JR'S Free Thought Pages
The Christian and Capitalist Contempt for the Natural World
By JR, www.skeptic.ca, July 2019
“More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness; the other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly” – Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates, 1979, during the dawn of the Reagan/Thatcher neo-conservative neo-liberal dystopian nightmare
Capitalism, not unlike Christianity from which it emerged, considers the natural world as merely a utilitarian destination for plunder and exploitation. In the case of capitalism, mammon is to be mobilized to whichever part of the planet that can be manipulated and generally abused to turn a profit. Moreover, both Capitalism and Christianity are doctrinaire ideologies that are both hierarchical and authoritarian and both employ relentless surveillance on its citizens and disciples respectively; the former by the corporate capitalist state and the latter by an invisible omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient deity (1). All political systems and religions throughout history have been authoritarian and our capitalist increasingly neo-fascist socio-economic global world order is no exception; in fact it could be one of the most immoral, unjust and tyrannical as any system that has ever existed, including theocracy and monarchy. Slavery, condoned in both the Old and New Testament, and which, in addition to theft and plunder, was the economic driver of the first two or more centuries of colonialist capitalism, is merely one example of their mutual moral depravity. One could effectively argue that slavery is still with us since if wage labour is so low that one cannot survive, there’s only a qualitative difference between today’s wage slavery and the slavery that existed throughout most of the world until the mid nineteenth century.
Christianity lost its moral authority when it was relegated from minor cult to state religion by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early Fourth century BCE. Christianity rapidly mimicked the declining Roman Empire as it became equally bureaucratic, powerful, corrupt, decadent and tyrannical. The seven “deadly sins” (including power, greed, gluttony, avarice, envy, acquisitiveness and opulence) of the hierarchical Medieval Christian Church became cardinal virtues, not only of the Church, but of the capitalist world order that emerged from the dark ages of the Medieval World. Some have argued that the Protestant Reformation was not really revolutionary or even reformist, but rather its leaders Martin Luther and John Calvin were the precursors to Bismarck’s German nationalism and the fascism of Hitler’s Third Reich. And capitalism flourished as much under authoritarian regimes such as fascism as it did under the phoney republican and parliamentary “democracies”.
The minimalist ethical principle, the golden rule, is often attributed to Confucius and Jesus. This well-known ethical rule prevails in the modern world as it did in the past; that is, “those who have the gold make the rules”. Sadly, both Capitalism and Christianity are immoral, breaching not only the “real” golden rule (do not do to others as you would not want done to yourself), but this is also the case with both the Kantian imperative that persons are not to be used as means to someone else’s end and the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number.
Capitalism, it is generally assumed, emerged about the same time as the Enlightenment – the eighteenth century – and, like the Enlightenment, entailed a variety of critiques of feudalism and organized religion, specifically Christianity with its anti-democratic philosophy, anti-scientific supernatural metaphysic and inane superstitions. Despite this, capitalism adopted many of the most negative and destructive of Christianity’s doctrines. Contempt for the natural world, dogmatism, persecution and authoritarianism are just four. Humanity, if it expects to survive, will require a new set of anti-capitalist and anti-Christian values that examines our toxic relationship to the natural world and to one another. Unless a new set of values to replace the Capitalist/ Christian dogmas is accepted on a global scale, we shall continue to have worsening ecological crises until we reach the point of no return. In fact, some climate scientists claim we have already crossed the tipping point and we ought to simply prepare for the coming environmental calamities and collapse of the earth’s ecosystems.
Notwithstanding the biblical story about Jesus driving the money changers out of the Temple, referring to them as “a den of thieves” and more recently of the profit-centric world view, Pope Francis warned, “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market, to provide economic justice”. In reality, the Catholic Church of the feudalistic Middle Age was the primary locus for the first developments of capitalism. Max Weber had located the origin of capitalism in modern Protestant cities, but most of today’s historians consider the origins of capitalism much earlier, in rural areas where monasteries, specifically those of the Benedictine monks and nuns, who began to theorize and rationalize economic life.
There have been very brief periods of radical trends within Christianity such as the late nineteenth century social gospel movement (that Christian socialist politicians such as Tommy Douglas in Canada and Norman Thomas in the United States embraced) and the mid 20th century liberation theology movement within Catholicism. But despite Jesus’ ostensibly socialist revolutionary persona and his contempt for money lovers and financial parasites in his own day, I’ve always been perplexed by the almost universal embrace of capitalism by contemporary mainstream Christianity.
