Biblical Capitalism

Governor Perry on the mount: Blessed are the rich

Thomas Ruff October 19, 2011

Lucy West of Kileen, Texas, prays on August 6 at “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis,” organized by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). (Photo by: Brandon Thibodeaux/Getty Images)

Until recent­ly, 2011 had been a qui­et year for the Chris­t­ian right. Adopt­ing the suc­cess­ful Tea Par­ty blue­print, the first wave of 2012 pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls – includ­ing the can­di­dates whose Chris­t­ian cred was cen­tral to their polit­i­cal rise – dis­tanced them­selves from divi­sive social issues in favor of pop­u­lar anti-gov­ern­ment themes.

Biblical capitalism provides a powerful twist to the right’s faux-populist narratives—the hybrid-driving, college-educated liberal “elites” are no longer just political opponents; they’re enemies of God’s order.

But just as reli­gious rhetoric appeared to be reced­ing from the polit­i­cal land­scape, in August three-term Texas Gov. Rick Per­ry threw his hat in the pres­i­den­tial ring with a blend of pol­i­tics and reli­gion he dubbed The Response.” Per­ry is the first can­di­date to arrange a mar­riage of con­ve­nience between the lib­er­tar­i­an Tea Par­ty and the Chris­t­ian right – a pair­ing that pro­pelled him to the head of the Repub­li­can pack, although his front-run­ner sta­tus has since been claimed by both Mitt Rom­ney and Her­man Cain.

But Perry’s Chris­t­ian right bona fides are open to ques­tion. While he recent­ly jumped on board with the lat­est Repub­li­can pledges” to cur­tail abor­tion and gay mar­riage, he only did so after pres­sure to back down from his absolute defense of state sovereignty.

The self-inter­est and indi­vid­u­al­ism that per­me­ate the lib­er­tar­i­an phi­los­o­phy are not eas­i­ly rec­on­cil­able with Chris­t­ian teach­ings. Many Tea Partiers take pride in going Galt,” inspired by the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, who declared, I swear by my life and my love that I will nev­er live for the sake of anoth­er man” – a clear refu­ta­tion of Jesus’ direc­tive, Sell all your pos­ses­sions and give to the poor.”

So how has Per­ry gar­nered large-scale sup­port of the reli­gious right? The answer has to do with a con­cept known as bib­li­cal cap­i­tal­ism.” Bib­li­cal cap­i­tal­ism rein­ter­prets the Chris­t­ian holy book to make the case that lib­er­tar­i­an fis­cal pol­i­cy is divine­ly inspired. Pro­po­nents argue that Jesus and the Bible oppose pro­gres­sive tax­es, min­i­mum wage laws, social wel­fare poli­cies, col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights and envi­ron­men­tal regulation.

Although the sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion of lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics dates back to the ear­ly 1900s, the move­ment has been revi­tal­ized by the Tea Party’s lat­est pseu­do-his­to­ri­an, David Bar­ton. Barton’s 1989 book, The Myth of Sep­a­ra­tion, which claims that the Found­ing Fathers nev­er meant to keep church and state dis­tinct, was so thor­ough­ly debunked by schol­ars that it had to be rewrit­ten and reis­sued in 1996 as Orig­i­nal Intent. That Perry’s calls for his fol­low­ers to pray for eco­nom­ic dereg­u­la­tion have been met with applause and not con­fu­sion sug­gests that the mes­sage has found its tar­get audience.

Bib­li­cal cap­i­tal­ism allows Per­ry and the Tea Par­ty to imply – with­out hav­ing to delve into the philo­soph­i­cal incon­gruities – that fis­cal and social con­ser­vatism nec­es­sar­i­ly inter­twine. Bib­li­cal cap­i­tal­ism pro­vides a pow­er­ful twist to the right’s faux-pop­ulist nar­ra­tives – the hybrid-dri­ving, col­lege-edu­cat­ed lib­er­al elites” are no longer just polit­i­cal oppo­nents; they’re ene­mies of God’s order.

But in exchange for defy­ing these elites” by cast­ing a Tea Par­ty vote in their spir­i­tu­al self-inter­est, hard-line social con­ser­v­a­tives receive an eco­nom­ic order from a finan­cial elite that oppos­es their earth­ly self-inter­est – an order in which the rich­est 400 Amer­i­cans hold more wealth than the poor­est 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion combined.

Per­ry has clear­ly artic­u­lat­ed his vision for Amer­i­ca through his leg­isla­tive record as Texas gov­er­nor. He has stuck to his small-gov­ern­ment guns for a decade now and, pre­dictably, con­struct­ed a state of both extreme wealth and des­per­ate pover­ty – a cor­po­rate Can­dy­land com­plete with low tax rates, tooth­less reg­u­la­to­ry poli­cies, nonex­is­tent labor pro­tec­tions, an erod­ing sys­tem of pub­lic edu­ca­tion and the high­est per­cent­age of res­i­dents with­out health insur­ance in the union.

This vast socioe­co­nom­ic dis­par­i­ty reflects the world­view embraced by the Koch broth­ers and Tea Par­ty lead­ers – that we exist as self-inter­est­ed indi­vid­u­als com­pet­ing for lim­it­ed resources with­out con­cern for the well-being of oth­ers. Their ide­ol­o­gy and its desired end-game sce­nario are clear. But any spir­i­tu­al­ly and intel­lec­tu­al­ly hon­est Chris­tians who pre­tend that this phi­los­o­phy fits next to the teach­ings of Jesus are in need of some soul-search­ing. They might begin by ask­ing, When Jesus felt the weight of the world upon his shoul­ders, was his response to shrug’?”

This arti­cle was updat­ed the web.

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