God pretzels, or "The Evangelical Economist at Work"

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 at 05:24 PM

I've probably mentioned here before that I think there's a connection between evangelical Christian beliefs and the political position that all people should be left to the mercy of the "market" rather than aided by government intervention.  The thought process required to maintain these beliefs strikes me as sufficiently twisted that it can be called "the God pretzel."

From what I understand about the history of evangelicals, this is a longstanding relationship, which was probably best demonstrated in the U.S. by the Congressional debate over whether to enact the Social Security Act.  At that time, with the Depression still in place, many a good, god-fearing man who ran some industry or financial enterprise warned in resonant tones worthy of a preacher that "such a the program will destroy the moral fiber of the nation."

Going back further, I have read that British evangelicals played a part in creating the horrible workhouses of 19th century England, and in preventing the British government from alleviating the consequences of the Irish potato famine.

Before getting into why that relationship might exist, here's an example of what I'm talking about. James Sherk is an economist with the Heritage Foundation. James Sherk is (or was) also the lead economics editor for a group called evangelsociety.org.

The nature of what he writes for Heritage is pretty well illustrated by the titles of two of his most recent pieces there::

Who Earns the Minimum Wage? Suburban Teenagers, Not Single Parents

Union Members, Not Minimum-Wage Earners, Benefit When the Minimum Wage Rises

As I said, Mr. Sherk is also on board at Evangel Society, which describes itself thus:

Evangel Society Mission Statement

Established 2002

In order to love the Lord our God with all of our minds, The Evangel Society of Thought exists for the purpose of examining the world around us. From the foundation of a Christian worldview and a passion for the Good News, the Evangel, we will explore issues ranging from politics and economics to religion and popular culture.

The Evangel Society believes that

We are able to go up and take the country,
To possess the land from Jordan to the Sea.
'Though the giants may be there, our way to hinder,
Our God has given us the victory.
~ Paraphrase of Numbers 14

We will take every thought captive to Christ. Our vision is that the Lord will use us to equip believers with reasoned analysis of the critical issues of the day. There are "giants in the land," ideas and institutions that stand opposed to the Gospel of Christ, but we are confident that the Bible, as the inspired word of God, shall prevail over all of its challengers. We will contend for its primacy in the arena of ideas.

Now it seemed off to me, when I first thought about it, that people dedicated to a Christian life would also be so dedicated to combating government attempts to alleviate poverty and other human misery. But then, so many people who are passionate about their Christianity, who mold every moment of their lives to that belief, tend to be really harsh & unforgiving of what they perceive to be the sins of others.

Here's my four-part theory on why evangelical Christians are so often aligned with the conservative business community:

  1. They equate economic success with God's love; hence the poor are viewed as less loved by God than are the rich.

  2. Their focus is ultimately on the afterlife, rather than the corporeal life on earth, and have a strong belief that human suffering is part of God's plan to reward the worthy after they are dead.

  3. They are indoctrinated with the idea that life is a battle between good and evil, and that sloth and sexual sinning are evil, and see the poor as likely to commit the sins of both sloth and sexuality.

  4. They are indoctrinated with the idea that obedience to government is itself a dangerous, perhaps sinful thing in itself, since all obedience should be to God and/or Jesus.

It's a theory.  But there have been far too many times that I read some conomic analysis that struck me as so obviously askew that it could only be explained by dementia or deliberate twisting of facts...only to discover that the author is a devout Christian of the evangelical stripe.  These tracts/diatribes should come with a standard warning, maybe a nice bright white background with graphics of flames licking at the edges, with the following in large, fancy, gold letters:

Danger: Evangelical Economist at Work