A New Language for Divinity:
Critique of the Ideology of Market.

  MP Joseph

The common term that denote the religiosity of recent time, "moneytheism" now claim itself as an empirical explanation of the utopia. Under the rules of this new religion, market, instead of being a space for the exchange of goods and services has become the soteriological principle for all nations and people. This new religion functions as a total system with its own dogmas, rituals, liturgies and sending out missionaries in thousand to the less industrialised countries in order to integrate them fully into the saving sphere of market.

This paper is an attempt to delve into the ideological nature of market along with an attempt to unravel the ramifications of market led growth on the life of the poor and the marginalised.

Change of authorities

Belief in the omnipotence of technology is the specific form of bourgeoisie ideology of late capitalism. This faith is expressed not because of any claims of the ability technology has to free living labour from the boredom of work or as a means to make human life more enjoyable, but as a religion, as normative for a 'civilised' living. Social consciousness of society thus has been dominated by the logic of science and technology, which function as the foundation for people's search for truth. What is opposite to science is described as superstition or ignorance and to technology as primitiveness. Hence relative distance from what is counter to science and technology is heeded not just as desirable but as normative in society.

The place of omnipotence that technology enjoyed during the late industrial capitalism have been taken over by market in the new phase of finance capitalism and it converted science and technology as vendible commodities within its reign. Such replacement of the symbols of omnipotence is extended to all concepts and meaning systems that provided authority and power.

In the Middle Ages two fundamental principles, authority, and faith maintained social consensus. Both these principles were justified through metaphysical explanation or through establishing faith in the divine. Faith of the people in the existence of God was socially translated as a regulating principle for the individual and collective life. Thus social order could be maintained by accepting the primacy of God in history. However, submission to the divine as the only source of authority could not held its sway when rational thinking appealed to the inquires of truth. The famous exhortation by Gautama Buddha to Kalamas serves as significant indicator to the importance of rational inquiry. "Yes Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Do not be misled by reports, or traditions, or heresy. Be not led by the authority of religious texts..."1. When inquires of truth was submitted to the faculties of reason in history, metaphysical explanations alone was found to be not sufficient to unravel the hidden knowledge of nature. Thus, simple metaphysical concepts as organising principles were questioned. To fill the vacuum created by such probing, Machiavelli, Hobbs, and others proposed absolute state as a principle for organising public life. Hobbs argued that the natural egoism of people makes free social life disorderly and therefore a concept of authority supported by a monopoly of power is necessary for the maintenance of harmonious social life. State finds legitimation in this argument. These proposals envisioned a total state in which concentration of power in state authority was advocated for its function to maintain law and order. Thus civil society looks for protection from the state and in return accepted obedience as their mode of relationship vis-à-vis the state power. Obedience to the authority of power, for civil society, was the only guarantee against social disintegration.

With the development of capitalism, along with the liberal notions of freedom, the source of power and authority shifted to wealth or capital. Moreover, individual freedom is seen as a fundamental right, and hence capitalist formation attempted to demonstrate that harmonious social life is possible even while self-motivation and egoism of the people are promoted. It argued that since human beings are primarily selfish beings, harnessing selfish interest for the common good of all could be the most profitable way of maintaining social order. Market thus found a new meaning as an institution to organise public life. Organising ethos of market is the promotion of self-interest and it is assumed that market while promoting self-interest could address to the needs of all. It has the ability to help individuals to choose a type of production relationship, which appeal to them as most satisfying. Market could help organise the distribution of the basic needs such as food and housing and other needs that include safe drinking water or a pollution free environment.

The under girding factor is the shift of authority that occurred in these different epochs. Earlier authority was equated with the belief in God, later it moved to total state and in modern capitalist framework to the organisation of market. The authority of market thus is considered as an organising logic of society. I am not arguing here that the shifts are taken place after a total replacement of the previous agents of authority. Instead, during each shift, the previous authority was made as a sub-system to provide better coherence for the wielders of new power.

