Capitalism is, in many respects, an offshoot of Christianity. As capitalism developed, it borrowed significantly from the most successful sales model in society at the time: Christianity. In earlier Euro-America, as capitalism emerged and developed, Christianity was the dominant paradigm in terms of mass marketing, public relations, indoctrination, management, political influence, brand loyalty, and, of course, sales. But the mere fact that they are structurally similar is perhaps less fascinating than the specific ways in which they are similar. These common traits have become so definitive of the American experience that living with them is as natural and familiar as water is to fish.
Capitalism and Manufactured Need
“Manufactured need” refers to creating a need where none exists naturally and none arises spontaneously. It means coercively generating desires where there are none, elevating those desires to the psychological status of needs.
Manufactured need is manipulating young persons to believe that one of Joe Camel’s cigarettes, dangling from the corner of their mouths, makes them look cool. It means coercing them to “put on” their faces, confident that, with the right combination of eyeliner, face primer, foundation, concealer, mascara, highlighter, setting spray, and perfume they will win a valued place within the social hierarchy—or meet that Mr. or Ms. Right. It means convincing your average American male that he needs a new car—one that is harder, better, faster, and stronger—to win his social place, peer approval, or to get laid, all to the tune of many tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
The number one priority of modern capitalism is to ever-increase profit and sales. Utilizing a combination of marketing, propaganda, sales, and indoctrination, it invents a hard-to-reach itch, then sells you the perfect back scratcher. “Planned obsolescence” also helps ensure that we follow one purchase with another—then another and another ad infinitum. Ideally, that back scratcher purchase is followed by a sales pitch that convinces you to buy the accompanying foot scratcher, knee scratcher, the right-hand scratcher (for your left), and the left-hand scratcher (for your right). Perhaps you’ll want the new and improved hi-tech “smart” scratcher? Or maybe the gold and diamond encrusted 27B 2300 model deluxe brand scratcher by Rolex?
Under a well-developed, corporatized capitalist system such as ours, and the consumerist identity it has cultivated, sales is no longer considered a means-to-an-end. It has increasingly become an end-in-itself. Immanuel Kant distinguished between two types of value: instrumental and intrinsic goods. Capitalism inclines persons and institutions to think of profit and sales as intrinsically valuable, meaning valuable as ends-in-themselves. We consumers, on the other hand, are reduced to the status of instrumental goods. We are mere means-to-an-end: the end being the sales and profit making someone rich.
This current economic mindset rewards sales and profit as the ultimate ends regardless of whether or not they meet the consumer’s genuine, autonomously determined needs. This is, of course, entirely and completely ass-backwards. Human beings should be recognized as intrinsically valuable—valuable in and of themselves—and never merely as means-to-an-end. Sales and profits should serve human needs, not the other way around.
Generally, capitalism is considered an amoral (as in morally neutral) economic system. But in reality, capitalism is inherently immoral. The reversal of values at its core demeans human beings. It commodifies us, devaluing human autonomy, our fundamental right of self-determination. As entrenched and productive as it may currently be, it is not a sustainable, long-term ideology or ethos for human civilization.
Christianity and Manufactured Need
It’s easy to see how capitalism relies upon morally dubious traits like manufactured need or planned obsolescence. That it acquired such traits from Christianity is perhaps a tad less obvious. Christianity, too, thrives upon the manufacture of needs where, if not for its efforts, none arises naturally or spontaneously, and it has done so for far longer than capitalism has even been a thing.
The Christian religion works, at the most rudimentary level, to create a pessimistic understanding of human nature that introduces and fosters a belief in “original sin.” Human beings are indoctrinated to believe that we are essentially corrupt. Being of the flesh, we are, by our very nature, understood as inherently weak and wicked beings. A flaw is built into the original design, and we are in constant need of repair straight off the assembly line. Indoctrinated into the Christian understanding of reality from birth, billions of human beings are sold this bill of goods, emphasizing these two primary ingredients:
We are each an eternal, immaterial, “spiritual” entity: a “soul” bound into a material body from the moment of conception until the body’s death. This understanding is rooted in the pseudoscience of biblical times. When our natural body dies, our true self, or “soul,” continues on in the supernatural realm, a domain separate from and superior to the natural realm.
