Benjamin argues that capitalism is not so much inspired by a religious spirit, but an actual religion addressed to the same anxieties as actual religions. Capitalism as a religion has four elements:
1. 'capitalism is a purely cultic religion, perhaps the most extreme that ever existed'.
2. 'the permanence of the cult'
3. Capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement.
Although this appears obvious, here is where things become particularly enigmatic for me. Benjamin argues that this sense of guilt generated by capitalism is caught up in a larger movement that attempts to make guilt universal, 'to hammer it into the conscious mind' and 'to include God in the system of guilt and thereby awaken in Him an interest in the process of atonement.' It would appear that we have here a moment of potential reversibility - in which 'total' guilt could open to 'total' redemption:
[C]apitalism entails endurance right to the end, to the point where God, too, finally takes on the entire burden of guilt, to the point where the universe has been taken over by that despair which is actually its secret hope.'
The difficulty, however, is that capitalism cannot provide tis atonement of reformation, it has not 'stable element' from which to launch this project. Capitalism offers no reform of existence, but its complete destruction. It appears that capitalism itself has its own redemptive, or even messianic project: 'It is the expansion of despair, until despair becomes a religious state of the world in the hope that this will lead to salvation.' How this messianic 'promise' crosses over with Benjamin's own thinking of the messianic redemption by the proletariat in the 'Theses' is, to say the least, unclear to me. The Nietzschean ubermensch is the realisation of this transit through despair - the absolute immanence in with God has been incorporated into human existence.
4. 'God must be hidden from it and may be addressed only when guilt is at its zenith.'
Capitalism, as 'pure cult', celebrates an 'unmatured diety', which is the secret of capital.
In a surprising twist Benjamin identifies Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx, as all operating within the hegemony of this conception of capital as religion. Again as far as I can grasp it this appears because they all encrypt this conception of perpetual guilt, the ciphering of God as the unmatured diety, and the same measure of transcendence or appearance of God at the moment of absolute guilt / despair:
To go with the current would be to follow the cultic dimension of capital and its own internal ubermensch.The conformism which has been part and parcel of Social Democracy from the beginning attaches not only to its political tactics but to its economic views as well. It is one reason for its later breakdown. Nothing has corrupted the German working class so much as the notion that it was moving with the current. It regarded technological developments as the fall of the stream with which it thought it was moving. (my italics)