Different social roles of market

Market under the late capitalism is not a new phenomenon. Indeed market is one of the oldest human institutions. A study by Karl Polanayi documented the functioning of markets to as early as the 17th century BCE. As an institution it could be still older. Of course, over the years market has changed it's functional characteristics, and it's regulatory priorities. Polayani's penetrating analysis of the history of market has shown the shift from society with market to a market society, where the in former, economic relations were embedded in social relations and ethos, and in the latter, running of society was reduced as an adjunct to the market. In the first category of market with society, market functioned as a complementary agent for society, and such type of complimentary markets never determined the nature and function of social relationships. On the contrary, society had absolute control over the type of economic organisation needed for individuals and communities. Even when market was extensive and important, it remained as a subordinate feature of economic life, dominated by other values and imperatives of society. Reiteration of the organic relationship between market and society is not to argue that such forms of market were beneficial to all and have the ability to offer alternatives to the problems created by the dominance of a commoditised human relationship. Market with society is far from the notion of being ideal. On the contrary in several cases, market with society helped to reinforce unjust and hierarchical power distribution existed in society. For example, in India where "jati" and patriarchal systems determined the rules of society and social location as well as relative freedom or bondage of individuals and communities organising principles with regards to the respective access to the means of life, such as occupation, ownership of land, entitlement benefits and other principles of economics were regulated according to caste and patriarchal principles. Amartya Sen has observed that Adam Smith's opposition to the regulatory intervention by state over market was made in reference to such situations. In English society of his time, state regulations were often an expression of an exploitative society and aimed at protecting the interests of the dominated. Thus he argued against any forms of state intervention in economic matters in order to offer higher norms of freedom. This observation holds much truth in Indian society. Market with society under caste system functions as a subsystem of the unjust and hierarchical society to protect its principles of domination.

However, critique of the Polyani's category of "society with market" will not in any instance justify the functioning of market society. In the market society, Polayani argued that a distinct economic motive and distinct economic institutions and corresponding relations have emerged. These new economic motives within the structures and rubrics of a self-regulating system of markets driven by the price mechanism has changed society as a sub-system of the market, where social relations are embedded in the principles of market and economy. Transformation of the human beings and nature as a commodified factor is the essence of market society.

Yet, theologians of market such as Michael Novark and the institutional church in general argue that the market society reifies the consciousness of freedom and liberty, because the freedom of exchange is an expression of basic freedom and liberty of the people. Or in other terms, to be generically against market, they will argue would almost equals to a generic opposition towards conversations between people, and freedom of exchange of words. These arguments form as the legitimating foundation for the proponents of market system.

In a meeting of the Catholics in Brussels, Mr. Michael Camdessus managing Director of the International Monetary Fund noted that the present forms of market has three basic values. These claims of the virtues of market justified the extension of market into every spectrum of human relationship.

Market is spontaneous, not resulting from will or consciousness. Market essentially is self- governed and self regulated. Moreover, it provides its members the best chances to fulfil their goal.

Market is a system of co-operation without constraint of voluntary exchange and free enterprise. It goes in hand with political freedom.

Market provides the necessary space to each individual for the pursuit of their self-interest and thereby contributes to the common good of all.

The IMF chief further noted that the market is the most efficient mode of economic organisation to increase individual and collective wealth. Market therefore represents a responsible economy where the human being can give all his/her dimensions.

In other words, according to the prophets of total market, market in essence is the best empirical explanation of the Utopia. Hence an inquiry of the ideology of market itself is a political function, a political function to unravel the governing project of the present structures of power.

The market of the present form has four fundamental principles. These principles function as it's basic ideology. They are

  1. Organisation of resources;
  2. Organisation of society;
  3. Organisation of culture and discourse and
  4. Organisation of governance.

1. Organisation of Resources.

Concept of freedom in liberal tradition is articulated as a right to accumulate and own property. Right to individual freedom and right to property is supposed to act as pillars of democratic system and is argued that these rights are better maintained in a market society. Moreover, free exchange of goods and services are possible when people establish their individual rights or ownership on resources and have the ability to bring them into vendible relationship. Thus Karl Polyani has observed that market economy is characterised by the transformation of "not only goods but labour, land, people, money and culture into commodities. It assumes the potential to convert all realities into exchangeable commodities.

The inventory for privatisation leaves nothing -- accumulated knowledge and memory, cultural and religious wisdom, human relationship, different faculties of people including their ability to seek pleasure from the body. All these realities are reduced as commodities in the market place. According to the more zealot prophets of market, there may be nothing that could not be privatised and thus commoditised.

Unfortunately the primacy given to commodities helped it to transform itself as social subjects, while living labour or the creator of the commodities are reduced as things. That means when commodities as social subjects has right to existence, living labour has the right as long as the labour meet the requirements for exchange with a commodity price.

