes a lecture that he attended in Beijing in 2002. The speaker, a scholar from one of China’s premier academic research institutes, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the following:
One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world . . . We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.
While college professors in communist and atheist China embrace the paternal role of Christianity in forming the culture that has made the West wealthy and powerful, few in the West itself hold even a suspicion of that truth. Such irony results from very different histories. Academics in the West began to abandon traditional Christianity on the eve of its greatest economic success, the industrial revolution. Intellectuals began to look for other explanations for the West's success. They scrounged together a new history from broken and distorted pieces of classical Greek and Roman culture and succeeded in spreading their propaganda to the point that even the most dedicated Christians of the twentieth century espoused it. At the same time, socialism replaced Christianity as the religion of intellectuals and much of the rest of the population and today is the dominant paradigm for structuring the social science and humanities.
While residual Christianity thwarted the full instantiation of socialism in the United States and much of Western Europe, nothing barred China from getting drunk on the new wine. China fully implemented the most extreme version of socialism under Chairman Mao Zedong. His desperate attempt to purify socialism in China of the 1960’s in what became known as the Cultural Revolution nearly destroyed the nation and caused death by starvation of more than thirty million people. The disaster of the Cultural Revolution cured many Chinese of their zeal for socialism and opened their minds and hearts to foreign ideas.
A few Chinese scholars have become Christians as a result of their studies of Western history. Most Christian converts in China followed a different path to belief, as do most believers in the world, but the paths of those academics to faith in Christ differs little from those taken by C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot for whom the intellectual evidence pushed them toward reluctant belief. They demonstrate that an accurate history of how the West became great can be a powerful apologetic for Christianity. But more than anything, Christians in the West need to understand their history as the Chinese intellectuals do in order to preserve and bequeath that Christian culture to their children in the hope of restoring it to the nations of its birth.
This book, God is a Capitalist, is the outcome of about two decades of research. I did not start out trying to defend Christianity using the West’s history. The impetus came from years of reading articles in Christianity Today in the 1990s that openly promoted Marxism as Christian economics. I had recently earned an MA in economics, but had taken no history classes. I discovered later that all history of economics classes had been removed from the economics curriculum of most schools a generation ago. Experts had decided that the best of the past had been incorporated into modern mainstream economics so there was nothing students could learn from the past. They were wrong.
I began reading books on economic history and the history of economic thought in order to determine if Christianity Today was correct that capitalism was a gross distortion of God’s plan for humanity and that Marxism would restore humanity to the “Garden of Eden” as Marx asserted it would. The stakes were high. Europeans had speculated for centuries that mankind had lived in a state of innocence, peace and prosperity before the enforcement of private property. Marx, and the many socialists before and after him, promised that if we followed his system we would create a world without poverty or crime.
Socialists assumed that humans are born innocent and resort to evil only because something oppresses them; private property is the worst oppressor of all. So eliminating property would allow human nature to return to its natural state of innocence and evil would evaporate like shallow water on a hot summer day. At the same time, poverty existed only because some people hoard more than their share of wealth. Spreading wealth more evenly, eliminating inequality, would make everyone rich. What is there not to like about socialism?
After more than a decade of research, I finally discovered what the Chinese intellectuals had learned three decades before: God is a capitalist!