The Pecuniary Over Principle—Mammon Over Morality

The Pecuniary Over Principle—Mammon Over Morality March 12, 2020

I’ve started a fascinating book written by Eugene McCarraher, which asserts, among other things, that capitalism is the religion of modernity.  Rather than a neutral or scientific economic system or understanding that simply corresponds to “natural” laws of human behavior, it is a metaphysical and theological view of exchange—or the relation of beings.  Further, whereas the common view of modern times is one of disenchantment (Weber), our writer asserts, no, an enchanted or a sacramental world is always the case, but our understanding of this enchantment can change.

For instance, McCarraher writes:

“Contrary to Weber, Protestant capitalists did not disenchant the world; rather, they re-negotiated the terms of enchantment. If they no longer held that Catholic sacramental ritual was efficacious for salvation, they believed that they encountered God in the midst of material creation—and wealth.” (Pg. 37)

We should note the difference between a sacramental view of creation and a utilitarian one, wherein creation has to be improved (not kept in disrepair, like a vacant lot or weed filled acre) for God to show up.  In other words, rather than the spoken words and prayers turning bread into flesh and wine into blood, we have work and labor “improving,” material creation, which turns the “property” into a blessing of God.  Thus, we turn dirt into heaven, or the Kingdom comes.  In such a view of enchantment, the wealth that comes from the “improvement,” is the sign of God’s presence or blessing.

Such a view certainly explains much of American life, the prosperity gospel, and many other pathologies/dysfunctional theologies.  Anyway, I was thinking of all this when the stock market took a nosedive as the latest repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic continue to be felt.  For those who see economic prosperity or wealth as the or, at least, a significant sign of God’s blessing or presence, what now?  If these same events had happened under an Obama or liberal democrat presidency, how would evangelicals and conservative republicans have reacted?  I think we know.

Many evangelical and conservative republicans, who realize Trump is unfit to be president by every imaginable and pertinent metric, can still be heard to offer defenses like: “But how’s your 401k doing?”  If we point to any sordid detail of his ignorant words and actions, we are told to look at the economy or job picture instead.  In the light of this malignancy of a presidency, we are told to check our stocks, bonds, and tax returns.

And, of course, when these areas go badly, what do they say now?  “Wait a minute.”  “It will change.”  “It’s not his fault.”  No, usually what we hear is just silence on their part. Crickets.  It’s amazing how God’s disfavor, in whatever form imagined, is referenced as in play only if the other guy’s house is on fire.  What about when our house is on fire?  What now?

For decades, evangelicals and conservative republicans have told us that what matters more than money is character, integrity, ethics, morality, family, truth, law, faith, and that such things should never be sacrificed for material prosperity or wealth.

I will give Trump this: He has put the lie to such sentiments, revealing them to be only the pearl clutching shibboleths spouted by hypocrites to determine who their friends or enemies were.  Clearly, these were nothing more than the self-righteous emoting of people who were quick to jettison such “values,” if it meant possibly gaining political power, judges, and fat wallets/purses.  These Faustian bargains, events, and actions go a long way in lending credence to McCarraher’s book and thesis.

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