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An Inquiry into the Partnership Between Christianity, Capitalism, and Ecological Crisis

Hypothesis: Understanding how the rise of Christianity affected ascendance of modern science, how this fostered the rise of capitalism and why the modern day conservative Christian right wing has adopted free market fundamentalism is keystone in resolving
by

Kristy Butts

on 26 April 2010

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Transcript of An Inquiry into the Partnership Between Christianity, Capitalism, and Ecological Crisis

An Inquiry into the Partnership Between Christianity, Capitalism, and Ecological Crisis Understanding how the rise of Christianity affected ascendance of modern science, how this fostered the rise of capitalism and why the modern day conservative Christian right wing has adopted free market fundamentalism is keystone in resolving the present day ecological crisis. Christianity and the separation of humans from nature
Christianity’s use of rationality in developing Modern Science
How Christianity fostered capitalism
Christianity, Capitalism, and the Ecological Crisis
The Christian right wing and free market fundamentalism
When I talk about Christianity I mean Christianity and it’s major sects: Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodox. I completely understand that each of these sects has doctrinal differences but for the sake of my paper I am going to label them under the broad term Christianity even though each sect has a particularly unique relationship to capitalism and ecological crisis. The schism between Christianity and nature broadened in the fourteenth century when:
…this spiritual and humanist alienation was deepened into a feeling that the natural world was an actual threat to both the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the human. This feeling arouse when the Black Death occurred in Europe from 1347-1349, a period when at least a third of the human population of Europe died (Berry, 1999, p. 137)
Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” Christianity’s use of rationality in developing Modern Science
Western modern science originated from the principle that human intellect could systematically unearth and unravel nature’s unknown secrets and mysteries by using humanity’s ability to reason. Christian scientist, Snow, explains that Western modern science is different, and arguably better, from other sciences in the middle ages because only it emanated God’s rationality

The founders of modern science were shaped by a culture that was predominately Christian
Modern science was established based on a mechanistic, linear, and emperical perspective that came from God separating humans from nature
Arguments Christian Scholars use against other sciences

Other sciences (Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic) were cyclical, that is to say finding and explaining their place in the cycles of the universe
These other sciences were not demanding to decipher the cause and effects of the universal laws of natures.
Non- Christians were not interested in why nature functions the way it does

"The oranismic concept of the world… invariably fosters a state of mind dominated by a nostalgic longing for the primitive golden age, with its idyllic settings in which everything takes place in an effortless way. In that spontaneous dreamlike condition men live off nature without disturbing it… and carry out their social propensities without the sense of constraint due to authorities and laws" (Snow, 1999, para 6).
Christian Rationality
“the Christian image of God is that of a rational being who believes in human progress, more fully revealing himself as humans gain the capacity to better understand. Moreover, because God is a rational being and the universe is his personal creation, it necessarily has a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting increased human comprehension” (Stark, 2005, pp. 11-12).

Based off of my study of the classics- Bacon, Decartes, to name a few-Modern scientist of that time declared that nature was a passive inanimate sum of parts with no will or intelligence that God intended to be subdued and dominated by men. How Christianity fostered capitalism
The relationship between Christianity and capitalism is intimate and vital.

Capitalism is an economic system where the means of production (land, labor, capital goods, and human capital) are privately owned and traded in the market. The returns gained are then reinvested to produce more capital A very important essence necessary for the rise of capitalism is the predominate theory of the self and individualism integral to Christian maxim
doctrine concerning free will and salvation
Because Christians believe that God has given humanity free will it is our personal actions as individuals that ultimately provide salvation or damnation. Although capitalism was by no means the invention of one-person Christian ideas influenced the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, and his notions concerning rational self-interest as a main component governing market economies. Smith believed that if everyone acted for personal rational self-interest the invisible hand would manage markets through supply, demand, and prices thus providing for human needs. Adam Smith pictured the invisible hand as the mechanism that describes the self-regulating properties of how the free market creates and allocates wealth. Free market fundamentalism, or market fundamentalism, is a pejorative term used to explain the belief that unrestrained laissez-faire (hands off) or what is called liberated free market philosophy and the subsequent policies could bring social and economic equanimity. The type of rational self-interest Smith subscribes to had its roots in Christian humanism. Christian humanism is founded on the conviction that human freedom and individualism is necessary for people to have a personal relationship with God. The Christian idea of individualism is based on the theory of divine command that pronounces God’s function to command and for humans to obey. God’s divine command establishes a moral dictum where pious and virtuous behavior demands obedience and insubordinate behavior is considered sinful. The modus operandi of market fundamentalist is to abide by the almost metaphysical concept of the invisible hand that supposedly governs the free market

