Old Testament and Capitalism

Image: Tima Miroshnichenko

Old Testament and Capitalism


There are significant differences in how these systems approach ownership and wealth distribution

There was a supermarket, after passing the goods through the reader, the attendant asked if the payment was by credit or debit. To which I replied “God will pay you”. She laughed, but didn't accept it. I took the money out of my pocket and made the payment. So, afterwards I was thinking about the importance and implications of each of these two forms of divinity in our lives, and in the society we create from them.



The economy described in Old testment it is based on simple agricultural and commercial systems with an emphasis on laws of social justice and respect for property. Capitalism, on the other hand, is a market economy based on free enterprise and the relentless pursuit of profit. A search that engenders a self-sustaining process of economic inequality, seen as a common characteristic inherent in the system itself; in which salaried workers are often exploited and subjected to precarious working conditions.

No Old testment, land and natural resources were seen as a common good that belonged to the whole community, and laws protected the rights of farmers and the poor to use them. In capitalism, however, land and resources are private property and can be freely bought and sold, resulting in the concentration of wealth and inequality, resulting from the exploitation and unbridled predation of human life (social work) and non-human life (natural resources).

Furthermore, in the Old testment, it was forbidden to take advantage of situations of need for profit, such as selling food in times of scarcity. In capitalism, however, the law of supply and demand prevails and prices increase in situations of scarcity, favoring sellers and harming buyers.

Another difference between the economy of the Old testment and capitalism is in the approach to commercial contracts. In the first there were clear rules about how contracts should be made and how to resolve disputes. For example, it was forbidden to charge excessive interest to the poor and there were measures to protect the most vulnerable in their business dealings. Excessive interest was seen as a form of oppression of the poor. In capitalism, the market is regulated by the law of supply and demand and contracts are based on the search for maximum profit, regardless of social and ethical consequences.

No Old testment there were institutions like the sabbatical year and the jubilee year that aimed to preserve economic equality and protect the poorest. In capitalism, however, there are no similar mechanisms to redistribute wealth and correct economic inequalities. In this context, it is important to highlight that the economy of the Old testment it was an agricultural and community economy, strongly influenced by ethical and moral values, such as justice, compassion and caring for others. While capitalism is an economy based on the market and private property, where ethics and morals are considered subjective and secondary forms in relation to profit and profit maximization.

No Old testment property was considered a collective good and land was often redistributed to ensure economic equality. In capitalism, property is private and people are free to do whatever they want with their property, including exploiting workers and nature.

In the economy of Old testment private property was seen as a divine blessing and was important for the protection of individuals and their families. Similarly, the capitalist economy values ​​private property as a way to protect individual rights and encourage entrepreneurship. Similarities also include the idea that property is a fundamental right and that people should be free to acquire, sell and exchange goods and resources.

However, there are significant differences in how these systems approach ownership and wealth distribution. At the Old testment, property was seen as a means of ensuring family and community survival, and there were protections in place to prevent excessive accumulation of wealth by individuals or families. In capitalism, however, property is widely seen as a mechanism to increase individual wealth and corporate profit, which inevitably results in significant social and economic inequalities.

Capitalist private property, in which resources and means of production are controlled by individuals or companies for profit, promotes a society of injustices and inequalities because it promotes: (1) exploitation of workers: the capitalist system is based on the pursuit of maximum profit , which leads companies to exploit their workers, paying low wages and demanding overtime without adequate remuneration; (2) income inequality: private property hinders the equitable distribution of wealth, concentrating it in the hands of a few. This leads to huge income inequality, where the richest class accumulates most of the wealth, while the poorest class struggles to survive; (3) lack of access to basic goods and services: the lack of access to health, education and adequate housing, for example, is the result of the concentration of resources in the hands of a few individuals or companies; (4) social exclusion: capitalist private property leads to the emergence of a divided society, where members of the richest class benefit from the reality of others, becoming increasingly inhuman and disrespectful.

