Monday, April 11, 2011

Creationism and Free Markets

Religion and politics can make even stranger bedfellows than politics alone.

One of my favorites is the Free Market and Creationism combo of the Christian Right. But then wasn't it transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds?" The inconsistencies between free market ideology and creationism are seldom examined, but require a very, big mind to have room to keep them separate.

The benefits of free markets were first described by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations. He showed how men and women, each individually selfish, could compete with each other in producing (and consuming) goods in an unregulated market. The result would be an improvement in the overall good of the community, just as if the individuals had been acting out of community spirit. This non-obvious result, that selfish behavior could have a positive result for the whole community, was called the Invisible Hand.

Right wing Christians, or at least pundits who pretend to be Christian, love free markets. They love private wealth, and their basic Christian doctrine can be summarized as "every man for himself." Out of the random transactions of free markets is born capitalism, and from capitalism comes everything good in the lives of free market pundits, Christian and pagan alike. They hate central planning by governments. They hate the strong-arm five year plans of the old Communist regimes. They even hate the gentler planning by Democratic governments that seek to ameliorate some of the situations where the Invisible Hand has not worked out quite so well for a few ten millions of American citizens.

Not all right-wing economic commentators are Christian, or even Creationists, but plenty are or pretend to be. Creationism is the opposite of free market ideology. Its mildest form, Intelligent Design theory, states that complex things, like the earth and its creatures, must have been created by an Intelligence, i.e. God. It rejects the scientific observation that complex things can be created over time by natural processes, also known as the theory of evolution (by natural selection).

The more fundamental Christian belief is that the world was created exactly as described in the Old Testament of the Bible: a particular God (not Allah or Zeus, or even Gunputty, mind you) created the world and all of its creatures in seven days. Since this has no basis in science, or even in pragmatic observation, Intelligent Design theory was designed to offer an alternative to the theory of evolution in U.S. public school system biology classes.

The difficulty of applying the Creationist mindset (the need for a dictatorial controlling intelligence to get anything done) to the economic system of the United States of America is a blessing. Things seem to happen in the economy without God sticking his nose into our business.

Adolf Hitler did not like quantum physics, but he was okay with natural selection. Hitler was Roman Catholic, and he did like controlling Germany's economy. I think the mutual hatred of Catholic and Communist leaders in that era had much to do with their mutual desires to run command economies. All the Catholic dictators of Europe of the 1930s and 40s, Francisco Franco, Benito Mussolini, Philippe Petain, and Hitler ran command economies, just like Joseph Stalin did in the U.S.S.R., then the only communist nation.

Protestant Christianity, in its diversity, has a long historical association with the merchant class. The Catholic Church mostly sided with the aristocracy during the formative centuries of the modern epic. The merchant class does not like to be dictated to. Hence its ideology of individualistic interpretation of the Bible and support for republics or, if necessary, democracies.

The divide, then, is not so wide. Creationism is an assertion of Biblical authority. Protestantism is associated with the idea that the business of Christianity is business. Christian businesses (including preachers and pundits) need to appeal to their target market. So they promote Creationism to further their own self interest. Free markets also promote their self-interest because the people with the most money to give (buying advertisements to sell over-priced gold on radio shows, for instance) are still mostly from the merchant (business people) class. It is all about self interest. If there were gods, they would probably want nothing to do with it.

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