The author of Fundamentalist World: the New Dark Age of Dogma, Sim, is a staunch critic of Christian and Market fundamentalism and the speculative notion that people act solely out of rational self interest. He postulates, “the invisible hand is very reminiscent of the God of fundamentalism: it has all the answers and makes all the ultimate decisions. We can probably add the invisible hand to our list of authoritarian personalities; it makes those kinds of demands on us and has that degree of power over our lives” ( 2004, p. 129). This idea shaped personal behavior in Western Europe in a way that not only allowed a person to take salvation into their own hands but also made it their Christian duty to act in their own self-interest. Thus, not only was one’s salvation a matter governed by self-interest so was economic prosperity. Christianity, Capitalism, and the Ecological Crisis

Radical Christian fundamentalist Gary North believes that the ties between Christianity and capitalism, particularly laissez-faire (hands off) economics, were stipulated in the Bible, and only through adhering to the Ten Commandments will economic prosperity occur. North deems that, “the Ten Commandments also lay down the religious, legal, and economic foundations that are necessary for the creation and long term maintenance of a free market economy. In other words, observance of the basic principles of the ten commandments is both necessary and sufficient for the creations of a capitalist economy” (1986, pp. 211-212)
The Christian idea of progress fostered the capitalist “more is better” mentality, “our daily habits of action, for example, are dominated by an implicit faith in perpetual progress which was unknown either to Greco-Roman antiquity or to the Orient. It is rooted in, and indefensible apart from, Judeo-Christian teleology” (White, 1967, p. 1205). The conclusion of the Western idea of progress is that of a continually advancing society, “its meanings have ranged from the most sublimely spiritual advance to the absolutely physical or material…But the idea has also been made to refer to the achievement of what the early Christians called earthly paradise: a state of such spiritual exaltation that man's liberation from all tormenting physical compulsions becomes complete” (Nisbet, 1979). The Capitalist postulation of progress has deep foundations in the bedrock of Christianity. The capitalist growth paradigm has its genesis in the Christian notion of progress. Capitalism has utilized the Christian interpretation of progress but has construed it to mean economic progress. In the perverse pursuit of economic advancement we have plundered the earth’s resources and stolen natural capital from future generations. It is time that we confront the truth: it is impossible to have a sustainable holistic economy based on a structure that requires exponential hyper-growth in a finite biological system. It is important to grasp the full meaning of what exponential growth is in relationship to the economy. Exponential growth occurs in the economy when capital increases by a fixed percentage over a given amount of time. In our society this type of growth is labeled as progress. The ecological crisis can best be characterized in the Annie Leonard’s phenomenal internet meme, The Story of Stuff. She explains that the capitalist system is based on extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal (Leonard, 2007). This cradle to grave methodology is labeled as throughput in the capitalist system and in the exponential growth paradigm of modern market economies it is ravaging the earth for scarce resources, causing environmental injustices, fostering imperialism, and colonialism. James Gustave Speth in his book The Bridge at the Edge of the World, defines growth as an increase in throughput, which is the flow of natural resources from the environment, through the economy, and back to the environment as waste. It is a quantitative increase in the physical dimensions of the economy and/or of the waste stream produced by the economy. This kind of growth, of course, cannot continue indefinitely, as the Earth and its resources are not infinite ( 2008, p. 118). The Christian right wing and free market fundamentalism Free market fundamentalists ask us to have unwavering faith in the free market and have the backward logic that if any erratic behavior exists in the market it is because it is not free enough. This type of trust is similarly asked of Christians- to have total faith in their God and if anything wrong happens in their world it must be the will of God. Sim makes the connection, “the links between Christian fundamentalism and market fundamentalism in America are very tantalizing, with the Christian Right combining the two into a politically very powerful ideology that has exerted considerable mass appeal throughout the nation” (Sim, 2004, p. 103). Christianity is ripe to join forces with market fundamentalism- they both believe that the economic humiliation and devastation that result from market fundamentalism occurs because they strayed from God’s true path as stated in the Bible.

In his ultraconservative work, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments, North stipulates:

Biblical economics is liberation economics. Anti-biblical economics is therefore bondage economics. Those who present themselves as defenders of liberation economics, but who refuse to be governed in their economics recommendations by the concrete, explicit revelation of God concerning the laws of economics, are wolves in sheep’s clothing. If they are proclaiming some variant of Marxism, socialism, interventionism, or other State-deifying economics, then they are moral equivalent of the ancient Egyptians. They proclaim tyranny (1986, p. 22).
North makes a seductive corollary that supports my hypothesis,

"But if the goal of the Bible is social peace under God’s covenants, and if the free market economy has been not only the logical result of the Ten Commandments but also the historic product of Christianity, then a controversial conclusion follows: Biblical social order and free market capitalism are a “packaged deal" " (1986, p. 212).
Conclusion

Not all Christians follow these beliefs

“For all their power and vitality, markets are only tools. They make a good servant but a bad master and a worse religion” (Hawken, 1999, p. 261)
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