Capitalist private property is based on the accumulation of wealth and power by individuals who have the most financial means. This means that businesses and land are controlled by a wealthy minority, which leads to a concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few individuals. This form of ownership results in the exploitation of workers, income inequality, limited access to basic goods and services, lack of social protection for the most vulnerable, among other injustices. Furthermore, capitalist private property also leads to environmental problems such as the degradation of the environment in the name of profit, negatively affecting the lives of many people and entire communities.

In this sense, capitalist private property is a source of many inequalities and injustices, and it is important that more equitable and sustainable alternatives that can promote a fairer and more inclusive society for all are considered.

Another important difference is how people are paid for their work. Under capitalism, people are usually paid based on their productivity and the value they add to the market. no longer Old testment, people are encouraged to work based on their needs and capabilities and everyone should have access to enough to meet their basic needs, regardless of their productivity.

O Old testment describes the institution of servitude as a way of resolving debts, a way of punishing crimes, or even protecting the poor. In the first two cases, for example, some Israelites could be sold into slavery, but the servitude was limited in duration, usually seven years, and there were specific rules for the treatment of slaves. Serfdom was also seen as a way to protect the poor, as they were allowed to sell themselves into slavery to pay their debts and be guaranteed food and shelter. Furthermore, the Sabbatical and Jubilee laws were laws intended to ensure that economic inequality did not become chronic and that the poor had access to sufficient resources to survive. These laws among others also reinforced ethical and moral values, encouraging compassion, honesty and equity in the economy.

There are many commandments and directions about helping the poor and sharing wealth with those less fortunate. For example, there are instructions to leave some grain in the harvest so that the poor can harvest it, and not to oppress the poor and foreigners. There are also commandments not to charge exorbitant interest from other Hebrews, which would be a form of financial exploitation. It also includes instructions on the ethical use of money to avoid unjust enrichment. For example, there are prohibitions against fraud, theft and unjust enrichment, including the use of dishonest weights and measures in commerce.

Roughly speaking, the Old testment presents an approach to economic issues emphasizing the importance of justice, equity and charity. At the same time, he also recognizes the importance of economic activity and encourages a healthy and productive economy, but always with the aim of protecting the weakest and neediest.

In capitalism, salaried work constitutes a form of exploitation and oppression of workers and perpetuation of inequality and economic oppression. Salaried work is a form of economic relationship based on the exploitation of the workforce. The worker is obliged to sell his labor power to the capitalist, who controls the means of production in order to make a profit. The difference between the value of the work produced and the wage paid to the worker is the capitalist's source of profit. The worker is seen as a commodity, a way of producing wealth for the capitalist. Economic justice is seen as a secondary issue, as the priority is the accumulation of wealth through the exploitation of labor. The capitalist system is based on competition and exploitation and economic laws are structured to favor the richest over the poorest.

In short, we can enumerate the differences between the economic aspects of Old testment and capitalism as follows:

(i) Ownership: No Old testment, property was seen as a gift from God and was regulated by just and equitable laws. There are many commandments that guide the protection of property, including the prohibition of theft and protection of the property rights of foreigners. Already in the capitalist economy, property is seen as an individual right and the accumulation of wealth is encouraged wildly.

(ii) Market: No Old testment, trade was regulated by just and equitable laws, such as the prohibition of exploitation of the poor and the obligation to treat foreigners fairly. In the capitalist economy, however, the market is governed by free markets and competition, which can lead to the exploitation of the weakest.

(iii) Inequality: No Old testment there was a concern with economic inequality, with the obligation of fair laws to protect the poorest and weakest. In the capitalist economy, inequality is seen as a natural result of competition and the free market.

(iv) Social responsibility: No Old testment, there was a social responsibility towards those most in need, such as orphans, widows and foreigners. O Old testment emphasizes the importance of simplicity and humility, encouraging people to avoid ostentation and excessive materialism. At the same time, he also recognizes the importance of wealth and prosperity, but always with the aim of protecting the weakest and neediest. O Old testment it also emphasizes the importance of cooperation and solidarity in all areas of society, including the economy. There are many teachings that encourage people to work together and support each other, and many examples of communities that have succeeded because of collaboration and unity. In the capitalist economy, however, social responsibility is left to companies and individuals and is not mandatory.

