I live in a capitalistic culture. The finance industry, (Banking, investments, insurance, et c.) is a bigger industry than health-care and construction combined. If one’s spending represents priorities, then my culture values money, especially the money of the wealthy above building or health. It is clear to see the choices my culture has made.
Jesus said in the sermon on the mount that one cannot serve both God and money. We live in a culture devoted to serving money — money has grown beyond a tool into something that seems to somehow feed upon itself. We have a nation filled with people who serve money either by choice, or because it seems that society forces them to do so.
This is, in the end, an example of simplicity. The first priority is money, and other things are done in order to maintain this abstract measure of wealth. We look around and see how much of our culture is devoted to the service of money. Wealth is spent building temples to money, and to keeping up the appearance of wealth. No expense is spared when trying to support a narrative that money promises safety and security. Ultimately, the faith of my nation is in its wealth.
When I say that I live in a capitalistic culture, I am repeating what people say about America with pride. When Americans describe what is most significant about another nation, it will often be a comment about how that nation deals with money, and the distribution of money. When we talk about competing world-views, often economic policy is the biggest issue. Bill Clinton got our priorities right when he said: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Christian simplicity is challenging in this culture, not because our culture is complex but because our culture is simple. Because wealth is held as the highest good, and as the source of our salvation, it is very difficult for people to break away from the culture and trust God. We literally have to move from serving money alone as is expected in our culture, to serving God and money, to finally managing to somehow serve God. Serving anything but money is already counter-cultural — serving something or someone instead of money is almost unbelievable.
Simplicity seems impossible to me, not because I disagree with it, but because I cannot find a way to escape the rules of our culture, and maintain a standard of living that includes sleeping inside. I hope to marry someday, perhaps even have children. Such lifestyle choices seem to require that I accommodate the capitalistic culture. I work a day job, and am looking for a night job. As much as I speak of vocation, I focus more on the next bill. These days, it seems that I am serving the demands of my capitalistic society and it demands my absolute devotion.