Upon our earthly demise, we are judged by God, the creator of all things. Importantly, there is a far better world to come in an alleged afterlife. Being Christian, we are forgiven or absolved, and thus bound for our eternal reward in heaven everlasting.
If one is raised as a Christian, the basics of the above doctrine are not up for debate. This self-conception is integral to Christian thought and belief. Of course it has become increasingly apparent within the past several centuries of enlightenment and rational, scientific awakening that such mythic origin stories are entirely pseudoscientific constructs. Nonetheless, a noteworthy (though declining) majority of Americans today claim to believe in the Christian package deal.
Religious hierarchy and dualism—the pseudoscientific, human-exceptionalist belief that a supernatural realm exists separate and superior from the natural realm—sets the stage for Christianity’s version of manufactured need. Christian belief creates a need where there is none, and that is a need to be saved, forgiven, and redeemed. We are indoctrinated to believe that we need salvation in the eyes of our lord and savior. These alleged needs are predicated upon belief in our “fallen,” sinful nature. Without indoctrination into this particular mythological interpretation—religious dualism and the attendant cynical beliefs—this need for absolution would never arise in the first place.
Capitalism effectively convinces many of us that we need that shiny new automobile, that expensive cosmetic surgery, more new shoes, and a gun (or five) to be safe. Christianity creates a sense of fundamental lacking too, manufacturing a need to sell us its product: redemption and salvation. All this creates a perpetual dependance upon God’s worldly institution, the Church. It’s an alleged solution to a problem that never really existed in the first place. Christianity invented manufactured need.
Sin and Misanthropy
Even those of us who are atheists, humanists, and Nones (those with no particular religious affiliation) recognize how the seven deadly (or Cardinal) sins represent a fair descriptor of Homo sapiens at our worst. But the Christian view is exceptionally cynical and misanthropic. When not carried to their extreme, each of these is, at root, an entirely normal, essential, and definitive human trait. Each is an aspect of human nature that can be perfectly laudable, indeed morally admirable, in many respects.
Perhaps the best example is the so-called sin of lust. Christianity teaches us that lust is a heinous sin, an affront to God almighty. Yet it is perfectly natural, morally permissible, healthy, and indeed quite beautiful to desire physical intimacy with another person whom one finds sexually attractive. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Human lust is inextricably interwoven with ove (speaking here only of the romantic/sexual type of love). Labeling a trait a Cardinal sin highlights the problems associated with religious dualism and its attendant misanthropy. It causes us to feel repelled by our very own animal nature.
Lust is not inherently sinful. It is good in numerous respects. For example, it is a considerable part of all art and of everything we call romance. The truth is that many of the greatest heights of human creativity, artistic expression, and even ecstasy itself owe in some measure to animals—including humans—in rut. Even religious ecstasy has been recognized as akin to sexual ecstasy, with historical evidence ranging from the famous nun Teresa of Avila to recent scientific findings that both religious and sexual ecstasy generate activity in identical areas of the human brain. We prefer to gussy it up because we have long been indoctrinated to think of romantic love as ethereal and pure and lust as nothing but a gross necessity of animal bodies: shameful, vile, and sinful. We distinguish lust from love, but it’s a disingenuous move. In truth, lust and love are on a continuum.
Teresa of Avila, by Gian Lorenzo Benini.
Without lust we get no Iliad or Odyssey, no Rembrandt, no Picasso, no Van Gogh. No Beatles! Certainly no Prince. No love songs whatsoever. We’d lose at least half of all literature, almost all of Hollywood. Bollywood too, for that matter. No Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story. From John Lennon’s Oh Yoko! to the Taj Mahal, the lust/love continuum is directly responsible for some of humanity’s most profound creative expressions.
The act of sweeping these all into the category of sin illustrates the flagrant, even hostile self-loathing of the maladjusted that is at the root of Abrahamic thought and belief. It is a fundamentally cynical turn of mind, one that characterizes the natural and the human as flawed and evil.
The original version of what became capitalism’s manufactured need begins here. It is a two-part pitch. Part one: we are all born sinners. Part two: only God can save us, repair us, or forgive us. Create the itch and supply the scratcher. Same formula.