It was the church more than any other agency, writes historian Randall Collins, that put in place what Weber called the preconditions of capitalism: the rule of law and a bureaucracy for rationally resolving disputes; a specialized and mobile labour force; the institutional permanence that allows for trans-generational investment and sustained intellectual and physical efforts, together with the accumulation of long-term capital and a zest for discovery, enterprise, wealth creation, and other profit generating projects.
When one today reflects on the pervasive depravation and dismal state of the natural world and particularly on similar decadent, corrupt and degenerate periods of history such as when Nero apparently quite amusingly watched Rome burn - and the decline of other Empires throughout history from the Ottoman and barbaric British - the parallels are disturbingly similar. One is prompted to invoke the French truism plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. In today’s globalized dystopia we are once again plagued by neo-fascist authoritarians, ignoramuses and buffoons such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsanaro and Boris Johnson (2) now the heads of state of some of our largest countries in which economic inequalities and debt at all levels of society both private and public are unprecedented. Imperialist wars continue relentlessly with the threat of nuclear weapons being employed, possibly inciting another World War. Like the Roman and British Empires, the military of the US Empire is over-extended with 900 military bases throughout the world. This week in the United States the Pentagon released its unprecedented, obscene and wasteful $1.48 trillion budget which was passed by the majorities of both Republicans and Democrats. And the US military is one of the biggest polluters and contributors to the spectre of global warming. This is an empire totally out of control in addition to being morally and fiscally bankrupt. The United States is heading for the same collapse as other empires throughout history.
Most depressing of all, however, is the unsustainable theology of infinite growth capitalism coterminous with a finite planet. This state of affairs has been well known since the 1970s. Pollution (just take a walk down the shores of the Chilliwack River, a two minute walk from our home) and species loss is rampant (except for homo saps of course), biodiversity seriously threatened and the ecosystems of the planet are slowly dying. Oceans, circling the drain, now have more plastic than sea life. Many people are surprised when they learn that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed on earth are extinct. But since the advent of industrialization when capitalism took over as the dominant global zeitgeist, the rate of extinction has now increased to the point at which it is now 1000 times more rapid than in pre-industrial societies. Also the Christian imperative of “go forth and multiply” has been as disastrous as the capitalist doctrine of greed, plunder and profit; we now nearing 8 billion people on the planet, argued by some Malthusian population pundits to be too many by a factor of five.
Global heating is being ignored by our corporate oligarchs and their dupes in government who merely do their bidding, unless of course there is a profit to be made from the disaster. Otherwise, nothing will be done.
To cite one example, if the glaciers and ice caps that cover Greenland were to completely melt, all major cities on the world’s seacoasts would be eventually under water.
But the responsibility for the wanton disregard of the natural world can be deposited squarely into the laps of Christianity, its depraved death cult philosophy in which its guru Jesus was sacrificially murdered to purge the sins of all mankind while at the same time non-believers are relegated to their make believe hell to burn for eternity and finally there is the disastrous disregard by Christianity, even contempt, for the natural world. The Judeo-Christian play book, merging quite seamlessly with the global capitalist ideology, is one of a planet made solely for man’s use, manipulation and exploitation, as laid out in the book of Genesis, freeing humankind from any responsibility for laying waste to the natural environment and all life. The message of Judeo-Christianity is that man alone is infused with the spirit of the one true alpha male God while everything else is deemed dead matter relegated to human utility. This incorporates all other species, including non-Christian humans who are also deemed expendable objects of utility and exploitation. This was graphically exposed in Christianity’s complicity in the theft, slavery and genocide of indigenous people over five centuries of Western European colonialism and imperialism.
Pause a moment to recall the ominous words of Genesis 1:26-28
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth....And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it...and have dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth”. (3)
By destroying pagan animism and all other world views including a flourishing science in the classical world, Christianity made it possible to exploit and despoil nature in a mood of indifference to the existence and feelings of natural objects. Nature exists to simply serve homo saps. With this disenchantment man’s effective monopoly on “spirit” was confirmed and the prohibitions that once held back the total plunder and gang rape of the natural world collapsed. The Indigenous peoples of the world who were massacred, enslaved, had their lands stolen and were subjected to genocide understood this well - but not the so-called Enlightened Christian capitalist invaders, enslavers and mass murderers from Western Europe.
Behaving like non-existent gods got us into this Christian induced hyper-capitalist disaster and more of the same won’t get us out. In fact some climate scientists claim that regardless of what we do now, we’ve crossed the tipping point – the point of no return. Our delusional proclivities and inability to accept limits (the essence of what it means to be moral) that come with being part of the “natural world” is a bizarre expression term when used to contrast with “human,” as if we arrogant hubris plagued humans were somehow not part of the natural world
In short, we are very likely screwed. It’s incredible we’ve survived this long. And if you cannot face life’s vicissitudes and require the palliatives of religion to get through the day, perhaps opt for one of the thousands of alternatives that are not all about power, control and exploitation - like Buddhism for example. Even better, just say no to religion as you would in an attempt to cure toxic dependencies and addictions such as alcoholism or cell phones.
