The Clandestine Religion:
Economic Progress

Albert Banerjee
Departments of Communications and Psychology
Simon Fraser University


In Generation X, Douglas Coupland (1991) writes about the forgotten generation, a generation without meaning. More than fifty years earlier, Carl Jung (1933) delved into the Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, accounting for the growth of psychology as a reflection of the spiritual need of "Western" culture. It has long been understood that the contemporary "western" world is spiritually poor, and has lost touch, not only with nature, but with human nature, especially its non-rational side. Our contemporary society has been characterized by the absence of myth and religion. But is this the case? Griffin (1988), states that spirituality refers to the ultimate values and meanings in terms of which we live, whether they are worldly or otherworldly. What is "holy", is that which is of ultimate importance. We do have a religion, and it is alive and well. However, it is a worldly religion. It is the religion of economic progress, and like all religions it has its theologians, priests, followers, and heretics.

We assume our world is a rational scientific world, especially when compared to primitive and traditional worlds; however, as Carl Jung wrote in Archaic Man (1933), past cultural beliefs appear illogical only because they arose from assumptions totally foreign from ours. In addition, both past and present societies avoid questioning their own assumptions when attempting to explain things (Jung, 1933). If some of the assumptions of contemporary society are questioned, such as the belief that economic progress is intrinsically "good", it becomes clear that our beliefs are based on just as "irrational" a foundation as those of our ancestors. Furthermore, Joseph Campbell (1959), states that religion and mythology have been the way of relating humanity to the cosmos, to themselves, and to nature, as well as often providing the political structure of society. As we shall see this is also the case now.

An Outline of the Current Religious Structure

Over the last few centuries, "a new way of life [has] spread over the planet with a claim to universality unparalleled since the age when Christianity started out on its career, only this time the movement was on a purely material level" (Polanyi, cited in Griffin, 1988). This new way of life was based on the belief that economic progress was unquestionably good. It became the belief that economic progress would lead to social progress, as was assured in the bible, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Smith stated that each person's greed would be translated through set "laws" of the market place and through the "invisible hand", which would act like a god regulating the market, into a good and fair society. The work of theologians, that of interpreting the doctrine of god, was given over to economists. Contemporary priests, inspiring the masses no longer worked in churches but out of advertising agencies.

As with all religions, there are important symbols which communicate the power of god. Two major symbols of the religion of economic progress are "technology" and "money". Rituals play an important role in religion. They are used to revitalize religious symbols, to internalize the religion, to unify those under it, not to mention that they are an effective means of socializing people to conform to values they have not chosen themselves (Bocock, 1974). Work is our modern day ritual. It plays an important role in maintaining the religion, as well as in our identity, and in regulating our society. Let us now examine each of these issues.

The Current Belief

The current god does not resemble the Eastern concept of bliss which is believed to exist within us all and throughout nature. Rather it resembles the Christian God after Newton--a deistic god who set up the laws of nature and sat back to rest, rarely interfering. This God can be located in Adam Smith's causal chain; that economic progress was tied to social progress, and that the economic market place governed itself so that if every one strives for him or herself, the common good will come about (Noble, 1995). The god of the market place rarely interferes, and when it does, it is anthropomorphised as "the invisible hand". Our current religious belief system is nicely summarized by the heretic economist Herman Daly, (1988) it is that economic growth is both the panacea and the "summum bonum" of our society. Economic growth is "held to be the cure for poverty, unemployment, debt repayment, inflation, balance of payment deficits, pollution, depletion, the population explosion, crime, divorce and drug addiction" (p.116). He calls this phenomenon growth mania, but it is more like a religion than a "mania".

Like many religious beliefs, the belief in the good of economic progress plays a role in organizing society. As the economy was portrayed as a distinct, self-regulating realm with inner consistency, the separation of economics from politics, exemplified in the liberalist ideology popular in the turn of the century, was justified (Griffin, 1988). The economy, like the church, was relatively free from state influence. This was not the case the other way around. In the past, religion has had a strong influence over politics; kings ruled by divine appointment, and monarchs in some "primitive cultures" were both appointed and ritually killed by priests (Campbell, 1959). The same exists today. Economic powers through lobbying and political funding maintain control over the parties and leaders. In this religious system money is power and those who follow the economic gods are powerful. In addition the current political leaders all seem to believe in the same god, perhaps more so than in any other time.

