The Power of Independent Thinking


Stay Connected
Get the latest updates straight to your inbox.

Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in America
October 7, 2010
Robert H. Nelson, Steven F. Hayward, Max L. Stackhouse


Alex Tabarrok

Hello, everybody. I’m Alex Tabarrok. I am the director of research for the Independent Institute. The Independent Institute, for those of you who don’t us, is a nonpartisan, public-policy research organization. Every year we publish many books. We publish a quarterly journal, The Independent Review, and we host forums like this one, both here and at our offices in Oakland, California. Our goal is to enlighten the public and to better improve public debate and understanding of social and economic issues.

Before we get to our main event, I did just want to make a note. I wanted to congratulate Mario Vargas Llosa on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. [Applause]. Aside from the obvious merits of this pick, The War at the End of the World is certainly one of my favorite novels of all time. Aside from the obvious merits, this is important to us at the Independent Institute for two reasons. First of all, Mario has a deep understanding of the foundations of a free society. He is a classical liberal and a true scholar of what makes a civil society possible. In addition, Mario is the father of Alvaro Vargas Llosa, who works here at the Independent Institute. He is the author of many Independent Institute books, including this one, Liberty for Latin America, and he’s generally an all-round great guy. He is busy fielding telephone calls at his home today, but he’ll be back in the office tomorrow. So we’re really very excited about this award.

Today’s forum is about an unusual topic. A number of people have made the argument that the environmental movement has aspects of a religion to it. Michael Crichton, the novelist, once said that the environmental movement has got a lost Eden, a state of grace when we had unity with nature. It then has a fall from grace into a state of both literal and figurative pollution. And, of course, this pollution was caused by a result of the eating from the Tree of Knowledge. And, of course, the environmental movement has a Judgment Day that is coming for all of us.

Now, often critiques like this are made from the perspective of economics, which is a seemingly rationalistic and secular alternative to environmentalism. But our first speaker today, Robert Nelson, challenges this conventional perspective. Economics, argues Nelson, also has theological presuppositions about the nature of the good. Now, being an economist myself, I don’t always agree with Bob’s arguments, but they do sometimes make me a little bit uncomfortable. For example, for somebody who thinks of himself, as I do, as a secular thinker, it can be a little disconcerting to find that I am often preaching the power of the invisible hand. So Bob may have me to rights on that. There’s certainly some connection there.

Bob is a professor at the University of Maryland. He is the author of The New Holy Wars: Environmental Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America. This really is a superb book. It challenges both sides of the debate. And I’m also very pleased to note that The New Holy Wars was recently awarded the 2010 Eric Hoffer Grand Price Award. Hoffer, for those of you who don’t know, was the longshoreman philosopher whose book, The True Believers, remains a classic in the study of religion and of mass movements.

Bob is joined here today with two scholars who have thought deeply and critically about the nature of economics and religion. Steven Hayward is a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he writes regularly about economics and the environment. He is also an accomplished historian. And I would mention in particular his magnificent two-volume history, The Age of Reagan.

We’re also fortunate to have Max Stackhouse with us. Max is Professor Emeritus at the Princeton Theological Seminary. And he is the general editor of the four-volume, God and Globalization series. In particular, he’s the author if the fourth volume, which lays out what has been called a “moral infrastructure for a worldwide civil society.”

So we’re going to begin tonight with Bob Nelson followed by Steve Hayward and Max Stackhouse. And then there’ll be an opportunity both for questions and debate among our panel, and also for questions and debate and answers from our audience as well. Bob.

Robert Nelson

Well, thank you very much, Alex. So far you’re fitting my models, which is that when I tell an economist that environmentalism is a religion they all say, “Well, yeah. You know, it’s kind of a no-brainer.” They recognize there’s sadly some truth, but they’re all very nervous with the idea that economics is a religion. It works the other way. If I tell an environmentalist that economics is a religion, “Oh, that’s a no-brainer.” I mean, any number of environmentalists that I’ve dealt with said it’s obvious. But some of them didn’t realize that I was saying the same thing about environmentalism. So they came in for a shock maybe a few months later after they had endorsed my book [laughter] and then discovered all the nasty things that I had said—well, they weren’t necessarily nasty. When I talk about religion—some people use it as a pejorative word. It’s not a pejorative word for me; it’s just a factual word, so to speak. In fact, I actually believe that everybody has a religion. I have one, too. It’s sometimes hard for me to figure out. Unlike most people and most social scientists, I actually believe we can discuss religion. And we don’t have to have a holy war all the time, although it seems like we somehow end up with them, disconcertingly frequently.

