Fear of Equality, Part 10. The Theology of Capitalism

give til it hurtz

In the last blog I looked very briefly at the work of Max Weber, principally his landmark thesis, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  Weber makes a lot of claims and most of them resonate with those who see capitalism as the most logical system of social organization the world has ever seen. The pursuit of profit, according to Weber, isn’t simply a means to an end, it is the end unto itself. Profit is the reward for entering the system and taking advantage of one’s opportunity. In fact, the Holy Book encourages pursuit of profit, and in a New Testament parable, the lesson in profit-making is frightfully clear. [1] If you do not create a profit what you do have will be taken away and given to one who possess more with the added punishment of being cast outside of the system, into the darkness and presumably, outside of the Living Light of God. Biblical passages such as these are set in opposition against those like, “You can’t both serve God or money,” and the verse in Mark 10:25: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” Jesus’ punchline delivered after he instructs the rich man to give all his possessions to the poor.

Thus, again according to Weber, one of the signs of favor that God bestowed on His chosen ones was prosperity. Weber actually wondered whether a feedback loop was occurring where the spirit of Capitalism was affecting religious beliefs and religious beliefs affecting Capitalism. These days, where the accumulation of wealth occurs at a unfathimable pace and Christianity’s waning influence over the cultural landscape, people don’t seem to defend the theology of Capitalism as fervently as they did in the past. They almost seem too embarrassed to even attempt a defense. I find this fascinating because Capitalism is perfectly set up to be an economic theology that is self-contained within its inner logic and rationale. This may indicate an estrangement between the religious belief systems of the 19th century era and the turn to postspirituality in the existential 21st century. Or it may simply be another case of cultural amnesia, that blank void of forgetfulness at the center of our national history where all shared cultural memories fade into oblivion. Weber did predict, however, that the logic of the spirit of Capitalism would lead to alienation and a loss of faith. [2]

But getting back to the point: the theology of Capitalism fulfills a vital service for the continued exploitation and subjugation of humanity, at least in America. It gives form, shape, direction and most important – a moral justification for continuing economic and political inequality. Any talk about income equality can only be seen as heresy and apostasy against the morality of enlightened self-interest. Its catechism can be described as followed –

What is God? MONEY.

The Son of God? THE INDIVIDUAL.

The Holy Spirit? ALL THE THINGS MONEY CAN BUY FROM THE BANKS AND CORPORATIONS.

Places of Worship? THE MALL

The Antichrist? THE EVIL COLLECTIVE, OFTEN CONFLATED WITH THE COMMIES, PINKOS, SOCIALISTS, THE STATE, ETC. BASICALLY ANYTHING THAT INTERFERES WITH THE UNLIMITED PURSUIT OF WEALTH.

The Profits… err, I mean PROPHETS? AYN RAND, HAYEK, MISES, ROTHBARD, FRIEDMAN, ORAL ROBERTS, CREFLO DOLLAR, REVEREND IKE, JIM BAKER, BENNY HINN (And a million others)…et al.

The Gospel? ATLAS SHRUGGED, THE SECRET, The PROSPERITY GOSPEL and its cousin, THE LAW OF ATTRACTION.

The “Prosperity Gospel” championed by many of the names above is ironically (perhaps) most accepted by the poor and lower classes in America. They are also the least educated, as well, which sets them up for living their lives hoping and praying that one day the LORD will grant them a winning lottery ticket or something that will lift them out of their financial bad money hell. After all, God wants YOU to be financially blessed and prosperous. You just have to figure out on your own how you are going to do that in a system that only acknowledges the digits in your bank account. IF you are fortunate enough to have one, that is.

Capitalism is a religion, yes. And like all religions on the planet, there exists within it an existential pathological dimension as well. While Religions of all varieties claim to be the worship of a supernatural power that controls, orders and gives meaning and direction for human lives, all of them are quite guilty of doing more harm than good for human beings in the world. Fear of Equality endorses the theology of Capitalism because it provides a moral and rational framework to justify continuing exploitation, injustice and profiteering at the expense of humanity at large.  It reduces, retards, contains and corrals creative and critical thinking that can lead to dangerous questioning of the system, of our own possibilities and potentials of human growth on a worldwide scale.  Turned inside out, the theology of capitalism reveals itself to be a dry, waterless canal filled with the dusty bones and wretched remains of countless lives who never had a chance at attaining a dignified life. Ask them how it felt being a worthless slave cast into the outer darkness, where there is the weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Ask them if the religion of Capitalism was worth the sacrifice.