Karl Polanyi (1957, cited in Griffin, 1988) states that this new "theology of universal beneficence of profits" gave a moral pardon to the market place. The belief that market place works as if guided by an invisible hand belonging to a benevolent God has had a tremendous effect on how we regulate commerce. Eric Fromm (1955), states that "[i]n contrast to most other societies in which social laws are explicit and fixed on the basis of political power or tradition, capitalism does not have such explicit laws". Part of the answer to the environmentalists questions of why are we raping our environment, and Bruce O'hara's (1993), question of why are we working so hard, may lie in the fact that there are no laws restricting growth. Protectionist measures are for the protection of large companies, and this does not translate into protection of the person or community. By believing that economic growth will lead to social good we can avoid deciding on the kind of society we want, and leave it to economic growth to decide. However, what we are left with is simply growth for growth's sake, not for any other reason. Many ask what are we progressing toward? What is the social good that will come of this? And the answer is simply, nothing, because "[i]f growth must never stop then we must never define our purposes too clearly lest they should be attained and we lose our reason to grow" (Daly, 1988, p.115). Lewis Mumford quips that the leaders and enterprisers had avoided the necessity for introducing values except "those which were automatically recorded in profits and prices...The belief that values could be dispensed with constituted the new system of values" (1934, p.122). Thus, the only true value was economic progress, all other "personal" values could coexist with progress, providing they did not contradict it. It made this new value system ideal for the multicultural, pluralistic society, that was North America at the turn of the century, and now it is perfect for the multinational/cultural Global Village.

Though society may avoid creating laws which impede the free market, the market does have laws which, according to Fromm, (1955), operate behind the back of the individual who is only concerned with his or her private interests. "You try to guess these laws of the market as a Calvinist in Geneva tried to guess whether God had predestined him for salvation or not. But the laws of the market, like God's will are beyond the reach of your will and influence" (Fromm, p.67).

It is clear that the above beliefs fit the description of the god complex described by Jung: the god complex is a complex shared by a group of people which maintains their pattern of beliefs, it holds society together by cohering its values and by channeling people's energy into a social system, (Progoff, 1953).

Symbols of the New Religions

Symbols according to Jung are usually analogs which "bear a relation of similarity to what they are pointing towards" (Rychlack, 1981, p.95). Religious symbols such as the "Buddha" or the "cross" point to something beyond them which is ineffable. The myth of economic progress has two principle symbols, technology and money.


When one thinks of progress, technology is one of the first things to come to mind. Technology has come to represent progress, and the common good to which it will lead. It has taken on "numinous qualities". According to Maxine Berg, (cited in Noble, 1995) the early champion of automation, Andrew Ure's description of the factory took on "mystical qualities". Ure described "the mill as a vast automaton, with all parts in concert, subordinated to the discipline of the self-regulating prime mover, the steam engine". It is important to note, as Mumford (1934) states, that the machine is ambivalent, and can be used for both liberation and repression. However, the prevailing opinion is that technology, representing progress, is intrinsically good. As a result a necessary stage between the conception of technology and its utilization has been skipped, "the stage of evaluation" (Krannals, cited in Mumford, 1934, p. 121). Michael Piore a Harvard economist, (cited in Noble, 1995) conducted a study specifically to learn the factors relevant to management's decision to purchase technology. He was surprised to find that it was management's "enthusiasm for machinery that determined the purchase rather than the cost effectiveness". Like all symbols we do not think rationally about them.

The link between the economy and technology has been noted by Berg, (cited in Noble, 1995). Her view of economists is that they "were missionaries come to spread the gospel of the machine in a land of heretical anti-machinery attitudes", and that they legitimized this through a scientific economic theory. It was not mere coincidence that industrialization and the emergence of the political economy occurred at the same time (Berg, in Noble, 1995).

