Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism

Perhaps the most important thing Ted Cruz has done this political season is to solidify in many people’s minds the supposed link between capitalism and religion. This is important—and bad—because, logically, capitalism is based not on religious faith, but on secular reason. By trying to defend free-market capitalism on religious grounds, Cruz and his fellow evangelical Republicans discredit capitalism in the minds of many (otherwise) pro-reason secularists. (Capitalism refers, not to cronyism, but to a political-economic system based on individual rights, including property rights, in which government bans the initiation of force.)

Of all the Republican presidential candidates this year, Cruz is the most pro-capitalist, at least on a number of important issues. Consider a few examples. In opposing ObamaCare, Cruz quoted Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on the floor of the senate. He opposed ethanol subsidies while campaigning in Iowa, illustrating his opposition to cronyism. He defended the right of free speech of individuals who participate in organizations, including corporations.

Cruz is also perhaps the most overtly religious of the candidates. In announcing his candidacy at the evangelical Liberty University, Cruz said the “promise of America” is that “our rights don’t come from man; they come from God Almighty”—ignoring the possibility that rights derive from facts of human existence. (He is hardly alone in expressing this sentiment; for example, Marco Rubio emphatically proclaims that “our rights come from God.”) Cruz openly allies himself with evangelical Christians who seriously discuss the possibility of government executing homosexuals and abortion providers. He campaigns with one after another evangelical anti-gay bigots. On religious grounds, he would outlaw abortion and even some forms of birth control.

With his combination of views, Cruz strongly associates capitalist economics with religious faith. He is hardly alone in this. Thus, it should not be surprising that, today in America, neither religious conservatives nor secularists often question the alleged connection between religion and capitalism.

Consider an example from the secularist side. Evolutionary biologist and atheist Jerry Coyne, whom I respect for his work in biology, writes, “[I]f I could do two things to make America a less religious society (which would in turn make it more accepting of evolution), it would be to have truly universal healthcare and to drastically reduce income inequality.” In other words, in Coyne’s view, capitalism buttresses America’s religiosity, and dismantling aspects of capitalism would undermine America’s religiosity.

Of course, Coyne’s claims on this point are ridiculous. True, more-secular regions of Europe tend to have more of a welfare state than does the United States, but there’s nothing about secularism per se that supports such politics. On the other hand, highly religious South America often embraces socialism—witness Venezuela. Here in the U.S., both leftists and conservatives routinely embrace the welfare state on religious grounds (although they often disagree over details).

Coyne doesn’t actually offer any argument as to why a less capitalist society would become less religious; he, like religious conservatives, just blithely assumes that capitalism must be related to religion.

In fact, there is no reason to think that capitalism is based on religion. Certainly no such reason can be found in religious texts or moral teachings. For example, the Christian Old Testament sanctions bloody conquest and slavery; the New Testament rails against wealth and promotes collectivist communes. Religious morality centers on altruism: self-sacrifice for the sake of promoting religion and serving others. That is why the Catholic Church, for example, routinely publishes texts condemning capitalism, the system sanctioning the pursuit of rational self-interest.

Capitalism, and the theories of individual rights on which it is based, came about not during eras when religion dominated politics, but when Enlightenment ideals of reason and earthly advance put religion on the defensive. Capitalism is rooted in the pursuit of individual happiness and well-being on earth, not in seeking rewards in a purported afterlife.

Increasingly, Americans see the major political divide, not as between individual rights and statism, but between theocracy and socialism (two forms of statism). (Donald Trump, a pragmatist concerned with “dealing” in power, offers yet another form of statism.) Ted Cruz, although not a theocrat himself (except when it comes to abortion), openly panders to outright theocrats. And Bernie Sanders openly calls himself a socialist, while 57 percent of Democratic primary voters think socialism has had a “positive impact on society”—despite the slaughter of scores of millions of people under socialism. These trends are extraordinarily dangerous—and they open the door not only to theocracy and to socialism but to a blend of the two.

Ayn Rand aptly summarizes the underlying problem:

[Conservatives] claim that mysticism—a belief in God—provides the justification for rights, freedom and capitalism. Nothing could be more disastrous to the cause of capitalism. . . . Tying capitalism to faith means that capitalism cannot be justified in reason. A conservative who claims that his case rests on faith declares that reason is on the side of his enemies—that one can oppose collectivism only on the grounds of mystical faith. To the extent that anyone accepts this argument, he is forced to reject capitalism—if he is a man who wants to be rational. Therefore, these alleged defenders of capitalism are pushing potential sympathizers to the exact opposite side. (Objectively Speaking, p. 16, emphasis removed)

Whenever Cruz, Rubio, and other evangelicals promote capitalism, such promotion is a double-edged sword—and the side cutting against capitalism is the sharper one. By tying capitalism to religious faith, they help break the link in people’s minds between capitalism and reason, despite the logical and historical dependence of capitalism on philosophic ideas promoting reason. Pro-reason capitalists should be duly wary—and worried.

April 27 Update: Following is my entire “Ted Cruz and Religion” cycle. Please note that my views about Cruz evolved considerably over time. Although I’m still very concerned about Cruz’s positions on abortion (and related matters) and his alliances with theocratic-leaning conservatives, I’ve also come to appreciate more deeply his many virtues, including his partial endorsement of the principle of separation of church and state. I became active in Republican politics toward the end of 2015, and I came to support Cruz over Donald Trump for the nomination.
· Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz
· Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State


Image: Michael Vadon