Capitalism and Cultural Change

[ This is part three of a three-part series by Tom Addison on Christianity and Capitalism. You can also read part one and part two – Ed. ]

In part two I compared direct evangelism efforts to an infomercial. Imagine, if you will, a premium brand like Mercedes Benz advertising itself in an infomercial format. You’d have the fast-talking pitch man spelling out, with no subtlety, all of the great things about the car, followed up by a high pressure pitch to take action now. This, of course, is not how a brand that wants high perceived value markets itself. It sponsors the US Open, it makes beautiful and relatively subtle commercials about the distinguishing characteristics of its vehicles. It doesn’t try too hard and seem desperate like some guy selling miracle soap on late night TV. The most important thing is that Mercedes Benz controls the narrative about itself. People can debate the wisdom of paying that much for a car, and some simply won’t be able to afford it, but hardly anyone dismisses the central brand idea, which is that Mercedes produces a premium quality vehicle at a premium price. By the time someone walks into a Mercedes dealership, the salespeople, akin to our evangelists, have hardly to do any selling at all beyond going through the formalities of taking the order.

Direct evangelism, especially the kind featuring “walk the aisle” type invitations, is comparable to the infomercial. I have a strong background in direct marketing, and I am not here to dismiss the infomercial. There is a sanity to it. You can know, to the penny, how much profit each advertisement makes. The problem is that it is self-limiting. Only certain types of people watch and respond to them. Inevitably, if you want to appeal beyond this niche, a somewhat naive and gullible audience, you have to develop a brand and sell in mainstream stores, backed up by mainstream marketing. There’s a reason the “invitation system” of the tent meeting evangelist came about in the late 1800’s era of patent medicine. That kind of pitch worked for certain people, but they were not the most influential or affluent, and thus most valuable, customers. And by valuable, I do not mean the value of their eternal souls, but rather their value as influencers in the community. There are certain people who, in adopting the Christian faith, will influence more people than others.

Now, I have to admit, as a businessman when someone gives me a pitch about the need for an indirect marketing approach, I reach for my wallet. If the great strength of this approach is its ability to have mass influence, its great weakness is the inability to directly track results. As such, the world of branding and indirect marketing is infected by a lot of people peddling overconfident pseudoscience. However, it does work and probably the distinguishing feature is that you have to go big or go home. The Sulzbergers or Jeff Bezos can be pretty confident, without a lot of statistical models, that ownership of their respective newspapers provides them a sufficient return on investment, simply because they’re well-known and self-evidently influential brands. In other words, going for this type of cultural influence is not penny poker and does not lend itself to pilot projects to prove concepts. It is a multi-billion-dollar endeavor, on a multi-decade timescale. It requires exactly the kind of business sense that can acquire that kind of capital and the stewardship of a committed group of private owners. It is not work appropriate for churches or parachurch ministries, but rather families of dedicated, committed Christian capitalists.

I think many in the Millennial generation understand what I’m getting at in this discussion. They seek to move the church in a more aesthetically pleasing direction, to soften the carnival barker aspects of late modern evangelistic efforts, and to have influence in the culture. Some of them, however, seem a little too cozy with the culture to effectively make war against it. They try to find “the gospel” in degenerate Netflix series or superhero movies. They do not seem to understand that the people who control our culture do not simply misunderstand Christianity, having been turned off by goofy fundamentalists. The people who control our culture are entirely hostile to Christianity and seek to nihilistically destroy any ideas of truth, goodness, or beauty to make the world conform to their sinful desires. Like vampires, they get their thrills through corrupting the innocent, mocking truth, and consuming beauty while contributing nothing to its maintenance in society.

While the fundamentalist seeks to isolate himself from the culture, to create a safe camp of the saints, the hipster Christian focused on cultural relevance desires to, by some sort of spiritual alchemy, co-opt the culture and avoid direct conflict with it. The Christian capitalist wants to make spiritual war upon the culture, to conquer it for Christ, by accumulating the wealth necessary to own and control instruments of cultural power.

Many holier-than-God Christians will cringe at me using a word like power, yet the Bible clearly describes our being in a spiritual war with our enemy. Spiritual warfare does not typically involve violence, but it does mean that power of some sort is used. Warfare is nothing more, nothing less, than the use of power to compel the defeat of an enemy when a voluntary, tolerable coexistence proves impossible. So what might this spiritual power, wielded by Christians, look like?

