Chapter

Introduction: Self and Society in an American Modernity

in Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9780226137063
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226137087 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226137087.003.0001
Introduction: Self and Society in an American Modernity

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This book seeks to address a single question: what did Christians in America think about capitalism when capitalism was first something to be thought about? Lurking behind this question is one of the central paradoxes of American history: Americans are and always have been some of the most voluntarily religious people in the world as well as some of the most grossly materialistic. In other words, Americans simultaneously and paradoxically subscribe to both the Christian ethic of humility and selflessness, along with the American liberal-capitalist ethic of competition, success, and self-promotion. It is almost as if many Americans have gone about trying to understand themselves and their world with the Bible in one hand and John Locke in the other. Reconciling the two, however, has never been an easy task. One told them that “ye cannot serve God and mammon,” while the other unabashedly encouraged them to pursue lives of material happiness.

Keywords: Christians; America; capitalism; Americans; humility; selflessness; Bible; John Locke; God; mammon

Chapter.  7498 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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