Capitalism and the “death of God”

by Kim on August 31, 2009

“The market does not really want a rigorous expression of religion in the public sector. This is another reason why religion in the modern world gets fenced into the private domain, and is always messy when it intrudes into the marketplace. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of capitalistic economics is that it is based on the death of God. ‘This is no secret revelation; some of the key architects of capitalist economics fully understood this and stated it publicly.’….

“In an odd way, this perversely mirrors Bonhoeffer’s statement about God no longer being seen as a stop-gap. Once we function very well on our own, God becomes superfluous. In the matter of economics we find that markets function much better if they are devoid of any religion: ‘… the peculiar genius of the market mechanism lies precisely in its ability to coordinate peaceful and ordered economic exchange in the absence of consensus on religious matters of substance.’ Fidelity to the economic order almost necessitates the absence of loyalty to anything higher….

“The great irony of our day is that acceptance of the current form of the great powers of economy and state as necessary leads to people who, while celebrating their freedom, are less free than they realize. The more individual they become on the conditions that the state and the market allow, the more cut-off from community they are. And the more removed from community we become, the less able we are to resist those very forces of ideology and economics that exercise such a subtle power to shape and control us.

“In fact, the ‘world come of age’ that we are creating is fashioning a fascist architecture of the soul in the service to abstractions like state and economics that take certain concrete forms, most often secured by violence. We close ourselves into the very prisons we have built and then tell ourselves we are authentic selves, but the selves we have created are themselves but wisps that appear and disappear as circumstances warrant….

“The market also expresses its own ecumenicity, for we are all joined by the narratives the market creates for us. Globalization has taken local narratives and extended them over the world: ‘Utopia,’ says the president of Nabisco Corporation, is ‘One world of homogeneous consumption … [I am] looking forward to the day when Arabs and Americans, Latins and Scandinavians will be munching Ritz crackers as enthusiastically as they already drink Coke and brush their teeth with Colgate.’ It is to be seen whether the hand not holding Coke and Ritz crackers will be holding the barrel of a gun to keep others from getting their soda and crackers.

“The market seeks to create a community that serves particular ends, but whether this is the ecumenicity of desire for a community able to transcend the boundaries that the state seems to maintain is doubtful. Even more dubious, for those who seek to resist this movement of a ‘world come of age’ on the grounds of Christian faith is whether the type of community engendered by capitalism can offer help to those most in need of a community of peace. A communion of Ritz crackers becomes a poor substitute for the table of peace engendered by the bread and wine of the crucified Jesus.

“In the face of this when we look at apocalyptic literature in the Bible we may not be too surprised to find that the sign that stands above all signs of the evil thing, the mark of the Beast, is the mark that allows one to buy or sell.”

Jeffrey C. Pugh, Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2008), pp. 61-65.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1

DH 08.31.09 at 7:14 pm

Interesting how they focus on only one area which Capitalism doesn’t go against which is help for the poor. Capitalism and help for the poor are not mutually exclusive. Interersting how Mr. Pugh fails to address the very things that God has abhored in Scripture being promoted or at least not addressed by more and more in Christianity today: murder by way of abortion, fornication, lasciviousness, homosexuality, promiscuity, adultry, drunkedness, pharmachia (sp) aka hallucinatory drugs, beliefs in more than one god or at least there are multiple ways to get to God, etc.

It is interesting that if the economics where like what Mr. Pugh and Kim say that the culture of the “Death of God” still remains.

Putting that aside it is interesting that with all of the “rebuke of Capitalism” that one can still say that the alternatives to that are based on a “Death of God” to the “state”.

When one takes the “pure” definition of the terms for Capitalism onto the whole one runs into a rejection of something that is correct from Scripture. Property rights were commended many times in Scripture. At the same time other than in the 1st Century church where “holding in common” was necessary during a time of persecution not one of mandate Communism or even Socialism was not commended.

In conclusion: I agree that Capitalism in the extreme without God is greedy and goes against God. At the same time I believe all other forms have just as much equal ability to do the same thing against God but in other ways as well. Also, even if countries opperated in their economics as perfect as God desires that still doesn’t address all of the many other areas that go against God to the same intensity.

Capitalism and doing all to help the poor can be not mutually exclusive. Rebuke of economic systems cannot be solely focused on one economic system when look in all actuality of the “pure” definitions of the term. For the “pure” definitions of the terms for any economic systems in fact DO go against God. When one looks at the “non-pure” definitions of the terms then one can be properly balanced in what God desires economically in our daily lives.

