Several years ago – at a sweltering church gathering with poor ballroom catering where chicken breasts all tasted like PowerPoint presentations – a progressive pastor admitted to me that the church he works in wouldn’t be. not “open and assertive” to LGBTQ individuals and families “if our wealthier members were not in favor of their full inclusion.
About five years before this confession, a much more conservative pastor at a much more conservative faith gathering – with unmistakably better restoration – guiltily revealed whether his “diaconate, staff committee, or congregation found out what I really believe. about politics or the afterlife they’d like to fire me on the spot, and I can’t take that risk because I’m only a few years out of retirement.
What’s interesting about these two experiences is not that they happened, but rather how often they were – and still are – acceptable in my old profession. See, I was a Baptist pastor. And one of the great unspoken truths of the long tradition of the Baptist pastor, which I was introduced to in my mid-twenties, is that your son’s health insurance depends on how adherent your prayers, beliefs and biblical interpretations to the rules. , the rites and rigors of American capitalism.
Because, as my two pastor friends at completely opposite ends of the theological and political spectrum remind us, âif our richest members weren’t in favorâ¦â then nothing gets done.
“A visceral emotional response”
Now whenever I denigrate capitalism (or “late capitalism” or “American capitalism”) out loud, most people have a visceral emotional response. Typically this can take the form of a confused look, a sudden change of subject, or an extremely angry or defensive refutation of the dangers of “socialism.”
This feedback might have something to do with how off-putting to hear someone accuse you of being ‘controlled’ or influenced by something that most of us rarely consider – like the economy! It’s not hard to imagine you picturing me in a tin foil hat at dinner parties, where everyone wants me to come back to talking about normal things, like the January 6 insurgency or the school board fights for COVID mitigation, and the dangers of critical race theory like an ordinary person.
This feedback might have something to do with how off-putting to hear someone accuse you of being ‘controlled’ or influenced by something that most of us rarely consider – like the economy!
As a psychotherapist, I often remember the pain that can accompany both naming and questioning something that a patient previously believed to be as unassailable as gravity and air. Sometimes we don’t really have a way to name the depth of what we’re trying to navigate until we hear someone else say it out loud. The language is funny like that. Over the years, I have discovered that words like “cancer” or “divorce” or “capitalism” have a way of laying bare the cold realities of what many of us have actually been through, even though we were not aware of it or unable to admit it to ourselves.
But admit it, you have to.
“The Undisputed American Faith”
Otherwise, we run the risk of further internalizing and religiously baptizing the pain induced by disappointment, frenzied productivity and the violent display of self-interest as some sort of fundamental and unchallenged American truth. Unrecognized and internalized capitalism is like water, in the sense of David Foster Wallace. It is in us and around us all. It is slippery and takes the form of everything it inhabits.
- Whether it’s progressive things or conservative evangelical churches that strongly disagree with each other on almost everything.
- Be those photos of your kids that are now edible social media content for people you don’t know, and maybe some you know.
- Be those things your old hobbies and interests which have now turned into side activities and concerts.
- Be those things your real friendships and relationships that have now become part of what we all now call the âmetaverseâ !?
For such polarized times, this little-known financial orthodoxy is true whether you are progressive or conservative, high or low church, liturgical or contemporary, on Twitter or Facebook. Throughout the white Christian theological and denominational traditions in America, I would say that most of our “good beliefs” have very little to do with effective biblical interpretation practices and much more with the way American capitalism, the win-win defines the totality of our world and our relationships within it.
Historically, Americans are a worshiping people. Despite Pew’s latest round of data on the decline of our so-called religious preferences, we might be better served by reframe what most of us mean when we say the word “religion” in the first place. Because capitalism is the thing that we praise, we bow and sacrifice our children for, and we exhaust ourselves in the service of, and let determine the trajectory of our industry, our access to health care, our self-esteem, or – in my case – which is a reimbursable discussion between you and your therapist once a week.
âThe capitalist-consumerist ethic is revolutionary. â¦ The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich stay greedy and spend their time making more money, and the masses give vent to their desires and passions – and buy more and more.
Historian Yuval Noah Harari sums up our American faith: âThe capitalist-consumerist ethic is revolutionary. â¦ The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich stay greedy and spend their time making more money, and the masses give free rein to their desires and passions – and always buy more. It is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do. How, however, do we know that we will truly have Heaven in return? We saw it on television.
So what do we do with something as ubiquitous as water?
We notice it, name it and start asking all kinds of questions about it.
It’s an exhausting line to say the pandemic has “changed things” for American churches trying to keep the lights on, the budget dissolving, and the pews filled in 2021. It’s even tired-uh claim to know how to best help a centuries-old institution grappling with its loss of financial, political and socio-cultural security to survive what is an inevitable apocalypse. That’s why I’m not going to give you a list of five or 10 aphoristic phrases to explain what “millennials agnostics want most from your crowded boardroom.” Spoilers: It’s never “a coworking space with bottomless coffee” and it’s always “affordable health care, childcare and debt relief.”
For too long, most white Christian institutions in America have found a particularly lucrative market niche by offering what is primarily – as Marx claimed – an opioid numbing, or in more colloquial terms, an over-prescribed antidepressant for pain. ‘to exist. under capitalism and bloodthirsty selfishness. What is heaven if not another T. Rowe Price commercial featuring baby boomers commanding schooners in the middle of the workday? And what is #blessed but another Waco dream kitchen wrapped in prayer?
For too long, most white Christian institutions in America have found a particularly lucrative market niche by offering what is primarily an opioid numbing drug, or an antidepressant over-prescribed for the pain of existing under capitalism and the bloodthirsty interest. .
So instead of improving the reduction of the side effects of internalized and unrecognized capitalism, I would like to give post-pandemic churches two demands: a system that oversaw their abuse as a necessary part of a thriving bottom line. And second, provide opportunities for all of us to collectively organize and creatively resist the market god of our crumbling American empire.
Or, if you’re too busy, just try the following three things and see what happens:
- Pay off the debts of your faithful.
- Pay your babysitting and babysitting staff a living wage.
- Don’t upgrade the sanctuary audio system or your website and instead use the excess money to do the first two things on this list.
These suggestions might not save your church from insolvency or worthlessness. If you are a pastor, they may not help you limp in retirement until the congregation finds out that you don’t know what Critical Race Theory is and / or that they sometimes give to NPR. during the annual donation campaign.
They might not even work. But at this point, it doesn’t really matter anymore, because our anxiety, depression, and burnout all let us know that most of our overworked population no longer find it convincing or helpful to believe in a God who only solves our problems after we are dead.
Therapeutically speaking, this kind of faith seems suicidal. Maybe that’s why he died.
Eric Minton is a writer, ordained Baptist pastor, and licensed psychotherapist specializing in marriage and family therapy. He has a family therapy practice in Knoxville, Tenn., And provides coaching and advice to pastors, leaders of nonprofit organizations, businessmen and institutions, helping them foster better ways of live, work and serve together. His first book, It’s not you, that’s all, will be released in May 2022 with Broadleaf Press. Find more of his work on ericminton.me
Justice and socialism? A conversation with Sondra Wheeler / Analysis, Jason Koon
The Economics of Belief: Does morality boil down to nothing more than, “Can we afford it?” / Reviews, Eric Minton
Social liberalism thrives while economic diversity still dominates / News, Mark Wingfield