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Lesson 114- Calvin and the Rise of Capitalism

          Well, we are on our last leg in describing the Catholic theory of evolution based on the writings of Fr. Tielhard de Chardin. I want to remind you that it is a theory and it is not to be taken as a required teaching of the Catholic Church. It is merely an attempt to synthesize elements of our faith with current scientific theory and it might be true or only partially true. What we can say with certainty is that it is consistent with the Judeo/Christian Linear Utopian Concept of History which, based on the Bible, sees the creation as moving from an Alpha to an Omega Point. And, according to Jesus, He is the driving force behind this linear, and left hemispheric, vision of reality. And, since the theory of evolution is a linear theory of reality that describes the creation as moving progressively towards higher forms of life, it is totally consistent with this linear view of reality and inconsistent with the Hindu cyclical view which see the universe as an eternal repeating circle that has no beginning or end. And what, according to the Bible, will it be like when the creation finally reaches the Omega Point. Well, here is the prophet Isaiah description. In Isaiah 5: 17-21, he states:

Thus says the Lord: Lo I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth. The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create; for I created Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight… No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying. No longer shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime; He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years, and he who fails to reach a hundred shall be thought accursed. They shall live in the houses they build and eat the fruit of the vineyard they have planted.”


          What is interesting about this passage is that it is talking about life on earth and not some heavenly state after we die. In other word, it is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer of “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Therefore, it is a call for all Christians to be working towards the improvement of life here on earth so as to train their hearts for the Kingdom that is to come after we die. In the past, some of our critics have complained that we were “so heavenly-minded that we were of no earthly good.” In other words, they claimed that we were passive observers of the problems that plagued Mankind because we saw them not as problems to be solved but as trials to be endured. There is an element of truth in this but it completely ignores the major role that the Catholic Church has played in the “corporal works of mercy” throughout its history. Despite this, Karl Marx complained that “religion was the opiate of the people” because it drugged them into inactivity against their oppressors by promising them “pie in the sky rather than bread of earth.” Thus, he called for the violent overthrow of all existing system, which according to him, were created by “haves” as a method of oppressing the “have nots.” Thus, Communism has become identified with revolutionary movements that set out to overthrow those in power and the redistribution of the wealth. Later, I will go into this in greater detail because one of the major contestants for the New World Order is Communism or some form of Socialism.

Hegel had said that God uses “revolutionaries and geniuses” as His tools in the transformations of the world. “Revolutionaries” because, by their very nature, they are discontented with  “things as they are” and “geniuses” because they understand the principles underlying reality and know how they ought to be applied in ways that are consistent with the Divine Mind that created them.

One thing is for certain, however, and that is if history is really moving towards some type of Omega Point, the only way to get there is through some type of revolutionary or evolutionary movement that transforms our present world from “the world as it is” into the “world as it ought to be.”  So the major issue that faces us as we move towards the international level of complexification and a New World Order is who will be the revolutionaries and geniuses that will shape the world that is to come. And a second, and even more important issue is what will be the methods that they use to bring about the transformation.

The Secular Humanist have a clear vision of what they think it ought to be and through many agencies, such as Planned Parenthood, the National Organization of Women, the ACLU, and a cadre of intellectuals, educators, entertainers, and media people have managed to slowly eradicate the Judeo/Christian premises and principles upon which this nation was founded and they are now moving on to the international level where they seek to influence the outcome of United Nation conferences that are called to discuss the framework of the new international order.

Unlike some fundamentalist Protestant groups, who resist any movement towards internationalism because they see it as movement towards the Kingdom of the Antichrist described in the Book of Revelation, the Catholic Church throughout its history has always sought an international world order because of Christ’s instruction to convert the entire world. The unification of the world under the Fathership of God has always been its mission and thus it has always supported movements that unify people rather than ones that divide them. Christianity from it inception, because of its world vision and missionary zeal, started out as a major movement towards world unification. Throughout the Middle Age it sought to unite the warring kingdoms of Europe under the Holy Roman Empire. In modern times, it has supported European unification, international law and the United Nations in principle, although it has often opposed the details and decisions made. The Church has no problem with international organization. It’s only concern is the nature and direction that this level of organization takes. The major danger facing us now is the growing influence of the Secular Humanist on the shape of the world to come as compared to the relative lack of vision and effort by Christians.