With regard to daily lives we must live for Christ beyond our economics. When one lo0ks at the big picutre one can see that looking solely at the economics is being short sighted or ignorant to all of the many areas where society is going against God.

2

Dion Forster 08.31.09 at 8:06 pm

This is truly profound! I am encouraged that so many are thinking about the relationship between faith and global economics as such a significant level.

As a person lives ‘down South’ (on the Southern tip of Africa), economic concerns are quite real! It has been heartbreaking to see persons in Europe and the US facing some of the challenges that Africans have lived with for centuries as the world’s economy has strained in recent months.

If you’re interested in a post (with some interesting statistics and maps) on this subject please go to: http://bit.ly/16iEKh

Best regards,

Dion (Cape Town, South Africa)

3

Tony Buglass 08.31.09 at 8:15 pm

I’ve only skimmed the passage Kim has quoted, and your reply - it’s a bank holiday here in the UK, and I’m in a sort of holiday mindset, so I’m not reading stuff which is too deep until tomorrow. However, my immediate response is to try to focus a little more sharply on your comment “Capitalism and doing all to help the poor can be not mutually exclusive.”

You’re right, of course - but only if capitalism is not the only driving ideology. Pure capitalism will of necessity seek the most profitable path, and that may work against care for the poor, since the existence of rich and poor may in fact be a product of capitalism. In the same way, socialism on its own may not enable proper care for the poor, if the poor in question are deemed to be so because of their own anti-social behaviour - to take an extreme example (extreme in the sense that socialism was distorted to totalitarian extremes that is why Stalin built the gulag, and defined some as “enemies of the State” (the political equivalent of excommunicate heretics).

My gut feeling is that no single political ideology is adequate to explain or enable a Christian community. If our community is centred on Christ and his summary of the law of God as Dt.6 and Lev.19:18, then I suspect we would need the insights of both socialist and capitalist theory to make it work. The need is for a Christian community which enables and enriches the persons who part of it (which I think is Liberalism) in order to be community (which I think is Socialism) generating sufficient wealth to support all (which is probably Capitalism).

Howzat? Your comments, please. ;D

4

Tony Buglass 08.31.09 at 8:20 pm

Interesting - it allowed my comment about Greenbelt immediately, but the comment about political theory has to be moderated. Am I suspected of heresy? And will I enjoy it..?

5

Tony Buglass 08.31.09 at 8:20 pm

And now it tells me my comment about being moderated doesn’t need to be moderated. I don’t understand this - more whisky!

6

Richard 08.31.09 at 8:39 pm

I can explain that. Comments which mention “s o c i a l i s m” invariably go in to the moderation queue. Not because it is a dirty word around here, but because it contains the name of “c i a l i s”, a drug used in the treatment of (ahem) a male disorder and which often features in the sort of spam comments we don’t want.

7

DH 08.31.09 at 9:16 pm

Tony, I totally enjoyed your response. I would say your statements I agree with 85% except for the parenthetical statements in your last sentence: “The need is for a Christian community which enables and enriches the persons who part of it (which I think is Liberalism) in order to be community (which I think is Socialism) generating sufficient wealth to support all (which is probably Capitalism).”

I think the premise of what you are saying is (1) that for a Christian community to enrich people it must be liberal. I disagree totally. People I have seen more people “enriched” by NOT being liberal than be being liberal. One must define “being enriched” and what one is “being enriched for”. If it is “being enriched” in a way that goes against God’s Word than I would say that is not truly being “enriched”.
(2) that for a Christian to be community it must be socialistic. That too I disagree. Individuals within a Christian community can give from their hearts to help the poor that is NOT Socialistic. Not all giving to the poor is “socialistic” in that I don’t believe everyone is required to give at the same percentage but as God asks us to do. For different people God asks us to give different rates. The point is obedience “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” (3) 100% agreement.

Therefore all of the aspects of the final sentence you mentioned can be acheived through Capitalism (just not the pure one as you so eloquintly explained, Tony).

