Michael Moore, Mammon, and Me

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While in Detroit this past Saturday, I saw an advertisement for the new Michael Moore movie denouncing capitalism and the free market system. It irritated me, and then, the more I thought about it, it irritated me more, in ways I didn’t expect.

Moore is, first of all, no relation, and, second, not new to iconoclastic filmmaking. His previous cinematic offerings have taken on everything from corporate greed in the car industry to gun control and school shootings to 9/11 conspiracy theories.

What amazes me is not that Michael Moore doesn’t like capitalism. It’s that he’s trying to make money off of his denunciation of capitalism, and using advertising to try to do so. It’s almost as though the filmmaker is winking at us, kind of like the Borat character, bilking us for our cash and laughing at our gullibility for giving it to him.

My first reaction to the new Moore movie was a little bit of personal outrage. Still, Moore fits the image of the cash-hungry counter-culturalist Merle Haggard sang about in the ’60s as one who “loves our milk and honey” while he “preaches about another way of living.” At first I wanted to say, like Haggard, “love it or leave it,” and I hope you’re able to make a killing selling this movie in Cuba.

My second reaction was to wonder how addled the American public is that no one seems to be recognizing this kind of hypocrisy. Why doesn’t the American left have the gumption to say, “This guy is a clown, and he’s working at cross purposes with us.”

But the more I think about it, Michael Moore isn’t all that different from me, and most of the Christians I know.

Michael Moore believes (I’ll take him at face value) that the market system is destructive and evil, and should be replaced with something else. He just doesn’t want to live in the “something else.”

I believe the market system is often destructive and evil, and everything it could be replaced with is even more dehumanizing, until it’s replaced with the kingdom of Christ. I don’t mind a limited, bounded market system (one that is people-centered, treats workers right, respects the creation, maintains local traditions and the social order).

But I also know what I’ve received from the prophets and apostles of Jesus. The issue, ultimately, isn’t the economic system itself (although that’s important). It’s the rebellion of money-worship and greed.

I know as a follower of Christ Jesus that one of the most dangerous forces in this age is the passion for money or, more often, the passion for things. I know what Jesus has taught us that Mammon is a god, and a jealous one at that.

And yet, I’m able to know this, believe this, think this, while having too many of my decisions made by “care for tomorrow,” even though I’m able to repeat back from memory what Jesus said about this.

Yes, Michael Moore is a hypocrite. But aren’t we all. And shouldn’t his hypocrisy remind us to take up the plank in our own eye, and start giving away some money, some stuff, from our homes and, more importantly, from our affections.

This is, as the Scriptures repeatedly emphasize, not a simple thing to do. And the Bible nowhere calls us to a kind of mechanistic legalism to put a hedge around the temptation of Mammonism. But it’s awfully hard to see our captivity to wealth when the poorest among us is richer, by world standards, than the rich young ruler would have been, richer than Nebuchadnezzar in all his glory.

American Christians are starting to awaken somewhat to what our fat affluence has done to our supposedly counter-cultural gospel. One can only imagine that, as we speak, some evangelical trinket-maker is designing wall decorations that say “Money is the root of all kinds of evil” to sell to us, as “reminders.”

I hope I’m able to see a love of Mammon more and more clearly in my own life, and not just in the other Moore’s situation. The issue isn’t capitalism vs. socialism, and it certainly isn’t Michael Moore’s hypocritical antics.

After all, a “serve two masters” hypocrisy is much worse when one of those masters is supposed to be Jesus.

Only when we see how lost we are, we can find our way again. Only when we bury what’s dead can we experience life again. Only when we lose our religion can we be amazed by grace again.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Penguin Random House).