We are and have been involved in a Cultural War in which a major force, Christianity,  is being defeated by a minor force, Secular Humanism, due to a number of reasons. The first is the lack of unity. Since the time of the Protestant Reformation Christians on both sides of the issue have scandalized the name of Christ through their denominational bickering that caused more energy to be spent on undermining their fellow Christian than on creating the unity that Jesus prayed for before his Ascension. Years ago one of my students, who was a Messianic Jew, gave me a book that he said had been the greatest influence in his own spiritual walk. It was a description of the visionary experiences of a man in which he claims that he was shown in great detail the nature of the battle between the forces of God and the Devil. It opened with a scene in which a horde of demons, reminiscent of scenes from The Lord of the Ring, were attacking the Holy Mountain of God. The demons were formed into battalions led by flag-bearers with flags indicating the nature of the sin they represented and they were riding Christians who were so wrapped up in attacking their fellow-Christians that they weren’t aware that they were being ridden by demons.

Thus, recent popes have rightly seen that the first order of business is for Christians to repent of their lack of charity towards each other and to begin to heal the wounds of the past. I think that it is accurate to say, “The devil doesn’t care if you have faith so long as you are divided; and he doesn’t care whether you are united so long as you don’t have faith. What he really fears is a united, faith-full church.”

A second problem is a lack of vision. Christians are always talking about the coming of God’s Kingdom but they don’t seem to agree on what it will be or how it will come about. In a previous program, I mentioned some of the theories that I have heard. We have all heard of the “left behind” version in which those who are saved are gathered up into the air and those who are not are left behind. In a previous program I shared with you the vision my five-year-old son had involving the creation of a new earth and how those on the old earth were fighting and killing each other. Then we have the Book of Revelations that describes the Beast, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the Antichrist who will enslave the world. All of these visions of the “end of the world” have some scriptural support and people who support them. However, it is a waste of time arguing over which version is the true one, and that is why the Church refuses to make any definitive statement about it. The real issue is the one that Francis Schaffer, an eminent Protestant, used as the title to his book, “How Should We Then Live?”  This is the only legitimate concern that any Christian should have.

In a previous program, I told of the story of the two frogs that fell into a pitcher of cream in which the cream was too deep to touch the bottom and too far from the lip to climb out. The first frog, seeing the hopelessness of the situation, committed suicide by drowning himself. The second frog, also seeing the hopelessness of his situation, decided to swim aimlessly around and around in the cream. After hours of pointless struggle, he finally collapsed completely exhausted only to discover that he was sitting on a pile of butter that his aimless struggling had churned out of the cream.  The Lord gave me this reading at a point of hopelessness and despair in my own life, and its message was “I put you here to struggle. You are not to be concerned with consequences. They are My concern. Like my son, Jesus, you must trust that even at the greatest point of your sense of abandonment, there will be a Resurrection following the Crucifixion.”

It dawned on me then that salvation is twofold: first my own salvation; second the salvation of the world and even if my struggle to build the Kingdom of God doesn’t save the world, my effort to do so is building in me the attitudes and values that are necessary to save me. It’s a “win/win situation.” Therefore, “Who Knows?” If I begin to struggle to create God’s Kingdom and that influences you and you influence someone else etc… etc… , we might make butter. Jesus, when asked by His disciples where the Kingdom of God was answered that it was already there and yet to come. A nice piece of “double-talk” until one realizes that what He was saying is that He had already planted it in their hearts and they, in turn, had the job of planting the same vision in the hearts of others by preaching the gospel to the whole world. It’s been over two thousand years since He said this and, believe it or not, we are closer to the Kingdom now then we were then. At time it doesn’t seem so because our progress towards it has often been “two steps forward and one step backward.” Nevertheless, when one studies history it becomes clear that the struggles of others who had a vision for a better world led to reforms that we now take for granted. Two hundred years ago, they were hanging young children for being pickpockets and the punishment for treason, which our own Founding Fathers faced, was being “drawn and quartered.” This involved being hung or stretched until almost dead, disembowled while still alive, and chopped into four pieces which were then put on public display in the four corners of the town as a warning to others. Many of the cruelties and injustices of the past are no longer acceptable because of the struggle of people who refused to accept “the world as it is” because they had a vision of the “world as it ought to be.” Thus, as Christians, we must be careful that “we don’t become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good” or that we become so concerned with “pie in the sky” that we forget to be concerned with “bread of earth.” As St. James says in his epistle where he condemns the idea of being saved by faith alone:

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me you faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”


The Church, in its wisdom, speaks of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Concentrate too much on the corporal works and we become social workers. Concentrate too much on the spiritual works and we become Christians who are “so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.” Therefore, the vision that we are seeking is a blending of “faith and works”, “body and soul”, the corporal and the spiritual.” As in so many other areas, the answer is not “either/or” but “both/and.”

The third reason we are losing the cultural war is because we have too many administrators and not enough generals. Unfortunately, the creation of buildings and structures cuts two ways. They are necessary to carrying out the day-to-day functioning of an organization but they also become a financial burden because they have to be maintained. Eventually, the job of maintaining them becomes the main preoccupation of those in authority and this often causes them to compromise or abandon the primary vision of the organization.

It has often been observed by Protestants who have converted to the Church how lacking in evangelical zeal Catholics are. That’s because our major preoccupation has become maintaining what we have rather than expanding. Our priests and bishops have grown too accustomed to having a ready supply of “cradle made Catholics” and therefore have settle into an administrative mode rather than an evangelical one. Thus, when “cradle Catholics” abandon a parish for the greener pastures of the suburbs, there is no effective effort to convert the population that replaces them. Thus, within a decade or so, the school closes and then, through lack of parishioners, the church goes too.

Evangelical , Protestant minister who often don’t have the luxury of a “cradle-made” congregation, like Avis who was number two in car rentals, have to try harder. The results are obvious. According to one commentator, the largest church in the United States is the Catholic Church and the second largest is “ex-Catholics” who, being poorly catechized in their own faith or growing discontented with the lack-lusting preaching of their local church, have joined evangelical churches where more highly motivated preachers are giving sermons that are more relevant to their lives and the issues of the day. The popes keep telling us that we are involved in a Cultural War between the Cultural of Life and the Cultural of Death but to hear many local pastors there is nothing about which we ought to be concerned. That is, so long as the collection plate produces enough revenue to maintain the buildings that have become their main preoccupation.

More and more it is lay leaders, like Dom Letteri, who organize Catholic Unity Conferences that bring in powerful Catholic speakers, or sponsor days of renewal, or constantly bring before his listeners the burning issue of the day involving the Church, or insist that we must “Help Wake up America!”  And I am beginning to think that this is what God wants and that is why the Holy Spirit led the Second Vatican Council to declare that this is the Age of the Laity. The renewal of the Church will depend more on what the laity does than on what the religious do. True there are many fine priest and nuns who continue to work diligently for the survival of the Church but their areas of operation are limited by the nature of their vocation. Unfortunately, it is also true, that within the ranks of priests and nuns are others who, caught up in the spirit of the age, threaten the survival of the Church by their insistence that the Church must conform to the world rather than the world conforming to the Church. Recently in Canada an organization representing 250 religious orders challenged the pope and the Magisterium on issues involving birth control, abortion, and homosexuality. The Church has its share of “false shepherds” who, if they succeed, will lead the Church down the same path of irrelevancy that has befallen liberal churches like the Episcopalians whose very Christian identity is being eroded away as they compromise their traditional beliefs in the name of tolerance. As the misguided leaders of these liberal churches bend to reflect the values of the world, the faithful among them leave to join other churches who, like the Catholic Church, stand as a structure build on “rock” that is capable of surviving the storm of godlessness.