Many naive people today assume that in the culture industries, e.g. television, movies, music, etc, that there is a meritocracy. In a sense, it is a meritocracy, in that people generally have to be very skilled in their craft to have any chance of success. Left wing movie makers still have to be world class in their skills to get funding. What people don’t see is how the culture industries are only partly a meritocracy. Why is this?

Very simply, due to human vanity, there are vastly more people who want to be employed in glamour industries than there are spaces available to provide employment. There’s a reason Harvey Weinstein was able to take advantage of women like he did. For every role available, there are thousands of beautiful, skilled actresses willing to do just about anything to get the part. Beauty and skill are simply more plentiful than money and wealth, especially the kind of money and wealth that can gamble on Hollywood movies. To take a chance on a $100 million movie which may flop, and survive in the long run, you have to have a bankroll of at least $2 billion. This imbalance of power between money and talent is exactly why the most unseemly, immoral people are attracted to “show business” and why those with the money have so much arbitrary power as to the types of movies that get made and the types of stories that are told.

If Christians controlled an oligopoly of media power, we could implement the same modified meritocracy, but a righteous one. We would know that fictional portrayals in film are extremely powerful propaganda tools, offering the artist an almost direct intimacy with the moral sense of the viewer. After all, what we all do with fiction is suspend our disbelief for a time so that we may be entertained. In this open state, we are particularly vulnerable to being influenced against our pre-existing beliefs. This is because we tend to identify with the hero or heroine of the story, and this emotional connection, while completely unreal, feels more real and compelling than our beliefs.

These Christian ventures for cultural hegemony must be run for profit, and while media properties are not generally all that profitable, especially to acquire, only a profit-sensitive organization has the discipline to make sure that the cultural products are as entertaining as they are instructive. We have all experienced the cringe of watching cheesy, overly in-your-face Christian media originating from Christian ministries. We need for-profit Christian media companies run by Christians according to Christian values. And while not-for-profit ministries serve a vital function for those within the church, only a profit-seeking venture will likely be able to influence the public at large.

The stakeholders are motivated differently, and as much as we should avoid greed as a motivation, nevertheless whether a particular effort earns a profit or not is the most reliable indicator of its cultural effectiveness. Christians will benefit from such discipline. The smartest Christian ventures like this will retain some degree of ambiguity, just as our enemies do. Normal Hollywood movies don’t open the credits with “To the Glory of Our Lord, Satan,” because such an overt statement would trigger the audience’s defenses, undermining the suspension of disbelief so critical to cultural influence in fictional works. In the same way, Christians should use the power of subtlety, and instead of corrupting with lies and vice, let truth do its own sure, slow work.

Our enemies were patient, willing to endure a century’s worth of “marching through the institutions” until they achieved hegemony. This long-term outlook can only be pursued by dedicated, Christian capitalist families, not by non-profit organizations or the church, where leadership can change overnight and staff are not trained or skilled at managing large business ventures.

While the principles here are timeless, we can glorify God that our enemies’ influence is waning. The “legacy” media has almost completely lost its credibility. Hollywood struggles now to make a profit and is less able to subsidize propaganda films off of the profits of blockbusters. More and more of the media universe is fragmented. As a result, assuming they don’t seek it out, people are exposed to much less anti-Christian propaganda today than they were as recently as the 1990’s, when our enemies effectively controlled all major cable channels, magazines, and newspapers, which were the sole source of authoritative information for most people. When people watch benign, niche content like Fixer Upper or funny cat videos, they are not consuming left-wing propaganda from our enemies, and for this we should be very thankful.

We are at an inflection point in the culture, where new forms of media, often requiring substantially less investment, are acquiring audiences exceeding that of “mainstream” sources like CNN. The online audiences are often much more engaged and passionate about the community forming around a certain personality, whereas a substantial portion of CNN’s viewers are people not paying attention in nursing homes, airports, and waiting rooms. The game has changed, and the future of effective Christian capitalism in the cultural space will look much different than it has in the past. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest and control parts of this media, while our enemies are busy protecting their declining legacy properties. It is an exciting time to seek to influence the culture. Ideas can be tried, experiments can be run, often for very little capital, and with disproportionate payoff when successful. The low barrier to entry offers the luxury of waiting until a person with the right message emerges and then helping them accelerate growth with a strategic investment. There has never been a more exciting time to be a media mogul for the Kingdom.

