True Salvation–by Fredrick L. Linnabary
I’ve been thinking about money lately. I have very little of it, and maybe that colors my thoughts. On the face of things, money seems an innocent and useful thing, like a house, or a cow, or even a knife. Money seems indeed to be propitious and unassuming very much in the same manner as a blade. In and of itself, just lying there on a table, cutting utensils and dollar bills offer no threat. Yet either can be used to conquer the world.
With a dollar at my local cheap food store I can purchase two or three boxes of instant macaroni and cheese or several packets of ramen noodles. That will keep my corpulent body corpulent. At my dollar store I can get dish soap, trash bags, and even metal eating utensils. A dollar is powerful for the maintenance of a decent standard of living. Therefore, I have a love/hate relationship with money.
Of course money was invented ostensibly to do two things: to make wealth more portable and to proclaim the power of rulers throughout the land and into other lands. So, this medium of exchange, from the start, was a means of manipulating the thoughts of the people who had it and the people who wanted it. Distribution of wealth has always been the province of rulers and of the people riding the coattails and/or supporting the power of rulers. Money makes wealth much easier to distribute. Therefore, money makes it much easier for rulers to dominate their subjects. When the ruler is good and wise, this facilitation can seem almost benign, but when he (I use the pronoun “he” deliberately) is not good and wise…
The Capitalist system has been, I think, an attempt to circumvent the conventional systems of wealth distribution. On the face of it, a clever Capitalist is able to overcome differences in power between social classes and forge her own path into a brighter future for all people: just be a good Capitalist, and you get power over your own life and security for you and your family. Thus it seems that a Capitalist pseudo-Utopia is inevitable. When conflicts arise between people of Capitalist means, the Invisible Hand, market forces doing their ubiquitous work, will sort it all out by various means (shortages produce higher prices, gluts produce lower prices–supply and demand–why, even moral outrage could have a great effect on markets). If we only live our lives on the principles of the market, if we in effect become money, everything will balance out. If we become homo monetis we become democracy incarnate: market forces, both financial market forces and the forces of the “market place of ideas”, will solve all problems. It might get messy at times, and many people might get hurt or even killed along the way, but Capitalism works by God’s rules, and so, in the end, everything will turn out as it should.
Like Communism, this sounds good on paper. My wife says: “Communism works fine, except for human nature.” Money, unfortunately, has become, and maybe always has been, a substitute for moral contemplation and moral action. Certain people have always been willing to do whatever seems necessary to acquire wealth and outright power over other human beings. Portable wealth only renders this ambition much easier to achieve. Not to worry: there will be others who come along with similar ambitions, and they will counterbalance those power-hungry folks. Since we can’t stop people being power-hungry, this (Capitalism) is the best way to keep their lusts in check. As for the little people who will get trampled as the Capitalistic titans grapple in the dust, well that is unavoidable. People get hurt, no matter which system we use to govern our activities. If you want to avoid getting hurt, become a good Capitalist, get some good stocks and bonds, hedge your bets. What could be better?
Again, it sounds good (or at least amoral, which I suppose is a short step down from good) on paper. And therein lies the rub. Capitalism is not meant to be amoral: Adam Smith said as much. Capitalism without the direction of morality will devour those who practice it. Capitalism is the embodiment of money, for in Capitalism, money rules, and the worth of all things is measured in monetary equivalence. Money itself is amoral, neither good nor bad. To focus ourselves on money, then, its to focus ourselves on the amoral. Consumeristic Capitalism, the practice of Capitalism in the modern United States and other places, only compounds the amorality, for it focuses itself on selfishness and satisfaction of one’s immediate impulses. On the short term, this letting go of morality in favor of the banal and eternal NOW is a very good thing.
Billions, trillions, have been made in service to the utmost banality and disregard for the potential future. While we poor Capitalists but good Consumers shove our money at those who are better at manipulating Capitalist forces and Consumeristic urges, we mortgage our futures, not only in terms of the money we will be able to wield in times to come, but in terms of the power we will have to control our own little lives. As Corporations (yes, I meant to capitalize it) gain control over our urges, they gain control over our Capital, and we lose control over ourselves, from our bodies to our very thoughts and emotions. Corporations (that is, intangible, paper bodies constructed to be the tools of Capitalism) are ever more coming to be in control over where we go, what we eat, and even what we are allowed to say (one example: even in service to a good story, a Corporate logo cannot be shown in a film unless the owner of the logo is financially compensated–I could put George Washington in a film and make him look like a ninny, but I can’t put McDonalds in a movie, even if making it a hero, without shelling out some dough to the owners of McDonalds).
Money has become a substitute for morality and ethics. The “ethic” of a Corporate officer is to do whatever is necessary to support and improve worth of shares. The “ethic” of a Corporate underling is to do to workers whatever is necessary to keep the Corporate officers happy. The “ethic” of the Corporate worker is to grind out as much product as possible, of whatever quality is desired, to keep the Corporate underlings, and, in turn, officers pleased. And then they all go home. The workers try to wash off the ick, and it won’t quite come off, so they lose themselves in whatever pleasures are available. The underlings try to clean off the double ick of being the go-betweens, and it won’t quite come off, so they lose themselves in trying to pretend they are bigger than they actually are. And the officers are sure there is no ick and that their fecal matter doesn’t stink, so instead of washing they wallow.
And, even faith (i.e., morality from the God-point-of-view) hasn’t gone unscathed. The Catholic faith lost its way long ago in its quest for money and control over Europe, although it could be argued that the Church may be trying to reform itself from within (although the way it has handled the many molestation incidents–essentially money spent by the Church to obtain a mighty Indulgence for itself–makes me doubt). Many Protestants have forgotten seemingly that Martin Luther’s primary motivation to separate from the Catholic Church was the selling of forgiveness, Indulgences. Attaining a state of grace through money seems now to be the common ethic amongst many Protestant biggies. The wealth of the believer appears to indicate the strength of belief: because Jesus told us to trust God and not to worry about whether God will provide for us, the stronger your belief, the more it is evidenced by God providing you with plenty. Thus, those who have little are likely those of little faith (although it is admitted that God might have a special use for you if you’re poor, just as He had a special use for Job when He let Satan take all Job’s stuff and all his family–but that’s probably not the case: you’re probably lacking in standard of living because you’re lacking in faith). God believes in good, hard work, and you get paid well for hard work, so those who profess God and who have much must be hard workers doing good work, right? Therefore, wealth is equivalent to goodness, so long as you show up in a church pew on a fairly regular basis and drop some of the good stuff in the collection plate. And, therefore, savvy Capitalists who claim a Christian bent cannot be evil. And, therefore, those who have little, who are not savvy Capitalists, are lacking in moral fiber: Christian ones lacking, non-Christian ones truly deplorable. Some of these little poor ones may be salvageable, if only we can get them interested in obtaining God’s riches, as depicted on our money.
Wealth is equal to goodness. Money is portable morality. Money is true salvation.
Thus, I ask if I must participate in my own moral destruction, or if I have somehow eschewed salvation.