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Lixa Faded

Faith and “Peripheral Capitalism”

By Ricardo Pontes Nunes

 The advance of neo-Pentecostalism in Brazil, as well as in other regions of the globe, especially in the so-called peripheral countries in relation to the traditional center of Euro-American power, or, as some prefer, Northwestern, could not pass unscathed from the critique of capitalism. Or rather, the critique of political economy on capitalism could not fail to point out this socioeconomic regime as being at the very root of the neo-Pentecostal phenomenon, in its own ontological essence. In fact, criticism of the power associated with religion has been around for a long time [1] .

  The dynamics of this projection of political relations, so to speak, unnoticed [2] , makes up yet another pertinent angle of analysis, which is perhaps in the philosophical essence of historical materialism (ARON, 2002, p. 97) as much as in one of its most famous developments: the concepts of domination and habitus in the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu (1974). Notably, both were less interested in a regressus ad infinitum than in a philosophy of praxis, yet both Marx and Bourdieu did not fail to corroborate, albeit en passant, what Edward Gibbon called the “innate inclination of the human heart towards devotion” ( GIBBON, 2003 [1776], p. 201). Because the macrostructure of the technical-economic or sociocultural context that they denounce, from which at a given moment after its historical consolidation more sophisticated political strategies of control and domination [3] are introduced , to some extent would bring its seminal foundations to the system of beliefs and rites underlying the sociopolitical organization of the first groups of hominids, which, even being egalitarian in their most ancestral beginnings, would already carry the germ of dissolution of this neutrality in the communion of interests. In other words, both the Marxian political economy paradigm and the psychosociological one, although they decide not to stop at the etiological approach to religious phenomena, postulate them insofar as they inscribe them within a privileged position given their unavoidable efficacy, intensity and duration. that they attribute to the strength of those who manipulate them. If this is not the case, the primacy of the political domain would have another similar but more visceral matrix ─ refractory to any possibility of identification until now ─  from which to derive the cosmological premises that legitimized its moral and socioeconomic authority. Just as any stage of magic would in fact be “a primitive form of science, because based on a false idea about the regularity of the processes of cause and effect” (FRAZER, op. cit., p. 137) and religiosity, therefore, it would be nothing more than an insidious persuasion put forward ex nihilo, a fraud shaped in our cultural heritage since the first paleontropids.




  Bronislaw Malinowski himself, whose conclusions about his ethnography in the Trobriand Islands refuted dialectical materialism (1984, p.369), revealed what was already implicit in many of his predecessors when he wrote that “the first ways of using wealth as power are related to magic and religion” (MALINOWSKI, 1947, p. 247). Here too the opinion of AR Radcliffe-Brown is insinuated, who in his diatribe with the Anglo-Polish, argued against the individual character that Malinowski's pragmatics attributed to the occasions when traditional peoples resorted to magic:


  Magic, and ritual more generally, are products of requirements imposed by the social system. The individual perception of what is or is not dangerous is guided, in all its aspects, by the community (RADCLIFFE-BROWN, 1973).

  If for heterodox authors from the beginnings of the bourgeois ascension, such as Feuerbach, Marx or Engels [4] , religion was at the base of support of the naturalized “superstructure” that, according to them, legitimized or made unnoticed the class domination inherent to capitalism, a survey of the analyzes of the most sophisticated intricacies of the current market economy in the so-called peripheral modernity undertaken by some contemporary researchers on the genesis or modus opedandi of neopentecostalism, at the limit suggests a simultaneous overlap or even an inversion in that relationship between “superstructure” and the paradigms it helped to consolidate, insofar as we can infer that they understand current financial capitalism, to which they attribute a new type of masking or justification of dysfunctions such as domination and inequality over social stratification produced by it, as the very imperative agent that imposes its model of socioeconomic reproduction also on the ture of neo-Pentecostal ethics. Now, it cannot be denied that even historians of less orthodox religions such as Mircea Eliade, even clinging to the strict or theological sense of the question, claim that it is through the investigation of the institutions of a disappeared people that one can arrive at the type of religion they practiced ( ELIADE, 2011).

  These new concepts about the most recent strategies and values of the market society are markedly defined in works such as those of Richard Sennett (2000), Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello (2009) and Roberto Torres (2007), among others. Basically, what these authors denounce, in constant paraphrase of the work of Max Weber, is that a new meaning for work and competition was surreptitiously added to the ethics of capitalism through discursive stratagems that appeal to the individualization of the subject. These new artifices would be based on what they call ideologies of meritocracy, entrepreneurship and performance, which, now implanted in the peripheral modernity of underdeveloped countries alongside the “expansion of the system of capital accumulation to these areas” (PARKER, 1996). ), start to take root and legitimize, based on the understanding of the proletarian himself, the inequalities arising from factors intrinsic to the inherent social stratification of the capitalist economy from within the family. Thus obliterating the significant and inescapable disadvantages in competition generated a priori, the large layer of excluded people that Jessé de Souza” (2003) called “structural rabble”, is then co-opted by the process that ends up becoming consensual within an illusory sense of equality. of conditions, chances and opportunities in the face of which the individual can, "and must", stand out, garnering recognition in a new social cycle, the material rewards and moral favors of the capitalist machine through innate aptitudes and potentialities demanded if not by the capitalist machine itself. system.












