What is wrong in the world and how it came about.
“We are all born to save the world.” – The Talmud
“We got God on Our Side Bob Dylan.” (sarcastically)
“God gave me my money.” – John D. Rockefeller.
Early in 2001, Enron CEO Ken Lay actually said, “I believe in God and I believe in free markets.” (Enron was the vastly fraudulent mega-corporation which had to disband.)
“..the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system…”
“…the culture of prosperity deadens us. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” – Pope Francis
“…Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return…” – W.H. Auden
INTRODUCTION (Part 1): THE ISSUES:
Plainly, the historic and potentially terminal crisis of the world is comprised of two dire agonies, the matter of the planetary survival of life and habitability on the one hand, and the matter of humanitarian concern: that each and every person have a decent life on the other. Politically, it might be possible to “sell” the idea of planetary survival to all “classes” of people – even the despoiling rulers – those not completely moronized, because terracide, the killing of the world, would destroy their lives too. But as for simple humanitarian concern – (sometimes called Christian concern) for the welfare of literally billions of nameless others, the matter is less certain. One cannot even be slightly sanguine about: the economically and historically inculcated alienation of the non-destitute masses which inures to frightened unconcern if not fearful antipathy toward the lives and life quality of others, the true poor – especially if those others are ”different” from ourselves: those not quite so “favored by God”. Clearly we must promptly and seriously entertain solutions for rectification for these stark, desperate and all-embracing concerns, global survival and global cruelty. These broad agonies are endemically related. The linkage is world capitalism, as we know it.
PROTESTANT PREDESTINATION – CAPITALISM
The central theological pillar of the Protestant Reformation was the substitution of the idea of predestination for that of salvation based on works. It means that a person’s status after death, saved or condemned, elect or damned, whether sent to heaven or hell, was predetermined before birth by God, and nothing one could do while alive, repeat nothing, could change that. Theoretically then, according to this theology – emphasizing God’s grace to the complete exclusion of human works, Adolph Hitler could be in heaven, Mother Theresa in hell. Nothing either could do during their lifetimes could influence their predetermined destiny.
It appears that with the decline of feudalism and the concomitant rise of capitalism, the acquisition of personal capital, money, lands, objects and with them attendant repute and power in (or over) the community came to be seen as strong indication, albeit not certain proof, of elect status. Why? Remember the New Testament rates the chances of a rich man entering heaven on par with those of a camel navigating through the eye of a needle.
Perhaps this is why. We can obviously assume that wealth, stature, comfort, power and relative security etc. were and are experienced as preferable to poverty, insecurity and hardship. So a person strove and maneuvered to get rich and powerful. But God allowed him to do this. Therefore He must look favorably on this person, and whereas admittedly this is no certain proof of elect status, (to presume so – to state “God’s will” – could be considered hubris) it certainly indicates it, else why would God so allow? “God must like me to afford me such opportunity and such comfort.” Accordingly, the acquisition of wealth and power and status, now indicates an apparent destiny of salvation. So in what must be history’s greatest rationalization, this engendered economic striving and acquisition, competition, and personal status seeking and power. Therefore arose perforce early pre-corporate profit making bodies, companies, powerful commercial houses, and profit making private individuals: tradesmen, brokers, merchant, entrepreneurs, prospectors etc. in an effort to demonstrate at least apparent salvation – let alone to make a living. This, and a kind of premonitory conspicuous consumption or if you will, the legitimatization of the constellation of profit, greed and acquisitiveness. Hence the beginning of capitalism, replacing feudalism. And historically, capitalism does indeed arise at the time of the Protestant Reformation. (So too the earliest roots of the corporation – the organized body for the accomplishment of the same goal: profit, and far more powerfully organized for this purpose.)
Put another way, and in an odd analogy to the theory if evolution, we have here a version of the argument from manifest success, i.e. that I am saved because God wants me to have this personal wealth. Heaping up wealth equals increasingly probable salvation, runs the Great Rationalization. . John D. Rockefeller actually said this: “God gave me my money.” And in Bob Dylan’s song, “With God on our side” the bitter indictment of the perennial American war culture, the system insanely manifesting this attitude must by implication claim divine sanction for its economic system too. God (as it were) endorses the profit motive. God endorses capitalism; it is His chosen economics. Communism is of course “godless”.
As an afterthought, one may add that predestination is intuitively offensive. What? I can’t get to heaven by doing right? What kind of system is this? What did I do to be pre-damned? Answer: O, Gods has his reasons, which are right for everybody. Many would hold this to be pathological and disrespectful of the human individual, and his or her free will to choose worthiness.
Of course, all of this implies, and fosters the attitude that: the poor are so due to God’s will, lacking as they do God’s grace.
(To be continued)
Part One of the first chapter of Steve Goldman’s forthcoming book: THE GOLDEN DOOR:
What is wrong in the world and how it came about.