Ask yourself.

 

Fear of Equality, Part 11 Our Enemy, The State

 

NOTES

[1]  A peculiar passage from Matthew and a similar account in Luke places these words into the mouth of Jesus. “13 “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour. 14 For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work270 and gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. 18 But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. 19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 25:13-30).

[2] The exploitation of the working class led to the worker’s alienation as the increasing bureaucratic apparatus with its hierarchy of command and its impersonality sought to regulate and standardize behavior. Weber called this state, the “iron cage.” No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development, entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the fast stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.” Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Los Angeles, CA: RoxburyPublishing, 1998.

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2 thoughts on “Fear of Equality, Part 10. The Theology of Capitalism

  1. Jesus’ parable in Mt. 25:13-30 is meant to be metaphorical, not a literal description of a good capitalist. In the previous parable of 25:1-12 Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is “like” ten virgins who take their torches and go out to meet the bridegroom. (25:14 introduces the next story with “it is like”–meaning again, the kingdom of heaven is like.) The five foolish virgins take their torches but no oil (reserves); the five wise ones take oil in jars, along with their torches. So when the bridegroom is delayed and finally comes, the foolish ones are running short of oil, and miss going into the wedding feast. At the end of this story, Jesus emphasizes the main point: be ready and prepared for his coming, because no one knows the day or hour (as in 24:36). So the point is not to go out early and buy literal oil. This parable is also similar to another parable (of the kingdom of heaven) about a marriage celebration in 22:1-13. The man who had no wedding garment (in 22:11) is similar to the virgins who have no oil. The lack of a “garment” or “oil” is likewise similar to the lack of good “fruits” by a nation (or church) with a law that requires loving God and one’s neighbor (see 21:43, 22:37-39, and 24:45-51).
    Given this preceding context, the hidden talent of 25:13-30 is similar to the missing oil (for the torches or lamps), and to the hidden lamp (of 5:15), that is a metaphor for the good works that are to be done for all to see (in 5:16). The slave thrown outside because he hid the talent is also similar to the virgins left outside the door because they had no oil (25:11-12), and to the man with no wedding garment who is thrown out into the outer darkness, where there is crying and grinding of teeth (22:11-13). These parables are all about the final judgment when the Lord of the kingdom of heaven comes back–and how to prepare for it. The wedding garment, oil, lamp, and talents are all extended metaphors about bearing fruit, preparing for the final coming of the lord and his kingdom of heaven by doing now what he has commanded his servants/slaves to do.

    1. Thanks for reading. I agree that the examples you cite above (the wise and foolish virgins) are meant to be metaphorical and are generally considered to be seen as foreshadowing the parousia. However, I think your theological committment to the infallibility of the gospel as a set piece of pious instruction is overlooking a crucial point.

      The lazy slave didn’t gamble or give away the talent that was in his possesion, he merely failed to increase the talent’s value by depositing it in the bank so it could accrue interest. Look at the passage again: (Matthew 25:27) “Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.” One has to work a bit harder in getting across the point you want to make that failing to increase of the talent value conveys the same point as being unprepared for the Lord’s return. As an “extended metaphor,” it’s a big stretch.

      With the foolish virgins, the oil is consumed before the Lord’s return. The person who didn’t have a wedding garment wasn’t allowed in because of his failure to acquire the necessary item. Both of these elemens are symbols signifying lack (of oil and the garment). The crime of the slave was that he didn’t increase the value of the talent, not because he lacked or lost what was given him. These are two different scenarios.

      My point is that the hidden talents can be read or interpreted in more ways than the reading you’re giving it, and in fact has been used to justify promotion of the prosperity gospel that I touched on in this post. The point that isn’t being addressed by your explanation is that the parable openly demands that one be a good and shrewd manager of money when it comes to building wealth, and is in conflict with other sayings (particularly the “eye of the needle” parable regarding the rich man seeking the kingdom) along with the teaching that it is impossible to serve both God and money.

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