(Part 3) The Moral Case for Separating State and The Economy – What’s That About?

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March 17, 2015 by Anders Ingemarson

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, we pointed out the similarities between a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire market for religious ideas and a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire market for products and services. We showed how both respect our individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We observed that the vast majority of Americans support such a state of affairs when it comes to our faith—i.e. total separation of state and church—but not when it comes to our economic life—i.e. total separation of state and economy.

We lamented that when it comes to our economic lives, we have permitted the government to tax, regulate, fine, coerce and threaten us to such an extent that if it had happened in the market place for religious ideas it would be considered fundamentalism of the kind that is only practiced in Islamic countries.

And we explained that, paradoxically, faith is the main cause of the differing views on separation of state and faith and separation of state and the economy; most faiths teach selflessness and sacrifice as the standard of morality, which leaves people of faith defenseless against those who want to use government force to institutionalize such a moral code, as fundamentally they share the same moral ideas.

Finally, we explained that only a morality of rational self-interest provides the foundation for defending individual rights—your unalienable rights to your life, your liberty, and your pursuit of your happiness—and championing the moral case for separating state and the economy.

So how do we get to where a morality of rational self-interest becomes more widely accepted, where respecting individual rights gains more followers, and where championing the moral case for separating state and the economy is embraced by more people? A recurring theme throughout history is that people of faith who are committed to reason and rationality—and there are a lot of them—tend to adjust their religious views as new scientific and other facts are discovered. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

  • In 1633, Galileo Galilei was sentenced to house arrest for life by the Roman Inquisition for his advocacy of heliocentrism, the idea that the earth revolves around the sun, because it was against the teachings of the church. But sentencing Galileo did not stop heliocentrism from gaining widespread acceptance. On the contrary, his discovery quickly became central to future scientific discoveries, for the most part spearheaded by scientists who themselves were deeply religious. When faced with the newly discovered facts that contradicted their faith, they went back and reexamined and often reinterpreted the religious texts, and adjusted their faith accordingly.
  • In the early 1800s the new science of geology was all the rage. William Smith, the father of geology, examining fossils in different strata of the earth discovered that our planet had been around a little longer than previously thought. The standard, religiously based view before William Smith was that of Bishop Ussher who in 1654 had calculated the night preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC as the date of creation. The debate between the proponents of the new science and the people of faith that supported Bishop Ussher’s view was as heated as any debate today about the role of government in our economic life. But over time, the facts became irrefutable and religious people gradually adjusted their views.

History is full of examples of this process at work, with faith and facts initially clashing but eventually being reconciled. We think the same development will occur in the views of the role of government in our economy. We’ll start to see more and more people of faith reconciling and adjusting their religious views in favor of a morality of rational self-interest. We’re not saying it will happen tomorrow or next year. Faith based views are deeply personal and each individual has to find a way of reconciling the new facts with his faith, and allow the time it takes.

But gradually, religious men and women with a reverence for reason and rationality will gravitate towards the facts, in this case the fact that only a morality of rational self-interest provides the necessary underpinnings for defending individual rights and championing the moral case for separating state and the economy.

What about the large group of people who subscribe to a morality of selflessness and sacrifice on secular grounds? For example, altruists of the welfare statist, socialist, and environmentalist kind? Is there any hope for them? Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment in this series.

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