Therefore, let us agree, that the hope of the Church lies more with the laity than it ever has in history. Let those who are preoccupied with the buildings and structures keep their responsibilities and let those of us who are not get on with building the vision. But to do so, we must know what the vision is. If this is so then we must be an informed laity so that we can properly assume our role in the Church. Therefore, let me return to the historical analysis that I began in my last program in order to sense the flow of history and where it is leading us.

I had already described how Western Europe broke out of the circular existence of survival during the Dark Ages when the Crusades brought the Europeans in contact with a superior Islamic, Arab culture. This lead to a Renaissance, or rebirth in Art and Science, that placed the Europeans on a linear path of progress that led to the modern world. The Feudal System, that had reorganized the fragments of the Roman Empire following its collapsed in 476 A.D., began to collapse itself as the forces unleashed by the Renaissance changed values, attitudes, and shifted the power base. With the increase of trade with the East, merchants who had been at the bottom of society during the Dark Ages when the economy was based on subsistence and survival, now became power-brokers in the new world of commerce. Their problem was, however, that they were new wine in old wine skins and, as Jesus said, when this happens, it will cause the old wine skins to burst. The Feudal System could not contain the new ideas and practices that accompanied the Renaissance and slowly the system started to change to accommodate them.

One of the first signs was the creation of two new classes resulting from the establishment of towns and cities that had sprung up around the castle from the temporary fairs that the merchants had created. In return for paying taxes to the lord, the merchants were granted a charter that allowed them to establish permanent buildings. Eventually, their need for workers led to hereditary serfs fleeing the manor and running to the town where they sought employment with the merchants. An accommodation with the lord was reached when, after a period of time, the serf was set free upon payment by the merchant to the lord. The merchants or business class became the bourgeoise- or burghers who lived in town- and the freed serf became the proletariat who were free workers who sold their labor.

The economic system at this time was known as Mercantilism and its basic premise was “the wealth of any nation was dependent upon the amount of gold and silver that it possessed.” This, of course, was the driving force behind the Spanish conquistadors whose lust for gold seemed incomprehensible to the Indians of Central and South America. It also had a lot to do with the American Revolution since the strategy of most European nations under this economic system was to sell to other nations in order to acquire their gold but to seek to become self-sufficient themselves so that they wouldn’t have to give up any of their own gold to other nations. Thus, colonies became pawns in this game since they were expected to provide what the Mother Country wasn’t able to produce itself. This resulted in laws that restricted trade and forced everybody to buy only from their own nation. Thus, the American colonists were forced by the English Parliament to provide essentials needed by the Mother Country, England, while being restricted from buying from foreign nations. The idea was to keep the “gold and silver” in the family in order to “increase the wealth of the nation” and to do this the economy under mercantilism was severely controlled by the government.

However, the theory had one great flaw. “Money is to the social body what blood is to the biological body” and if it doesn’t circulate, the body will die. That is why today, the emphasis is on “free trade” and the elimination of trade barriers because experience has taught us that everyone prospers the more money circulates.

It soon became apparent that a “free economy” was more beneficial in the long run than a “controlled economy.” And, eventually, the justification for a “free economy” was spelled out by a Scottish professor, name Adam Smith, in his work “The Wealth of Nations.” In this he argued, what today seems obvious. The real wealth of a nation was not the amount of gold and silver it hoarded but, rather, the amount of goods and services that it produced. What good was gold and silver if it didn’t represent purchasing power for the things that people needed and wanted. Smith said that the economy should be free, which to most people, seemed insane. Imagine replacing hereditary roles with free workers who could choose to do whatever they wanted. Why if the carpenter’s son didn’t become a carpenter what assurance would society have that there would be a carpenter in the future? Why if the government didn’t set prices, what would keep the businessman or shopkeeper from “ripping everyone off?

And if the government or guild masters didn’t set standards for quality in the manufacturing of things, what would keep the craftsmen from making “junk?”

          To these questions Smith replied that the economy would be controlled by the “invisible hand” of “self interest” and “competition.” Free men in a free economy out of “self interest” would compete with each other to provide the customer with the best product at the cheapest price because, if they didn’t, the customer, who was also free to buy where he wanted, would buy from his competitor. And the beauty of all this was that it was a self-regulating system that didn’t require any government interference. In fact, the government’s position towards the economy should be one of “laissez faire” which, loosely translated in French, mean “keep your cotton picking hands off!”