(1) The Christian God’s omnipresence makes Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Donald Trump and other earthy fascist surveillance state dictators look like benign Buddha’s. He/she/it is everywhere at once, relentlessly spying on his flock of unsuspecting credulous human creations, even knowing one’s innermost private thoughts, equipped and able to severely punish in his specially designed hell fires for the most minor indiscretion or violation of any of his ten “commandments” or any other violation that offends this vindictive psychopathic celestial tyrant. As for big business and its compliant capitalist state, its relentless scrutiny of the daily lives of workers has always played an important role in enabling capitalists to squeeze greater profits from their workforce. The relentless surveillance of employees (far worse today with the nefarious technology available and complicity of parasitic corporate behemoths such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple – the GAFA), whether it’s on the factory floor or in the workers’ homes, was something that the Hitler and Mussolini admiring union bashing anti-Semitic industrialist Henry Ford was proud to have perfected to a fine managerial art. This sordid history is well-established, although little known and certainly not taught in any high school history course. In fact, the website of the Henry Ford Museum boasts that a central part of the Ford Motor Company’s much vaunted $5 per day profit-sharing plan, which was rolled out in 1914, was that Ford “opened up the most intimate and personal details of employee’s personal, family, and financial life to investigators from the Ford Sociological Department. During the 1960s and 70s, surveillance twinned with violent state repression of activists — including police and FBI assassinations like that of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton were a vital tool in the ruling-class heightened class war against what little democracy that existed. But even this paucity of democracy was too much for the corporate military state as students at Kent State University in Ohio were seriously wounded and four killed by the military called in by Tricky Dick Nixon to subdue a demonstration. The reactionary position by power elites to 1960s and 70s student unrest, anti-war protests and the civil rights movement by power elites was the 1975 Trilateral Commission’s 1975 report titled “The Crisis of Democracy”, an anti-democratic neo-fascist screed whose creation was born from the elitist orientation of this think-tank’s creators and financiers, of which one leading funder was the Ford Foundation. Now there are the Koch Brothers, Bill Gates Foundation and dozens of other stealth like reactionary “think tanks” and lobby groups that overwhelm pro-democracy progressive and environmental movements that attempt to promote the commons and any small effort to social justice. Backing them are, as they have always done, are the omnipresent power of the police and military who stand ready to “serve and protect” the interests of wealth and power.
(2) Boris Johnson (BoJo), now Prime Minister was an MP for Uxbridge. Born into decadent silver spoon wealth and privilege, the millionaire once described his £250,000 a year salary as a columnist for The Telegraph as “chicken feed.” In his role as Brussels correspondent, he spread what one Telegraph editor described as fake news about the European Union. Having served as Mayor of London and Foreign Secretary, BoJo (or is it Bozo?) is in most ways a typical Conservative despicable asshole. According to a voting analysis website, he: “Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas”; “Consistently voted for the Iraq war” (2002-2003); “Almost always voted for replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system”; “Consistently voted for military action against ISIL (Daesh)”; “Has never voted on reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the ‘bedroom tax’)” (abstaining on such a bill effectively means voting for it); “Almost always voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability”; “Almost always voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits”; “Consistently voted against higher taxes on banks”; “Generally voted for more restrictive regulation of trade union activity”; “Generally voted for reducing capital gains tax”; “Almost always voted for reducing the rate of corporation tax”; “Generally voted for a stricter asylum system”; “Generally voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules”; “Consistently voted for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities”; “Almost always voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life”; and so on.
