“Polanyi created a way of thinking about economies and societies that has had substantial impact on economic history, anthropology, and the study of the ancient Mediterranean. The Great Transformation remains important as a highly original contribution to the understanding of the Western past; it has been and is important in methodological debates in the social sciences.” This quote by Anne Mayhew relates the value that studying history, culture and an evolving world-view can have on a modern society. In his work, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Karl Polanyi relates the strong impact that capitalism and a strong societal view toward economic growth can take on the role that Christian values used to have. Though this book would not probably be perceived as a religious book, there are a few comments made throughout its pages that definitely denote the impact that capitalism has had in stifling the influence of Scripture.
I struggled with this book because of the nature of capitalism and commerce in the setting of religious ideologies. Though I know there is a reality concerning the financial influences on the church, Polanyi seemed to embrace the material over the spiritual as though it was a good thing. “The economic function is but one of many vital functions of land. It invests man’s life with stability; it is the site of his habitation; it is a condition of his physical safety; it is the landscape and the seasons. We might as well imagine his being born without hands and feet as carrying on his life without land.” He seemed to see economic stability as the only true way to show that society was progressing to where it needed to be. At one point he describes the thinking of Robert Owen and his progression away from Christianity by writing, “Robert Owen turned away from a Christianity which renounced the task of mastering the world of man, and preferred to extol the imaginary status and function of Hannah More’s wretched heroine, instead of facing the awful revelation that transcended the New Testament, of man’s condition in a complex society. Nobody can doubt the sincerity which inspired Hannah More’s conviction that the more readily the poor acquiesced in their condition of degradation, the more easily they would turn to the heavenly solaces on which alone she relied both for their salvation and for the smooth functioning of a market society in which she firmly believed. But these empty husks of Christianity on which the inner life of the most generous of the upper classes was vegetating contrasted but poorly with the creative faith of that religion of industry in the spirit of which the common people of England were endeavoring to redeem society. However, capitalism had still a future in store.” This sounded to me as though he was criticizing the need for surrendering our struggles to God in prayer. “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry entered His ears.”
Now there is the reality that this is an older resources that worked to show the historical relationship on capitalism in that time, and Asad Zaman summarizes Polanyi by writing, “The central theme of Polanyi’s book is a historical description of the emergence of the market economy as a competitor to the traditional economy. The market economy won this battle, and ideologies supporting the market economy won the corresponding battle in the marketplace of ideas. Today, the victory of the market economy is so complete that it has become difficult for us to imagine societies where the market does not play a central role.” So the real question is, “What do we do with the history lesson presented here?” If I were running for political office, seeking to find a methodology for financial reform, then perhaps I would view this all differently; however, I am in a doctoral program that focuses on ministry and Christianity, so my outlook is focused differently.
Polanyi wrote, “The true meaning of the attack on individualization” lay in his insistence on the social origin of human motives: “Individualized man, and all that is truly valuable in Christianity, are so separated as to be utterly incapable of union through all eternity.” His discovery of society urged him on to transcend Christianity and seek for a position beyond it. He grasped the truth that because society is real, man must ultimately submit to it.” However, Christ, in the Gospel of Mark, warned; “18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” It seems that the world has always had a fixation on financial gain and the power of money; and sadly, today we see this idealism leeching its way onto the backs of churches that have become more money focused rather than biblically focused. “9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” I believe one of the obstacles of Christianity find the ability to trust in God rather than money. Success in a society is not formed by the financial wealth or monetary dominance it has over other groups, but rather in its ability to allow God to lead them.
Though I understand the need to study history, my greatest fear for our society is that we will repeat the mistakes of the past…especially in regards to the church itself. I am reminded of the lesson in Matthew 4:8-10, which holds this same warning for all of us today: “8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Though money and power seem to be the answer to all things worldly, they are the wrong answer to all things Godly. Money is not the marker for stability in these times; God is. “Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times, and the strength of salvation; the fear of the Lord is His treasure.”
Mayhew, Anne. (n.d.). The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Retrieved January 25, 2018, from EH.net: https://eh.net/book_reviews/the-great-transformation-the-political-and-economic-origins-of-our-time/
Polanyi, Karl. (2001). The Great Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press Books.
Zaman, Asad. (2013, August 18). WEA Pedagogy Blog. Retrieved January 25, 2018, from Weapedagogy.wordpress.com: https://weapedagogy.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/ summary-of-the-great-transformation-by-polanyi/
 Mayhew, A. (n.d.). The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Retrieved January 25, 2018, from EH.net: https://eh.net/book_reviews/the-great-transformation-the-political-and-economic-origins-of-our-time/
 Polanyi, K. (2001). The Great Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press Books. P 187.
 Ibid, p 180.
 2 Samuel 22:7.
 Zaman, A. (2013, August 18). WEA Pedagogy Blog. Retrieved January 25, 2018, from Weapedagogy.wordpress.com: https://weapedagogy.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/ summary-of-the-great-transformation-by-polanyi/.
 Polanyi, K. (2001). The Great Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press Books. P 133.
 Mark 4:18-19.
 1 Timothy 6:9-10.
 Isaiah 33:6.