I receive a constant stream of notes from people who are frustrated with the socialist thinking of the American religious establishment. We encounter it in the newspapers, television, internet, and from our own pulpits.
Sometimes it takes people by surprise, as when they hear their otherwise reasonable pastor suddenly pray for the world's wealth to be divided evenly (by force, it is implied) or when people are lectured to favor a new tax increase in the name of Christianity.
What I have discovered is that these people are not really socialists. They just have not thought much about the economic implications of what they are saying. They have merely absorbed the conventional wisdom that the problem of poverty, about which they are rightly concerned, can be solved through redistribution alone. They have not thought much about production and the cause of wealth.
In other words, not much has changed since the time of Adam Smith, when he first noticed that his contemporaries had put very little thought into the basic question of where wealth comes from. What economics has demonstrated is that wealth creation needs preconditions: private property, free of contract, free-floating wages and prices, unencumbered entrepreneurship, internal and external trade, and the right to accumulate and pass on wealth.
Will our religious leaders ever get the message? Not if we are not active in educating them. And, actually, I am quite optimistic about the possibilities of making a difference over the long term. The Acton Institute has been hard at work, since our founding, educating seminarians and religious leaders on economics. We use every means we can, from quiet retreats and seminars to public outreach through books and articles.
With your help, we have made a huge difference. The proposition that wealth creation requires free markets, and that free markets are not immoral but rather can be agents of great social and cultural goodness, has made vast inroads into religious opinion. Please continue to assist us in this educational enterprise.