Some Thoughts on Rationality, Religion, and Economics

If you want to reason your way into religion instead of out of it, you need only change your initial assumptions. If you assume God exists, you will find sufficient cause to believe, and insufficient grounds to change your assumption.

If you assume that there is no God, while I think you will still see sufficient cause to believe, you will not find authoritative proof.

Whatever assumption you start with, there is no authoritative proof available that would force you to change assumptions, and as such, it is just as rational to believe as not to.

For me, I see the beauty in the universe around me, and the love of my fellow mankind, and imperfect as those things may sometimes be, I can see that the flaws in the world are caused by the choices people make. We need only live up to a higher ideal – all of us – to make this world a better place.

Let us discuss some of those ideals.

Those who say that peace is preferable to war are of course correct. There is no rational reason to chose war over peace as a natural state. War can only be justified on the grounds that it takes both sides in a potential conflict to choose peace, whereas it takes only one side to choose war. War is never preferable to peace, but sometimes lasting peace is only possible on the other side of war.  War is often preferable to capitulation.

Those who say that poverty should be eliminated are of course correct, but to stop the analysis at the moral question of ending poverty overlooks the means available to do so.  It is an historic fact that free market capitalism has lifted more people out of the kinds of grinding poverty we all hate, than has any other construct known to man.  It blows my mind that those who believe in socialism generally do not believe in God, for to believe in God requires someone to make assumptions that cannot be disproven, whereas we have about 150 years of data telling us that socialism does not work.  Socialism does not end poverty; it institutionalizes it.  If one is going to believe in something they know does not work, how can they then criticize the belief in God?  Once you throw reason to the wind, you can believe in whatever you want, so you might as well allow others to do the same.  Those who believe in reason must also constantly question their assumptions, on both questions of religion as well as on questions of economics.

In terms of religion, one need not be a religious person to be a libertarian, but I would hope that anyone who is a libertarian would also value the freedom of religion, right up to the point where one’s religious beliefs break the non-aggression principle.  Put bluntly, we are all free to believe whatever we want, but we are not free to do whatever we want.  Nobody has the right to violate the non-aggression principle.

In terms of rationality of religion, since there is no rational reason to change one’s initial assumptions, we must accept religion as rational, but we must also separate the rationality of religion from the rationality of belief.  Only a fool believes in a religious concept that can be proven to be false.  The world is not flat, no matter what you think the Bible or Koran may say.  I would also say to the religious that if your beliefs force you to violate the non-aggression principle, you should reconsider those beliefs.

In terms of rationality of economics, those who wish to combat income inequality generally understand neither income, nor inequality.  Income is that which is paid to someone for the work they do.  All work is not equal in value, and as a consequence, income is by definition unequal.  We should embrace income inequality, and focus instead on mobility.  I see comparisons all the time that say Europe has more mobility between classes than does the United States, and while these comparisons are true from one perspective, they fail to take into account that incomes vary far more in the United States, and that incomes are also significantly higher in the United States, both before and after taxes are taken into account.  Tax rates are punitively higher in Europe than in the United States, and as such, moving from one class to another requires a smaller jump in income, but it is far easier to grow wealth in absolute terms in the United States then in Europe – and more to the point, more mobility can only be achieved through more freedom.  We would all benefit if we worried more about our own living conditions, and less about the living conditions of other people.

At the same time, corruption is rampant in the United States, and whereas income inequality driven by differences in the value of work is a positive force, income inequality driven by corruption is not.  We should not focus on income inequality, but we should focus on what drives it, and when we see someone like Elon Musk making billions of dollars off the backs of the tax payer, or where we see that the richest parts of the United States surround Washington D.C., we should make changes.  If Bill Gates makes sixty billion dollars by taking computers and making them accessible to the masses, we should recognize that Bill Gates’ wealth, massive as it may be, is but a fraction of the wealth his innovations created for society.  Bill Gates deserves our respect – not our scorn.  Save the scorn for Elon Musk.

Those who put equality ahead of freedom do so at the expense of opportunity, for though people left free may create to serve their own self interests, those creations represent opportunities for others.  There could have been no car without someone first creating an engine.  There could have been no jet without first someone creating an airplane.  Virtually every innovation builds on previous innovations, creating opportunities for future innovations.  Those who invent, or innovate, create jobs and/or make products more accessible.  Without the cheap steel created by Andrew Carnegie, and the production techniques created by Henry Ford, what would the world like today?  Should we look down on Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford for making our present (what they would have called ‘the future’) infinitely better?

Also note that in a free market economy, while people can work to forward their own interests, they can also work to forward the interests of other people.  Freedom allows people to choose whatever motivations they want, and most people are motivated by more than one thing.  Most of us want to forward our own interests and the interests of other people.

Those who put democracy ahead of freedom (anyone against firm limits to the size and scope of government) does so on the assumption that those who work to forward their political self-interests are somehow nobler than are those who work to forward their economic self-interests.  Those who use their political power to improve their economic conditions – the word for that is ‘corruption’.  Anyone who believes in forwarding identity groups (and it does not matter what groups they create) is advocating corruption, and working to live in a corrupt world.

Many people are irrational, as many of the causes people fight for do not even exist.  A classic example is the fight against the gender wage gap.  We all know that the gender wage gap is a myth, driven not by discrimination, but by the different decisions men and women make once they marry and/or have children, and yet a sizeable portion of our public fights the gender wage gap.  I heard an advertisement on the radio today that said we need more women in technology fields, and I thought, as long as there are no artificial barriers keeping women out of technology fields, why should we care how many women decide to pursue those careers?  Certainly we want women, as well as all other groups, to be free to pursue whatever careers they wish, but a part of choice is that we must accept any differences that are driven by choice.  I keep hearing people say that we live in a patriarchal society, but when one considers that more than half the electorate is female, then to the degree that this is true, it is because women, by and large, want it that way.  If fewer women choose to run for office, or to run companies, or to do various other things, as long as it is driven by choice, who cares?  It is wrong to force women to stay home with children, but many women choose to do that, and sometime when their husbands would prefer that they work.  Is it not wrong to expect women to make choices other than the ones they freely make?  There is nothing rational, or for that matter noble, in fighting for a cause when that cause is based on lies and falsehoods, and it is not rational to vote for people who base their political platforms on lies and falsehoods by making such fights a part of their campaigns.

And finally – one last word on religion and rationality..  Those who hate religion might consider that religion grounds morality, and that the less God might actually exist, the more, rather than less, we might need Him.

1 thought on “Some Thoughts on Rationality, Religion, and Economics”

  1. You present so many good points, Wallace, but I’ll just address one. You say that most people who believe in socialism don’t believe in God and Dr. David Noebel agrees with you. In his classic “Understanding the Times,” he connects the atheistic religion of secular humanism to the belief in socialism. In fact, our world view determines how we think about all the disciplines like economics, politics, sociology, psychology, theology, philosophy, etc. And, to your last point, that religion grounds morality, Jean Paul Sartre, an atheistic existentialist, said that, while there was no moral governor, he wished there were.I believe he was lying on both counts. There is a moral governor, and atheists don’t want to admit it because they would have to assume that moral governor was God.

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