Technology was a symbol of progress, not just for the capitalists, but their opponents, the socialists, as well. They both believed that economic progress was good, though they differed on issues of who would control it. The Owenite socialists, for example, published the following regarding the steam engine in the New Moral World, in 1837:

At length, casting away his [the steam engine's] guise of terror, this much cursed power revealed itself in its true form and looks to men. What graciousness was in its aspect, what benevolence, what music flowed from its lips: science was heard and the savage hearts of men were melted, the apprehensions were ennobled, and as science spoke, the multitude knelt in love and obedience (Noble, 1995, p.75).

According to Noble, both capitalists and their critics came to worship at the same shrine and, as a result, to reject any opposition to technology. We are no longer waiting for the second coming of Christ for our salvation, nor the apocalypse, rather we believe that new technological development, symbolizing the benevolence of progress, will save us and allows us to proceed with blind faith (Josephson & Josephson, 1962). The irrationality behind the "rational religion" of economic progress is clearly seen in the use of technology. Not only do we fail to evaluate whether there is a benefit or not, but technology is built to become obsolete, through planned obsolescence and (often) needless upgrades. Noble (1995), cites case interviews of bank managers who install technology such as new computers though they are needed solely to give the impression of competitiveness. Technology, obviously signifies more to us than a mere tool.

Furthermore, Bruno Bettelhiem (cited in Josephson & Josephson, 1962) states that, in the past, delusions either took human or superhuman forms; however today "our saviors and destroyers are no longer clothed in the image of man", rather what we now hope will save us, and what in our delusions we fear will destroy us, are machines and technology (i.e. the movie Terminator -robot saves humans from robots or the current movie The Net -where one's identity is simply deleted).

As a society we have made many sacrifices to our symbol of progress, technology. Lord Byron, in an sarcastic remark to parliament (regarding the destruction of machines by workers) which is as applicable now as it was then, states that: "the rejected workmen, in the blindness of their ignorance, instead of rejoicing at these improvements in arts so beneficial to mankind, conceived themselves to be sacrificed to improvements in mechanism" (cited in Noble, 1995, p.80). Those who opposed progress embodied by technology were viewed by the majority as heretics. According to Noble, "[t]he Luddite strategy in the 19th century was not debated and found lacking. Rather it was condemned as dangerous and demented, as were all those who identified themselves with it...To violate the taboo was instantly to lose intellectual credibility"(1995, p.99).

Finally, our creations have become our deities as we no longer understand how they are produced--they are machine-made rather than man [sic]-made. According to Fromm "we are surrounded by things of whose nature and origin we know nothing...we consume, as we produce, without any concrete relatedness to the objects with which we deal" (1955, p.68) this further puts technology, like computers, in a "numinous untouchable realm". We have lost our ability to comprehend and we are dependent, as the primitives were when facing the wrath of nature through a storm. Our own creations have become our idols (Fromm, 1955).


The next major symbol of the myth of economic progress is money. Money originally was used as an intermediary, facilitating exchange between two commodities (commodity to Money to commodity'). Later according to Daly (1988), money became both the beginning and end of a cycle (M to c to M'). The idea was no longer to obtain a specific use-value commodity, but rather to obtain more money which only has exchange value, but unlike most commodities can be hoarded, and grows when hoarded (interest). Finally we arrive at the paper economy of today which offers more growth than the production economy (M to M'; e.g. mergers, takeovers, stock, derivatives...). Money has lost its function as an exchange facilitator, rather it has become both the means and the end. It represents the whole process. Money is the ultimate symbol -- it represents the benevolent god, and it can buy anything. Money is pure wish fulfillment, symbolising the "good" of progress".

