Compassionate Capitalism in Canada

Even heard of an oxymoron? That was the word that came to mind when I started writing this title, but even I had to look it up. It means “a rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, like a deafening silence.”

Well, for some people using the word “compassionate” alongside “capitalism” may be seen as contradictory. However, I don’t see it that way at all. I happen to believe in and support both concepts.

According to Wikipedia capitalism refers to “an economic and social system in which the means of production are predominantly privately owned, operated for profit, and in which investments, distribution, income, production and pricing of goods and services are determined through the operation of a market economy.”

Call me conservative in my political views if you so desire, but I believe the best economies emerge from the least bureaucratic interference. Most of the jobs produced in our nation are done so through the enterprise of small business owners. The more centrally planned the society is the less efficient and effective. I have witnessed this.

Historically, Canada was based on a belief in a Creator God. If you study world economies, those cultures that believe in a Creator are creative, the innovators, and most often, the Nobel Prize winners. Cultures with a belief in polytheism – a recognition and worship of many gods – often build their economies on manufacturing and marketing other nation’s inventions.

Cold capitalism can be cruel though. Take the calling out of work, pursue making money for making money sake, spend all life’s energy on building bigger barns, use profit for selfish purposes, and capitalism becomes a four letter word. The rich get richer, and the poor die.

There is something wrong with that picture if you care to look at it. If you look closely, you may find yourself in the picture. That’s when this column gets personal. However, even though we know that we are blessed to live in Canada, among the world’s top 5% wealthiest citizens, we have the tendency to shut out the cry of the world’s poor and less fortunate.

This is where compassion comes in. I should not have to explain this, but let me try for a moment. Historically, our Western culture has been fashioned by the Greek mindset – ie. the analogical, scientific, cerebral. The Hellenistic world had no word to describe mercy or compassion: the closest they could come to it was courage.

The ancient world found a word to describe what should be our heart towards our fellow man, splagchnizomai, meaning “to have the bowels yearning.” When did you feel that last? Or, have we become dull in feeling and hearing the desperate cry of the world?

The Bible teaches that “if anyone has this world’s goods (resources for sustaining life) and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart of compassion against him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3: 17).

This leads me to why I believe in compassionate capitalism. Make money – no problem: be a capitalist. However, decide on a purpose for the use of your wealth compassionately. Remember this: if you are Canadian, the poorest of us are among the wealthiest of the world.

How are Canadians doing on the mercy scale? 2006 stats on Charitable giving in Canada stated that Canadians gave only 1.2% of their monies into charities. You tell me if that “overwhelming generosity” moves the heart of God to reach out and bless us or not.

Is it possible that our Western culture may be facing judgment? Is it possible that what the United States economy is going through right now is related to a poor performance in mercy?  This may come home to roost in Canada, if we are not careful. Americans gave 2% of their wealth away.

Among the reasons Sodom was judged by God was “pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness … [and] neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezek 16:49). Think about it.

Compassionate capitalism needs to start at home, extend to our neighbours, then to our city and nation, and ultimately, to the global village. I pray that God touches your heart with love for your fellow man, and that you find some practical way to reach out and touch somebody, starting today.