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Program Archive

The monthly programs are an essential element of CDHS. Our programs support our humanist goals of exchanging ideas, heightening our knowledge of the world and ourselves, fostering moral and ethical growth, and promoting the principles of secular humanism. This archive of summaries of past programs provides an overview of the varied subjects addressed.

Adam Neiblum

Manufactured Need: What Capitalism Learned From Christianity

January 8th, 2022

Adam Neiblum has degrees in philosophy and religious thought, and has authored several books and articles. His talk was titled "Manufactured Need: What Capitalism Learned from Christianity."

It bashed both, though with greater force vented upon religion. Christianity, he said, was the original "big business." The parallels between the two are many: both are characterized by the "manufactured need" of his title, with religion providing the original model for how capitalism operates.

Neiblum sees a lot of the products sold in the capitalist consumer economy as not really needed by the buyers, hence the idea of manufactured need. He invoked the philosopher Immanuel Kant to draw a distinction between "intrinsic" and "instrumental" value, the latter being merely a means to an end. Kant saying that a human being should never be treated as a means; rather it's a human life that's the ultimate in "intrinsic" value. Neiblum considers capitalism a reversal of Kant's doctrine, with almost everything sold being of (at best) instrumental, not intrinsic, value.

Its sale thus dependent on manipulation, deception, and indoctrination, playing upon people's fears and insecurities. In that category he cited, for example, women being forced to think they have to use cosmetics, fearing social failure otherwise. Many products indeed being marketed not for their "intrinsic" value but to enhance one's social status. Cars, for instance, seen as status symbols rather than merely modes of transportation.

The big fear that religion preys upon is death. Not an imaginary, or even exaggerated fear, but integral to the human condition. And Christianity ups the ante by threatening, in place of extinction, eternal torment, creating a need for absolution. While on the other hand promising the ultimate consumer good: eternal paradise. All together a perfect gambit for making people dependent upon the "product" of religion.

In this context Neiblum spoke of the "Seven Deadly Sins" — all of which are, in actuality, aspects of normal human life. Only in extremes are they a problem. He focused, for example, upon lust, and how truly screwed up it is for religion to make people feel guilty for it. Explaining how much of human culture would vanish if nobody experiences any lust. (Indeed, the species itself would vanish.)

This is just one way in which religion's pretensions as a source of morality are awry. Neiblum presented polling data, asking people whether they believe God is needed for them to be moral. Results ranged from 90% of Swedes saying no, to only 2% in Indonesia. Narrow majorities in America, and worldwide, said no. Neiblum noted that the most thriving nations have the biggest "no" numbers, and obviously they're none the worse for it.

He portrayed one's development of moral ideas as a maturation process. It begins in childhood with punishment avoidance being key, rising (ideally) in adulthood to mature moral reasoning and agency. Along the way we make mistakes, and from them learn to be better. The religious, however, tend to confine themselves to the ladder's lowest rungs, thus in effect remaining children — morally, psychologically, and socially.

Back to capitalism, Neiblum acknowledged that he didn't have an alternative to replace it; in fact, he ultimately acknowledged that it "makes it happen" for us, and on the whole is "remarkably positive." No such indulgence was vouchsafed for religion, which he likened to an albatross on the neck of humanity. We need to normalize atheism, and stress secular education and critical thinking. The good news is that people free of religious beliefs are on the upsurge.

What a shocker.