As a religion effects culture, so does the myth of progress through money. According to Simmel (1950), money stamps our culture's character, monetary interests give it its essential impersonal character and make people mere cogs in a machine. In keeping with the quantitative, rational mentality of the century, almost everything has a price (just ask an adjuster). Ideas, according to pragmatic philosophy even have a "cash value" (Leahey, 1994). Kierkegaard (cited in Josephson & Josephson, 1962) felt that the self could only be preserved by identification with God. Have we not identified ourselves with money? Do we not speak of a person's net worth? Did James's concept of the self not include material possessions? Our modern religion, like past religions, aids in giving people a sense of value. According to Fromm (1955), one's sense of self does not stem form his or her activity as a loving acting individual, but from his or her socio-economic role. The prestige of the person often depends on the financial possibilities of his or her occupation. A common criticism of capitalism is that it turns people and the environment into commodities (Marx, date unknown; Daly, 1988). Fromm (1955), discusses the "marketing personality", in which one experiences oneself as a thing to be employed successfully on the market. "His sense of value depends on his success: on whether he can sell himself favorably....[it]depends on factors extraneous to himself, on the fickle judgment of the market, which decides about his value as it decides about the value of commodities"(p.70). Here personal value is found in money, in one's income. In addition, religion used to confirm status on people, those closest to god, such as shamans, priests, Buddha's, and kings would hold privileged status. Today, wealth informs status. Money symbolizes the new religion, both economic progress, and the good which will come from it.

Modern Day Priests

According to Bruce O'hara (1993), the vision of the future was a rosy one, like the cartoon the Jetsons, life was to be a permanent vacation. Stanley Parker writes in 1973: "A second development making for a reevaluation of work and leisure is the reduction of working hours which the mass of people may expect. Estimates of the probable rate of reduction vary but few question the general direction of the trend" (cited in O'hara, 1993, p.34). O'hara also cites a discussion in 1971 of the "leisure problem" which may occur in Canada, some believed that the "workweek could fall to 22 hours by 1985". What happened? With the increase in production technology, efficiency and time saving devices why have we not reached our Eden? Not because it is human nature to work! O'hara states that over the past 200 years we are now working more hours than ever before. The new religion of economic progress, as mentioned earlier, has no specified end point. As a result, limitless growth must be supported by increasing consumption. As believers in economic progress, we must support the economy by consuming. In other religions priests would preach the word of god to the people, encouraging and motivating the masses not to sin. Today the role of priests are played by advertising agencies, and it is their job to see that we pray to our god at the checkout counter. Thus advertising acts as an artificial stimulant increasing consumption, creating needs where there were none. This is clearly seen in the change that advertising underwent late in the 19th century. Advertising legend David Ogilvy (1966) chronicles the change in his book. Advertising began by providing solely information about products, and how they differed from others. Only later on did advertisers begin to link products with higher level needs. Products began to be linked with social status, sexual prowess, and personal fulfillment. Thus consumption was seen to fulfill a much wider range of needs, cultivating the materialistic tendency of today. It may seem odd that a shopping binge would be a cure for the blues as it is for some, but consumption has necessarily been tied to happiness and personal fulfillment in the current religious practice.

There is much debate over the values of advertising, whether it reflects the values of society or rather creates them. However, advertising reflects only one value. That of fostering consumption to feed the economy, and it may do so by supporting family values (e.g. McDonalds), or using anti-advertising ads which are geared towards the skeptical Generation X. TV has become the pulpit for preachers spreading the word all over the world. Recently on a PBS documentary about the ecological devastation happening in India, an Indian environmentalist stated that the "West" was doing the most dangerous thing for the planet, and that was exporting, through television commercials, the West's consumption myth into India (date of program unknown). The power of advertising in maintaining the myth is seen is this passage from Kurt Vonnegurt: Strange business, this crusading spirit of the managers and engineer, the idea of designing and manufacturing and distributing being sort of a holy war; all that folklore was cooked up by public relations and advertising men hired by managers and engineer to make big business popular in the old days, which it certainly wasn't in the beginning. Now, the engineers and managers believe with all their hearts the glorious things their forbears hired people to say about them . Yesterday's snow job becomes today's sermon. (cited in Noble, p.155).

Work as Ritual

Perhaps prior to the need to consume, came the need to produce products for consumption. Juliet Shor (1991, cited in O'hara, 1993) states that the "work-and-spend [cycle] has become a mutually reinforcing and powerful syndrome--a seamless web we somehow keep choosing, without ever meaning to"(p. 30). Work is a necessity of life, always has been, and perhaps always will be; however, the purpose of the next section is to make it clear that the current process of work is not a rational necessity, but rather a ritual which brings us together and helps support the current myth of progress.

