A confused notion of 'sin'

By , csmonitor.com

Imagine living a life of perpetual sin. Imagine the enormous guilt you would feel if you perceived that almost all your waking hours consisted of actions that, in their own little way, are devastating to the welfare of humankind.

Every time you fill up with gas, you would be sinning. Every time you buy clothes at the mall, you would be sinning. The same holds true every time you eat agribusiness-supplied food. Or shop at the Home Depot. Or take brand-name prescription drugs.

For the executive committee members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), any activity that helps support global capitalism is a sin.

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WARC membership consists of Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, and United churches. At their general council meeting in Accra, Ghana last month, WARC officials declared in an official statement, "We reject the current world economic order imposed by global neoliberal capitalism...." ("Neoliberal" capitalism as opposed to what - paleoconservative capitalism?) The statement decries transnational corporations, and blames poverty - and even seems to blame the AIDS epidemic - on capitalism. It also reads:

- We acknowledge the complicity and guilt of those who consciously or unconsciously benefit from the current neoliberal economic global system; we recognize that this includes both churches and members of our own Reformed family and therefore we call for confession of sin.

- We acknowledge that we have become captivated by the culture of consumerism, and the competitive greed and selfishness of the current economic system. This has all too often permeated our very spirituality.

- We confess our sin in misusing creation and failing to play our role as stewards and companions of nature.

(One shudders at the personal torment they must have gone through after their meeting wrapped up: consciously benefiting not only from the services of the transnational airline companies that brought them home, but from the oil companies that provided the fuel.)

After confessing one's sins, one is not supposed to commit the same sins again and again. So I offer this solution: Why don't they simply quit using the products of corporations and bow out of global capitalism altogether?

Not feasible? Sure it is. Simply find some good land to farm and livestock to raise, give up all modern conveniences and equipment (at least those manufactured within the global capitalistic system), and use a horse and buggy to get around.

And incidentally, anyone else who rails against corporations while constantly using their products should consider the same course of action.

Of course, forgoing all transnational corporation-supplied products would mean committing to a life of poverty. But wait: according to WARC's statement, poverty is one of the very things they want to eliminate.

So let that be a lesson. Were it not for capitalism and corporations, almost everyone everywhere would be living in poverty. Many would starve.

The earth holds 6.4 billion people - far, far more than its previous carrying capacity (back when humans were all hunter-gatherers or agriculturalists). The only way to attain the requisite carrying capacity is through mass production. Only capitalism provides the right incentives - i.e. the profit motive - to encourage that mass production. Socialism/communism has proven to be woefully inadequate in that regard.

To be sure, the WARC statement seems to reject "absolute planned economies," too. Their alternative? A spokesperson told me in an e-mail that the organization "is not saying it knows precisely what a better system looks like." Whatever the case, their outlook is decidedly neomarxist in all aspects but religion.

WARC officials lament poverty in the world, but if they investigated, they would find that mass poverty is most common in areas with the least amount of capitalism. Observe North Korea. Or, ask people in China whether they were better off 30 years ago, when poverty and totalitarianism prevailed, compared with today, after the introduction of market economics and multinational corporations.

WARC also bemoans environmental degradation. But providing for the basic needs of 6.4 billion people will put stress on the environment regardless of the economic system. And guess what: the most capitalistic societies tend to have the cleanest environments.

Particularly disturbing is that WARC seems to be using the Bible to justify societal upheaval. Their statement includes the following: "We join in praise to God, Creator, Redeemer, Spirit, who has 'brought down the mighty from their thrones, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands' (Luke 1:52-53)."

Sending the rich away with empty hands has been tried many times in the past. Invariably - from the Bolshevik Revolution to present-day Zimbabwe - the result is mass poverty, violence, and oppression.

The people of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches have it all wrong. By benefiting from global capitalism, they are not sinning at all. On the contrary, it is when they advocate its overthrow, that they are committing a grave sin indeed.

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