It is possible to see that the conceptions of economy, servitude and slavery present in the Old testment differ significantly from the capitalist economy, the former being centered on conceptions of economic justice and protection of the rights of the poor and slaves, while the latter is centered on the accumulation of wealth and the exploitation of workers. Although we agree that any form of slavery and servitude are socially reprehensible forms of social relations and incompatible with the values ​​of freedom, equality and social justice.


Lukács's critique

György Lukács, a XNUMXth-century Hungarian philosopher and social critic, criticized the Old testment as an expression of the barbarian culture of antiquity, which was characterized by an objectivist and instrumentalist mentality, incapable of understanding the dialectic of human life. In that sense, the Old testment reflects a slave-owning society, which values ​​property and the accumulation of wealth, while denying human dignity and individual freedom. He also criticized the morality of the Mosaic law which values ​​submission to divine authority and focuses on formal issues such as the performance of religious ceremonies and paying taxes rather than ethical and social issues.

According to Lukács the Old testment it was used as an instrument of oppression by the leaders of the time who used religious faith to control the population and maintain their position of power. It thus highlights the relationship between the morality of the Mosaic law and slavery, oppression and social inequality. He developed his critique of the Old testment in several works, including History and Class Consciousness e For an ontology of social being. In your analysis the Old testment it is part of a cultural tradition that focuses on formal issues, such as the fulfillment of religious ceremonies, and that denies human dignity and individual freedom. We can still see this cultural tradition as part of a wider project of oppression, which was perpetuated by the Christian Church and feudal society, and which is part of the cultural heritage of modern Europe.

Lukács, in For an ontology of the social being II (1986), states that “[…] all idealistic or religious forms of natural teleology, in which nature is God's creation, are metaphysical projections of that only real model”, human reality. The creation of man, for example, reflects God as a worker in the real world: “[…] God not only – as the human subject of work – continually revises what he does, but, moreover, just like man, having finished work, go rest. Nor is it difficult to recognize the human model of work in other creation myths, even if they have been given an apparently philosophical form; remember once more the world as a clockwork set in motion by God.”

Lukács' central question regarding the Old testment, still in his work cited in the paragraph above, is to demonstrate that it prevents him from seeing that man builds himself with his work. For, in it, man “must see himself as a product placed at the service of transcendent powers, from which it necessarily follows that every independent action founded on man himself, on his sociality, contains in itself a transgression against superior powers”.

Lukács' Marxist critique is necessary to understand the importance and impact of Old testment in European culture and history. For, the critical understanding of the formalist morality present in the Old testment it is important for understanding the history of oppression and the struggle for freedom in Europe.

in your work History and Class Consciousness (1923), Lukács writes about the importance of historical awareness to the struggle against oppression and exploitation. Class consciousness is a powerful tool for understanding and combating the oppressive and exploitative forces existing in modern society (epitomized in capital).


Between the God of the Old Testament and the God of Capitalism

Some passages from Old testment are often criticized for their supposed advocacy of violence, oppression, and inhumanity. For example, there are reports of bloody wars, slavery, severe punishment for certain behaviors considered sinful, and discrimination against women, foreigners, and other marginalized groups.

These passages are problematic because they apparently justify violence and oppression, and deny dignity and human rights to certain groups, with negative implications for society by perpetuating discrimination and exclusion. In addition, they can be used to justify violent and oppressive behavior or to deny rights and freedoms to certain groups.