A good point of departure is Max Weber's (1958), The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism, in which he attempts to understand how work, and the accumulation of wealth, became an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. It is important to understand, as Weber points out, that working to increase one's wealth has not always been the goal that it is in today's society. The "unlimited lust for gain" was previously regarded as antisocial (Weber, 1958). A major stumbling block to entrepreneurs interested in making money was the idea of "traditionalism", an idea which Weber considers to be responsible for the fact that one does not "by nature" wish to earn more and more money, but rather to simply live as one is accustomed to living and to earn only as much as is necessary for that purpose. Weber states that in early capitalist societies this traditional work ethic used to be the rule, and that it probably still is in certain countries such as Italy and the South of Spain. Our current work ethic is by no means rational to "traditionalists". On a recent trip to Mexico, I was told by a Mexican educated in the United States that he has chosen return to live in Mexico, in spite of his having a visa to work in the USA because "North Americans are all crazy and do not know why they work".

According to Weber, this work ethic is due to Protestantism, and especially Calvinism, and specifically to the doctrine of predestination. In a nut shell, the idea of predestination is that, God has already decided at birth that one is or isn't going to heaven, and nothing one can do can change this fact. Good works do not aid in salvation, but they are a sign that one has been chosen. "God helps those who help themselves". From this basis it becomes one's duty to do good work, and success and wealth become a sign that one is saved. However, one is not to indulge in one's wealth for it takes away from doing more work. According to Weber Protestantism provided the moral basis that was needed for the development of today's capitalism. Weber only treated one side of the equation. He was aware that capitalism could and most likely has influenced religion. How much this is the case has yet to be investigated. In any event, this work ethic no longer requires a religion to support it. Today, "this spirit of capitalism might be understandable...purely as a result of adaptation" (Weber, 1958, p.200).

The concept of "alienation of the worker" is important in understanding how work has become a ritual for the myth of economic progress. According to many theorists (Marx, Weber, 1958; Lasett, 1960), the world of work, prior to modern day capitalism, was not separated from the home, and it was well integrated into one's life and leisure. Karl Marx believed that work should be, and used to be, the creative inner expression of humans. However, workers having lost control over both the conditions of their labour and the fruits of their labour and consequently became alienated from themselves (and the goals and forms of their actions). Furthermore, for many, work was no longer a question of necessity, or survival, but an instrument to increase the standard of living to some ever receding ideal. If work was supposed to be the inner expression of one's creative potential it seems that this was becoming less and less the case, rather work was becoming a ritual for money, status--keeping the engine of progress going, in addition to avoiding the guilt and disrespect that accompanies non-work.

Though Marx was concerned with the blue collar worker, alienation was also the case for the bureaucrat and worker in the service industry. Weber (cited in Josephson & Josephson, 1962), wrote that bureaucracy became particularly appropriate for capitalism as it depersonalized itself, excluding love, hatred, and every "purely" personal feeling from the execution of official tasks. Contemporary culture requires for its sustaining external apparatus the emotionally detached and hence rigorously "professional expert" (Josephson & Josephson, 1962). In addition people are required by the "salesman ethic and convention" to pretend to have interest in the other, in order to manipulate him or her, the eventual result is alienation from the self and from others (Josephson & Josephson, 1962). Finally, the "white collar" worker is not exempt. "What they [workers] face is for no significant reason beyond consumption. Most men no longer produce useful things. They do make wasted and wasteful commodities and services....In any case, the work available is unlikely to ennoble them or their society" (Josephson, et al, 1962,p27). Obviously, this is not the case for everyone, but those who are simply working to consume, without the creative inner expression that Marx believed to be so important, are involved in an elaborate ritual.

