Friday, 3 February 2017

Harvey Cox - The Market as God - 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions after September 11



Harvey Cox is the Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. The following is a paraphrase of a talk given on September 15, 2016 at the 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions after September 11. He has also published a book recently on the subjet:
http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674659681

His thesis is similar to concepts of Mircea Eliade who posits that even in a desacralized society, structures of the sacred do not disappear, they persist in more secular forms, so one can perceive mythical  and initiatic structures in novels and films, for example.


The Market as God – Consumer Capitalism as a Religious System

We live as a deified economy. Why are we all so gloomy? Why are we so self-obsessed? There is a global crisis. Consumer Capitalism is contributing to the destruction of our common home. This religion is not represented. Priests don’t admit it is a religion, but pronouncements are expected to be infallible such as ‘’the market will correct itself’’; yet the poor are still waiting.There is a market god with a market faith. There is an office of evangelisation. There are enormous efforts of penetration of market missionaries. It is a world faith with all the accoutrements of religion: a narrative, rituals, cathedrals (malls). There are prophets who look into future to invest funds. There is credulity, even if not producing what is promised, such as when poverty persists. If someone dies of hunger, there are no police to locate the culprit; when homeless person dies it is not news, but when the Dow (stock market) goes down, it’s news.Polemic debate was a fine art amongst all known religions but we are now in a post -polemical era between world religions. Where are the great skeptics such as Voltaire,who made fun of his religion. People turn to this destructive market Deity that causes despair and homelessness. We need a rebirth of historical critical thinking with polemics to deal objectively with religion.

The market God has become omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. Monetary values have invaded all parts of our life. People pay their children to do the dishes. Students are viewed as customers and students thinks of themselves as consumers. Their used to be a sense of community. It is everywhere, it is extending its grip, it is relentless. It has us all in its thrall, but cannot make good on its promises. It’s omniscience is now under question. It is an incredible faith we are asked to subscribe to. It uses parables: commercials are mini-parables in three acts: 1- Illustrates consumers inadequacy; 2- Proposes some product; 3- The result is bliss. I went to Clifford Geerts anthropologist and his definition of religion is: system of symbols which acts to establish a persistent, pervasive and long lasting motivation in the form of a worldview that influences behavior in long run.

This market system has a narrative, symbols, rituals; it is a complete system with the objective to buy things. It’s about commodity, distribution and sales. I heard a confession of a businessman: “I spend all of my days trying to convince people to buy things they did not need”. It is a religion that persuades people to buy something that they don’t need. We all share the guilt for that. It is the escalation of one institution as the dominant force in our society. The market greatly exceeds its role, a dominant narrative is created. I am disappointed that people in theology don’t recognize this or gladly go along with it. This almighty God, all hearts open to him, all desire him who demands an impermanent fulfillment of needs. There is a cathedral in Milano; there is a mall whose design replicates the cathedral. Let us not ignore it, let us face honestly its threat because there is a globalization of indifference. Let us begin to train our critical thinking and our polemics at this threat. We have the right not to starve, and not to die of cold.