We humans will always fail Christianity’s stringent and inhumane morality test and therefore forever be found morally wanting. Guaranteed failure is built into the very design, just as with planned obsolescence. We are conceived as beings in perpetual need of restitution and forgiveness, thus ensuring that we must always return to the fold for our soul’s salvation.
But … Does It Work?
The obedience training of religion is supposed to make us better people, more inclined to be good. But the victims of Christian indoctrination are actually prone to suffer a kind of arrested development, a moral and ethical immaturity characterized by obedience to authority and the commandments of scripture, church, tradition, and religious authorities.
Christianity hinders psychological development, hampering our capacity to actualize our potential as morally mature, eusocial beings. It recreates, generation after generation, obedience to authority, cultivating a people who tend to remain simplistic, immature, and rigid in terms of their ability to address morally, socially, or psychologically complex issues.
As with “spare the rod and spoil the child,” Christianity starts with poor pseudoscience and then turns it into highly problematic—but widely accepted—naive truisms, perpetuating dysfunctional relationships and unhealthy family and community dynamics. All this is dressed up as profundity; its often heinous outcomes are swallowed whole as just another aspect of God’s ever-mysterious ways.
This religious warping of our nature into something ugly is the case with other sins as well. But the problem is not with our nature, with the so-called sins themselves, but in their excesses, their inappropriate, selfish, or anti-social expressions. Like everything else, learning how to live with these instincts and impulses requires practice. It is a skill set that must be modeled, taught, and cultivated over time. You get to responsible, mature moral agency the very same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice!
Due to their over-reliance upon indoctrination and authoritarian commands, Christians are less likely to have developed the normal, healthy, human capacity for moral agency, including moral reasoning, reflection, and the cultivation of sensitivity and conscience, which all mentally healthy Homo sapiens are capable of and which is ultimately requisite for a mentally healthy, psychologically mature human populace.
The devout and pious tend to remain children in a very real sense. Our concern should be with the cultivation and development of mature moral agency, a process that takes place throughout our childhood and subsequent developmental decades as we mature into adulthood. This is something that the 100 percent natural animal Homo sapiens is capable of, assuming nothing hinders this educational process.
Coercion and Human Autonomy
Christianity and capitalism both encourage the notion of people as things, as objects to be manipulated and controlled. Coercion is a fundamentally disrespectful form of human relationship. It devalues human beings. The entire premise of manufacturing needs, so essential to both, rests upon this dynamic, demeaning the autonomy of the “other” and devaluing their capacity for self-determination.
The Ten Commandments, so crucial to the Abrahamic worldview, are highly problematic, both in form and content. The form, training in obedience to commands, seriously misses the whole point of moral agency. The bottom line is that Christianity places the devout near the very bottom of such models of moral development as illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Christian morality places us near the bottom of Lawrence Kohlberg’s “Stages of Moral Development”: “moral reasoning, based on reward and punishment.” Kohlberg’s model needs not be understood as authoritative but merely representative of the plausible psychological concept of “stages in moral development.” (https://pmhealthnp.com/pmhnp-topics/moral-development/)
In terms of content, four out of the Ten Commandments focus entirely upon proselytizing, conformity, coercion, and intolerance of religious diversity. There is truly nothing “moral” about any of these four. At the same time, some really important things, things that are famously tolerated in the bible, are entirely missing from the Ten Commandments. You won’t find any commandments such as:
Thou shalt not rape.
Thou shalt not make of thy neighbor a slave.
Thou shalt respect the autonomy of all persons.
Being bound in chains is an obvious denial of our freedom. But the impingement upon personal autonomy through coercion and manufactured need is insidious and problematic in its own regard. It is because the egregious wrong is itself compounded by a sweet sounding lie. When you are in chains, you know you are a slave. You generally have some idea of who enslaves you. But when the more subtle means of coercion is in play, people are not necessarily aware. Those who are coerced often believe they are free. They may have no awareness whatsoever of the chains that bind them, of what or who is pulling the strings, or of how they might hope to become free. Coercion may be more subtle, but it can be equally immoral.
Coercion demonstrates indifference to human autonomy, our right to self-determination. It is the bedrock upon which modern American corporate capitalism is founded. It has grown to become an accepted norm of social relations in America. Coercion in service to sales or profit as intrinsic goods, with the concomitant reduction of human beings to mere means-to-an-end, is a doubly wicked moral wrong.
Americans are famously proud and protective of their much vaunted “freedom.” No other buzz word will whip Americans into a defensive frenzy or patriotic fervor with greater alacrity. But when they are coerced into buying or consuming, they are not free. When they are pressured into needing a newer, bigger truck or more and more pistols and rifles, they are not free. When fashion determines what they buy, which in turn determines their social status, they are not free. When their purchasing power defines their sense of worth or they work at meaningless and unfulfilling jobs to live according to the dictates of consumerist propaganda and social pressure, they are not free. When their life has no greater purpose than to consume and produce, they are coerced. They are not free.
In the same manner, when Christians are taught that sex is defilement or that forgiveness comes from “beyond,” they are not free. When they’re told that justice will be meted out from “on high” or in the coming afterlife, they are not free. When they learn that they are forgiven for atrocities great and small while the rest of us are bound to burn in hell—regardless of the good we do—they are not free. They are coerced into believing that humans are inherently sinful and that experiencing lust, sloth, or gluttony makes us dirty and evil and bound for eternal hellfire and damnation. They are coerced into believing that God will heal our alcoholism or addiction if we just allow him to. When they’re told that education and knowledge are sins or that evolution is “just a theory,” they are coerced and manipulated. They are not really free.
Money Makes the World Go Around …
While it is not news that capitalism idealizes the almighty dollar and a decidedly materialistic version of the good life, it is generally thought that this obsession with the worldly runs entirely counter to the religious life. The religiously devout are, in theory, less interested in the earthly pleasures associated with wealth. The face of Christianity is Jesus Christ, a character famously understood to be austere and opposed to the accumulation of wealth and the wealthy lifestyles of the rich and famous. But, as ever, the truth is that Christianity is rife with duplicitous insincerity.
In the Baptist church that my wife attended as a teenager, she was told that every dime she gave to the church would be worth a dollar in heaven. She was told she would live in a mansion on a golden hill, rather than in a small shack at the bottom, if she gave to the church. Behind the mask, behind the scenes, the pious, religious authorities, their institutions, and their congregants, have all historically been far more enamored of wealth, power, and their attendant rewards than the Christ ideal would suggest.
It’s all supposedly okay, however, because Christianity emphasizes forgiveness. The stress is not really upon worldly privation, austerity, or even self-discipline so much as redemption, salvation, and forgiveness for perpetual sinfulness after the fact. Christians aren’t perfect. Just forgiven. The rest of us? Not so much.
As seen on American streets and highways.
We are all born sinners. But so long as we seek God’s forgiveness, we are saved from hellfire and damnation. It is a sad fact that millions of Christians have, throughout history, been inclined toward the most immoral of lifestyles yet taught to believe that all their wrongdoing was expunged by virtue of a quick deferential visit to God’s emissaries. A week, a month, a year, even a lifetime of foul play and evil deeds followed by a minute or two of absolution, and—poof!—the slate is magically wiped clean. All sins forgiven. The gates of heaven remain open. Thank you, Jesus!
The Catholic tradition of granting indulgences is a perfect example of the covetousness and greed that thrive under Christianity’s protective umbrella. The practice of offering (read: selling) indulgences was officially sanctioned in 1095 and rescinded in 1567. Of course, in a wide range of unofficial respects, the time-honored practice of bribery was practiced well before and well after this time. Bribery is, after all, a ubiquitous, universal practice.
Essentially, indulgences were exactly as heinous as they sound: they were absolution for sale. Those sinners who could afford it could buy their way out of condemnation and into God’s good graces. Religious authorities were empowered to dispense forgiveness and absolution. In practice, this generally involved some recommended element of penance, such as confession or prayer. In other words, indulgences were a thinly veiled bribe.
The truth is that Christianity is no stranger to the type of preoccupation with acquisitiveness and material abundance that characterizes the stereotypical mercantile capitalist, in terms of the accumulation but also in terms of the enjoyment of the wealthy lifestyle. Christianity seeks to cultivate belief in humble privation as a noble ideal. But such virtues are not always reflected in the abundant riches that accumulate in the hands of the average American. In the United States today, there are more than 20 million people who are millionaires and approximately 700 billionaires. Based on several surveys (Pew and Gallup), 70 percent of these at least would be Christians, the alleged disciples of Jesus Christ. What’s wrong with this picture?
Nor is the alleged Christian ideal of humble privation reflected in the Christian institutions themselves. The Catholic Church is abundantly wealthy well beyond necessity, well beyond reason, beyond even decency, some might suggest. It is currently estimated to be the third largest owner of real estate in the entire world. The Church may preach such ideals as self-denial, simplicity, and even poverty, but it tends to practice something else entirely, both individually and collectively.
… And Around …
Religion has its long and storied history of providing both venue and shelter to all manner of money-grubbing charlatans and creeps, of every shape and stripe, the many “Chaucerian frauds … people who are simply pickpockets … who prey upon the gullible,” in the words of the venerable, if slightly outraged, Christopher Hitchens, speaking with reporter Anderson Cooper on the occasion of Jerry Falwell’s alleged ascension toward heaven. Or not …
Although church attendance is down in many parts of the United States and the world, at least one branch of Christian endeavor is thriving: televised evangelical preaching and megachurches. This modern breed of mass-marketing missionaries reveals starkly that Christianity is not above the flagrant self-seeking more commonly associated with the unapologetic materialism of the broker and banker. A good number of these preachers are millionaires or even billionaires. Their ministries generate millions in personal income and profit. They enjoy the same benefits as the rest of today’s one-percenters: vast estates, mansions, personal jets, suites of limousines, and expensive lawyers on retainer to safeguard their abundant wealth and personal image.
Modern televangelists, a demographic with more than its fair share of covetous, acquisitive swindlers and “Chaucerian frauds,” have the faithful, cash-contributing devotion of millions of ardent believers. These ministers continue the long-standing tradition of wielding significant political influence. Church authorities have historically lived lives of power and prestige, much as the successful mercantile capitalists do today. Kings, queens, and presidents may technically rule, but they do so only at the behest of a coterie of allies and assistants. As with our chimpanzee brothers and sisters in the wild, Homo sapiens gain power by forming alliances. Christian authorities have long constituted essential elements in such coalitions.
The televised preachers of modern Christianity are by no means exceptions to the rule. Earlier evangelists such as Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell demonstrated considerable power over millions of voters and consumers and had the personal ear of the powerful. They could be counted upon to sway their audiences toward the conservative end of the political spectrum and to generate huge sums of money. And, contrary to literally everything Christ allegedly stood for, most of these performers and proselytizers enjoyed the profuse products of their power with profligate passion.
The prosperity gospel is an increasingly common means by which Christian preachers pursue such self-serving ends. They preach to their congregants that God also wants them to have material abundance and riches. Their vast congregations are encouraged to pray for worldly gain and their own personal, material riches. They are asked to believe that God is fine with millionaire preachers. They are fervently encouraged to give of their newfound prosperity to the church and to believe that this is God’s will, even their Christian duty. The prosperity gospel says: make money, get wealthy, and contribute to the televangelist’s wealth in the process.
Not merely an American phenomenon, the megachurch, televangelism, and the prosperity gospel are becoming increasingly popular around the globe. Cash Luna has made millions for himself running one of the largest megachurches in Latin America from poverty-stricken Guatemala. Billionaire Alph Lukua is the richest prosperity gospel preacher in all of Africa and quite possibly the world. The megachurch and the televangelist have become a mainstay in modern Christianity on an international, global scale.
Capitalism famously celebrates and idealizes material self-interest. But Christianity has historically preached the very opposite. Through the personhood of Jesus Christ, it has historically preached humility, self-sacrifice, and service to others. Yet here is greed and excessive self-interest in as flagrant a form as any capitalist board or boiler room. From the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells to today’s Copelands and Osteens—as well as the Lunas and Lukuas of the world: all guilty.
They are twice guilty. By preaching the prosperity gospel they are seeking to justify, and to draw their congregation into complicity with, their own immoral, excessive lifestyles. But they are also guilty of gargantuan-scale hypocrisy. To harm others in this manner is a particularly wicked form of coercion and duplicity, parading as it does under a saintly guise.
… And Around!
Christianity lies in many ways. For example, the “saints” of history have been branded as benevolent, kindly do-gooders. Often, however, they were less promoters of moral good than promoters of Christian conversion, the eradication of alternative beliefs and practices, and widespread conformity at all costs. The ends of proselytizing and conversion justified any means necessary—even torture or death—to save souls. If one was sufficiently successful in promoting the Christian brand—eliminating infidelity, idolatry, paganism, and atheism—one was canonized a saint. The prosecution, persecution, torture, and murder of thousands accused of witchcraft is a well-known example of such saintly brand promotion. As it says in Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
The persecution of those accused of witchcraft in Euro-America was extremely good business. Though masquerading as something far more noble or spiritual, it was actually fueled in large part by simple earthly desires. The excessive self-interest that drove the Euro-American witch hunt has been obscured by religious lies, falsehoods, indoctrination, and propaganda.
Witch-hunting, with all its attendant torture, suffering, burnings, and death, was all whipped into a frenzy in part as a result of the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum. This work served to help turn witch-hunting into a religious crusade, an essential defense of Christianity, and an extraordinarily lucrative business as well. But the witch craze caught fire (so to speak) largely because it was profitable. The religious authorities invested with the task of playing judge, jury, and executioner benefited greatly from the hysteria, as did several peripheral participants as well. As Carl Sagan described in his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:
[Much of the witch-hunting was motivated by] greed of the inquisitors, who routinely confiscated, for their own benefit, the property of the accused. … It quickly became an expense account scam, all costs of investigation, trial, and execution were borne by the accused or her relatives, down to per-diems for the private detectives hired to spy on her, wine for her guards, banquets for her judges, the travel expenses of a messenger, sent to fetch a more experienced torturer from another city, and the faggots, tar, and hangman’s rope. Then there was a bonus to the members of her tribunal for each witch burned. The convicted witches’ remaining property, if any, was divided between church and state. … Witch finders … were employed, receiving a handsome bounty for each girl or woman they turned over for execution.
The infamous church-and-state sanctioned persecution and murder of tens of thousands of innocent people strongly suggests that Christianity has always been less interested in doing what is genuinely moral and right and far more interested in power and wealth, material abundance, and the worldly pleasures that riches command than we tend to recognize.
Into the Future
One final, and essential, respect in which capitalism and Christianity are alike is that each demonstrates a total disregard for our future. Neither contribute anything toward a constructive vision of our earthly future, toward the cultivation of a civilization of Homo sapiens and other animals living peacefully in a genuinely sustainable manner, happy and healthy, upon a beautiful, verdant planet Earth for generations to come. One treats our little blue, green, and white orb as a resource to be exploited; the other as a temporary, inferior place from which we should all be working and praying for our inevitable escape. Neither serves as a proper foundation for the cultivation of an ethos of sustainability.
Concern with the future is central to the Christian mind. It’s just not the real future. The Christian mind is concerned with the fate of pseudoscientific, fictional entities: human souls. Such a misguided concern for our future is perhaps even worse than no concern at all.
Capitalism, for its part, is well in touch with reality yet has no concern for the future. Capitalism inclines increasingly toward a competitive frenzy of acquisitiveness, particularly as the apparent limits to growth give us less and less room for such sentimental concerns as environmentalism, extinctions, global warming, or the fate of our grandchildren. One cares about the future yet pays no attention to reality; the other is attentive to reality yet blind to the future.
A Christian stewardship model has gained traction as environmentalist concerns grow more pressing. But its numbers could be literally buried beneath an avalanche of apocalyptic, rapture-oriented faithful, watching movies about being “left behind,” and generally being preoccupied with the afterlife. Hitchens famously decried religion’s eschatological feature, this cornerstone orientation toward death and the better world beyond.