          At first, it seemed idiotic. Could you imagine having a picnic in which everyone was asked to bring something but nobody was told what to bring or in what quantity. Why you would have hotdogs and no rolls. Steak rolls but no steak. Tons of salt but no chicken. Common sense indicated that a picnic had to be planned and if a picnic can’t succeed without planning how could something as complex as the economy succeed without planning? It just couldn’t work. Someone had to plan the economy and tell everyone what to do. Yet, Smith was right. Capitalism proved to be the most productive economy that the world has ever seen. Here was an economic system based on personal greed or profit that ended up benefiting more people than any altruistic system ever could. Was it possible that God blessed “greed and profit” more than “generosity and sharing?” At best, the new system was amoral because it didn’t require the producers of goods and service to make any moral judgment about what they produced. Their focus was to be on “profitability” and their attitudes was “if you’ll buy it, I’ll make it; and if you cease buying it, I’ll stop making it! It’s not my job to determine whether it is good or bad for you or, for that matter, for the society in general. My job is to make whatever you demand because they is the only thing that will be profitable for me.” At worst, it was immoral because it removed all moral restrictions on the producers of “goods and services.” Why if people wanted pornography, it would produce it. If they wanted drugs, or prostitution, it would provide them. 

Thus, many people at that time thought that this system of Adam Smith’s had to be antichrist in nature and, at first, it was greatly resisted by the Christian churches because it violated some of their basic premises. “Money was the root of all evil?” “It was wrong to profit at the expense of another”; “You should not lend money at interest!”;  “Economic transactions had to contain the same basic morality that other transactions had!” These were all principles that the Catholic Church, that believed that all people should be treated as brothers and sisters, taught. It was obvious that if the new system was to succeed, the Catholic Church’s view about money and business had to replaced by another religious view and, according to some scholars, this was provided by John Calvin and the Presbyterian church.

In 1517, Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation when he protested to the pope about the selling indulgences. I’m not going to get into all that this involved except to say that Church was in great need of reform and that he was right on many issues. However, instead of reforming the abuses, he rebelled against the basic teaching of the Church by declaring that salvation was through the “scriptures and faith” alone. When he declared that everyone had the right to interpret the Bible for themselves, he opened a Pandora’s Box that eventually fragmented Christianity into a thousand warring camps.

The Church said, as St. James had, that we are saved through “faith and works.” Luther said that we were saved by “faith alone.” In fact, he added the word “alone” to St. Paul’s statement that we are saved by faith and he threw the epistle of St. James out of his translation of the Bible, calling it the Epistle of Straw, because it contradicted his basic premise. Anyway, John Calvin, another Protestant leader, disagreed with both the Catholic and Lutheran positions. He said that neither faith nor works could save anybody because God had predestined everyone at the moment of their conception to go to heaven or hell and there wasn’t anything that anyone could do to change it.

Calvin and others set up a theocracy in Geneva Switzerland where they proceeded to create a puritanical state that attempted to control the moral behavior of all its residents through threats of punishment and damnation. To say the least, it was not a happy town, yet people stayed and committed themselves to this religious perspective.

However, there was a logical flaw in Calvin’s theory. If everyone was already predestined at the moment of their conception to go to either heaven or hell, then it didn’t matter what anyone did. If this was so, why were his followers living in this theological prison that banned any type of worldly pleasure. If they were predestined to go to heaven, then they were free to enjoy themselves here. And, if they were predestined to go to hell, then they should try to get as much pleasure out of this life while they were here. How, they asked him, could they know whether they were predestined to go to heaven or hell? Give us a sign!

Calvin’s answer to this question resulted in the creation of a new type of human being whose religious beliefs supported the basic premises of Capitalism and, as time passed, it was in those countries that were influenced by his theology that Capitalism thrived, while those that remain under the influence of the Catholic Church it lagged behind.