God has laid down rules for us in every walk of life, including the proper organization of our economic affairs. The free economy is a system of voluntary arrangements that brings together people who have work skills, who use tools and machinery to increase their output, thus producing the incredible abundance of goods and services we enjoy as consumers. Economics … is in the realm of means, but it supplies the essential means for enriching our lives in the realms of the mind and spirit; as well as in music, art, and literature.
The Rev. Edmund A. Opitz was a Congregationalist minister who for decades championed the cause of a free society and the need to anchor that society in a transcendent morality. A man of wide reading and high culture, Opitz was for many years on the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. He was one of the few voices in the 1950s through the 1990s calling for an integrated understanding between economic liberty and religious sensibility. He was the founder and coordinator of the Remnant, a fellowship of conservative and libertarian ministers.
A significant portion of Opitz's work was produced in the midst of the cultural and social confusion of the 1960s, which would eventually lead to the production of his erudite book outlining both the reasons and the importance of such an integration in Religion and Capitalism: Allies, not Enemies. Although theologized forms of Marxism were only just coming into vogue, Opitz was able to spot the trajectory of such philosophical seeds in their nascent form, and while it would be excessive to say that the writing of Opitz caused the shift in religious thinking away from socialist paradigms, it would not be inaccurate to say that the moral premises and arguments he employed are at the root of such shifts. Presently, the manifest economic and moral failure of economic collectivism is laid bare for all to see. But when Opitz first began making his case for the free society most were skeptical.
Despite the demise of Real Socialism—practiced socialism—there remain significant numbers of people who still fail to see how a free economic order in a free society can be consistent with the transcendent ends of religion and morality. Opitz confronted the confusion of a purely spiritualized religion when he argued that moral sense can and must be made of the physical world, which was fashioned by a benevolent God, who then situated the human family within the exigencies of scarcity—and thus the law of supply and demand. Never to be mistaken for an “economic fundamentalist,” much less a theocrat of any variety, Opitz was always careful to note that Christianity qua Christianity offered no specific economic model any more than economics qua economics has any specific moral model to proffer—which is precisely why they both need each other.
A longer version of this article originally appeared on National Review Online.