[Marxism] Christianity and capitalism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 25 15:57:22 MDT 2005

(Excerpts from 2 articles in the May 2005 Harper's)

Soldiers of Christ: Inside America’s most powerful megachurch
By Jeff Sharlet

In Pastor Ted's book Dog Training, Fly Fish' ing, & Sharing Christ in the 
21st Century, he describes the church he thinks good Christians want. "I 
want my finances in order, my kids trained, and my wife to love life. I 
want good friends who are a delight and who provide protection for my 
family and me should life become difficult someday ... I don't want 
surprises, scandals, or secrets ... I want stability and, at the same time, 
steady, forward movement. I want the church to help me live life well, not 
exhaust me with endless 'worthwhile' projects." By "worthwhile projects" 
Ted means building funds and soup kitchens alike. It's not that he opposes 
these; it's just that he is sick of hearing about them and believes that 
other Christians are, too. He knows that for Christianity to prosper in the 
free market, it needs more than "moral values"­it needs customer value.

New Lifers, Pastor Ted writes with evident pride, "like the benefits, 
risks, and maybe above all, the excitement of a free-market society." They 
like the stimulation of a new brand. "Have you ever switched your 
toothpaste brand, just for the fun of it?" Pastor Ted asks. Admit it, he 
insists. All the way home, you felt a "secret little thrill," as excited 
questions ran through your mind: "Will it make my teeth whiter? My breath 
fresher?" This is the sensation Ted wants pastors to bring to the Christian 
experience. He believes it is time "to harness the forces of free-market 
capitalism in our ministry." Once a pastor does that, his flock can start 
organizing itself according to each member's abilities and tastes.

Which brings us back to "Order." Key to the growth of evangelicalism during 
the last twenty years has been a social structure of "cell groups" that 
allows churches to grow endlessly while maintaining orthodoxy in their 
ranks. New Life, for instance, has 1,300 cell groups, or "small groups," as 
Pastor Ted prefers to call them. Such a structure is not native to Colorado 
Springs; in fact, most evangelicals attribute it to Pastor Paul Cho, of 
South Korea, who has built a congregation of 750,000 using the cell-group 
structure. American megachurches that have adopted the cell model unaltered 
have had only partial success.

Pastor Ted's insight was in adapting this system for the affluence of the 
United States. South Korea, he notes, is on the "front lines" in the war 
against communism, "so they needed a strong chain-of-command system." But 
not so Americans. "Free-market globalization" has made us so free, he 
realized, that an American cell-group system could be mature enough to 
function just like a market. One of Pastor Ted's favorite books is Thomas 
Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which is now required reading for 
the hundreds of pastors under Ted's spiritual authority across the country. 
 From Friedman, Pastor Ted says he learned that everything, including 
spirituality, can be understood as a commodity. And unregulated trade, he 
concluded,.was the key to achieving worldly freedom.

Free-market economics is a "truth" Ted says he learned in his first job in 
professional Christendom, as a Bible smuggler in Eastern Europe. 
Globalization, he believes, is merely a vehicle for the spread of 
Christianity. He means Protestantism in particular; Catholics, he said, 
"constantly look back." He went on: "And the nations dominated by 
Catholicism look back. They don't tend to create our greatest 
entrepreneurs, inventors, research and development. Typically, Catholic 
nations aren't shooting people into space. Protestantism, though, always 
looks to the future. A typical kid raised in Protestantism dreams about the 
future. A typical kid raised in Catholicism values and relishes the past, 
the saints, the history. That is one of the changes that is happening in 
America. In America the descendants of the Protestants, the Puritan 
descendants, we want to create a better future, and our speakers say that 
sort of thing. But with the influx of people from Mexico, they don't tend 
to be the ones that go to universities and become our 
research-and-development people. And so in that way I see a little clash of 

So the Catholics are out, and the battle boils down to evangelicals versus 
Islam. "My fear," he says, "is that my children will grow up in an Islamic 

And that is why he believes spiritual war requires a virile, worldly 
counterpart. "I teach a strong ideology of the use of power," he says, "of 
military might, as a public service." He is for preemptive war, because he 
believes the Bible's exhortations against sin set for us a preemptive 
paradigm, and he is for ferocious war because "the Bible's bloody. There a 
lot about blood."