For too long, Christian donors have been too focused on retail evangelism and not sufficiently focused on what I call intellectual logistics. In war, it is said that amateurs and wannabes study tactics, whereas masters study logistics. Logistics is the art of having the right resources in the right place at the right time so tactical opportunities can be maximally advantaged. Evangelism was simply a lot easier even a generation ago when our culture had a consensus on the reality of God, sin, and man’s need for forgiveness. When a lost person shares those concepts with the church, it only takes a moment of personal crisis, or personal conviction, to make the final leap to a personal saving faith.

When none of the preliminary ideas are held in common due to years of Satanic propaganda in the media and school - there is no God, no morality, no sin, no life after death - evangelism becomes ten times more difficult. The personal crisis or personal conviction that before might have led to a conversion now simply adds to a general sense of despair and a desire to drown those feelings in entertainment, drugs, or materialism. Before we can reap the harvest, we must sow, water, weed, and cultivate with Christian education and Christian values.

Beyond the opportunity to influence culture, Christian capitalists influence their communities in other ways that are harmed if we seek to divest ourselves of wealth. Most family fortunes are made through running a business. All business owners know too well that their success depends on others, their employees. The Christian business owner who wants to “give it all away” inevitably must sell the business to someone else, as the local church or a nonprofit is certainly incompetent to supervise an operating business. The new owner is unlikely to treat the employees of the business with as much respect as the family who built the business, and this erodes the substantial social capital that accrues in a business over time. In my businesses, we hire a lot of breadwinners for Christian families and we take seriously our duty to support them with adequate income and benefits. Just as there is an implied duty towards my children to not alienate their inheritance through reckless acts of charity, there is also an implied duty towards those individuals who have helped me build my businesses. If they remain faithful, so should we in reciprocating their faithfulness, across the generations, and this is most likely to happen when the founding family retains control, not when the business is sold to the highest bidder, even if the proceeds go to charity. We do not exist in a vacuum to do what we wish, but in a web of overlapping interests and obligations.

Wealthy Christian families also encourage their brethren living in the surrounding community. The “loser” mentality many Christians have towards wealth is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since the church’s hostile, pietist attitude towards wealth has driven many wealthy people out of the evangelical churches, we should not be surprised that many of the wealthy in the community are also worldly. Because we do not value wealth and encourage its growth and maintenance as a Christian vocation, we have very few multi-generational evangelical Christian family fortunes. This is unfortunate, because such families are inspiring to other Christian families, in showing that prosperity is compatible with faithfulness, and inspiring sincere Christian young people in pursuing the same path. Wealth brings its own influence, subtle and not-so-subtle, and to the extent we can have Christians own the bulk of wealth in a certain area, we also influence Christian behavior and faith in the broader community.

The vision of Christian capitalism is the idea that God has saved us for a purpose, a purpose more immediate than eternity and broader than our own personal salvation. Christianity is more than a “pyramid scheme” of personal evangelism, but a world-changing force that should seek dominion in every area of culture, a dominion that requires above all, faith and capital. When we are focused on influencing the world around us, we are less self-focused, less intent on navel-gazing our “brokenness” or “unworthiness” or whatever buzzword encapsulates the latest pietist enthusiasm obscuring a self-centered spirituality with a veneer of selflessness.

The city of Atlanta has an unofficial slogan as “the city too busy to hate.” After the acrimony of the Civil Rights era, leaders of both the white and black communities in Atlanta coined this slogan to summarize the city’s booming, forward-looking orientation. Unfortunately, some of the presuppositions of the 1960’s guaranteed that this detente would eventually become obsolete in the post-BLM era. Nevertheless, the idea is a good one. When we redirect our attention from the past, we are better able to plan and influence the future. By embracing the dominion mandate and rejecting pietism, by not focusing so much on our remaining sin and corruption but prioritizing positive good works, we deny sin additional power over us, with a clear goal of external victory in the culture. Not perfectly, of course, but human psychology tends to prioritize that which is the focus of mental meditation. Christian capitalism reflects an abundance mentality, a refusal to perpetually chase our spiritual tail. It seeks victory now, empowered by the Spirit and a right theology of wealth to do so.

