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Capitalism as Religion

by Paul L. Walser Friday, Jul. 03, 2009 at 3:04 AM

"The basic trust in capital still exists. Modern capitalism has gained a firm place in our subconscious. The debacle of the global financial markets should have led to a rethinking long ago. But the culprits will probably get off lightly because the capitalist system is held as divinely ordained."


Money is not Shaken

By Paul L. Walser

[This article published in the Swiss WoZ-Die Wochenzeitung, 12/18/2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, The capitalist system has become a theme again with the worldwide financial market crisis. Criticism is still hard. Faith in the system seems deeply rooted.]

The capitalist can appeal to the Bible, to a two-sided Janus-saying from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25: “For to every one who has will more be given and he will have abundance but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Other messages of Jesus like “The last will be first” are also confrontational.

Good money can be earned with Holy Scripture at our backs. Scruples are out of place. The capitalists who claim faith in God for themselves rely on the great herd’s devotion to God or parroting. Still the highest asset is trust in human conduct or human trust, not faith in God. When trust is lost, it can hardly be regained. The damage is too great. Trust cannot be purchased, not even with an infinite amount of money.


The great sums hurled at the crisis-shaken financial branch are so enormous the normal person is befuddled and doesn’t have a clear idea. The countless zeros are the most perfect camouflage and deception that can be imagined. The avalanche of billions is for bailing out the financial institutions responsible for the crisis, not for those who used up their savings and are handed over to the poverty trap. With an infinite amount of money, only the old neoliberal system of financial markets can be repaired. The causal agents of the disaster will be left in peace.

Why are they left in peace? Because the basic trust in capital that arose in the last decades still exists. It seems modern capitalism has gained a firm place in our subconscious. If that is true, it is only simplistically a crisis in trust. Superficially trust in “those at the top in the banks” is disturbed but the subliminal trust in “safe money” continues.

As long as there is money, there will be faith in money. What is the relative importance of this faith? If it takes the center of social life, it becomes a problem although this is not often discussed. In the early modern age, the rise of money began parallel to liberation from ideas of faith that were unconditionally accepted in the past. It would be too simple to make the Reformers responsible for modern capitalism. On the other hand, turning from Catholicism was also a turning from Christian social teaching that takes seriously needy penniless persons and their dignity and does not see money as a manifestation of divine blessing. All those who are better off materially are called to help the poor. Islam also knows the command of charity, mercy and compassion.


This was different with Zwingli and Calvin. Personal responsibility was emphasized. With will power, one can accomplish something and that “something” always involves money. According to a vulgar interpretation of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, the rich person who makes money work is the person elected by God. The US owes its brilliant material ascent and its attraction to this faith.

The poor, embodied most visibly in the person of the beggar, has no place in this reformed society. He is himself responsible for his fate in the opinion of many who are doing well. Obviously he must be helped. The reformed were not monsters or brutes. Assistance takes place invisibly. The beggar is a public nuisance and therefore must disappear, that is be provided and thereby disposed of. Those present-day unemployed who withdraw to their TV-sets and do not protest on the streets follow this directive.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, faith in God was persistently in the background of the Reformed school and secretly had more and more adherents. Capitalism grew in that western world that was later called the first world. A twofold strategy marked the European and North American modern age. At the front was the modern Christian faith splintered in different currents and communities and behind – invisibly – the firm faith in safe money. This Christianity with a double basis was and is celebrated as a success model.

The Enlightenment occurred as another liberation movement after the Reformation (and the counter-Reformation). The Enlightenment opened people’s eyes for the shady sides of faith that can easily decay to delusion. Human rights and the solidarity idea were Enlightenment ideas. Social progress is inconceivable without these values. The Enlightenment was a school of criticism and mistrust. Mistrust is indispensable for the emancipation of individuals. But the mistrust was not so great that it could repress the trust and faith in safe money. In the course of colonialism and industrialization, capitalism consistently developed further until it could finally be celebrated as the unchallenged global winner after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the downfall of the Soviet Union. Then the unscrupulous neoliberal adventure began. Now the financial- and economic-crisis is a real fix for us. Its extent and ending are not yet known.

Even after the unprecedented bailout packages of different states for the foundering giant banks, the deeply anchored faith in money is not shaken. Capitalism as a matter of faith remains untouched. According to the judgments of the competent rulers, capitalism is not a misconception or delusion that must disappear according to enlightened standards.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich: Ethics. The penultimate needs the ultimate. The church, media, unions and universities should be critical and independent greatnesses.

Chomsky, Noam: American Power and the New Mandarins: Technical solutions like cap and trade do not change our ecological footprint, climate change or the fraud of banks and big business. The edifice must be debated and changed: the role of government, the purpose of the economy, public and profit, stakeholders and shareholders.

Cox, Harvey: Feast of Fools. The Harvard Divinity professor argues that the turbo-consumerist society lacks memory and hope, festivity and fantasy.

Freire, Paulo: Pedagogy of the Oppressed: In false consciousness, the oppressed assume the consciousness, prejudices and blindness of the oppressors.

Fussel, Kuno: Introduction to Paradise. Cult Marketing:

Habermas, Jurgen: Instrumental Rationality. All life, relations and dialogue, can be colonized by instrumental reason. For example, questions like: Will this be on the exam? And will this put money in my pocket? can drown out other questions.

Johnson, Chalmers: Nemesis. The empire, like Narcissus, falls in love with its reflection in the pond and drown. The US could follow Britain and become an empire or Rome and become self-destruction.

Johnson, Simon: The Quiet Coup:

Marcuse, Herbert: One Dimensional Man The Federal Reserve: Same old sheriff on Wall Street:

Mills, C. Wright Mills: The Power Elite

Orwell, George: Animal Farm and1984

Twenge, Jean: The Me-Generation and The Narcissist Epidemic:

Wolff, Richard: Capitalism Hits the Fan

Wölflingseder, Maria: Gross Social Happiness

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