As we saw earlier Toffler pointed out in PowerShift that civilization has gone through three major stages:
While the Catholic Church controlled most of the power of the Middle Ages, the Protestant Reformation brought chages that focuses on new social arrangements. It is interesting that the rapid focus on money and wealth came from the doctrines of John Calvin, who elevated the doctrine of predestination found in Romans 8:29-30 to terrible conseqences for “the damned”.
Until Calvin, money was relatively unimportant, though it was controlled by various governments from Babylon forward. We have seen that it was etherealized by the process of cheapeni ng metals, up to the use of symbols as “money” used by the state, but along with that etherealizing of ideas and monetary values, religion took a sharp turn in favor of money with Calvin’s doctrines.
Calvin developed his famous “TULIP doctrine of predestination, and declared that God has foreknown his “elect’ and all the rest are doomed to hell. But what sign separated the ‘elect’ from the “damned”?
If God rejected the priestly authority of the Catholic Church, how would he show his love to his predestined children?
If “salvation” could not be dependent on “works” as Luther had concluded, and if it was faith, surely there would be some way the faith would be rewarded. The solution in Calvin’s mind had to be the financial blessings of God. If you are wealthy and successful by methods of hard work and honest virtue, God showed his blessings on you.
As Richard Tawney writes in Religion And The Rise of Capitalism:
“What is significant, in short, is not the strength of the motive of economic self interest, which is the commonplace of all ages and demands no explanation. It is the change of moral standards which converted a natural frailty into an ornament of the spirit, and canonized as the economic virtues habits which in earlier ages had been denounced as vices. The force which produced it was the creed associated with the name of Calvin. Capitalism was the social counterpart of Calvinist theology”.
While the Catholic Church had exercised control of the Bible, restricting its knowledge to mass, conducted in Latin, it also used a form of brute force by convincing the masses that if they did not join the Catholic Church, they would die and go to hell, a self perpetuating meme we discussed earlier. Their power to punish, shown in such events as the Spanish Inquisition, and the power of the church to even torture in support of their power, ultimately yielded to the Protestant Reformation and the continuing break-up of “christian” ideals, tending toward the diversity we examined last essay.
Calvin, however absurd his doctrine of predestination was, used it to create a powerful “lever” to launch the world directly into the next, more complex, stage of development. By setting the standard of salvation on personal acheivement and wealth, Calvin not only launched the development of Capitalism, but removed doctrine ultimately from all accomplishments within capitalism. Adam Smith, himself a moral philosopher, created the dominant manifesto of capitalism with Wealth Of Nations. Smith pointed out that the self interest of individuals, each working toward his or her own happiness freely, would produce both a wealthy nation and a moral nation. It was a short step from Calvin to Smith, where a whole nation would be blessed by the efforts of each individual acting in his or her own self interest. As Smith writes:
“Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest in his own way, and bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man, or order of men”.
While under Calvin and the Protestant Reformation, there would be biblical doctrines to study and obey, they would become necessary mainly to demonstrate God’s blessings by the acquisition of wealth, if not power. Man could not get to God except by proving his worth to his fellow man, it seemed. If Jesus had taught that a rich man could not enter the kingdom of God except by God’s will, then Calvin apparently reasoned that it was only by the achievement of wealth and riches that God would allow such things. Adam Smith took it to the next step that wealth was a reward of self interest, created by men of intelligence who could effectively use the forces of science and knowledge to their own end. Morality and wealth became equivalent. Wealth, as Tawney wrote, became the “ornament of the spirit”.
If God rewards those who succeed financially, it created a two-edged sword of its own. As Toffler writes in PowerShift:
“Wealth…is a far better tool of power. A fat wallet is far more versatile. Instead of just threatening or delivering punishment, it can offer finely graded rewards–payments and payoffs, in cash or kind. Wealth can be used in either a positive or negative way. it is, therefore, much more flexible than force. Wealth yields medium quality power.”
But wealth as an instrument of power was not divorced from force. Wealth allowed a process by which power could use force, “contract it out” for the service of wealth. By Calvin’s standards, knowledge offered no real value in the search for God’s approval. Only the accumulation of wealth would prove who was beloved of God. Adam Smith extended the process to show that “God” was merely an observer, a kind of referee for those who pursued wealth according to their own self interest. This was the general notion that led to Deism, the idea that God “wound the watch” and then stepped back to see the universal watch tick off its time. Within that concept of Deism, men would struggle to demonstrate their value to God.
Man’s struggle for financial success would be represented in specialist functions that were ordered by an “invisible hand”. If there was orderliness in the universe, God’s universe, it was not determined by doctrine or dogma, but by effort, by struggle.
If men struggled against the order of “God’s will”, then it was up to the wealthy to suppress that struggle, to “hire violence” in the form of government, to see that free competition was maintained. This was little more than a new justification for the superorganism’s collective struggle by maintaining immunity against its own destruction. “Mother Nature” was playing the winners against the losers to discover the most effective strategy for replication. Obviously it was a short step from there to Darwininan evolution.
As Toffler pointed out in The Third Wave, the development of linearity , brought about by the alphabet, added to the Calvinist concept that God approved those who successfully struggled to demonstrate wealth, would produce the idea of “survival of the fittest”, or as Dawkins said “survival of the stable”. It was not only fitness sough by competition, but stability maintained by struggle within the environment. If men competed for the best method of replication, the efficiency produced by that struggle provided a “shortcut” for evolution. The more men organized under fewer wealthy systems, the greater the power of the superorganism to control its destiny by reducing options., those options which could be enforced on the “losers” by violence, by the power of government, contracted out by those of wealth.
While religion had served to “standardize” the genetic security and stability of the gene, it had depended largely on force and faith. When Calvin connected God’s foreknowledge to the accumulation of wealth by effort, the superorganism now had a direct and near efficient mans by which it could experiment freely with the “hypothesis” of each individual in the marketplace, and more effectively control the masses by the ownership of legitimized violence through government. “God” was only responsible for “winding the watch”.
Natural selection quickly evolved Social Darwinism, Herbert Spencer, and successive theories on why free competition “selected’ for the best to reproduce the finest culture. All of this launched from the “window” provided by Calvinism.
Yet long before that time, Jesus had said “Ye cannot serve God and mammon”. The very doctrine that drove men to succeed financially led them directly away from all philosophies of God.