In American political culture, there is a tendency to associate the support of free enterprise with the “Christian right” and the cultural causes of family values and other forms of “conservative” activism. The connection is a general one that may or may not apply in every case.
I’m intrigued that the United States is virtually alone in this association. In most countries around the world, especially in Latin America, Christian political activism is more closely associated with an attack on so-called neoliberalism, the word used to identify support for lower taxes, less trade protection, and private property rights. In fact, the association is so intense that any supporter of free markets is in danger of being decried as “unchristian” and uncharitable toward the poor.
What are we to make of these biases? It is a testament to the political pliability of bodies of religious teaching, and the capacity of most any regime to manipulate religion to its own ends.
For this reason, I’ve detected the rise of an unwarranted cynicism among many young students towards the political implications of Christianity. In my own reading of the scriptures, I find many teachings of Jesus to be illuminated by bringing an economic understanding to parables, many of which use examples drawn from the world of trade. Moreover, I find it impossible to avoid the economic implications of even the commandments, which so clearly presume property rights, for example.
The real core of the confusion here is not so much over religion and its economic implications, but over economics and its effects on how the world works.
This summer, the Acton Institute will host many programs designed to educate religious people about economics and its implications. I’m thrilled to say that we are doing fantastic work in this area, thanks to your continued support. We certainly have our work cut out for us, not only in the United States but around the world too.