Why are religious intellectuals drawn toward neo-Marxist thinking? How does it happen, Kevin Williamson asks, that while calling for an end to poverty they show contempt for the capitalism that has saved more people from poverty than any other economic policy.
While railing against the evils of consumerism the clerics ought to direct some of their fire at the anti-capitalist economies that produced some of the worst starvationism the world has ever known.
You would have thought that the monumental world historical catastrophe called Communism would have cured serious thinkers of their love affair with Marxist and statist policies. Apparently not. Those of a more religious bent must have thought that their faith was being tested. The rest are just a bunch of sore losers.
Today, we are focused on Pope Francis, a man whose anti-capitalist and statist leanings are becoming impossible to ignore. But, Williamson explains, it’s not just the Catholic Church:
The Catholic clergy is hardly alone in this. There is something about the intellectually cloistered lives of religious professionals that prevents them from engaging in anything but the most superficial way with the 21st-century economy. Consider Tricycle, the American Buddhist review, which periodically publishes hilariously insipid economic observations — e.g., the bracingly uninformed writing of Professor Stuart Smithers of the University of Puget Sound religion department, whose review ofConscious Capitalism by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Raj Sisodia contains within it a perfect distillation of fashionable economic antithought….
As Marx pointed out,” Professor Smithers writes, “capital is full of contradictions. Capital not only creates wealth, value, and jobs — it also destroys wealth, value, and jobs. Those ‘wondrous technologies’ also manifest as wrathful deities, efficiently eliminating or reducing the need for labor.” The implicit economic hypothesis here is that producing a certain amount of goods more efficiently — in this case, with less labor — makes the world worse off. (“Why not use spoons?”)
Aside from the fact that many religious leaders seem disconnected from reality, one suspects that they want to be respected by serious intellectuals… even if these latter are often crackpots.
Here, Williamson explains the benefits of capitalism:
The increasingly global and specialized division of labor and the resulting chains of production — i.e., modern capitalism, the unprecedented worldwide project of voluntary human cooperation that is the unique defining feature of our time — is what cut the global poverty rate in half in 20 years. It was not Buddhist mindfulness or Catholic homilies that did that. In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, neither of those great religious traditions, nor anything else that human beings ever came up with, made a dent in the poverty rate. Capitalism did. One of the great ironies of our times is that so many of the descendents of the old Catholic immigrant working class have found themselves attracted to an American Buddhism that, with its love of ornate titles, its costumes, its fascination with apostolic succession, and its increasingly coddled professional clergy, is a 21st-century expression of Buddhism apparently committed to transforming itself — plus ça change! — into 15th-century Catholicism. Perhaps it should not be entirely surprising that it has embraced the same intellectual errors.
He closes by expressing his chagrin at the way leaders of world religions, by embracing economic ideas promoted by atheists, are impeding economic growth and development:
I am grateful to our clergy, and if my criticism herein seems unduly uncharitable to these princes of the Church, it is only because their backward views on capitalism are doing real, material, irreversible damage to the world and especially to the lives of poor people, who are most in need of what only capitalism has to offer. His Eminence may not entirely understand it, but the banks and boardrooms are full of men and women doing more in real terms for the least of these than he is — more, in fact, than he would even understand how to do — and what he proposes mainly is to stand in their way. For God’s sake, stop it.