Let There Be Markets: The evangelical roots of economics
By Gordon Bigelow

When evangelical Christianity first grew into a powerful movement, between 
1800 and 1850, studies of wealth and trade were called "political economy." 
The two books at the center of this new learning were Adam Smith’s Wealth 
of Nations (1776) and David Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and 
Taxation (1817). This was the period of the industrial transformation of 
Britain, a time of rapid urban growth and rapidly fluctuating markets. 
These books offered explanations of how societies become wealthy and how 
they can stay that way. They made the accelerated pace of urban life and 
industrial workshops seem understandable as part of a program that modern 
history would follow. But by the 1820s, a number of Smith's and Ricardo's 
ideas had become difficult for the growing merchant and investor class to 
accept. For Smith, the pursuit of wealth was a grotesque personal error, a 
misunderstanding of human happiness. In his first book, The Theory of Moral 
Sentiments (1759), Smith argued that the acquisition of money brings no 
good in itself; it seems attractive only because of the mistaken belief 
that fine possessions draw the admiration of others. Smith welcomed 
acquisitiveness only because he concluded-­in a proposition carried through 
to Wealth of Nations­-that this pursuit of "baubles and trinkets" would 
ultimately enrich society as a whole. As the wealthy bought gold pickle 
forks and paid servants to herd their pet peacocks, the servants and the 
goldsmiths would benefit. It was on this dubious foundation that Smith 
built his case for freedom of trade.

By the 1820s and '30s, this foundation had become increasingly troubling to 
free-trade advocates, who sought, in their study of political economy, not 
just an explanation of rapid change hut a moral justification for their own 
wealth and for the outlandish sufferings endured by the new industrial 
poor. Smith, who scoffed ac personal riches, offered no comfort here. In 
The Wealth of Nations, the shrewd man of business was not a hero but a 
hapless bystander. Ricardo's work offered different but similarly troubling 
problems. Working from a basic analysis of the profits of land ownership, 
Ricardo concluded that the interests of different groups within an 
economy­owners, investors, renters, laborers-­would always be in conflict 
with one another- Ricardo's credibility with the capitalists was 
unquestionable: he was not a philosopher like Adam Smith but a successful 
stockbroker who had retired young on his earnings. But his view of 
capitalism made it seem that a harmonious society was a thing of the past: 
class conflict was part of the modern world, and the gentle old England of 
squire and farmer was over.

The group that bridled most against these pessimistic elements of Smith and 
Ricardo was the evangelicals. These were middle-class reformers who wanted 
to reshape Protestant doctrine. For them it was unthinkable that capitalism 
led to class conflict, for that would mean that God had created a world at 
war with itself. The evangelicals believed in a providential God, one who 
built a logical and orderly universe, and they saw the new industrial 
economy as a fulfillment of God's plan. The free market, they believed, was 
a perfectly designed instrument co reward good Christian behavior and to 
punish and humiliate the unrepentant.

At the center of this early evangelical doctrine was the idea of original 
sin: we were all horn stained by corruption and fleshly desire, and the 
true purpose of earthly life was to redeem this. The trials of economic 
life­the sweat of hard labor, the fear of poverty, [he self-denial involved 
in saving­ were earthly tests of sinfulness and virtue. While evangelicals 
believed salvation was ultimately possible only through conversion and 
faith, they saw the pain of earthly life as means of atonement for original 
sin.' These were the people that writers like Dickens detested. The extreme 
among them urged mortification of the flesh and would scold anyone who took 
pleasure in food, drink, or good company. Moreover, they regarded poverty 
as part of a divine program. Evangelicals interpreted the mental anguish of 
poverty and debt, and the physical agony of hunger or cold, as natural 
spurs to prick the conscience of sinners. They believed that die suffering 
of the poor would provoke remorse, reflection, find ultimately the 
conversion that would change their fate. In other words, poor people were 
poor for a reason, and helping them out of poverty would endanger their 
mortal souls. It was the evangelicals who began to see the business mogul 
as a heroic figure, his wealth a triumph of righteous will. The 
stockbroker, who to Adam Smith had been a suspicious and somewhat twisted 
character, was for nineteenth -century evangelicals a spiritual victor.

By the 1820s evangelicals were a dominant force in British economic policy. 
As Peter Gray notes in his book Famine, Land, and Politics, evangelical 
Anglicans held significant positions in government, and they applied their 
understanding of earthly life as atonement for sin in direct ways. Their 
first major impact was in dismantling the old parish-based system of aiding 
the poor and aging, a policy battle that resulted in the Poor Law Amendment 
of 1834. , Traditionally, people who could not work or support themselves, 
including orphans and the disabled, had been helped by local parish 
organizations. It had been a joint responsibility of church and state to 
prevent the starvation and avoidable suffering of people who had no way to 
earn a living.

The Poor Law nationalized and monopolized poverty administration. It 
forbade cash payments to any poor citizen and mandated that his only 
recourse be the local workhouse. Workhouses became orphanages, insane 
asylums, nursing homes, public hospitals, and factories for the 
able-bodied. Protests over the conditions in these prison-like facilities, 
particularly the conditions for children, mounted throughout the 1830s. But 
it did not surprise the evangelicals to learn that life in the workhouses 
was miserable. These early faith-based initiatives regarded poverty as a 
divinely sanctioned payment plan for a sinful life. This first anti-poverty 
program in the first industrial economy was not designed to alleviate 
suffering, nor to reduce the number of poor children in future generations. 
Poverty was not understood as a problem to be fixed. It was a spiritual 

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