A New Religion to Bring You to Your Knees: Capitalism, if You Please…

Human religion has passed through progressive stages from animism to polytheism to monotheism. Yet the evolution of religion has not yet concluded. Is it possible that the replacement of monotheism will be…capitalism?

“The Worship of Mammon” by Evelyn De Morgan

February 09, 2024 06:27 EDT

That ideology, neo-liberalism, is like a religion. Once you are a true believer, you see other solutions as heresy.

— Murray Dobbin

Have you ever noticed how religions have changed over human history? In the book The Art of Loving, author Erich Fromm lays out a timeline unlike any I had ever seen before.

In the beginning (to borrow a phrase), primitive humans did not see themselves as separate and distinct from the natural world. The earliest religions used animal masks and nature totems. If a village depended on hunting deer, for example, their tribe might have a deer god that they worshiped. Because they were dependent on that animal for survival, it was fetishized, in the religious sense of the word. Objects or icons associated with that animal might be venerated and imbued with supernatural potency.

In the next phase, according to Fromm, mankind was no longer completely dependent on nature. As humans left the Stone Age, the development of newer and better tools led to a kind of recognition of humanity’s mastery over nature. As artists and artisans developed the ability to shape metals, and hunting and gathering gave way to more complex agriculture, gods changed too. This period was marked with idols made of clay, silver and gold. Think of the Chachapoyan Fertility Idol stolen by Indiana Jones at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. At this point man transformed the product of his own hand into a god. As Fromm says, mankind projected his own powers and skills onto the things he made, imbuing them with magical properties.

God in our own image

Moving on from there, mankind finally struck on what a god must really look like: Himself. With man’s ultimate mastery over nature, Fromm says, humankind began to perceive itself as the highest, most dignified thing in the universe. Likewise, humanity’s gods reflected this. At this point in history, graven images were replaced with an assortment of gods that possessed human traits and looked like us. Here the Greek, Roman or Norse pantheons spring to mind. These polytheistic gods behaved like humans, with very human weaknesses and grudges against one another.

It was only in the most recent period that humanity began to worship singular deities — though, Fromm says, this too transformed over time. Early monotheistic religions went through what he called a “matriarchal” phase — emphasizing the godhead’s unconditional love for people, who were all equal in the eyes of God. Later monotheistic religions developed into a “patriarchal” phase — with conditional love based on following the laws of a father God. Those who obeyed the demands and principles of the Lord were the only ones who would be accepted by Him.

Fromm posits that monotheism is the final stage in God’s evolution. But isn’t it possible that something might come after that? Could it be that a new religion might spring up without anyone noticing? One that perhaps includes many of the elements of the earlier iterations of human development, but is also unmistakably modern? One that blends science, the mastery of mankind over nature, and a patriarchal godhead that rewards devotion and punishes the unworthy?

The newest stage in human religion

Obviously the answer, in my opinion, is yes. But what, exactly, am I implying?

There is a new religion on the block. One that does not care if you still worship at your traditional church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. This new religion is a blend of man’s ancient tendency to worship his own handiwork and marvel at his mastery over nature combined with an all-powerful entity that rewards the faithful and punishes the weak. This religion has its own sacred texts, holy men and even cable channels. This new religion has spread to every corner of the globe and won converts in the halls of power in just about every nation on earth. This religion has its own priestly class preserving orthodoxy and excommunicating heretics. The religion is known as Free-Market Capitalism — and its all-powerful deity is called The Market.

A bit too far? Perhaps. But it is worth taking the time to examine the ways that free-market capitalism is like a religion. We should also think about the ways that this brand of economics is unlike the science that it pretends to be.

We should also understand how modern free-market capitalism is incompatible with the proud traditions of humanity’s major religions, especially (and most ironically) Christianity.

[Let’s Make Them Pay first published this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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