Moreover, privatisation in practice results in the alienation of living labour from their traditional access to resources; fisher-people from the sea, forest dwellers from the forest, Dalit peasants from land, women from natural resources and so on. Resources when commodified became the exclusive rights of a tiny minority of shareholders. The logic of such market is that while it provides space to exploit and accumulate, on the same time allows others to be robbed, molested and thrown out of the gates. The ones who are thrown out are increasing in an alarming rate.

2. Organisation of Society

The second major issue of market is its claim to act as an exclusive agent for social mediation. The neo-liberal ideology that governs the present changes offered the agency for mediation, between individuals, groups and nations exclusively through market alone. Relations between a medical practitioner and a patient is in the nature of an economic contract between two parties, one who sells his/her skills and one who buys it in accordance with the price mechanisms of the market. Under the principles of market access to health is no more a right of the citizens. Health care, instead, is transformed as a commodity distributed according to the purchasing capacity of every individual. Not only health care but also education, cultural interaction and other areas of common life are brought under the rubrics of buying and selling. The comprehensive ability of market to presume the agency for mediation raises it as the true 'ecclesia' of our times. In the new ecclesia, however, human relations are made into the level of contracts, contracts to buy and sell. Ethics thus has reduced to the act of fulfilling the contracts made within the dynamics of price mechanism.

Moreover, in the market eclesia, the principles of market replaced the moral foundations of social relationships. That means the dynamics of market such as profit motivation and competition has become the regulatory principles of society. Spirit of this market dynamics is the promotion of self-interest, which is considered as normative because of its inherent potential to bring aggregated good. The famous quote of Adam Smith is alluded to accentuate this point in the annals of market doctrine. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love." The unbinding self interest has negated whatever society considered as ethical and spiritual. Therefore, love is replaced by aggression, co-operation by competition, community by individuality and so on. Responsibility towards the other, responsibility based on the principles of common good, was a virtue in theological term but now considered as an irrationality in the logic of market economics. A popular radio-talk show commentator recently observed that Mr. Bill Gates has changed the lives of many that Mother Theresa cannot even dream of. Social engagement of Bill Gates is advisable compared to that of Mother Theresa. Or the self-interest of Bill Gates is more acceptable and desirable form of spirituality than the self-giving love propagated by the mother of charity. Private interest and profit is the only determining spirit of people's consciousness now.

The major causality of the market, however, is the concept of divine. Success in the market is determined by its ability to convert all realities as exchangeable commodities. While explaining the concept of time and space, Abraham Joshua Hershel argued that in modern civilisation we expend time to create things that occupy space. For market, this is an existential principle. That is why land has to assume the nature of real estates and people as labour or prostitutes. Body shops are emerging in many parts of the globe now as retail and wholesale spare parts depots. That is hailed as the success of the market. But unfortunately, those realities that refused to assume itself in the form of a thing or a commodity allow itself to be reduced as valueless. That means, when commodities transform itself as subjects, in order to maintain its relevance among believers, the divine needs to assume the form of a thing. A thing with the ability to compete other divine images in the market place. In countries like India where plurality of religions exists in theory, and fundamentalist approaches to religious faith to present their respective interpretation of the divine as the most powerful often inherit market mechanisms. Plurality of religions thus turned as a mockery of providing possibilities for people to choose a divine from the market shelf, a concept of divine which appeared itself as (comparatively) omnipotent and offers a sense of self-fulfilment.

Divinity, as a ramification of such comodification, has to conform itself within the given system to appease the desire of the respective believers. It is deprived of its role to challenge humanity in order to create an ethical foundation for history. Thus metaphysical concepts of divinity in market is not a principle of the "beyond" or transcendence but a social construct to rationalise the present.

Moreover, 'thingification' of the divine amounts to the conversion of divine as a product of our hands, created with regards to ones own interest and liking. Divine thus was reduced as a tailor-made object, and its defined functions are to legitimise and satisfy the present. Through this process, market of the present time has turned itself as a functional organisation for the worship of idolatry, or the worship of the ungod.

However claims of freedom in the market is a myth. Market as a social institution is not an open access system but involves various regulatory measures. For example one can buy from the market only when one has to sell. Such things include commodity skills. It implies that for the masses to enter into the market, they should be assured of the means to earn resources. The present day-reality is that majority of the people has no possibility to acquire resources.