The other thing I’ll say is that this project—and it is a project—I mean, I’ve been engaged in it now for 20 years looking at both economics and environmentalism as religions. It started out with, and it continues to have, a very practical purpose, which is to understand the world. And I find that I can’t understand the world and what’s happening unless I incorporate a large religious element. And I thought I’d just give a little example. I see hundreds of these examples every year. Well, maybe not every year, but dozens every year. Maybe even hundreds. This is from the New York Times just in the last few days. It’s an article called “Green, But Still Feeling Guilty.” And it’s about a Colorado couple. And so I’m going to read from the article briefly. It’s about their practices.

“The renovated stairway is made from reclaimed barn wood. Their furniture is also made from recycled wood and steel; in fact, the coffee table is wood that was reclaimed twice, having been salvaged from reclaimed wood that was being made into flooring. . . .

“[They use only] natural cleaning products and ‘constantly’ drinking out of their Brita pitcher so there’s no need for disposable water bottles. All their personal care products are organic, and Mr. Dorfman’s clothes are made from organic cotton and recycled materials.”

But then they confess that they like disposable diapers. [Laughter]. And haven’t been able to get over it. This, though, has provoked a feeling, as Mr. Dorman put it, “Not only do I feel guilt; I feel hypocritical.”

Now this is not a set of practical measures to protect or preserve the environment in any way that anyone could reasonably understand. This is a set of religion rituals. To me, anyway, it seems transparently obvious. And I think to anyone else. Now it raises the question though, what’s the religion? And so you have a lot of articles like this, but you don’t have very many people who say what’s the religion, and where do these rituals derive? What are the implicit faith beliefs that lead you to feel that doing all this recycling and other things make you a morally better person? And make you feel hypocritical when you violate one of these beliefs?

And so that’s kind of what the project is about on the environmental side. I think economists don’t have as many rituals like this, but they have other characteristics that can’t be explained by normal, conventional, rational analysis. Now I will say it again. This has already been mentioned. It’s a somewhat unusual book, or maybe a very unusual book. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have any followers, which is a problem that I have. And because there’s always somebody who’s nervous about this religious side—because most people are either economists or environmentalists. And they’re a little bit concerned that if they get in on the take here, the fire might be returned to them. And then how are they going to deal with it?

I was at the Interior Department, so this whole project actually came out of very practical experience. I worked in the Interior Department 18 years from 1975 to 1993, and during that time I observed the policymaking process. I was in the Office of the Secretary. It was a very interesting experience. But one of the things that I noticed is that it didn’t fit any of the models that I was used to, or that they had taught me in graduate school, or that I was reading about in books that were derived from social science. It wasn’t to maximize the economic benefits. It wasn’t even a conflict of interest. Actually it was a value struggle, where what the Interior Department was doing was taking actions that were symbolically defining what American values were. And that had more to do with a lot of the policymaking in the department, especially things like wilderness or rangeland which were lower value than any normal economic or political considerations. And gradually it dawned on me 30 years ago that this was really religion. And so I didn’t do anything about it for quite a while. I was a little intimidated to write about it myself, but I eventually I got up my courage and wrote a book, and so here I am.

But anyway, the purpose of the whole thing was really in some sense to understand. And I claim, although I’m an expert in the Interior Department, I claim that the more I looked around other areas of American policymaking, the more I felt that in these areas, as well. We were looking at fundamental value conflicts that people weren’t comfortable with it. They didn’t want to seem to be fighting about religion in public. So they essentially masked all their value convictions under a pseudo-scientific, superficial presentation. But if you actually probed a little bit beneath the scientific explanations they offered, you basically found a religion. But they didn’t want to call it a religion, so they had to offer all these disguises.

So the book The New Holy Wars is kind of like trying to reveal the Emperor’s real appearance without all the superficial clothes. And what I’ve been doing is saying, what do the people—if you get rid of this—what do they really believe? And so it’s also, as I was saying, partly a reflection on the fact that I felt that a lot of the models that I was using just weren’t able to explain the world. So this led to the various books and so forth.

Now getting to economics: what am I saying if I say economics is a religion? Some people say, “Well, you just mean this metaphorically or you just like to be provocative and you hope you’ll sell more books if you call it a religion.” I mean, maybe that’s in my subconscious. I don’t know. But that’s not what I think I’m doing. I mean it literally—that economics is a religion. And in what sense? Well, basically it derives from the fact that a faith in economic progress, I would say, has been a dominant religion of the 20th century. And believing that economic progress can save the world and make for a vastly better place leads ultimately to heaven on earth if we actually perfect the economic system.

I don’t have time to go through all the people who have said these things, but if you read the book you can find a number of examples that show this has been pervasive as a belief throughout at least the last 150 years. And if you believe that economic progress can save the world, what will your priesthood be? Well, it’ll be the people who know about how to achieve economic progress. That is to say, your priesthood will be economists. And so what will economists do? Their efforts will be dedicated to revealing the true workings of the economy and thus the path of maximal economic growth. And if you believe this’ll save the world, then economic knowledge is your new Bible, so to speak, the place where you go to learn how to perfect things. And when I talk about perfection through progress, it’s moral perfection as well as material perfection.

Now what about environmentalism? Well, it’s not exactly a social science, but it’s factually in a lot of ways similar to economics. It has a different set of high priests. They’re biologists and ecologists. They also claim a scientific status, and beneath that lies all these moral presuppositions. And so environmentalism, like economics, is also a project of social change. It’s a project at improving and ideally perfecting the earth. It has its own moral standards, and in many other ways it functions like a secular religion. So they’re both religions.

However, they have very different perceptions of the world. Think about the relationship of humans and nature in very different terms, obviously. And with all kinds of policy implications. For economists, nature is a “natural resource.” That means something we use to produce more, increase human welfare for the benefit the economy, and it’s essentially seen in the utilitarian sense. But I need to say that environmentalism is diverse, and some people would say Resources for the Future, which is an organization dominated by economists, is an environmental organization. They’re pretty much exempt from everything I’m saying here. And they’re actually believers in economic religion, but they want economic religion to take better account of environmental amenities. And so there are people like that. Actually maybe quite a few.

But when you get to the distinctive contribution that environmentalism has made to contemporary debate, where they’re introducing really new ideas and new values, or as I would say, a new religion, one of the main areas is this issue of how we relate to nature. And for environmentalists nature has what they call “intrinsic value.” That is, it’s outside of human benefit. So we don’t have to establish human benefits in order to value or protect or want to do good things for nature. The word “Creation” is used throughout environmental discussions as a place where we can go to learn. Now environmentalists don’t always say God, but what they really mean is to learn about the mind of God as it was manifested in the Creation. God is not in the Creation; that would be Pantheism. But the Creation was a product of divine design.

And so if you think of things this way, it’s going to be an immensely spiritual experience. You go into the wilderness. What are you doing? You’re actually encountering something created and designed by God and a reflection of the mind of God. You’re learning about God. And this is a very old way of thinking of things in Christianity. It goes back more than a thousand years. And so in fact, throughout the history of Christianity they’ve talked about two ways of actually directly learning from God about the world. One is by reading the Bible, which is a direct divine revelation. But the other is by going into nature. And especially until the modern era, people believed that nature was pretty much the original Creation and that it hadn’t been changed much. And so it was seen as a revelation of God’s thinking.

Now of course, we know now that we have Darwin and all these other things, but I claim that really, when environmentalists go to the wilderness they’re still perceiving and experiencing the wilderness in this classical Christian way. Although they would be confused, actually. If you asked an environmentalist, why are you so spiritually affected by the wilderness if you’re a Darwinian scientist and all the rest of it? they really wouldn’t be able to answer the question. In the book I describe something in several chapters that I call Environmental Creationism. This is something that’s definitely not going to go over very well with the environmental community, but I argue there that there are rather surprising affinities and connections between the way environmentalists see nature and the way Christian Creationists see nature. And that is they both see it as essentially directly a product of God’s work. And so I would argue that a lot of evolutionary biologists and so forth who also are deeply spiritual environmentalists are suffering from a kind of an internal schizophrenia and that they don’t know how to exactly resolve that.

So anyway, this conflict, which manifests itself in lots of other ways, can often become embittered. It’s remarkable how much difficulty economists and environmentalists have talking to each other. How much even hatred they feel for each other at times. And it’s like heretics or sinners in each other’s presence. There’s even an environmental philosopher who wrote an article in a quite respectable environmental journal subtitled, “Why Environmentalists Hate Mainstream Economists.” I mean, this is a professor at Georgia Tech in the philosophy department. And so we get, then, a whole host of tensions and conflicts. For example, when it comes to something like what are the cathedrals of the religion? This is something I write about in the book. People in the 20th century, especially in the early or the first half of the 20th century would visit a dam—I call them economic pilgrims—they would go to a dam, and how would they perceive it? They would perceive it in quasi-religious or actually, I would say, really religious terms. It was a symbol of progress. The dam was controlling nature—a raging river—for the purpose of generating power, creating water for irrigation, controlling flooding, providing all these benefits which were all symbols of progress.

When I worked at the Interior department they had a lot of murals that had been painted in the thirties as part of the job generation, and the big symbols in the painting were, not always, but often a large dam. In the Soviet Union, they had dams too. And in fact, before we were in a space war, we were in a dam war with the Soviet Union. But none of the dams were that much good, or not none of them, but a lot of them were actually a waste of money. But they fulfilled a spiritual symbolic need on both continents.

So what’s happened to the view of a dam? Well, David Brower, who was for many years the head of the Sierra Club and is one of the leading environmentalists of the second half of the 20th century, said, “I hate all dams.” Why? Well, for him the dam symbolized the same thing, which is human control over nature. But for him that was evil. And for him nature was innocent and we had defiled it. We had erased a part of God’s Creation, if you want to put it maybe in a more theological way, and so it was an evil thing to do. On the other hand, what are the cathedrals of environmentalism? Well, basically they’re wilderness areas. And so what characterizes a wilderness area? Basically it’s places that have had the least amount of human contact. So your most worshipped sites are defined by the absence of a human presence. It’s not just wilderness areas, but let’s say the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has obviously become a huge symbol for the environmental movement.

How is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge characterized? It’s characterized as one of the last untouched places on the earth. And so it’s the absence of human impact that allows us to go there and see the Creation in its original form. Or at least you might be able to imagine it that way. It’s probably not true, but it’s easy to get into the mood of thinking of it that way. So that’s one of the many differences. Essentially you’re seeing, at some fundamental level, kind of a verdict on what you might call the modern project of rationally directed economic progress and the organization of society to maximize production in the economic welfare. But not just because you like economic welfare. It represents a conviction that the real source of evil and sin in the world has been material scarcity. You see this in extreme form in Marxism. And so it’s economic deprivation or desperation, and that’s what drives people to do bad things.

So if you have that diagnosis for the presence of sin in the world, then you have a fairly straightforward route of salvation. Basically you eliminate economic scarcity, which is again, what Marxism was all about. And he thought capitalism was actually necessary because it would lead to the elimination of scarcity and that would be heaven on earth. So you move along an economic path. You reject other explanations. What would other explanations of evil be in the world? One would be the fall in the Garden of Eden. Well, that’s just an old myth. So you can reject that one. A more tempting one might be a genetic explanation. People are evil because of their genes. And that one is obviously fraught with danger. And so people are not really going to go for that. And what’s left? Basically that people are shaped by their exterior environments. These environments—the most important part of it is economics. If you want to perfect the world, you perfect the economic environment.

So what does environmentalism say? It says that’s all wrong, that we were much better off before all of this. What did modern efficiency get us? It got us the Holocaust, for example, which was old-fashioned anti-Semitism married to modern economic efficiency. It got us atom bombs, and we might kill ourselves in the end. And so the modern project of progress—now, even economists have more doubts about it—but that basically is the object of environmental criticism. And you can see this with Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring, which was the seminal book starting the environmental movement. Until that, in the fifties DDT had been considered a miracle drug of modern chemistry. And Rachel Carson came along and said, “No, it’s not true. All these modern chemicals and so forth are actually doing terrible things. We’ve worshipped progress, but it’s blinded us to all the negative sides and in fact, a lot of the negative sides are terrible. And we have to get off this kick.”

And so that’s where environmentalism has been coming from. You have these different perspectives, and now a lot of people mix them together in their own practical day-to-day thinking, but if you go to the priests who actually take in the full logic of these things, you get completely clashing views of the world. What we should be doing in public policy in places like the Interior Department? In the Interior Department if it’s economic religion, we want to maximize progress and natural resources. If it’s environmental religion, we want to protect nature from all these bad things that human beings have been doing. We know we can’t get rid of all civilization, but we could try to minimize it and restore it. Since we’ve already ruined so much of it, restoration is one of the main parts of the environmental agenda.

Okay. I went over a little bit, but not too bad.

Steven Hayward

Well, first of all, congratulations, Bob, on an extraordinary book. I’m going to spend my time sort of explaining why that congratulations needs to be underscored and given exclamation points and so forth, because the richness and complexity of this book has compelled me to do something that I never like to do, and that is that I am completely in a state of chaos as to how to comment on it. And I’ve got this sort of mess of notes here. I hate doing that because there’s a huge risk when that happens. But I do remember reading one of Robert’s early books on this subject, Reaching for Heaven on Earth: The Theological Meaning of Economics, almost 20 years ago. And I remember reviewing it at the time and thinking, I’m not quite sure he’s right about a lot of things in this book, but boy, he’s on to something really interesting. And so I’m not sure I could make this comparison at the Independent Institute, but you think about early Marx and late Marx. Well, Reaching for Heaven on Earth was early Nelson and this is late Nelson, the sort of full-blown Nelson in full.

Let me see if I can bring some order to my chaos, like God and Creation, in the following way. When I think about the subject of environmentalism as religion, I’m reminded of a time I was in London 15 years ago or more and flipping around the telly and catching one of those classic British comedy sketches. It was sort of the runner, as they call it in the comedy business. It’s the talk show where the guest was the Lord Jesus Christ who’d returned for the Second Coming. And the BBC host saying, “Well, tonight our guest is the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s back after 2,000 years away, and welcome, Mr. Christ.” And he said to him a few of the little banters, “I suppose you’ll be back to doing your usual miracles, you know, healing the sick and the lame, and turning water into wine and such.” And Jesus says, “Oh yes, I assume so. Of course, within the limits of sustainable development.” [Laughter].

Now there’s a bit of an ambiguity in that sketch. What exactly is being made fun of there? Is it religion? Which is what British comedy sketches are usually making fun of. Or is it environmentalism, or is it both? Or is not there at a deeper level in a way that comedy often catches better than philosophy or social criticism? Is there not catching the denigration of religion overall? I think that joke works for both sides of Robert’s analysis here. Because Robert’s first book sent me back to something that arrested me once, 30 years ago now. It was a special issue of The Public Interest in 1980, where Irving Kristol wrote, and I’ll quote him, “Theology has practically ceased to be a respectable form of intellectual activity.” Now the context for this was this was a special issue of The Public Interest about the crisis in economic theory. Cast your mind back to 1980. Everything wasn’t working. The doctrine of economic progress had smashed against the wall. Keynesianism doesn’t work. We were stuck with stagflation and all the rest of that.

You might say we’re in a similar situation today with the whole matter turned inside out—deflation instead of inflation, right? Our economists—we don’t have a lot of stock in them right now, do we? We’ve sort of lost that confidence. But obviously, the unstated premise of what the comedy sketch, or Irving Kristol’s remark, is that religious is not quite respectable. Why not? Well, that’s not a mysterious subject. One of the things that Robert’s explained in several of his works, including this one, is the rise of economics as the technical deliverer of the idea of progress, which arises out of the whole Enlightenment project’s faith that material forces would replace natural or divine law. That faith in progress replaces faith in providence. And economists replace the priests. And I think he was right to say that economics takes on a form of religion, at least insofar as reason—reason with a capital R—requires perhaps as much as a leap of faith as religion does. I mean, this is something the post-modernists are onto. I sort of dislike post-modernism, but I think it’s not an accident that the post-modern skepticism about the idea of progress really began to gain traction at exactly the moment economics began to run into trouble in the last 1960s. I think that’s roughly right.

And Robert repeats a lot of great quotes from, among others, Keynes. Keynes is talking about how economic controversies resemble medieval disputations at their worst. So I think Robert has done something almost nobody ever does. Usually when you say “environmentalism is a religion,” they take it as an insult. And usually, by the way, a lot of people who say that mean it as an insult or denigration, right? A lot of critics do. And what Robert’s done is taken them seriously, or taken the phenomenon seriously. A lot of environmentalists will say no, I’m science-based. I’m interested in science. And they’ll resist what you’re saying about that it’s a religion creed. Although, of course, they will readily admit it. And there’ve been a lot of environmentalists who embrace religion and religious analogies.

You might say, by the way, that environmentalism, like Christianity, has a lot of diversity in it. How many kinds of Lutherans do we have? I’ve lost count. There are a lot of different kinds of environmentalists. And I think, by the way, it’s sometimes a mistake to say, “the environmental movement,” or “environmentalists think X,” when in fact, there really is a range. There are some commonalities to all of them just as the commonality of Christianity is the divinity of Christ and the basics of the creed. But then along the way you have all kinds of differences in style of worship and emphasis in styles of Baptism and so forth. Well, environmentalists are like that too. And I think we make a mistake—both critics of environmentalism, which I am a lot of the time, and friends and people in between—in not paying attention to the distinctions that are to be out there. And one of them is between environmentalists who would make a wholesale rejection of a religious characterization of to environmentalism, because they share the sort of Enlightenment premise that religion is not quite respectable, and those environmentalists who are actually open to it, the ones who do talk, as Robert said, about places like ANWR being a sacred space in the fullness of that meaning.

Well, there’s a couple of ways to slice this up, it seems to me, in addition to the way that Robert has done it. Another way I sometimes have analyzed environmentalism, and especially I thought this about Al Gore’s famous first book, Earth in the Balance, is it reminds me a lot—on a purely secular level—of Martin Heidegger’s famous argument that technology has separated mankind from nature. And it’s alienated us from nature. This is sort of the premise of existentialism. I’m never sure it’s any better in the original German, which I don’t read, but in translation it’s very difficult. But if you read Heidegger’s essay on technology, written in the early fifties, he talks about how we rip coal out of the ground and burn it and throw pollution up into the air. He doesn’t quite use this word, but he’s suggesting that it’s unnatural in a certain way. And you can see a lot of environmental themes there that make their reappearance really quite dramatically, I think, in Gore’s book. And of course, he’s an Atheist. And he’s skeptical of reason too. But very late in his life, if you know the story of Heidegger, a year or two before he died he gave an interview where he said we’ve reached such a desperate position of man being separated from nature that only a God can save us. So even he was open to a religious answer to this problem, if you can understand him at all, which is problematic. But I think this is interesting stuff.

Now, Bob raised the point that I often talk about, about environmentalist hostility to economics. You mentioned David Brower, who was called in that famous biography of him by John McPhee, the archdruid of environmentalism. A pagan term, right? I don’t know if you remember this, Bob, but I’ve got the slide I should share with you. He took out a full-page ad in The New York Times in 1993. And what a full-age ad—it sounds like a $50,000 ad in 1993. The headline of the ad was “Economics Is a Form of Brain Damage.” [Laughter]. QED, right? Anyhow, this thing was going on to say: Please, President Clinton, don’t listen to these maniacs who want you to apply cost benefit tests to regulation.

The year before that at the Rio Earth Summit, Hazel Henderson, a fairly famous activist of her time, said, come the eco-revolution we’re going to round up economists and send them to re-education camps. [Laughter]. I think, by the way, environmentalists have sort of gotten over that to some extent. My observation is, very few mainstream environmentalists, or whatever term you want to use, would say that kind of thing today. They more openly embrace, especially in this climate issue, the importance of economics and thinking through at least policy choices. Although I often find their grasp of economics to be at about the kindergarten level. But that’s another story for another day.

I think, at the end of the day, there is a much deeper conflict between conventional environmentalism or religious environmentalism and Christianity. Bob hinted at a couple of the problems here. I just want to deepen them a little bit, and then I’ll stop. Bob pointed at some of the similarities. You can make out similarities between the Creation story, man being thrown out of the Garden of Eden for its sin, which can find its rough parable today. I suppose the Industrial Revolution or any number of other ways you can think about it. But just as it’s possible to make out Marxism as a Christian heresy, it seems to me that environmental religion, in the main features that Bob has pointed out, is also a Christian heresy.

For one thing, Bob mentioned this, but just to re-emphasize this point—there is a completely different view from Christianity in the place of humankind in the hierarchy of nature. And let me restate that and say environmental religion essentially denies that there is a hierarchy of nature. There is really nothing distinctive about the human species over the other animals. So they will reject the idea that’s explicit in Genesis of man’s dominion over nature and responsibility of stewardship over nature. It may not be formally egalitarian, but here and there people will point to environmentalists who say things like—these quotes are famous, right? —if it was a contest between a bear and a human being, I’m not sure who I’d root for. Or the government biologist who wrote that article in the Los Angeles Times, in 1989, reviewing Bill McKibbens’ book, The End of Nature, where he said mankind is a plague on the planet and until we change our fundamental nature as a species we can only hope for the right virus to come along, you know, to thin us out.

That comes to side in the worst expressions of environmental religion. This hostility to humanity. Or if not hostility, at least a rejection of the idea that human beings have an exalted place, below the angels, but above the animals and beasts of the field, that is explicit in Christian theology. That makes the two doctrines or the two religious approaches to thinking about our planet and Creation fundamentally irreconcilable, I would suggest. And it seems to me that’s a harder conflict than the one between economics and environmentalism. Because, as I say, I see some progress in environmentalists, baby steps, at least, in understanding economics as a tool they need to use. Because what does economic study? Resources, as you were saying.

I’ll just add this observation. Oh, I’ve gone too long anyway. You mentioned Resources for the Future, and this is slightly off the topic, but, you know, Resources for the Future was founded by one of the original doomsayers of environmentalism, Fairfield Osborn, in the late 1940s. He wrote a book called Our Plundered Planet, which was one of the first in that whole genre of “we’re all doomed.” And so it’s kind of interesting, as Resources for the Future ended up as a bunch of economists, very much in the center of the political spectrum, resented by the doomsayers. I mean, if you talk to a lot of environmentalists, they don’t like Resources for the Future very much because they’re those grubby economists who tell us that things that cost more than the benefits they deliver are not worth doing, and they hate hearing that because that crosses your theological imperative. Thanks very much. [Applause].

Max L. Stackhouse

Well, I concur that this is a magnificent volume, and it’s very interesting reading, and I hope you all get copies. I’ve just done my Christmas shopping, and I’ve got gifts for some of my best friends who are economists and ecologists. And it’s this book. But what I want to do is outline the way I read it. It says a theologian, and the thing I like about it is the multiple levels that it covers. You could begin by saying at one superficial level, that this book challenges the conflict between the producers and the protectors. And the producers, of course, want to transform natural resources and to meet human needs and wants. They want to overcome poverty, and today everyone talks about poverty. Economists historically have talked about scarcity. It’s the same problem. And they attribute all sorts of evil to scarcity. And I’m reminded of Bernstein’s “West Side Story” where Officer Krupke—you know the song—Krupke says what are you guys doing here? This gang. And what’s the matter with you? And he says, “I’m depraved on account of I’m deprived.” [Laughter]. And that’s the account that many people give to the evils of the world.

