Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's responsible for the spirit of capitalism, the culture of commercialism, can be traced back to Luther and Calvin

The Reformation, in my opinion, set the stage for the degeneration of society into superficiality that we see around us all the time, especially in the United States, which was never Catholic to begin with. Which is not to side with the folks who think that Catholicism pre-reformation was a great time, especially with regards to the relationship between the Church and the landed class, but at least in those days society revolved around collective expressions of religiosity that served the community and that gave meaning to both personal life and to the year. Values were believed in collectively, not individually, and the spirit of those values won out over the letter. So what if there were also non-Christian practices integrated with Catholicism? Or that there were parishes where the priest was supposedly woefully inadequate in his learning? Better to have that than to have folks who can quote the bible by heart but understand nothing. This is much different, too, than the reactionary nature that the Catholic Church assumed post-reformation, where it increasingly opposed liberty, democracy, and equality. But it's not the particular religious questions that concern me, just the implications of the religious form. I'm not Christian, after all.

Luther and Calvin took humanity, existing it its diverse glory, and reduced it to the 'I', the individual, cut off from nature, standing against nature, corrupted by sin, weak, powerless. The 'I' shouldn't be a capital 'I' but a small 'i', because the individualism espoused by them was anything but the more positive definitions of individualism talked about these days.

Suddenly the most important thing in the world was my 'I' and its relationship to either salvation or damnation. 'I' have to think about myself, not about my family, not about my community, or my friends. 'I' now have to radically devote myself to selfishness and to self-advancement in order to be saved and not go to hell.

From there it's a small step, only brought on by a crisis of faith, to seeing the 'I' as just the most important part of society in general, and to see the same self-satisfaction that was once devoted to being saved devoted to buying stuff, to work to make money instead of working to get into heaven, to advance ones self socially as opposed to advancing spiritually. The preacher becomes a selfish egomaniac who preshadows the charismatic businessman, selling salvation one day, the next selling salvation in the form of goods for you to buy.

And we all want it because we don't know what we'd do without it, without would be like, hell. We wouldn't be keeping up with the Joneses, we wouldn't be getting anywhere, as if there's a 'where' with regards to consumption that we should be getting. The thirst for accumulation is like the thirst for salvation. It's just a rewrite of the same old story,and all the collective aspects regarding responsibility and values are conveniently excluded, because, of course, it's your 'I' that's most important.

The recent rise of self actualized or humanistic individualism, where actually doing something with your humanity for its own sake instead of just using your 'I' to pursue money, is a positive step, but one that needs to be integrated with a context that's collective or that recognizes collective values as well. Truly developing your individuality, as opposed to just developing the pseudo-trappings of it, is as always very worthwhile, but you can't buy your way into it.

Better to restore a collective, communal, sensibility with regards to the world around us, and to combine that with the possibility of real individualized actualization within that context, than to sacrifice all social responsibility and values for making money and accumulation while telling yourself that what you're doing is somehow something else than just prostituting yourself to make a buck..... or to be a good Christian and believing that your not just selling yourself in trying to save your soul.


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