Great insight, Tony. While you helped me from going off the deepend you may need to help Kim from doing the same. At least you did a great job in your replies. :) Kim, you know we all need a little “iron sharpens iron” moments. I know at least Tony did a good job on this thread. I hope I was able to that in the same way with others. :)

and no I’m not referring to the iron from the “IRON and the sickle” of the USSR. :)

8

Kim 08.31.09 at 9:57 pm

Hi Dion,

Great to hear from you. It is probably no coincidence that you warm to this quotation from the context of South Africa, as of course during the confessional struggle against apartheid, Bonhoeffer’ s thought had an immense influence on your indigenous theologians. In fact, one of the blurbs on the back of Pugh’s book - “At this time in global history when religion is too often part of the problem, we need to take seriously Bonhoeffer’s alternative reading of Christianity” - comes from the distinguished Bonhoeffer scholar John W. de Gruchy, Emeritus Professor of Christian Studies at the University of Capetown.

Cheers,
Kim

9

Mark Byron 09.01.09 at 3:33 am

The secular right and secular left are both obsessed on wealth; the right wants to grow it and the left wants to balance it out. The Church is a problem to both, reigning in both the greed of the rightist, the envy of the leftist and the libertine nature of both.

10

Tony Buglass 09.01.09 at 11:30 am

Hi, DH

Just a quick clarification about political terminology. You’ll note that I wrote “Liberalism” with a capital L - that was to refer to a specific political philosophy with 18-19th C roots, which gave rise to the Liberal Party in the UK (now part of the Liberal Democrats). In very broad-brush terms, as a philosophy it begins from the value of the indvidual person, although it isn’t simply individualistic. I gather in US usage, ‘liberal’ (with a small l) mean something different.

My point was not to espouse the major political philosophies, but to indicate where each has a point which is important. I have often argued that every heresy begins from a point of truth which then is taken out of perspective - in rejecting the heresy, we too often fail to note the starting point in truth. So, in your rejection of socialism, you need to be careful not to lose sight of the point it makes that we do live in community - which gives us the word “communism”, but that too has been distorted by later developments, and would certainly never be heard in a US context for what it really means.

11

Tony Buglass 09.01.09 at 11:30 am

Ooops - that word again!

12

DH 09.01.09 at 6:25 pm

Tony, the premise for the embracing of socialism is that the opposite looses sight of the community. I believe one can reject socialism (as well as communism) and still embrace community. I agree that we do live in community but that we mustn’t loose sight that we are a community of individuals as well and that community doesn’t necesitate expansive government whether it be communism or even socialism.

I will say that to espouse capitalism one must not do it in such a way that greed is maximized with greed not making the most money as possible as the definition but the definition of not from ones heart after money is made to assist the poor from ones heart. So therefore the definition of greed is the hoarding without giving. (I know some one like Kim is going cringe at the way I said it but if one needs clarification on the paragraph just ask. I’m not doing a good job of phrasing the post. Maybe Tony you can help me write it or phrase it. Many times you do a great job of helping me. Oh well we are not perfect :) )

P.S. Tony, after reading wikipedia on the “Liberal Party” history in the UK was very eye-opening. So am I correct to say that I’m an “economic liberal”? Wow

13

Mark Byron 09.01.09 at 11:55 pm

The European usage of liberal would be more like libertarian in American parlance, leaning towards free markets and free thinking. For instance, the main party of the right in Australia is the Liberal party.

For instance, critics of Bush-style free trade pro-globalization economics would call him “neoliberal”, and it isn’t to make him sound left-of-center.

However, the Liberal Democrats in the UK were in the center and are now on the left. A quarter-century ago, they were centrists, an amalgam the old Liberal Party (middle class progressives who weren’t blue-collar Labour or Conservative), moderate Labourites back when they were much more [that naughty s-word;-)] and Tories too centrist to swallow Margret Thatcher. Then, Tony Blair dragged Labour kicking and screaming into the center and the Liberal Democrats became the party of the left.

At least that’s my paragraph take on the LibDems from the other side of the pond.

14

PamBG 09.02.09 at 1:00 am

Capitalism and help for the poor are not mutually exclusive.

Economies run on capital and labor. At it’s very core, capitalism is based on the “truth” (it’s so-called truth) that capital is valuable and must be conserved and that labor regenerates itself and is therefore disposable.

Capitalism does not PRECLUDE “help for the poor” but, as you and your friends constantly point out, capitalism demands that “help for the poor” must always be dispensed as table-scraps and free-will charity so that the freedom of those who own capital to conserve capital is not infringed upon.

In short, the deepest core value of capitalism is that money is more important than people.

