Forget the “culture wars” and the assault on Christianity. The real conflict in America is thoroughly secular—between environmental and ecological “religions”—or so says Robert Nelson. He makes the argument, long known to conservatives, that religion never really goes away. Modern secular religions, like these two, borrow heavily from the Christian tradition. As such, they inherit the same theological language and ideas. Most importantly, they inherit age-old theological debates and animosities.
Nelson defines economic religion as a general faith that believes some combination of science, government, and market can solve human misery. It is organized like the medieval Catholic Church, with economics as the new scholasticism, economists the new priesthood, and the state as the new church.
He sees differences between capitalism and various forms of socialism as trivial, as all share a fervent belief in “progress,” in which economic development will eradicate poverty. This is a secularized theology of the New Testament, in which the good news of the economic gospel will eradicate the sin of poverty that society may be redeemed. Heaven on earth is indeed possible.
Economic religion was conceived in the West, attained maturity by the mid-19th century, and became a global force through the leadership of the United States. However, the human...