Most secularists contend that faith belongs to the realm beyond the realm of “neutral” reason. However, most (all?) secularists regularly fail to see the extent to which they allow faith to dictate the course and conditions of their day to day lives. Below is a provoking essay on the extent to which we’ve allowed the language of faith to be adopted in our view of the U.S. economy. Read the whole thing.
But now we are in a new Weberian moment, where Calvinist ideas of proof, certainty of election through the rationality of good works, and faith in the rightness of predestination, are not anymore the backbone of thrift, calculation and bourgeois risk-taking. Now faith is about something else. It is faith in capitalism itself, capitalism viewed as a transcendent means of organizing human affairs, of capitalism as a theodicy for the explanation of evil, lust, greed and theft in the economy, and of the meltdown as a supreme form of testing by suffering, which will weed out the weak of heart from those of true good faith. We must believe in capitalism, in the ways that the early Protestants were asked to believe in predestination. Not all are saved, but we must all act as if we might be saved, and by acting as if we might be among the saved, we enact our faith in capitalism, even if we might be among the doomed or damned. Such faith must be shown in our works, in our actions: we must continue to spend, to work hard, to invest, and, as George Bush long ago said, “to shop” as if our very lives depended on it. In other words, capitalism now needs our faith more than our faith needs capitalism.
Practically, what does this mean? It means austerity, chosen or imposed: less insane credit-card acquisitions, less whacky mortgage seeking, less obese cars, fewer happy miles on the road, fewer “business expenses” (unless of course we are senior AIG executives). It means leaving our money in the banks and having renewed faith in the FDIC, for if we race to our banks and take our money home in cash, we shall show our lack of faith in the banks, and the banks will suffer, and if the banks suffer, the world financial markets will suffer, and if the world financial markets suffer, the volcanoes will explode, the rivers will flood, the lightning shall strike, and all of us will be reduced to ashes, along with our melted credit cards, our worthless pension funds and our homes with negative equity.
But Faith, it turns out, is not enough. Capitalism, as a master-belief system, reasonably operates on faith. But markets, especially capitalist financial markets, need something more specific: Trust. And that is the second biggest Revelation of the last few weeks. We have a trade deficit, as we all know, but much worse is our “trust deficit.” No one trusts the (financial) other anymore, we are told, and without trust no one lends and without lending the plastic ceases to work and everyday life comes to a complete halt. This news will come as a shock to all of us on “Main Street,” who trust our friends, our neighbors, our leaders, our churches and our employers as much—or as little—as we did last year. No, trust is not a Main Street problem, it is a Wall Street problem. In other words, banks won’t lend to one another, and that problem in the high mountains of finance is melting down into the valleys and plains of our everyday lives.
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