HomeOpinion & AnalysisLink between religion and spirit of capitalism

Link between religion and spirit of capitalism


Rukudzo Mangoma

AS tears flow on our faces, hands put in a stance of surrender, we grovel to the heavens to intercede on our behalf.

We pray for happiness, for health, but mostly for prosperity and wealth. For the lucky few, their prayers are answered, but for most us, we question why we deserve to wallow in abject poverty, to suffer, but most importantly we question ourselves if being religious and prayerful bring success and wealth in our lives?

One way or the other, every Zimbabwean is affiliated to a religion, which to some people gives hope in dire situations. Raised in a Christian society, I was taught that prayer is my best hope of being wealthy. I was taught that my suffering here on earth is a test of my intentions to seek wealth, and even if I do not become successful here on earth, I will find it in heaven.

What if it is this kind of thinking that makes Zimbabwe and Africa impoverished? Are we not more concerned about the future than the present? After all to change the future is to change the present.

Inasmuch as we are taught that religious texts offer hope even in the most dire of situations, I’m of the opinion that though in rare situations in life hope is good, it is not a sound strategy to use in one’s pursuit of wealth.

Rather, I think more often than not, hope might actually be a hindrance to becoming wealthy. This is because hope immobilises a person from taking charge of their life because they think it shall be done for them so long as they do not waver in hope, that is prayer.

As bizarre as it is, our religious leaders have monetised hope. By simply telling people that religiosity bears fruits of wealth and leadership, people now pay a lot of money to them to hear more lies about how their poor living conditions are just temporary and that if one is faithful one will live life beyond measure. But who has propounded the notion that religiosity leads to prosperity? Who has argued such an idea without looking at case studies of Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana?

It seems the ideology was originated by German philosopher and political economist Max Webber. In his book “The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, Webber propounds that the “spirit of capitalism” can foster prosperity and that the “spirit” or “drive” is strongly correlated with religion.

To understand this puzzling link between religion and poverty, we must first understand what the “spirit of capitalism”  and the “protestant ethnic” mean, and then we must examine whether Zimbabwe’s religiosity induces a capitalistic or market economy, therefore, prosperity.

“The spirit of capitalism”, can be broken down into two elements: The impulse to accumulate wealth and an economical lifestyle.

“The former needs a disciplined, well-skilled labour force and a constant flow of capital injection, while the latter requires utmost self-control.

“The idea is that wealth should be accumulated for the betterment of society and should multiply with each generation and not to be squandered senselessly on luxuries.

Despite that capitalism is about being greedy for wealth, it is morally and ethnically-driven. Capitalism, being a game that is highly competitive, ruthless and a no-nonsense one at that, has a set of rules that have to be followed, if one lives in a capitalist society. Those who are players of the game, whether by design or by default, should be disciplined, consistent and should master their skillset in order to survive in the long run. The rules capitalists should adhere to are sourced from religion.

For example, these values are found in the Bible and are derived from Calvinism. The over-arching ideas of “duty” and “calling” are common to both Christianity and capitalism. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with might”, and 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says more bluntly: “If any would not work, neither should he eat”. This shows that the Bible abhors laziness and sets out injunctions to save, invest and act with prudence in business.

The above still leaves the glass half full in explaining the link between religiosity and poverty. The answer lies with economic historian Niall Ferguson. Ferguson lists what he calls “the six killer apps of prosperity”, that gave the West a competitive edge over the rest of the nations. These “six killer apps”, include competition, science, rule of law, medicine, consumerism (industrialisation depends on a consumer society) and work ethic. The idea is that the “spirit of capitalism” and the moral energy of religion, in conjunction with social, political and economic institutions, drive the capitalistic economy, that delivers wealth and prosperity.

Bringing us back to Zimbabwe, it is well known that Zimbabwe does not have all the political, socio-economic institutions to support a viable market economy. Zimbabwe has no rule of law, efficient bureaucracy, social institutions (schools and hospitals) or the competitive environment, to mention just a few, that bring about a viable capitalistic economy. Such institutions emerge from deliberate and purposeful policy choices that a country makes. Since Zimbabwe has not made these decisions, we can safely say that it lacks the necessary “spirit of capitalism”, to do so.

We can say, according to Webber, that there is a link between religious values and the spirit of capitalism. Zimbabwe’s religiosity lacks moral fervour and drive to foster a viable capitalistic economy and, therefore, prosperity. For example Zimbabwe has now shifted its focus on agriculture.

It is neglecting all other sectors of production, including mining, tourism and the film and arts sectors. A capitalist economy must not behave in such a manner, but must be firing from all economic cylinders to accumulate wealth.

The truth is that Zimbabwe’s practice of religion is systematically flawed. It has failed to impact positively on governance.

Even if the Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation”, Zimbabwe will remain impoverished because it lacks righteous leaders brought into power by righteous citizens. The nation is marred by injustice, corruption, abuse of power, laziness and cowardice, thus Zimbabwe’s religiosity erodes, rather than helps advocate for prosperity.

In conclusion, I want to emphasise that being a “prayer warrior” and a habitual churchgoer will not bring wealth or success in your life, rather stick to the laws of success and wealth accumulation that have survived the test of time and guided the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos  quite well in their pursuit of wealth, that is work hard, save, invest and be consistent.

Rukudzo Misheck Mangoma is a graduate in development studies. He writes here in his personal capacity

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