Ritual and Heresy

Today economic progress is a religion all of its own, and working beyond traditionalism (meaning working beyond a basic standard of living) is fundamental for the survival of this religion. We all partake in the ritual, converging "en masse" during morning rush hour, we join our fellow urbanites in earning our money -- symbol of our consecration. As traditional rituals would pull one into the mythical world where one is a participant in the ritual--not watching actors play the roles of gods--rather, for a moment, one is identified with god (Campbell, 1958). Modern work has pulled the person from his or her world into the mythical world of production, consumption, and progress. Modern work has done this slowly, and not as intensely as in some primitive tribes, so it passes unnoticed. First, it has pulled the worker from his or her traditional world, which was the family, into the corporation. Peter Lasett believes that the modern world differs from the traditional one in that work used to be family based, and even when other workers outside of the biological family were required they were treated as family, an extended family. He states that "up to 200 years ago...the whole world of life went forward in the family, in a circle of loved, familiar faces, known and fondled objects, all to human size. That time has gone forever. It makes us very different form our ancestors.(1960, p.67)"

Modern corporations are trying to create corporate family or a culture all of their own, one with which the worker can identify. They are attempting to recreate the participation mystic. To that end they hire psychologists and inspirational gurus such as Stephen Covey. Gurus like Covey attempt to effect the corporate environment so that the correct mentality is fostered as rituals did through dancing, music, or fasting. He states his goal as being that of building high trust, high performance cultures through personal and interpersonal growth in the workplace. Interestingly, spirituality is finally being acknowledged in this scientific-rationalistic society and is being utilized to further economic progress. Dave Klaum, a business unit manager, found his three day Covey session "profound, internal, bordering on the inspirational or religious" (Wells, 1995, p. 35). However, the end goal is not spiritual progress but economic progress, as seen in Covey's statement: "You can start to see the impact within weeks, usually months....You can usually see it in the bottom line" (p. 35). If you could not see it in the bottom line, there would be no use for it no matter how much it fostered personal growth.

Rituals aid in refreshing symbols and help maintain our minds on a higher, spiritual level during our everyday life. Work performs the same function. According to Covey's followers, his program helps build the bridge between our work and our personal identities. Thus the ritual of work affects the family and outside relations. The direction of flow is from work to the family rather than visa versa. An example of this is seen in a woman who broke off a wedding engagement part way through her Steven Covey course, when she realized that she and her fiancee differed in some Covey "work" principles. She is now happily dating a fellow who is very much into Covey and reminds her when appropriate "you're not practicing habit [number] 5" (cited in Wells, 1995, p.35). If employers choose motivational programs based on the effect on the bottom line (i.e. economic progress) and they effect our personal lives, then it is economic progress which is serving as our "spiritual" guide.

Another important concept is that of dream time. Ritual and visions have a "time" unique to themselves, where normal cause and effect are superseded, similar to Jung's concept of syncronicity (Rychlack, 1983). Within rituals then the concept of time is different than the concept of time actually found in nature, or applied to nature by human beings. Lewis Mumford (1934), believes that the clock, rather than the steam engine or any other technological innovation, is the foundation of the modern industrial system. Mumford does not deny the usefulness of time keeping in coordinating diverse groups and functions, especially in the city. But to "make it [time] arbitrarily rule over human functions is to reduce existence itself to mere time-serving and to spread the shades of the prison house over too large an area of human conduct" (Mumford, 1934, p.214). Interestingly enough, what underlies the Covey philosophy is "time management". Each participant in the Covey system is given a special agenda in which all goals from relationships and family to work are appointed. The link between work and "the mechanical routine" is also seen in the fact that most workaholics must schedule everything. If they make it to therapy they are often asked to do a spontaneous activity a week, and it is not uncommon for them to even schedule that. Thus the work ritual has a "work time" of its own which for many has gone beyond the bounds of the ritual, again perhaps because progress never stops and all must be geared towards it.

Sacrifice is also common in ritual, Graem Coetzer, a Simon Fraser graduate student commented on his research on the B.C. Tel Company stating that many employees need to feel that they have sacrificed for their jobs and for their company (personal communication, June, 1995). Some other sacrifices made due to the work ritual are the "absent male" from the family, the "latch key children", the high divorce rate, and the pulling apart of families because of career commitments in other cities and countries. The sacrifice for work is enormous, but generally accepted as a necessary evil. Many participants are not aware that they are involved in a ritual, and those who see themselves in the "rat race" do not know why things are the way they are, nor do they believe such things can change. This inability to understand why rituals are performed as they are is common to other cultures. Carl Jung (1933) states, in Modern Man in Search of a Soul that when he asked the Elongyi tribes people why they held out their hands to the sun every morning, they could not answer him just as a "modern" would not be able to answer why we work so much now, or why a family must split up over a job promotion.


