Monday, September 03, 2007

Walter Russell Read: Faith and Progress

A very sharp and interesting thinker (see his book: Special Providence where he coins the notion of the 4 schools of American foreign policy--Wilsonians, Hamiltonians, Jacksonians, and Jeffersonians), writing in The American Interest on the positive dependency of capitalism (of the Anglo-American variety) on religious faith.

Read is writing to counteract the famous thesis of "secularization"--that is the more modern a country/society becomes the more secular it will inevitably transform into. The New Atheist Anti-vangelicals are a version of this old trend (from Comte on).

Read writes:
This aptitude for capitalism has at least some of its roots in the way the British Reformation created a pluralistic society that was at once unusually tolerant, unusually open to new ideas, and unusually pious. In most of the world, the traditional values of religion are seen as deeply opposed to the utilitarian goals of capitalism. The English-speaking world, contrary to the intentions of almost all the leading actors of the period, reached a new kind of religious equilibrium in which capitalism and social change came to be accepted as good things. Indeed, since the 17th century, the English-speaking world for the most part has believed that embracing and even accelerating economic, social, cultural and political change fulfills their religious destiny.

Continue Reading

I've written before in this blog about the great work of Nathan Hatch The Democratization of American Christianity which shows how the American form of Christianity aligned with the Revolution and thrived off the dis-establishment of any one denomination in America. Just as Madison predicted: the point of dis-establishment and non-confessional governance would make the government more efficient and the churches so. That is in integral-speak, American Christianities joined up with the rising orange-meritocratic-industrial wave instead of like in the Catholic Church in Europe completely wedding themselves to the blue-aristocratic- agrarian wave. When Western Europe overthrow the blue order (French Revolution), the Catholic Church went with it (ancien regime).

Read adds the element of the Anglican and English (later British) parliamentary system. The Anglican religious tradition developed a system of pluraity and reformed national Catholicism, allowing evangelical, catholic, and liberal/latitudinal wings.

[This history of convention and balance is currently in jeopardy in the Anglican tradition due to the dis-proportionate rise of the evangelical wing and groups in sub-Saharan Africa who did not come through the English Reformation, English Civil War, and the Glorious Revolution. Nor American or Scottish Revolutions.]

The key to the ability of the Anglophone world to advance so far “West”, culturally speaking, and maintain its lead position in the global caravan is therefore not that it has been more secular than other societies. On the contrary, dynamic religion—religion that is open to change and that accords change a positive role in its sacred narrative—explains Anglophone ascendancy. Dynamic religion infiltrated and supplemented static religion in the religious life of the Anglophones. It showed that the great visions that light up the Western sky and drive us to pull up our stakes and move on stir human souls to the depths, just as do those mystic chords of memory that bind us to the past. Religion and myth are not always conservative. The mystic of progress is as god-seized as the mystic of tradition. Socrates was as pious as his executioners, if not more so.
And later on:
It was thanks to this tension that, as its social evolution speeded up, the English-speaking world managed to move from an essentially static religious condition, in which a stable equilibrium was periodically shaken by episodes of religious dynamism, to a dynamic religious system anchored by persistent elements of stasis.
My own theological thinking is moving more and more to an application of adaptive systems science to ecclesiology (the study of the church). i.e. The question becomes how to live with the creative destruction of a sped-up world rather than try to re-create a by-gone nostalgic (never existed?) era.

How to live with chaos not prevent the chaos as almost all churches are built upon? Though structural-stage wise evangelical traditions tend to slant differently than the views I hold, I think in general those churches are much better suited to this reality than so-called liberal ones (sideline not mainline anymore). Although that creative destruction management is faced to instantiate a different value-social-moral system.

The last of Mead's points I want to deal with is his expansion of the thesis of Max Weber (made in his landmark The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism). Weber argued that Protestantism, particularly of the Reformed Calvinist variety, accelerated the rise of capitalism. Calvinism stressed double predestination: one predestined either to heaven or hell. But for some Calvinists, the proof of one's election came through "blessing" (i.e. health, wealth, & prosperity) in this life. So this drove Calvinists to pursue wealth to assuage their consciences proving to them their own election to everlasting bliss.

Weber still basically held to the secularization thesis---for Weber modernity is an iron cage that de-sacralizes the world, everything becoming far more grey, vague, and depressing.

For Mead this analysis, while partially correct does not go far enough. Weber is too negative--the force driving his proto-capitalists is largely fear/intimidation.

Mead sees in the Anglo tradition, a positive contribution: a desire to fulfill, even bring about, change in this newly adapative religious mindset:
But Protestants also came to believe that living in communion with God and experiencing the hope of salvation meant cooperating with, and even furthering, the waves of social change unleashed by capitalism on the English-speaking world. Increasingly, dynamic religion would become the only true religion for English speakers. Religion not only had to tolerate change; it had to advance it.
Weber was right in this sense I would argue. For Calvinists who are driven by the Calvinist ethos (the negative drive), they do continue to practice often enough the Protestant Ethic (little sleep, sobriety, hard work, thrift, etc.) but do become mostly secular-agnostic.

Mead is right for those who are going to continue to have religious faith--there must be a positive drive. A note for all theologians out there.

This positive need is the sense of the individualistic relationship to God in the Anglo tradition (for Read):
Where Weber, like European Enlightenment thinkers, saw progress in terms of rationalization and the disappearance of the numinous from ordinary existence, for the individualistic Anglo-American Christian, the “personal relationship with God” is a powerful and effective link with the realm of the transcendent that does not wither or fade in the face of the modernizing and rationalizing processes of capitalist society. On the contrary, the experience of transcendence may become increasingly important to a population facing growing uncertainty in a world of accelerating change.
This is where I find his analysis flat. Is the outer world simply to be given over to the market, with the possible exception (as he points out) of churches acting as safety nets, safeway houses for people lost in the machine of capitalism? Does religion then simply become a purely private affair? How do we determine which are better or worse forms then of faith? Are we supposed to? Whatever makes someone feel fulfilled/accepted, good?

First off, that can't work, because as we know, the social-collective aspects of the Mandala of Reality, are inherent in arising (lower quadrants).

Also is this vision for Mead to be exported--i.e. to China, Brazil, India, and the like? There some arguments that such is in fact the case, say with Brazil which is undergoing a massive push towards a modern economic system at the same time that Pentecostal Christianity (American Individualist variety) is booming. China as well with Xty exploding there.

Does that mean whoever takes over the mantle of individualist Christianity will be the leader of the economic world for the century to come (China? South Korea?).


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