Friday, May 9, 2014

The Bible and Free Enterprise: Inexorably Linked

"Consider the work of God;
For who can make straight what He has made crooked?"
Ecclesiastes 7:13

Fantastic American Spectator piece about the relationship between Faith and Economic liberty:
Who would have thought that the welfare state’s expansion in the guise of Obamacare—which, by definition, significantly reduces economic freedom—would directly impact the ability of individuals and groups to conduct their affairs in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs? This, however, is precisely the reality confronting us.


Unjust restrictions on religious liberty often come in the form of limiting the ability of members of particular faiths to participate fully in public life. Catholics in the England of Elizabeth I and James I, for instance, were gradually stripped of most of their civil and political rights because of their refusal to conform to the established Church.

The assault on their freedom, however, went beyond this. Perhaps even more damaging was the attack on their economic liberty. This came in the form of crippling fines being levied on recalcitrant Catholics by governments short on revenue, not to mention restrictions on Catholics’ ability to own and use their property as they saw fit.

Many such laws, Americans should never forget, crossed the Atlantic. Though the Maryland colony was founded by English Catholics fleeing religious repression, anti-Catholic laws similar to those in Britain eventually prevailed. As the most famous of Maryland Catholics, Charles Carroll of Carrollton—the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence and the wealthiest man in the American colonies—observed, economic motives often underlay such harassment. “Selfish men,” he wrote, “invented the religious tests to exclude from posts of profit & trust their weaker or more conscientious fellow subjects.”


Until relatively recently, Christians were Lebanon’s largest religious community. For centuries, they traded extensively with their co-religionists throughout the Mediterranean, thereby facilitating East-West commercial exchange. Besides geography, however, another cause of Middle Eastern Christians’ commercial success may well have been the second-class legal status imposed upon them by their Muslim conquerors from the 7th century onwards.

In his History of the Arab Peoples, the late Albert Hourani relates that Christians (overwhelmingly Orthodox, Catholic, or Coptic) were forced to wear special clothes identifying them as non-Muslims. They were also obliged to pay a special tax, banned from carrying weapons, and sporadically persecuted. Hourani notes, however, that these constraints pushed many Christians into commercial endeavors. Eventually they dominated many economic spheres, including merchant shipping and banking.


Over the past thirty years, China has embraced some economic freedom. Less known is that it’s in those Chinese provinces permitted to somewhat liberalize their economies that millions of Chinese have embraced Christianity.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Once you grant liberty in one area, it’s hard to preclude freedom from spreading to other spheres. Economic liberty, for instance, requires and encourages people to think and choose freely. Without this, entrepreneurship is impossible. It’s challenging, however, to limit this reflection and choosing to economic questions. People start asking social questions, political questions, and, yes, religious questions. And many Chinese have decided Christianity is the answer to their religious ponderings.

That has created acute dilemmas for China’s rulers. On the one hand, the regime claims to value the contribution of many religions’ strict moral codes to economic life. President Xi Jinping has publicly stated that China is “losing its moral compass” and that “traditional” Chinese faiths such as Confucianism and Taoism could “help fill a void that has allowed corruption to flourish.”

But the regime also knows Christianity denies that the state can exercise religious authority over the church. Such a claim is unacceptable to China’s present rulers. Why? Because it implicitly challenges the ruling elite’s monopoly of power. Hence we see the regime persecuting Catholics who insist upon loyalty to the pope. In one of China’s wealthiest eastern provinces, Zhejiang, Evangelical churches are being told to remove their crosses and threatened with having their buildings demolished.
The whole thing is worth a read, check it out here.

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