It is hard for one to be a respected member of society if one does not work, unless one is independently wealthy and still, engtages in the rituals of consumption (if one is wealthy and keeps all the money in the bank then he or she too are oddities). Those who do not work for a living are "bums", or if they choose a life of hand-to mouth existence (traditionalism) they are looked upon as eccentric, equivalent to heretics. For example, consider those who indulge in a vice, such as drugs, and the difference in terms of respect shown them depending on whether or not they hold down a job. Alcoholics, for example, can proceed with their drinking, abusing family and friends, so long as they can hold down a job, it is often only when work is jeopardized that the problem is confronted.


Theologians of the Christian past spent their time interpreting the word of god, the bible, and defending the religion against heretical ideas. Today that role is filled by economists. Their job is to monitor economic growth and to explain the economic movements, basing their work on Adam Smith and other classical economists (Bach, 1981). Furthermore, like shamans, they try to predict what god has in store for us, as well as advising the faithful in conducting business according to the market place god. Occasionally, some economists, like some past theologians, would break away from the bible (The Wealth of Nations), and form their own sects, as Marx did, or as the postmodern eco-economists are currently doing.

Mythological Underpinnings of the New Religion

Hopefully, it is clear that there is a religion active in today's society, a material religion of economic progress, and that it has the basic structure, and impact of "traditional religions". This religion did not arise out of nowhere. We have already seen how Weber attempted to tie the occurrence of the irrational situation "where man exists for the sake of his business, instead of the reverse" to Protestantism, and Calvinism. However that is not the whole picture. The soil from which the myth of progress sprung is richer. The growth of rationalism, the portrayal of the earth as "dead", and individualism all have played an important role in facilitating the current belief system.


Rationalism has played a very important role in the development of the myth of progress, specifically, as it has led to the denigration of the emotional and natural. As a result, of this it became possible to believe that matter, and the consumption of material goods, could solve all our problems. The denial of the importance of the emotional thus enabled the belief that individual greed, production, and consumption in the economic market would lead to social benefit. There is no recognition that more is needed than these material goods. Even Freud (1962), the self proclaimed discoverer of the "unconscious" and humanity's animal nature, bowed to science and technology for salvation in the Future of an Illusion. This turn towards rationalism and away from the emotional and spiritual may be a result of the intellectual repression of the Catholic church. Once the great thinkers where freed from the grips of church dogma it appears that they rebelled against all forms of emotion or spirituality, and this, in part, enabled society to assume salvation from material goods.

The Dead Earth

The portrayal of the earth as "dead" also enabled the myth of economic progress to flourish. Indeed, the modern view of matter as inert is not the only way of viewing matter. In other mythological systems the earth has been portrayed as alive, usually as a goddess, which lead many to label these mythological systems, as feminine systems. Thinkers like Da Vinci developed an organicist world view in which everything is permeated by life and nature is itself animate, or ensouled. According to Merchant, (cited in Keller, 1988) popular Renaissance literature was filled with reference to the earth being considered alive, a beneficent, receptive, nurturing female. Under such a mythological system, private property and unbridled consumption do not work well. It is logical to assume that ideas originating from mythological systems which believe humans to be connected with nature and other humans, such as the system of the primitive hunters which saw humans as dependent on animals, or those of the planter cultures which sacrificed for the earth (rather than the earth for humans) (Campbell, 1959) would be different than from other mythological systems as can be seen in Chief Seattle's response to President Pierce's offer to buy a large area of land from his people in 1854: How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us...I am a savage and do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive...Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself....Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. [This is the] end of living and the beginning of survival. The myth of progress does fare better if the earth is considered to be dead. This is the world-view espoused by people like Johannes Kepler who wrote in 1605 that "my aim is to show that the celestial machine is to be likened not to a divine organism but to a clockwork" (cited in Keller, 1988, p.47). Considering the world to be an inert machine again allows for the belief that fulfillment can come solely from material goods and prosperity. The social spiritual realm is ignored. This view may have had the upper hand as it followed the Christian/Hebraic disdain for nature (Campbell, 1964).


