I was baptised and raised as a Christian with Sunday school and later confirmation. To be precise I was a Protestant, which according to Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life” allowed me to buy condoms.
However before I ever had a need for those I ceased to believe in the biblical stories we were told. As in the words of Dr. Gregory House (immortalised by Hugh Laurie in the television series “House”) you believe in religion till you grow your curly hair. Which means that with puberty we start to develop our rational critical faculties and start to think for ourselves and challenge authority. Anyone dealing with teenage children will tell you so.
Some come through that necessary phase of growing up still as faithful believers. Which indicates that there might have been some developmental mishap.
In some parts of the world – Christian included – religious faith is still leading some believers to extreme practices like self-flagellation.
What defines religion as fundamentally different to for example science is that it relies on faith not facts in how to interpret the world we live in and how to set the rules for their followers. Another thing the main religions have in common is that they claim a monopoly on exercising these powers, which leads to monotheism as in the example of the biblical first commandment.
Over recent decades at least in the so called West the influence of religion has waned. In New Zealand for example according to census figures the number of people affiliated with Christian religions has fallen from 60% in 2001 to well under 50% in 2013. Similar trends are observed in all Western countries. Most of them not only call themselves secular but have explicit secular provisions in their constitutions. Even in Britain where the union of Church (of England) and the state still exists the influence of religion is steadily declining.
At the same time however, a new secular religion has emerged. God in his/her various forms has been replaced by the Market. All the other hallmarks of the traditional religions are the same.
Church of Neoliberalism
Emeritus professor Richard Norgaard at Berkeley in an excellent must read essay titled The Church of Economism and Its Discontents talks about the religious qualities of Economism in a broader sense. However I like to be more precise to emphasise the economic theory of the last 30 plus years by calling it the Church of Neoliberalism.
Norgaard on economics and on economists :
Economists themselves have acknowledged the ultimately religious nature of their discipline. In 1932, Frank Knight, the most scholarly and broad-thinking of the founders of the influential market-oriented Chicago school of economics, literally argued that economics, at a fundamental level, had to be a religion, the basic tenets of which must be hidden from all but a few:
“The point is that the “principles” by which a society or a group lives in tolerable harmony are essentially religious. The essential nature of a religious principle is that not merely is it immoral to oppose it, but to ask what it is, is morally identical with denial and attack.
There must be ultimates, and they must be religious, in economics as anywhere else, if one has anything to say touching conduct or social policy in a practical way. Man is a believing animal and to few, if any, is it given to criticise the foundations of belief “intelligently.”
To inquire into the ultimates behind accepted group values is obscene and sacrilegious: objective inquiry is an attempt to uncover the nakedness of man, his soul as well as his body, his deeds, his culture, and his very gods.
Certainly the large general [economics] courses should be prevented from raising any question about objectivity, but should assume the objectivity of the slogans they inculcate, as a sacred feature of the system.”
Have you ever wondered why none of the economists who are always so sure of themselves has predicted the global financial crisis of 2008, which common sense people could see coming. Because economics does not deal with facts like other social sciences. It is a religious sect busy performing their rituals for the congregration.
“Although economics is cloaked in the rhetoric of science, the modern economy runs on faith.”
The moral Dimension of Neoliberalism
Again Norgaard :
The moral dimension of economism becomes apparent in how it is invoked to justify the status quo. Since the neoliberal transition that accompanied the election of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl, it has become increasingly common, in both private conversation and political rhetoric, for people to argue that markets correctly determine who gets what. The achievement of great wealth is a sign of merit, even moral probity, whereas poverty is a result of individual moral failings. Because wealth is “earned,” it should not be taxed, even to provide for basic needs such as public education. The wealthy are the “job creators” on whom the system depends, and increased taxation would hinder them in performing the “good work” of getting rich. Economism, by rationalizing market outcomes, becomes the new “opium of the people,” playing the role Marx once attributed to religion in keeping people from rising up against the system.
Galbraith, the most successful economist of the 20th century has seen it clearly :
The role of the traditional Churches also has always been to subdue their followers and prevent them from rising up against their rich and powerful tormentors the church itself among them. And there are many more similarities between economics and religion for instance how they treat heretics. The economic heretics are lucky not to be burned at the stake. They are instead ridiculed and isolated by their peers and stymied in their careers.
Even in its extremes the new secular religion of Neoliberalism resembles the the old traditional religions down to self- flagellation. Here you see some poor US Southerners dependent on social security and obviously in need of medical help having voted for the Republican Party, which campaigned on cutting social welfare and medicare.
The same thing happens all over the Western world under neoliberal rule where the vast majority of voters vote against their own self-interest. This alone disproves the basic tenet of Neoliberalism that everyone acts in his own best economic self-interest.
While their blood soaks the ground the super-rich 0.1% are laughing all the way to the bank. Religious leaders never spill their own blood. They leave that to their most ardent and stupid followers.
That is what you get if you pray at the alter of Neoliberalism.