We now jump several chapters ahead in Everything Must Change to Part 6 of the book on “The Prosperity System.” Up to this point in the book there have been some polemic passages, many of which I found distasteful. This section of the book spins into a whole new level.
McLaren introduces his notion of theocapitalism, a term coined by Catholic Theologian Tom Beaudoin. McLaren explains that our prosperity system functions like a religion, or perhaps a religious cult. Drawing on Beaudoin, he identifies seven ways “consumer media capitalism” functions for us as a religion:
1. It gives us identity, helping us find or create our true selves. …
2. It helps us belong to a community of kindred spirits. …
3. It develops trust by making and keeping advertising promises, and thus reduces our anxiety about making choices …
4. It helps us experience ecstasy …
5. It communicates transcendence through sacred images and symbols …
6. It promises us conversion to new life if we try their product and join their brand “family.”
7. Ultimately, theocapitalism promises rest from the restless heart. (190-191)
In other words, theocapitalism is capitalism functioning as an idol. And this should surprise us? In Deuteronomy 8:17-18 God warns:
17 Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth ." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth , so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
Self aggrandizement, greed, and idolatry related to possessions is one of the most persistent themes of the Bible. All of these existed prior to capitalism. Capitalism is by far the most effective means of widespread wealth creation in the history of the world. Does this make capitalism wrong, any more than the means by which prosperity was being earned in Ancient Israel? Isn’t the problem the spiritual condition of the recipients of the wealth and their response to it?
McLaren lays out for us the four spiritual laws of theocapitalism.
1. The Law of Progress Through Rapid Growth: “I believe in one god: Progress, maker of all that is, through rapid growth.”
2. The Law of Serenity Through Possession and Consumption: I believe in happiness through owning and using more.
3. The Law of Salvation Through Competition Alone: By win-lose competition alone you have been saved.
“…Even religious fundamentalists who reject Darwin in biology typically celebrate an economic or social Darwinism, which reveres inequality in order to reward the fittest – the most industrious, the hardest workers, the most task-oriented (as opposed to people-oriented). The poor, this law states, should and must be poor because they are unfit (individually or as a group); the rich, even though they concentrate great wealth “in the hands of a few,” should and must be rich because they are the fittest competitors. To violate this law would be to work against the very structure of the universe, and would run counter to the will of God and his “gospel of wealth.”
4. The Law of Freedom to Prosper Through Unaccountable Corporations: I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic economy, and in the communion of unaccountable corporations. (194-195)
Frankly, I see this as a caricature of modern economies. Folks sympathetic to McLaren’s presentation point out that he is talking about theocaptialism not capitalism. I don’t agree. Why? I’ll explain in my next post.