Even the industrial capitalism presented the myth of breaking the regimented society by the norms of freedom of conscious and choices offered by capitalism. It is proved to be a myth. Instead capitalism breaking a regimented society it helps the reproduction of domination. And that holds true for the market as well. With enforcing international division of labour, markets reconstruct a regimented society where everyone is assigned to his/ her place. Social mobility becomes almost an impossibility given the structure and dynamics of market principles. Further, the benefits of growth are divided more and more unevenly among the social classes and thereby reconstruct the system of marginalisation and exclusion.

The off repeated study by Martin and Schuman titled Global Trap, documented that 20% of the population will pass muster to keep the world economy going. More labour power won't be needed. Only 20% in each country will actively participate in life earning and consumption. The rest are excluded. This exclusion in essence is a removal from the possibility to sustain life. They are the expendables. The 80% of the population find space under this category of expendables. And their exclusion is translated as an ontological explanation of their being.

3. Organisation of Culture

Organisation of culture and discourse is the third major issue of market. Present forms of market culture have two dimensions. First, culture itself has turned into a capitalist venture, an industry where people invest money for better returns. And secondly, culture assumes the role of an instrument to control and create moral norms and values. Primary function of culture, as observed by Antonio Gramsci, is the creation of a 'common sense'. According to him common sense is the uncritical and largely unconscious way in which a person perceives the world. Creation of the common sense is to vindicate the present and to propose that the present is eternal.

Culture and discourse thus become an instrument for the reproduction of domination. The objective of cultural construction, as explained by Adorno is to create an administered world according to the demands of the market.

Through the control over discourse and culture, market determines what is normative and what is not. In practice, market proposes the normative by homogenising taste, desire, and thinking through the invasion of the inner core of subjectivity of every individual. Such forms of homogenisation reduce the subjecthood of individuals into intuitions based on a single interpretative act, which has often been translated as the urge for having more and more.

However, homogenisation is only one area in which market attempt to define the objectives of human life. Proponents of modernisation including W. W. Rostow, laboured hard to provide a vision regarding the consummation of history. Concepts of civilisation, growth modernity are thus explained within the grammatical structure of market logic.

Ideological orientation of this market culture comes from three different thoughts.

First source for market logic is the mathematical science and rationality, what normally termed as mathematico-logical rationality. Under the mathematical rationality, truth and value assumed empirical explanation. Value is quantifiable object and only those that could be assessed within the realm of measurable quantity are accepted as value by the market.

That means what is rational is those realities which has an objective existence. Any thing out side the nature of object is not rational. It implies that in the present structure of market materiality is the foundation of value, or materiality has replaced mortality.

But when materiality replaced the norms of life, distance between having and being has disappeared. Instead of accelerating the search to find the meaning of the being, market ethics suggests that having should determine the being. Therefore, the objective in life has oriented towards increasing the having, aimed at accumulating more. 'Accumulate, accumulate, that is what the law and the prophets.'

What we posses in countable terms thus determine who we are. Money in theoretical terms is only a medium of exchange. But in practice it is the storehouse of value. Our having is determined in terms of this measure, money. Or in other words, when having determines the being proximity to the source of having, or proximity to money determines the being of oneself. Deification of money has its logic in its ability to provide being for the people. When money provides the being to the people, Divine becomes dysfunctional and money with a capital M replaces God.

Theologian of the market, Michel Novak, observed that with the new inventions in accounting, money has freed form its physicality. Money has been intellectualised and has become conceptual. "Money in short has become less materialistic. It is a symbol of social health and confidence in the future. Investment in money is regarded in a quiet secular sense an act of faith, trust, confidence and even fraternity. It has come to be seen as the key to development, peace and justice. It is awarded as a grace."

Deification or divination of money is the essence of market logic. It will not be surprising if the wording of the benediction is re written as "may the almighty money be with you, go in peace"

The second ideological orientation of market culture is the concept of growth. Growth is proposed as a soteriological principle. As a one-for-all cure to all the problems in society, from malnutrition to illiteracy to female infanticide, to poor infrastructural facilities, growth is promoted as the only way towards redemption. Unending growth, except in relation to population is seen as normative. This is the creation of an economic logic that tried to define under-development as the source of all malice in society. The only panacea for a better, healthy society lies in its ability to counter under-development. The attempt to turn the tide of under-development led to the logic of growth. Growth has become a soteriological principle of the market.