Em Exodus, 32:27-28, reads “Then Moses said, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Each of you shall lay his hand on his sword; and you shall walk through the camp, from one to another, and you shall kill each one his brother, and his friend, and his kinsman.” In Issues, 31:17-18, as it is written “They killed all the men of war among those who dwelt in that country, but left their lives to the women and to the little ones”. Already in Deuteronomy, 20:10-16, “And when you come near a city to fight against it, offer it peace. And if it answers peace, and opens its gates to you, all the people that are found in it shall be put to forced labor, and shall serve you.” Also in Joshua 6:21, we are shocked to read that "they killed all the inhabitants of the city with swords, men, women, old and young, calves and sheep and donkeys."

These passages present a portrait of violence, oppression and cruelty, which can be seen as a form of inhumanity. Despite the historical and cultural context, it is important to recognize and condemn any form of violence, oppression and inhumanity, whether portrayed in holy books or in other contexts. A few more illustrations that portray discrimination and oppression, necessary for the argument that we will put next:

(1) Levitical 25:44-46 – “Your menservants and your maidservants, whomever you have, will be from the foreign nation; Of those around you shall buy them, and of their children that are born in your country, and they shall be your possession.” Levitical 20:13 – “If a male lies with a man, as one lies with a woman, both of them have done an abominable thing; they will surely die; his blood upon them.” Levitical 19:33-34 - "If anyone sojourns among you from a foreign nation and wants to keep the Lord's Passover, first circumcise his heart, and then he will keep it as a guest. So shall all your children, and all the foreigners who sojourn among you.”

(2) Deuteronomy 22:20-21 - "If a woman is dishonored, and there is no witness against her, but she is caught in her own iniquity, then you shall bring her to the door of her father's house, and the men shall stone her. of his city with stones, and he shall die, because he hath done wickedness in Israel; so shalt thou put away the evil from among you.” Deuteronomy 23:1-3 - "He shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord, nor to his office, nor to his office, nor to his priesthood, any man that has a deformity in his hand, or a lame foot, or any thing that is detestable. The Ammonite and the Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord, nor to his office, nor to his office, nor to his priesthood, forever.”

(3) Issues 31:17-18 – “They killed every man of war among those who dwelt in that land, but left the women and little ones alive” (4) Exodus 21:7-11 - "If anyone sells his daughter as a servant, she will not go out as male servants go out." (5) Genesis 34:13-29 – Dinah's story is a narrative of sexual violence and discrimination against women. These passages present a portrait of slavery of women, discrimination against foreigners and people with disabilities, and sexual violence, which can be seen as forms of oppression and inhumanity.

However, there are also in the Old Testament also several examples of people who were punished for their dishonest behavior in the economic arena: (a) Achan – in Joshua 7, Achan is described as having stolen sacred objects from the conquest of Jericho, which caused the wrath of God and the defeat of the Israelites in a subsequent battle; (b) Ananias and Sapphira - in Atos 5, Ananias and Sapphira are described as having sold property and lied about the amount obtained, which resulted in their immediate death; (c) Balaam – in Issues 22-24, Balaam is described as having accepted a bribe to curse Israel, which resulted in his death at the hand of Moses.

These examples show that the Old testment strongly condemns dishonesty and fraud in business dealings and that those who act improperly will face serious consequences. However, what we want to argue from the contrast between inhuman and/or dishonest acts, in general, and punishments through laws or other means, is that this is a balance that does not close. No society can display high and balanced levels of justice, equity and freedom as long as human acts are justified by “transcendent powers”. At the Old testment, God, as in Lukács' critique and, in capitalism, capital, according to Karl Marx, author of a seminal work on XNUMXth-century capitalism entitled Capital: critique of political economy.

O Old testment teaches that God is the only judge and that evil will be punished in due time. In it, evil is the result of human choice to disobey God and act against his will. Disobedience is seen as a breakdown of the harmony and balance that God has established in the world. This leads to moral corruption and social disorder, such as the oppression of the poor, injustice and exploitation. Another source of evil is related to the practice of idolatry, which is seen as a breach of covenant with God, since the worship of other gods is seen as a form of betrayal and disbelief. Lastly, there is also evil originating from "an evil spirit from the Lord", as described in the book of I Samuel, chapter 16: "And the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him."