This ideology of performance behind what these authors, albeit imprecisely, came to call the new spirit of capitalism, would bring about the installation in the imagination of these “sub-citizens” of more ingrained notions of “future”, security and calculability, as well as as an indistinction between unproductive work and activity, terms and concepts largely collected from the social symbology of Pierre Bourdieu (2007) and from his studies on the conditions of adaptation of rural populations to the industrial way in Algeria in the late 1950s. ,


The thesis of these authors is that the expansion of capitalist accumulation, with the subordination of work to the demands of capital productivity, depends on ideologies that justify the engagement with capitalism and that make this engagement attractive. [...] It is a matter, as in Weber's sociology of religions, of perceiving the "elective affinities" between "cultural rationalization" and "societal rationalization", between the impulses of evaluative systematization carried out by intellectual "heterodoxies" and institutionalization. these impulses into constellations of interests and meanings that spread a way of life to other social strata (TORRES, 2007, p. 88).


   From what has been said so far in this chapter, if the close relationship that Max Weber (2013 [1905]) traced between a religious ethics and an economic model [1] served as a reference, at least methodologically, as the aforementioned contemporary authors confess about their speculations about a new spirit of capitalism, such inferences would easily serve as an introduction or even as a cornerstone for their application in the context of the advent of neo-Pentecostalism. Thus, the entire emotional, psychological description that William James (2017 [1902]) sketched of the new attitude towards practical mundane life in pious Protestant North America at the end of the XIX ─ see Chapter V of this study ─, could have given the spark that awakened in Max Weber, about three years later, his in-depth version on the subject. Because it indicated, albeit in an incipient way, secular rationalism, detached from the Thomist scholasticism, as the first foundation of the historical exegesis [2] of Protestantism; and, therefore, in the version of those who currently advocate the thesis of the “new spirit of capitalism”, the ethics of an industrial economic system in a world even more rationalized by technological and scientific advances, would bring in its core the sociocultural matrix that would give rise to the new ethos of “subcitizens” apt to be prey to a rapacity dressed up under a new layer of religious veneer described by researchers such as Coleman (2000, p. 28) of prosperity theology.

  Julien Stward and Leslie Wight, anthropologists who studied in the USA, were reluctant to remain on the threshold of what they preferred to call cultural materialism, where technical-economic and techno-ecological pressures themselves condition the sociocultural structure of a given society. 1979, p. 549 et seq.). In terms of beliefs, on the other hand, great figures in the anthropological or sociological field who dealt with the religious theme refuted the arguments of historical materialism as an epiphenomenon. Marshall Sahlins:


In tribal cultures, economy, politics, ritual and ideology do not appear as 'distinct systems'; nor can relations be easily assigned to one or the other of these functions [...] culture, the symbolic order, dominates everywhere. [...] The uniqueness of Western society does not lie in the fact that the economic system escapes the symbolic order, but in the structural consequences of this option. [...] the fundamental lies in the characteristic orientation of their symbolic systems (apud KUPER, pp. 221 – 222).



By showing religion as an essentially social thing, by no means do we mean that it is limited to translating, in another language, the material forms of society and its immediate vital needs (2003, p. 468);


So with Max Weber:

It does not seem demonstrable that certain general economic conditions are the presupposition for the development of belief in spirits... (op. cit., p. 280);


and Malinowski:

I have made a detailed digression to criticize the conceptions about the economic nature of primitive man, as they survive in our habits of mind and in some books - the concept of a rational being who wants nothing more than to satisfy his simplest needs [...] of the so-called materialist conception of history [...] in everything that man imagines and seeks and  always has in mind a purely utilitarian material advantage. I hope that now, whatever meaning kula may have for ethnology, for the general science of culture, will serve as an instrument to banish such crude conceptions (op. cit. p. 369).

   It remains for us, therefore, to know which came first, recklessness or greed.


[1] Denis Diderot’s famous paraphrase of Jean Meslier’s testamentary aphorism that he would only rest in peace “when he strangled the last monarch with the guts of the last priest” (MINOIS, 2012).

[2] Henri Bergson's Instinct Theory

[3]  Some contemporary Marxists such as Lessa (2013) and Ouriques (2015) would say that these expressions are mere euphemisms, and prefer terms such as “theft”, “spoilage” and “violence”.

[4]  Following Engels’ line of reasoning in The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State (2018), the sacred commandment of Jewish origin “thou shalt not steal” (c. 3000 B.C.), already in that pristine era, would be nothing but a vindication of the property right?

[5] Model is perhaps a euphemism for the real proportions of the phenomenon of modern economic rationalism for accumulation, to the point of a fierce critic of this system as Professor Maria da Conceição Tavares once declared that capitalism had obtained the status of a “ civilization". Available at: . Accessed on: 05 Apr 2018.

[6] Arnold Hauser (2003, p 273 et seq), when referring to the liberal ethos characteristic of merchants in the Italian maritime proto-republics in the 19th century. XIV, two hundred years before Martin Luther's Reformation, weakens, or displaces, Weber's hypothesis about the links of the remote origin of capitalist economic rationalism with Protestantism. Thus, by derivation, we can argue that the cosmopolitan vision that emerged as a consequence of the Crusades was the primeval source of the bourgeois capitalist vein.

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