So, you are right. Capitalism doesn’t mean we can’t give to the poor. But it does mean that “the poor” are a sub-class of humanity and that humanity itself has no intrinsic value above and beyond the capital it owns.

There is no soul in Capitalism.

15

Kim 09.02.09 at 6:50 am

Nicely and simly put, Pam.

Has anyone read Philip Goodchild’s The Theology of Money (2007)? I keep hearing it’s sharp and superb - and prescient of the current economic crisis.

16

DH 09.02.09 at 1:55 pm

I don’t believe that your understanding of Capitalism is the correct understanding of Capitalism. Again for the upteenth time your looking at the “pure” portion of the definition and my take is we need to remove the “pure” definition of the terms the same goes for Socialism as well. Capitalism does not say or at the least doesn’t present mutually exclusively that the the poor is a “sub-class” or that “labor is dispensible”. I have no idea where that comes from.

It doesn’t mean that help for the poor should be “table scraps”. It does say “free-will charity” but if one doesn’t help the poor like they should because their “free-will” says less is not a problem with Capitalism but is a problem of current individuals who are not helping the poor like God tells us to do. The blame is misguided to the system as opposed to the individuals being greedy within the system.

Capitalism doesn’t say money is more valuable than people. At the core of Capitalism is that the workers must be taken care of and paid a decent wage because workers not being paid a decent wage leads to a lack of productivity leading to a greater chance that the company may go under.

I can also say that there is no soul for Socialism or Communism. Forcibly stealing from people or promoting envy in people are things that I feel have no soul. Mark Byrons responses state that and he sees problems with all systems just like I do.

“The secular right and secular left are both obsessed on wealth; the right wants to grow it and the left wants to balance it out. The Church is a problem to both, reigning in both the greed of the rightist, the envy of the leftist and the libertine nature of both.”

17

Richard 09.02.09 at 2:36 pm

I’m not interested in these hypothetical ‘pure’ systems you keep raising, DH. We have to deal with the world as it is. Do you really believe that “At the core of Capitalism is that the workers must be taken care of and paid a decent wage”? Really? When I look at the world, I see companies paying as little as they can get away with, without any regard to what might make for a decent standard of living.

18

DH 09.02.09 at 2:58 pm

Richard, I think you are interested in hypothetical “pure” systems by using the definition for the “pure form of Capitalism” in your definition for Capitalism.

Well one has to look at what the definition of “decent” is. If more and more people demand from government or business or whatever more than they can give then it causes problems. To me the standard of living can be improved by people by not taking on much debt. Consumer debt is one of the main reasons peoples standard of livings might not be like they should. That and being in a recession.

Well if raising wages for people means more people will be out of a job in this current economic environment then I would forgo my wage increase.

I look at the world as it is too. If a person works in an industry and one company pays $2,000.00 more a year than another with the same benefits then all other things being equal the employee would choose the higher paying job to the detriment of the company not providing the extra $2,000.00. Therefore there IS an incentive for ompanies to pay more. How much more? that is another question but one cannot deny that companies much provide a “competive wage” within the industry the companies are in.

I find it interesting that people continue to say Capitalism has no soul but fail to recognize the lack of soul in socialism and communism.

I think you need to focus on the individuals and the companies as opposed to the system.

19

Kim 09.02.09 at 3:09 pm

DH - always shining shit and calling it gold. ;)

20

DH 09.02.09 at 3:14 pm

Richard, I have a “comment awaiting moderation” it would be great if you published it.

Kim, I would disagree with that but it seems your doing the same by your lack of addressing the problems with socialism and communism but focusing solely on capitalism let alone the misplaced definition of capitalism by projecting the “pure form” onto the term in general.

21

phillip mutchell 09.06.09 at 8:57 am

DH,
are you for real? When you mention Capitalism are you referring to Modern Capitalism and the nexus of Multi-Nationals moving Capital from nation to nation as it suits their profitability. Do you really think that when the economic system imposed on Israel in the First Covenant was so structured as to prohibit the accumulation of vast wealth for the individual that God is now smiling on a system of economics which does that very thing, and is only considered successful when enjoying constant growth, for which cultures and communities are shattered that their resources might be exploited. I fear you’re a victim of that educational system introduced by American Industrial magnates to train children early on for their marvellous future chained to the production line. Read Ellul’s Propaganda and some Newbiggin - you’ve nothing to lose but your ignorance.

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