No Old testment there are reports of crimes and atrocities committed in the name of God or in the name of your religion. The conquest of the Promised Land by the Israelites, for example, is described as an act of war ordained by God. While it is seen as a victory for God's people, there are also reports of massacres and destruction of enemy cities and nations. Another example refers to holy warfare, warfare that is ordained by God against enemy nations and idolatrous peoples. While it is justified as a defense of God's faith and people, there are also reports of atrocities committed against enemies, including the massacre of women and children. Some divine punishments, such as the flood and the destruction of cities, are described as responses to sin and disobedience. While these punishments are justified as divine actions to restore order and justice, there are also reports of mass death and destruction.

In turn, according to Karl Marx, capitalism is a society in which money in the form of capital (which consists of the social relationship between owners of the means of production and subsistence and owners exclusively of their labor power, in a society based solely on in monetary relations, that is, in which all the necessary aspects of life are transformed into commodities, including human work itself), is elevated to a supreme power, being worshiped as a "god". According to him capital is the “god” of capitalist society because it controls all aspects of economic and social life and is the determining factor of the value of things.

Capital is worshiped as a “god” because it is seen as a mysterious and inherently good force that is capable of promoting progress and prosperity. However, for Marx capital is actually an oppressive force that exploits workers and perpetuates social inequality. A form of social domination where the capitalist class controls and exploits the working class, reproducing capital in an extended and indefinite way (production by capitalists, on the one hand, and wage workers on the other). The worship of capital as a “god” is seen by Marx as a form of illusion (fetish) that hides the oppressive reality of capitalist society.

For Marx, human emancipation is the ultimate goal of class struggle and human history. Capitalist society, in which the majority of the population is exploited by a minority of owners of means of production, is seen by Marx as an oppressive and alienating form. Human emancipation, therefore, implies overcoming this system and establishing a socialist or communist society, in which ownership of the means of production is collective and the social division of labor disappears.

In this new society, people would be able to develop their potential and work freely and autonomously, without being oppressed by exploitation. Human freedom would be expanded and social relationships would be based on cooperation and mutual respect rather than exploitation and competition. In short, human emancipation is a condition of freedom and social and economic equality, in which people are able to develop their potential and live without oppression.

In this new society, as the measure of man is man himself, and not an external power, such as “God” or capital, spurious or alienating justifications for the private appropriation of social work would disappear. According to Lukács, the social being is the result of human activity and the human being can only be understood from his social existence, that is, the understanding of the human being is only possible from the understanding of the society in which he lives. Without this understanding of man and society, it becomes impossible to transform the reality of capitalist society, in terms of overcoming it.

Neither capitalism nor the socialisms implemented throughout the XNUMXth century were sufficient to implement this new society. For, social conscience in the formation of social reality in both is still based on the survival of the fittest (capitalists who own the means of production and discretionary power of socialist leaders), as occurs in wild nature, and not on a social conscience formed from the human being. as means and end of social relations.

Finally, capitalism acquired throughout its development and, in particular, with the development of the new technologies of the Technological and Informational Revolution, among which computing, automation and robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, internet of things, blockchain, among many others, an overwhelming force endangering the existence of human life on the planet.

It remains to be seen whether the new intelligences (artificial intelligence and machine learning, for example) can contribute to raising our awareness of the condition of individual struggle for survival, of Nietzsche's "all too human human", in which human nature is still guided by animal instincts and passions; or whether, on the contrary, they will continue to contribute to perpetuating an economic system destined to destroy human and non-human life on the planet.

Human emancipation, in Marx's terms, is not an idealistic vision of a society. On the contrary, it is a necessity and an urgency for the continuation of human existence itself.

*José Micaelson Lacerda Morais is a professor in the Department of Economics at URCA. Author, among other books, of Capitalism and the revolution of value: apogee and annihilation.

This article is part of the book by the same author entitled Economic Aspects of the Old Testament, Independently Published, 2023.


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