Novak without hesitation relates providence to efficiency and growth. He says that the image of god underlying both in the free market and in the triune concept is providence. Objectification of providence in common logic is prosperity. Therefore he argues that "The defence of free market is first, a defence of efficiency, productivity, growth and prosperity."

Success and efficiency became the pillars of people's culture. Getting first rank for the children from the nursery school onwards to the creation of efficient super speciality hospitals or computer networks places itself as the ultimate goal of life. To be inefficient, being in the 2nd rank is not acceptable.

However this demand for efficiency does not go well with the market. Exchange is made possible because there is a notion for scarcity. If there is no scarcity there is no need to exchange. Therefore it is inevitable to create scarcity. Not only for good's but also for skills. For example, if I know how to cook Mushroom Manchurian there is no need to run to the neighbourhood Chinese restaurant every now and then. It is the interest of the market that I should not learn the art of cooking. It is important for market to de-skill people from their accumulated wisdom. Skills are related to specificity now. It is commonly commented now that a doctor who specialises in the system of the left nostril does not have the knowledge of the existence of a right nostril. The out-come of such specialisation shall function against the attempt of societies and individuals to become self-reliant. Self-reliance as a principle is considered to be incompatible to the ideology of market. If A produces apples and B produces oranges and not apples, there exist a possibility of exchange. This is classically explained as comparative advantage. Specificity in relation to the skills and the production is the rule. General ignorance is the norm in return for the claims of expertise in one skill, or in one type of production process. Principle of being wholistic, or Gandhian view of self -sustaining communities will not go long with the logic of the market.

The third ideological orientation is the concept of modernity and development. Rostowian categories and that of Marian Levi in essence argue that the distance from nature determines the location of a person in the modernisation scale. Rostow was explicit in his suggestion that the higher one consumes, one became modern. These prescriptions of modernity provide two things: 1) Reduction of nature as an exploitable thing and 2) Elevations of commodities as agents that provide satisfaction in life. It suggests that commodities have the power to offer gratification of desire, which in turn provides satisfaction in life. A Latin American social critique thus says "what is love is now described as ones relationship with his/her automobiles, happiness is what a bath soap can offer, revolution is the function that a detergent initiates, and bliss is what one gets from eating a certain type of sausage.

4. Organisation of Governance

The fourth major ideology of market is the concept of government. It is a common cliché now that TNC'S are the invisible or visible hand in the market space, wielding tremendous resource power.

However, the alarming factor of global economy is the growth of finance capital. Growth of finance capital has significant implications in political organisation. Freedom and protection for the mobility of finance capital assumed cardinal importance in the market-led economics forcing a redefinition of the function of nation-states. Political state, which was considered as the political agency of the people, is reduced to a policing agency to protect freedom and mobility of transnational capital.

For such a shift, market has brought a political system -borrowing from an Indian political scientist- "dictatorship of money". Decisions regarding the governance are made according to the rules of money. Such dictatorship, instead of weakening the coercive power of the state, strengthens it and made it more repressive. Recent political events in several third world nations have proved that only a repressive government could protect international capital against those who are victimised. Adam Smith also alluded to this fact. He observed that only under the cover of a protective legislation, those who have accumulated wealth would have the luxury of sleep. Market never replaces state, bet reconstruct it as a repressive mechanism against people.

A new Language

URM groups are often accused for their dependence on exodus narratives. Nevertheless, let me allude to one thought. The liberation process started with a new language for divinity. Mosses appeared to be giving a new language, a new language for the divinity. It should be noted that the existing language of divine was found to be beneficial for the Egyptian rulers, and was a language at that time. Among the ancient economies, Egypt could claim of maintaining a prosperous and growing economy. They were able to build treasure houses, sometime more successful than the Wall Street and London Stock Exchange. Language of Divinity of the Egyptians was a language of success, prosperity and well being of the believers.

Moses challenged this prosperous God image and provided a new language for divinity. New language for divinity helps the deconstruction of an exploitative economic order.

The challenge of URM is also to offer a new language and new language for the divinity that corresponds to the demands of the slaves and the poor that they need to worship a God of life. Worship of the God of life is the negation of an ungod. And that is the challenge before us.


1. Anguttara Nikaya. ed. Devamitta Thera. Colombo, 1929, p.115.


**This paper was presented at the Consultation on Ideology, Faith and People's Movements in the New Millennium, 8-11 December 2000,Thailand