On capitalism as a religion

There is an ongoing debate in scientific circles about whether science is a religion. To me it is clearly so, but to many just as clearly not.

The question, of course comes down to what one means by “a religion.”

To me a religion is more defined by the role it plays in the “believer’s” life than anything else.  Well, perhaps in his/her “thinking” more than “life.”

If the assumptions of the subject are taken as unquestionable truths, in my view, it’s a religion.  At least it is for most people.  So I see science as a religion whose basic assumptions are about the supremacy of logic as the ultimate arbiter of all questions.

By this measure, though, we have many religions. Take economic systems,for example. The obvious devotion so many in the west have for the practice of capitalism would suggest that it carries the baggage of ” religion.”

And I think it does.

The important question, though, is whether the religion continues to serve the best interest of its people.  The answer is not one of black and white, for some aspects may do so, while others do not.

Current trends in the world suggest we should be examining  both science and capitalism on this point.  Humanity is a cancer on the earth, consuming it whole. And the dual religions of science and capitalism aren’t serving us well in this regard.

Without science, we’d have never succeeded so well as to present any danger of having fatal effects on the ecosystem of the entire earth.  But we do, now.

Without capitalism, we’d not be rushing toward the most disastrous outcome possible nearly as quickly as we are, nor accelerating at such a pace.  But we are, and reversing the course isn’t possible within the capitalistic system.

The traditionally recognized religions are hardly less culpable.  In particular, how can a cancer ever go int remission without coming to a realization that it is no more important than every other piece of tissue in the body?  Yet I am unaware of a traditional religion that doesn’t, at least by implication and practice, assume exactly the opposite.

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2 Responses to On capitalism as a religion

  1. Dallas Smith says:

    George, This is a very well-written and thoughtful post. I will offer a different personal perspective. My personal belief is that whatever any individual professes to believe, whether a traditional religion, a scientific orientation, an particular economic perspective, or whatever, is of limited consequence. There are certainly a range of believers within any specific belief system, from ultra-altruistic to ultra-selfish. What matters, in my opinion, is how any individual, regardless of belief orientation, treats me, other people, and the environment in general. In other words, I would endorse and support any individual whose beliefs work to the benefit of others and the environment. If not, then I condemn the individual for using their belief system as justification for doing harm to other people or the environment.

    Rather than viewing humanity as a cancer on the earth, I prefer the virus analogy. Viruses reproduce blindly, taking sustenance from their host, but harming rather than benefiting the host. Like the viral cells, individuals inherently seek their own personal survival and propagation, whether it benefits the social and physical environment, or not. The history of the world’s religions, philosophies, and economic systems has not shown any belief system to be broad enough or powerful enough to counter the viral nature of humanity’s potential destructions of Gaia.

    • George says:

      The choice of designating humanity as a virus, rather than a cancer is probably not of primary importance, although I still prefer the latter. One distinction, however, does seem important to me.

      Significantly, cancer cells are not alien to the host. But they cease being a positive force for the well-being of the host gradually as they develop an increasingly large sense of their own importance and correspondingly smaller appreciation of the importance of the whole.

      It is not wrong for a virus to regard itself as being more important than the host. Viruses have ways of propagating whether or not the host survives. While the destruction of the host may be traumatic for the individuals comprising the infection of the individual-whole-host-,the loss of the whole doesn’t destroy the virus, which is a separate entity.

      The opposite is true of a cancer.

      And therein lies the flaw in most environmental thinking, I think. The thing that makes us a cancer is our belief that our well-being is the most important thing-indeed, the only truly important thing. Without that error-which is, btw, wrong-we would never have become a tumor threatening the survival of the whole.

      And as long as we don’t reject that position entirely our responses to environmental responses are no different than a tumor’s ingenious ways of getting blood to the interior, or metastasizing to assure many locations to thrive no matter what difficulties any one colony might encounter, or any of the many survival techniques the cancers we know utilize to thwart our efforts to control them in our own bodies.

      Without making this kind of paradigm change in how we perceive our relationship to the whole, I see nothing encouraging in our approach to solving the crises we will continue to encounter, whether or not we figure ways to deal with energy, or coal, or heat, or any of the rest of it.

      In contrast to your negative views of the scope and power of religion, I suspect they are the only possibility of escorting in this level of change. In fact, I’m not familiar enough with pre-agricultural societies to say that the religions of that era didn’t have exactly the kind of grasp on mankind’s relative insignificance that we need to regain. That may have played a very important role in why our population never was a threat to the whole until the last few millennia.

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