(3) Reacting against the social Darwinian idea of an inherent biological conflict built in to human life, as well as against the individualism inherent in Cartesian philosophy and mechanistic science, radical contrarian thinkers such as Lewis Mumford, René Dubos and Murray Bookchin all stressed the importance of mutual aid and symbiosis in the understanding of the biosphere, as well as in human social affairs. All three pay tribute to the ecological vision of the Russian geographer and anarchist Peter Kropotkin, who introduced the idea that mutual aid may have an evolutionary basis. This meant that they were not only critical of Cartesian dualism but also of the scientific notion, most famously developed by Francis Bacon in his De Augmentis Scientiarum of 1623, that, like Christianity and Capitalism, consider the natural world merely as a human resource, encouraging domination and exploitation of the natural world. For the past five centuries, this view has resulted what can only described as a gang rape of Mother Nature. All three of these three men rejected the supernatural and none doubted the reality of the material world. As Mumford expressed, it only a lunatic would fail to recognise the physical environment, and the need to breathe air, eat food and drink water. Spirituality, a rather open ended concept, to them was a sense of awe, respect and reverence towards the natural world, a quasi-religious view embraced by most indigenous peoples of the world, people who were denigrated and deemed mere objects of exploitation. Remaining true to the Enlightenment tradition they therefore emphasise the need to uphold its fundamental values, namely, liberty and the freedom of the individual, equality and social justice, cosmopolitanism and tolerance - and the need to develop a radical form of direct democracy. Like prominent British humanists such as Julian Huxley, they deny that humans can be the masters' of nature, and offer powerful critiques of the Francis Bacon’s dream of mastery over the natural world. Dubos argued that such a Faustian attitude was not only misplaced and dangerous, but contrary to biology itself. Fully embracing Darwin's evolutionary theory, Mumford – a literary and architecture critic – Dubos – a microbiologist – and Bookchin – an anarchist environmentalist – emphasise that humans are a product of natural evolution, and that there is continuity and a symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural world, specifically other life-forms. All three scholars thus repudiate Cartesian philosophy, with its dualistic metaphysics - implying a fundamental dichotomy between humans and nature, the body and the mind - and its atomistic epistemology and anthropocentric ethics that propose the technological mastery of nature. Following Darwin, they emphasise that the world of nature is not a machine but an evolutionary process, which can only be understood, not unlike James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, by an organic developmental way of thinking and a holistic or relational epistemology. As pioneer ecologists these men offered illuminating prophetic accounts of the current ecological crisis. They underscored the degradation of the natural environment under industrial capitalism - the pollution of the atmosphere and of rivers and lakes; deforestation, the limitations of industrial agriculture and the adverse effects of toxic pesticides and soil erosion, species and biodiversity loss, the problems of chemical additives in food, the dangers of nuclear power and the serious decline in the quality of urban life through over-crowding, overpopulation, pollution, poverty and traffic congestion. Along with the economist Barbara Ward, Dubos drafted the report Only One Earth, which set the agenda for the United Nations Conference on the human environment in 1972, and some 50 years ago both Dubos and Bookchin were emphasizing, with some prescience, the dangers of global warming. Long before the anti-globalisation movement, Mumford, Dubos and Bookchin were suggesting that the ecological crisis had its roots in an ever-expanding industrial capitalism, obsessed with economic growth and competition, a market economy that was geared to profits and power rather than human needs. All three were highly critical of the "mega-machine" of industrial and technological (and today financial corporatist) capitalism and its often unanticipated dire consequences for the planet.
(4) In 1962 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is considered by many to be the genesis of the ecology movement despite its reformative narrow focus on the wanton dispersal of poisonous insecticides such as DDT. Earlier in that year Murray Bookchin published a lesser known but far more radical and comprehensive analysis in his book Our Synthetic Environment. He focused not only on the chemical contamination but the havoc and despoliation on the natural environment created by the capitalist system and its culture of exploitation and plunder that is literally “undoing the work of organic evolution”. In several subsequent books Bookchin argued for an ecological revolution that he called social ecology, the development of a new anti-capitalist anti-statist ecological philosophy based on mutual aid (influenced by the ideas of Peter Kropotkin), a people’s technology adapted to human scale with definable limits, decentralized participatory direct democracy communities, libertarian non-hierarchical relations that would create harmony not only among people but between humanity and the natural world. Sadly, since Bookchin’s death in 2006, the world has become more centralized and authoritarian in the dystopian global corporatist capitalist world order (aka neo-liberalism) that is devouring the world’s resources like a plague of locusts causing global warming and collapse of ecosystems throughout the world. This rape of the planet is accompanied by widespread irrationality (profit before all else) and criminality by banks and other parasitic financial institutions that operate with impunity, rampant consumerism, the proliferation and obsession with superfluous commodities (such as cell phones and other intrusive noxious technologies) as substitutes for genuine human social interaction, imperialism, militarism, police state authoritarianism, neo-fascism and growing disempowerment of people by bureaucracies, mass media propaganda, sophisticated surveillance and massive prison systems. Those who are scrambling for the rapidly disappearing jobs with a liveable wage are told to become narcissistic entrepreneurial egotists who disingenuously refer to themselves as “job creators”.
(5) For readers interested in Murray Bookchin’s ideas, there are his many books and a large archive of some of his writings here: