Acton Institute Powerblog

Hell and Capitalism

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Contrary to the belief of some, the two realities referred to in the title of this post are not identical.

But the discussion around a recent Boston Globe article reminds me of the saying from Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, “Capitalism without the threat of bankruptcy is like Christianity without the threat of hell. It doesn’t work very well.” It may well be that capitalism without the threat of hell doesn’t work very well either.

The Globe piece refers to a bit of research that links belief about punishment in the afterlife with economic development. This is important, since “knowing exactly how and when God influences mammon could lead to smarter forms of economic development in emerging nations, and could add to our understanding of how culture shapes wealth and poverty.”

It is promising that there is “a larger movement in economics, in which the field is looking beyond purely material explanations to a broader engagement with human culture, psychology, and even our angels and demons.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.


  • Bill Dummitt

    I believe capitalism has created a hell on earth for most people. Being a Christian who believes in doing away with money, I think I would like to learn more about the Action Institute. I have been looking for other Christians with similar views with mine. Bill

  • Bill,

    I recommend checking out Sojourners.

  • Roger McKinney

    Bill, before anyone can discuss capitalism we need to define our terms. I find that what most people consider capitalism today has nothing to do with the capitalism of Adam Smith. Odds are good that you have been suckered by the socialist straw man version of capitalism. What is your definition of capitalism?

  • Neal Lang

    “I believe capitalism has created a hell on earth for most people. Being a Christian who believes in doing away with money, I think I would like to learn more about the Action Institute. I have been looking for other Christians with similar views with mine. Bill”

    Bill, “Capitalism” – the private ownership of the means of production – has produced has produced the most good for greatest amount of people of any other economic system in the history of mankind. The opposite of “Capitalism” is “Communistic Socialism” where “the State” owns the means of production. This is practically no different than slavery and feudalism. If you can show one “Communistic Socialist” system that produced a higher living standard than that in the “Free Market” Capitalist economy than the US, kindly point it out. The economic woes of the US only occur where government gets involved in attempting control and plan the market. The current recession is a good example of that.

  • Ken Day

    Bill, there is nothing wrong with money. It is the LOVE of money that is the problem. ( 1 Timothy 6:10 ) Money is really the modern day equivalent of barter. Money is so versatile.(If I grew only peas, I could only trade with someone who wanted peas).
    I like the words of 1 Peter 5:2-3, “not greedy for money, but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you”. We need money. But as we know, it is to be used wisely, and not for selfish gain.
    In this country Australia, Capitalism has Not created a hell on earth for most people.
    As Neil said, I am not aware either, of any Communistic Socialst system that has created a higher living standard than the Free Market.
    As Jordan said, Capitalism without the threat of hell, doesn’t work very well. That is so true of any system, Communist, Socialst, or Capitalist.
    Democracy, with Capitalism, has created many free wonderful countries. As Acton says, freedom and virtue go together.