Capitalism itself originates from a cultural phenomenon that 19th century sociologist Max Weber called “the Protestant work ethic.” Protestants in particular became extravagantly wealthy during the Industrial Revolution. Why? Protestants took a higher view of the Old Testament due to a feature of Protestant belief called covenant theology. Without going into too much detail, the distinguishing feature of covenant theology is its belief in the absolute continuity of the Old and New Testaments. This includes a high view of God’s law and a high view of the dominion-taking aspects of the Old Testament. As a result, the Protestant rediscovered the positive Jewish view of wealth while maintaining the higher ethics of a Christian faith.

To Protestants of the Reformation era, there is no essential difference in Abraham being blessed by wealth than a Christian believer today. Abraham was not made to feel guilty about his wealth because of his faith - quite the opposite! God rewarded Abraham with wealth because of his faith. Similarly, a wealthy Christian, under the Protestant view, was not to feel guilty or seek to alienate all of his wealth. He was to steward it and grow it, living reasonably relative to his income. John D. Rockefeller is perhaps history’s best example of this tendency. A staunch Calvinist, he believed God’s calling for him on Earth was to become as wealthy as possible so he could fund charitable causes he believed in.

Christians today are skittish about wealth, and evangelical culture can be hostile towards it. Yet, associations with wealth and belief are so omnipresent in Old Testament scripture that false teachers have captured much of the church with the “health and wealth” or prosperity gospel. Much of the charismatic church, as a result, has more positive views of wealth than mainstream evangelicalism. They take their sloppy theology one step too far by insisting that the association of wealth and sincere belief can be reduced to a sort of formula or guarantee. Nevertheless, many achievement-oriented Christians, particularly those from humble origins, are attracted to health and wealth theology because it at least doesn’t cast them as spiritually inferior for seeking to materially better themselves.

My hope here is simply to convince you that God blesses wealth. The Christian who seeks it, and the power it brings, should not apologize. Wealth is vital to the advancement of the Christian faith, and I believe Christians, if they get their head right about it, are uniquely positioned to grow significant wealth. I also strongly believe that the next few decades in particular offer unprecedented opportunities for Christian wealth building.

The late conservative thinker Sam Francis, in his magnum opus Leviathan and Its Enemies discusses the fundamental contradiction in our modern, secular society. For 100 years, to sell us more consumer goods, the elites in our society have been promoting an attitude of hedonism through popular entertainment and advertising. Francis argues they had a self-interested reason to erode public morality. Thrifty people with large families do not buy overpriced “branded” commodities like vodka in significant numbers. Childless homosexuals, on the other hand, can afford to spend a much larger portion of their paycheck on high margin luxury goods.

Our society, having reached a historically unprecedented level of prosperity, now wants people to buy more stuff than they need, and hedonistic propaganda is one way to stimulate consumption. Yet to maintain our prosperity, to continue to run the gigantic engines of industry, we need people who are not hedonistic. These enterprises require enormous amounts of capital to run and maintain, and capital itself is ultimately a product of thrift, a form of self-control, i.e. not consuming every bit of wealth on hedonism. These same industries need individuals who are not hedonists, in that they are willing to delay gratification to pursue education to prepare them for positions in the elite and the near-elite. Beyond that, the individuals with the cultural values and genetic qualities to maintain the apparatus of industry are not reproducing themselves, but rather shrinking with smaller and smaller families. Further removed from the latent cultural fumes of the Protestant work ethic, many of the children the managerial classes manage to produce are destroyed by the culture, falling into various forms of despair, wokeness, sexual perversion, or addictions that sap their productive potential. All the while, the less productive classes grow.

Our elites have chosen capital consumption, debt, and hedonism to goose short-term results in the economy, but eventually, when you eat your seed corn, you run out of harvests. This depletion of capital, both monetary and human, represents an enormous opportunity for people committed to growing their family’s capital. When capital is scarce, and it soon will be in our society, the returns to capital increase. Those with it will reap extreme rewards, and those without will find themselves humbled. My practical experience in business has shown me that simply being honest, intelligent, hard-working, and conscientiousness is enough to distinguish you and lead to serious wealth-building potential. As our culture rots morally, the returns to the few who can maintain a culture of morality and productivity will increase.

Capital is more than simply money, but represents a total view of human value. Its growth is the primary goal of Christian capitalism, and knowing its many forms, and how they interact, can help us avoid the same mistakes our elites are making today.

Tom Addison is the pen name of a self-made entrepreneur in Texas and supporter of the work of The Masculinist.

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