Last Updated: 24 January 2016
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It has been noted by many people that a significant number American citizens seem to pursue their version of capitalism with a religious zeal, and like religious zealots insist upon imposing their values upon the rest of the world irrespective of whether the rest of the world wants them or not. These traits are a perversion of the Protestant Work Ethic brought to North America by the Pilgrim Fathers and practiced by many of the early American pioneers.
This article explores the connection between Evangelical Christianity and American Capitalism.
Readers are invited to agree with, disagree with, seek clarification about, or voice their point of view regarding the article.
Alex Paterson (2003)
The history of European colonisation of the United States of America is inextricably linked to the emigration of European Calvanist Protestant Christians 1 who came to America in the early 17th century to escape religious persecution in Europe and the 'private enterprise' economic system those early settlers created to sustain themselves in the new land. One of the first successful European settlements on the North American continent was that of Pilgrim Fathers, who emigrated to America on the Mayflower in 1620 and settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Whilst nearly all the early American settlements were commercial ventures designed to create wealth in America and pay a dividend to the shareholders back in Europe who had funded them, the primary motivation for many of the settlers themselves was religious freedom.
America's wealth is overwhelmingly based upon its 'private enterprise' economy and the 'capitalist' system that funds it. 2 This economic system grew out of the Protestant work ethic practiced by the early American pioneers, and because of this American Capitalism has a religious aspect to it that is unique to America.
The Protestant Work Ethic is premised upon the not unrealistic notion that hard, 'honest' work (sic) combined with frugal living usually results in the creation of a material surplus. This surplus is considered by most Protestants to be a personal "blessing from God" for their hard work and frugality in setting aside the resulting surplus for future times of hardship (such as winter) and because of this it is considered 'private' wealth as opposed to 'commonwealth'. (i.e. community wealth) The parable of the frivolous grasshopper playing all summer instead of preparing a food storage for winter is an oft quoted example illustrating the efficacy of the Protestant Work Ethic.
Evangelical literally means "good news". Its etymology is from the Greek word "euaggelion" which means "good news" as in 'eu-angel'. Evangelical Christianity is a fundamentalist offshoot of the American Protestant movement. Evangelicals argue that their interpretation of the Bible is "good news", hence their name (evangelical) and their burning desire to spread (evangelise) their interpretation of the Christian gospel to the rest of the world.
Evangelical Christians took the basic premise of the Protestant work ethic a step further by surmising that any increase in material wealth equated to an increase in God's blessing for their efforts, and from that premise it followed that the pursuit of material wealth is "sanctioned by God". Being religious zealots, it didn't take long for a significant number of evangelical Christians to rationalise that the 'end' justified the 'means' in their ruthless pursuit of material wealth.
American capitalism today is the end result of this ethos. It is an ethos defined by selfishness and greed, as personified by the Hollywood movie character, Gordon Gecko, whose statement that "greed is good" is now part of the American lexicon. This ethos is a perversion of "ethical behaviour" espoused by Jesus in the Bible - namely "think of others before thyself" and "do unto others as you would have done unto thyself". In pursuit of this perversion, a significant proportion of American Christians (Christians comprise over 85% of the American population) have convinced themselves that the relentless pursuit of material wealth is their God given 'right', if not duty. The debased spectacle of tele-evangelists extolling money out of their congregations in exchange for "salvation" is one of the more overt, and dare I suggest, degrading examples of this sort behaviour.
One cannot help but marvel at how the 'Christian Right' 3 have managed to seize control of key areas of the American Government and economy in the pursuit of this ethos. The great irony is that the main beneficiaries of this process, as represented by George 'Dubya' Bush and his coterie, live off the efforts of naive, Christian Americans (and much of the rest of the world) who are told (and firmly believe) they just have to work a little bit harder, and be more ruthlessly competitive with each other in order to enjoy the fruits of God's blessing associated with an increase in material wealth. Many Americans are superficially polite to each other as they rip each other off and stab each other in the back, all in the name of 'competition'. It's a sordid business of course - one has to sit amongst it to gain some sort of insight into it.
The maintenance of such a system requires the existence of a large pool of ill-informed, naive people to feed in upon itself. This pool of stupidity is maintained by a public education system that is clearly starved of funds, existing within a culture of crass materialism continually reinforced by a television industry dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, a news media that is in the main an insult to the word and supported by a network of Fundamentalist Christian Churches throughout the country espousing a theology that openly embraces the basic premises underlying the culture.