Modern American capitalism, for its part, offers a similarly tepid notion of “enlightened” capitalism. We can all cite examples of businesses large and small with forward-thinking, long-view conscientiousness, but these are exceptions that prove the rule, standing as they do against a backdrop of generalized avarice and short-sighted indifference. This grows increasingly problematic as we shift from small family-run, community-oriented businesses to the type of massive, impersonal behemoths that have come to dominate the landscape of the world marketplace in modern times. Big business has made the coercive model of interpersonal dynamic into humanity’s new normal.
The common roots of these two ideologies are readily apparent in this dysfunctional orientation toward humanity’s natural future. Capitalism acquired its irresponsibility from its parent ideology. Human exceptionalism, the belief that nature is here for our exploitation, traces back to the pseudoscience of Abrahamic dualism, the belief that we humans are both separate from, and superior to, the natural realm.
From Problem to Solution
So, what about a new, different option, beyond both Christianity and capitalism? The solution to our problems lies not in our long-ago past but within Homo sapiens’ cumulative and mutualistic form of intelligence—our scientific, secular, rational, atheist, and humanist knowledge—and the subsequent progress that we have been making since the Renaissance.
The first step is to become critically aware of the problematic nature of the pseudoscientific, short-sighted perspectives and practices that we have inherited from our past and that currently dominate human civilization. Our solutions are not in the past despite what Abrahamic culture and tradition have long promulgated. Atheism is, at root, the recognition and rejection of fallacious and problematic beliefs inherited from the past. The path to a beautiful, positive future begins with atheism. But it does not end there.
This must be accompanied by the development and widespread acceptance of a science-friendly, secular perspective. Such a change entails nothing less than a complete and total revolution in our conception of who and what we are, of what we are doing here, and of how we should live. This process is in fact well underway, as evinced by the popularity of such authors as Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Steven Pinker, as well as the rising number of Nones and otherwise nonaffiliated persons within the past decade.
One major step forward in this process was Charles Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. This was a radical change in both form and content. In form, it represented a major win for scientific epistemology over religious ways of knowing and understanding. In content, it far more accurately described our true nature as evolved animals interdependent within an environmental context and fundamentally related in varying degrees to all other life forms within our earthly biosphere. Essentially, this was a “new and improved” origin story for Homo sapiens, for all life as we know it, one founded upon science and reason rather than fiction and faith.
Another significant step away from ignorance and toward enlightenment is our radical transition from illiteracy to literacy. Within little more than a century, Homo sapiens has progressed from 90 percent illiteracy to 90 percent literacy. This is the foundation for some serious and genuine revolutionary change. As Harvard’s Steven Pinker pointed out in his brilliant work The Better Angels of Our Nature, building upon Singer’s Expanding Circle, there is an essential connection between this explosive rise in literacy and the very real progress that human civilization is making.
Within less than 200 years, we have grown from 90 percent illiterate to 90 percent literate. (https://ourworldindata.org/literacy)
This leads to a third factor worthy of consideration: the important distinction between indoctrination and education. More so than any other species that has ever evolved into existence upon this planet, Homo sapiens is the quintessential learning animal. For us, more so than any other species of animal or organism, nurture can often override nature. As with so much in life, this is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that we are easily prone to indoctrination. Christianity and capitalism both spread their roots deep and wide within this fertile soil.
The good news is that as we shift from indoctrination to genuine, autonomy-respecting education, considerable progress is being made. It is no coincidence that good education inclines people away from faith and toward the atheist, humanist perspective. It is significant that the standard four-year liberal arts education tends, on average, to shift students away from faith and toward reason. The growing number of human beings acquiring such types of education both explains some of the progress we are making and serves as a template for future growth.
The more genuinely knowledgeable and educated we become, the more we will reject problematic ideologies and lifestyles anchoring us in the past. The more we reject those ideologies and lifestyles, the more we will enjoy the many benefits of freedom from religion. We will be able to progress from faith to reason, religious to scientific epistemology, and indoctrination to education. We will go from embracing the supernatural to the natural, fiction to fact, and ignorance to enlightenment.
Capitalism is, in many respects, an offshoot of Christianity. As capitalism developed, it borrowed significantly from the most successful sales model in society at the time: Christianity. In earlier Euro-America, as capitalism emerged and developed, Christianity was the dominant paradigm in terms of mass marketing, public relations, indoctrination, management, political influence, brand loyalty, and, of …