TV here in Brasilia features several religious channels from competing catholics and evangelical protestants. The latter are almost always selling something or asking for money. Last time I looked they were giving away little oil-lamps and encouraging the viewers to keep the flame of faith alive by buying continuous oil refils from them.
Anyway, I started wondering if this wasn't more than mere hucksterism. Or rather, a nasty PositiveFeedback between the spiritual and the financial based on the "get what you pay-for" view of SettingPrices. ie. higher prices are signals that the product is more valuable. So sometimes you can sell more by increasing the price.
And maybe persuading people to fork out a considerable part of their wealth - and remember, we're talking about people living in near favela conditions, with low literacy levels, who are the main recruiting demographic for the evangelicals; the rich middle classes are more likely to remain catholic - actually hepls re-enforce their belief. It's about avoiding CognitiveDissonance. If this wasn't really true, I wouldn't be paying so much for it, would I?
As my wiki seems hosed at the moment, I'd thought I'd scrawl something here while it's timely:
Not many people realize that BillyGraham probably would never have achieve his wide reach without the support of WilliamRandophHearst and HenryLuce (BigMedia), based on their desire to counter what they saw as a growth in US support for liberalism/communism. Some references:
A response in-progress to this item in JohnRobb's weblog : http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/johnrobb/2006/07/hyper_rentiers.html
I suspect churches are picking up most of the displaced loyalty and social capital that isn't being invested elsewhere. (eg. in unions or constructive political movements.)
In the US is looks like churches have a convenient and stable symbiosis with capitalism. They don't challenge capital's legitimacy. And capital pretty much destroys all rival forms of social organization but allows churches dominion over social capital.
This is different from the UK, where the main church was too allied with anti-capitalist aristocrats, and so ended up side-lined.
In islamic countries, churches (ie mosques) have become centres of political resistance against capital. It would be fascinating to see what would happen if some kind of "liberation theology" or radical anti-capitalist strain of christianity broke out in the US : one that was able to preach resistence to capitalism while retaining legitimacy as a christian church and articulator of social capital.
Another interesting thing to watch will be the new tools for managing social capital on the internet.
Right now, the net is articulating a lot of social capital. People are motivated to work for reasons of solidarity with, or desire for attention from, their online tribe rather than for money.
Capital hasn't yet cracked that.
Periodically, it invests billions to make money on the net (ie. to enclose internet activity and resell it in the market) only to discover that this activity resists commercialization. Then capital withdraws in disappointment.
This is called a "bubble". It happened in 2000 when capital thought that it could make money simply by reselling the naive attention of "viewers" of internet content.
Now we've discovered that the internet is about active production and participation rather than consumption, so capital is trying to find a way to enclose and resell that activity. Hence "web 2.0" and "bubble 2.0"
Now, one of two interesting things will happen. Either
a) capital still won't succeed. (For all the hype, I don't see how, for example, MySpace will ever be commercialized. It's completely within the social / attention economy.) And there'll be another crash.
Or, perhaps more interestingly,
b) capital will succeed in creating mechanisms that succesfully convert the articulation of social capital via social software into money.
In which case let's go back and look at those churches. In fact, churches have a good symbiosis with capital because they are also "transducers" between money and social capital. Churches are start-ups and succesful pastors get rich. There's plenty of money routed by churches, and good business to be done working with them.
However, if capital discovers a way to transduce the social activity on the net into money, then social software is now in competition with churches. If, in fact, it's a more succesful way of doing this, then we'd see social software start to succesfully "attack" churches.
How might this happen? For example, (now wealthy) social networking sites which want to offer services to "adult friend-finders", "polyfuckery" and "BDSM" tribes manage to revitalize the government's enthusiasm for "freedom of speech".
See also :
- (WarpLink) WhenProphecyFails