American culture is despised by much of the rest of the world because of the hypocrisy, arrogance and insatiable greed of a significant proportion of its citizenry, and the government and corporations that represents them. 4 The behaviour of these Americans, and the institutions they are involved with, is a corruption of America's founding ideals pertaining to freedom and fairness, and should be condemned by all fair minded people. The peace and security so desperately sought after by the American public will not emanate out of the barrel of a gun in support of America's rapacious greed for the world's resources, as is currently being being conducted under the guise of America's "war on terrorism" - it will only emanate out of the goodwill and transparent honesty written into the American constitution. 5
Due to its place in American culture and its self proclaimed status of being the nation's moral guardians, Evangelical Christianity has significant influence on how Americans think and behave towards each other and the rest of the world. Evangelical Christianity did not invent 'private enterprise' nor 'capitalism', but the organisation's wholehearted support of the more corrupt aspects of the same legitimises those traits and in turn defines what is considered acceptable behaviour by the nation as a whole. Evangelical Christianity has a duty to behave with responsibility and exercise some of the Christian morals it espouses. 6
Copyright © Alex Paterson 2003
1. Protestants (protesters) were dissenters against abuses of the Catholic Church in the late middle ages. The most famous of the early 'protesters' was Martin Luther, who nailed his '95 Theses' regarding some of these abuses on the Wittenburg Church door in 1517 and triggered the Reformation. (see below) Luther's primary concern was the Catholic Church's use of Indulgences - meaning its practice of absolving sinners of sin (including future sin!) in exchange for money. (boy, what a concept, but I digress ...) Luther was not the first to protest about the corruption of the Catholic Church - most were declared 'heretics' by the Church and burnt at the stake - but he was by far the most successful due to a series of fortuitous circumstances, not in the least being the invention of the printing press which gave Luther's ideas widespread coverage and brought him under the protection of a number of powerful European Princes. The name 'Protestant' was adopted, not by the protesters themselves, but by their opponents and was gradually applied as a general description to those who adhered to the tenets of the Reformation, especially to those living outside Germany. In Germany the adherents of the Reformation preferred the name Evangelicals and in France they called themselves "Huguenots".
Reformation A religious movement in 16th-century Europe that began as an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church and ended with the establishment of independent Protestant Churches. The Reformation began at Wittenburg on 31 October, 1517, when Martin Luther attacked the sale of indulgences and, later, papal power and the sacraments (except baptism and the Eucharist). He was supported by several German princes and the resulting conflict was not resolved until the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. (Source: Oxford Reference Shelf 1994)
Calvanism is religious-based ideology originally developed in Europe by the Frenchman John Calvin (born Jehan Cauvin) during the Protestant Reformation. Eventually Calvinism made its way to the New World with the Puritans, and would greatly influence the development of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution in both Western Europe and North America. To this day, Calvinism remains a “founding” ideological influence in the religious and secular worldviews of America’s political, economic, and cultural elites.
For more on Calvanism see: 'Calvanism: The Spiritual Foundation of America' by Christopher Pisarenko
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2. Private Enterprise funding. Shareholding in a limited liability company is but one way to fund private enterprise. Shareholding is the methodology underpinning Capitalism - it is a method for 'enterprise' to meet 'capital' to fund a business and create wealth. The other primary source of funding private enterprise is through the auspices of a loan, either from private individuals or from lending institutions such as banks. A third method is Government support through tax concessions or grants (be it of money or land).
Note 1: The rampant speculation that underpins contemporary stock markets are a distortion of the original purpose of stockmarkets and is simply a reflection of the greed and fear that motivates the vast bulk of humanity associated with their sense of isolation from Source at the present point in time.
Note 2: The concept of a "limited liability" company is a negation of a primary spiritual truth underpinning the operation of the realm we find ourselves in as human beings, that being that the Physical Universe is simply a projection of our 'consciousness' and that we are all collectively the 'author' of our respective experiences within the same. Because we are ultimately the author of our 'projection', we are (and remain) entirely responsible for our thoughts and actions. Being the 'author' of our experience, we cannot escape the so called consequences of our 'projection' if only because, whilst ever we remain within the 'vibration' associated with our current projection (for example, the vibration associated with 'anger') we reinforce that vibration and inevitably experience the so called consequences associated with it. The adage "those who live by the gun, die by the gun" is a clear example of this sort of thing. Thus for example, if one lives a life sowing mine fields we inevitably end up stepping upon one of our own mines. Quantum Physics has long known about this state of affairs associated with the 'Observer Effect', but few quantum physicists understand it, let alone the average citizen.
See: 'Quantum Physics' by Alex Paterson
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3. Christian Right is a term which could be applied to a plethora of Fundamentalist Christian organisations in America, but for the purpose of this article it primarily applies to the so-called 'Moral Majority', a fundamentalist citizens' organisation under the leadership of Baptist minister Jerry Falwell of Virginia. Christian Fundamentalism is described as "a conservative movement in American Protestantism arising out of the millenarian movement of the 19th century and emphasizing as fundamental to Christianity the literal interpretation and absolute inerrancy of the Scriptures, the imminent and physical Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, and Atonement." (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica 1997)
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4. As numerous commentators have said over the past couple of decades: "The American Government is the best government money can buy ..... "
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5. The greed underpinning American culture is no more graphically illustrated by the fact that whilst Americans comprise just 4% of the World's population they consume nearly 40% of its resources. These traits are of course not just confined to the USA, but rather exist in many parts of the Western world including the author's home country of Australia, which in many respects could be considered to be the 51st State of America.
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6. Ethics. For more on this subject see:
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Alex PATERSON is an Australian citizen by birth. He writes articles and advises on issues pertaining to aviation, politics, sociology, the environment, sustainable farming, history, computers, natural health therapies and spirituality.
He can be contacted at:
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The document, 'Evangelical Christianity' is the copyright © of the author, Alex Paterson. All rights reserved by the author. Not withstanding this, the document may be reproduced and disseminated without the express permission of the author so long as reference to the author is made, no alterations are made to the document and no money is charged for it.
Additional keywords: beliefs, dissent, dissenters, orthodoxy, philosophical materialism, reality,
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