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Mark Olmsted Headshot

The Fourth "F" Is Fear

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One of the anti-gay organizations Newt Gingrich funneled money to in Iowa has for its slogan "Faith, Freedom and Free Markets." A little googling brings up a consistent fleshing out of these principles along very particular lines. "Faith" is in a Judeo-Christian, biblical God. "Freedom" is primarily economic -- the right to make money, basically. And the "Free Market" turns out to be how God chooses who makes the most money. Despite a Bible that is proto-socialist, these propagandists have decided God's real chosen people are the most efficient exploiters of the system of supply and demand. From how they tell it, anything that reins in the free market--this glorious arbiter of allocation--is basically challenging God's Will.

The spiritual bankruptcy of a worldview that appropriates the teachings of a man who said "blessed shall be the poor, for they shall inherit the earth," to denounce, for example, the inheritance tax, is jaw-dropping. In fact, the main thing in the Bible that worshiping at the altar of the free market brings to mind is something about a golden calf, and I'm pretty sure that didn't end too well for the idolaters. I also have a vague memory of some commandments against stealing and coveting, but what do I know, my mother took me out of Sunday school because the Catholic Church would not denounce the bombing of Indochina. (Something about "Thou Shall Not Kill." A frothing liberation theologist, my Mom.)

When it comes down to brass tacks, free-market acolytes will always choose money over morality. Dow Chemical trumps Vietnamese peasants. BP quarterly profits are way more important than the Gulf of Mexico. And now we have Ann Coulter defending capitalism via nuclear power at any price by insisting radiation is good for you! Way to find a silver lining, Ann - though I'd prefer a lead one, personally.

Certainly a great deal of this belief system can be explained as simple justification. When you're one of the haves (though 4 in 10 millionaires don't "feel rich" according to Time) you don't want to feel bad about it. Of course you construct a philosophy of entitlement. You string together disparate words and biblical notions to create such concepts as the "Judeo-Christian Work Ethic" and then pour yourself a nice glass of Glenfiddich and stare at the view from your Wyoming ranch. (What do they mean, you don't love the "environment?" You own the best fly fishing stream in the state!)

But I think a deeper explanation is simple: the fear of doubt. With moral absolutism comes considerable contradiction. You're pro-life but support the death penalty. You're told homosexuality is a sin, but adore your Uncle Ted and his boyfriend. Your God is all merciful but condemns sinners to hell. It's enough to make your head explode.

Capitalism may make for a very volatile economic system, but it offers the comforting math of certainty. Letting the marketplace tell you what to think is a lot easier than drawing your own conclusions. If a man makes $43 million a year, he must be worth it. And if someone else can't afford health insurance, who's fault is that? The free market has spoken.

A number for everything does wonders for keeping the gray at bay if you'd rather live in a world of black and white. But claiming the results of the "free market" somehow reflect the mind of God is not faith - it's arrogance. If anything, it's proof of Wilde's dictum: "People today know the price of everything, and the value of nothing."

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