The issue of connectedness versus individuality is crucial to the understanding of the myth of economic progress. The capitalist system works on the belief that individuals each competing for one's own benefit would lead to social good . Joseph Campbell (cited in Josephson, 1962) states that the problem of humanity today is that mythologies are known as lies and that all meaning was in the group and in the great anonymous forms, and none in the "self-expressive individual". In the modern world Campbell sees this as reversed, no meaning remains in the world but all is in the individual. In Occidental Mythology, Joseph Campbell (1964) discusses the most significant creative development towards the end of the middle ages which was the rise of the principle of individual conscience over ecclesiastical authority and which surely played a part in preparing the mentality for the Protestant reformation. Myths such the Arthurian tales focused on the individual's personal experience and adventure. In the 13th century legend "la Queste del Saint Graal" the knights of the Round Table set out in quest of the Holy Grail, each leaving separately from the castle, and embarking on the path that they had chosen for themselves. Rationalism and the scientific method also aided individualism as it gave one "courage to credit one's own senses and to honor one's own decisions, to name one's own virtues and to claim one's own truth" (Campbell, 1968, p.240). Such individual mythological systems provided the fertile soil to nourish the idea that an individual's self-interest was good and acceptable and could even translate into social good.


This paper has skimmed and pulled from numerous authors in order to sketch a brief picture of our world seen from a different angle. It is simply a starting point from which to re-examine the why and how of every day life--questions which ought to be fundamental to psychology.


Bocock, R. (1974). Ritual in Industrial Society: A sociological analysis of ritualism in modern England. London:George Allen and Unwin Ltd.

Campbell, J., (1959). Primitive Mythology. New York: Viking Penguin Press.

------(1964). Occidental Mythology. New York: Viking Penguin Press.

------(1968). Creative Mythology. New York: Viking Penguin Press.

Coupland, D. (1991). Generation X: tales for an accelerated culture. New York: St. Martins Press.

Daly, H. E., (1988) The steady-state economy: postmodern alternative to growthmania. In Spirituality and Society, David Ray Griffin, Ed, New York: State University of New York Press.

Freud, S. (1962). The Future of An Illusion. James Strachey (translator). London: Hogarth Press.

Fromm, E., (1955). The sane society. New York: Holt, Rienhart, and Winston Inc.

Griffin, D.R., (1988). Introduction. In Spirituality and Society, David Ray Griffin, Ed, New York: State University of New York Press.

Josephson, E., and Josephson M. (1934). Introduction. In Man alone: Alienation in Modern Society, Eric and Mary Josephson, Eds. New York: Dell Publishing.

Jung, C. G. (1933). Modern Man in Search of Soul. New York: Harcourt Brace and World.

Keller, C. (1988). Towards a postpatriarchal postmodern society. In Spirituality and Society, David Ray Griffin, Ed, New York: State University of New York Press.

Lasett, P. (1960). The world we have lost. In Man alone: Alienation in Modern Society, Eric and Mary Josephson, Eds. New York: Dell Publishing.

Leahey, Thomas Hardy, (1994) A history of modern psychology. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey Prentice-Hall.

Mumford, L., (1934). The mechanical routine. In Man Alone: Alienation in Modern Society, Eric and Mary Josephson, Eds. New York: Dell Publishing.

Marx, K. (????). Alienated labor. In Man alone: Alienation in Modern Society, Eric and Mary Josephson, Eds. New York: Dell Publishing.

Noble, D., (1995). Progress without people: New technology, unemployment, and the message of resistance. Toronto:Between the Lines

O'hara, B., (1993). Working Harder Isn't' Working. Vancouver: New Star Books.

Ogilvy, D. (1966). Confessions of an Advertising man. New York: Atheneum.

Progoff, (1953). Jung's psychology and its social meaning. New York: Julian Press.

Rychlack, J.F. (1981). Personality and Psychotherapy. Dallas: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Simmel, G. (1950). The metropolis and mental life. In Man alone: Alienation in Modern Society, Eric and Mary Josephson, Eds. New York: Dell Publishing.

Weber, M. (1958). The Protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner's sons.

Wells, J. (1995). Guru to the great. In Report on Business, July 1995.