But some of the people who are working in the production side actually attempt to provide jobs and fund projects and create wealth for the commonwealth. And it’s not all egoism and selfishness, though that’s obviously present also. But there is constructive intent in that school of thought. And the other side is, of course, as we’ve heard, to reverse the destruction of nature. To end pollution, stop disruption and the extinction of species. To slow global warming and to save the earth from technomania. I love that word: technomania. It’s from the early part of the last century. And get rid of artificial civilization as if no civilization is not artificial.

But we can see this all over the place. You can see it in the battles. You remember the spotted owl and the lumber industry, and you remember more recently about the debates on drilling or nuclear power, or now, genetically modified salmon, and whether that should be done or not, or whether you’ve got to protect the wild fish from the genetically engineered fish, if we’re going to have them at all. But they’re not only causes that people have—these two moral sensitivities that people have. It also covers their interests. So you’ve got causes and interests that are in debate between these two. But it’s also an ideological problem about their relationship, which was mentioned just a few minutes ago, about the nature of humanity to the biophysical universe through technology. Are we in nature or are we over nature? And we are both. But in what proportion? Do we have some balance that needs to be struck, or can be struck? Or if we give in to one side too much, is it impossible to fulfill the other side?

Now this modern debate on this topic is prompted, I think, by a kind of social factor. The industrial technological capacity to control aspects of nature has been enormously compounded in the last two centuries. And if you can do it, why not do it? And if you can get some beneficial results, why, that seems to confirm the right to do it. It’s all doubly compounded now by our recession, where there’s much less confidence in both the engineering capacities and the economic calculation of its probabilities. And yet at the same time, because of the joblessness, there’s the pressure to grow the economy. Enormous pressure. Jobs, jobs, jobs. You’ve heard that, I suppose, in the last few months. And then one way people say you have to grow jobs is to grow them green. Grow green jobs. It’s still growth, but that’s not what the green advocates want in this case.

It’s also compounded by a factor that hasn’t yet been mentioned. That’s the growth of the nation state as the arbiter and promoter of this kind of thing. And that’s a political development that means that we’ve got—whether we want it or not—more centralization of the policies, at least, if not the capitalization possibilities to either grow green or grow against green. And that has enormous political implications. I just thought I’d mention that since we’re in Washington. But Nelson’s argument is not only people’s attribution of causes and it’s not only the interests that they have; it’s also political ideology. It’s holy wars. And there’s a religious factor here. And that’s what makes this interesting to someone who’s a theologian. The people who hold these views, I think they’re just and true. And they’re people of conviction. And what is a religion? Here is something that Bob and I share, among other things: the definition of religion. It’s a comprehensive worldview held by faith, in part because you can’t prove an ultimate worldview entirely. Which is held to be true and just, by which we ought to interpret reality and to do what needs to be done to change reality.

So it’s interesting, in the definition of religion you have both a descriptive reality and a normative reality. And you’re thinking: what’s going on, and what ought to be going on, and how do you give warrant to that ought? And whether it has to have a metaphysical anchor or not, some kind of reference point that’s transcendent to the way things are.

Now these two perspectives purport to a legitimacy of their holistic views, which they say are holistic, in both their definition of reality and in their allocation of power, to make the oughts effective. Now, notice that there’s no definition of God in either one of these kinds of religions that have been sketched out by Bob and also in Steve. This is the first time I’ve met him, though I’ve read him. No mention of God. Now, it’s not necessary to have an idea of God in order to be religious, otherwise you’d be disqualifying Confucianism, Taoism and parts of Orthodox Buddhism from this. But you’ve got to have a sense of transcendence. And that’s what’s resisted in these particular religions. They are secular religions, and that’s a contribution Nelson has made to the vocabulary: secular religion. We thought we had one in Marx, but it turned out not to be religion at all. It was just false doctrine. [Laughter].

The truth of these secular religions is not based in revelation or in ancient wisdom, as the Eastern religions are, but the claim is that they are scientifically based, as Bob sketched out for us, about how things work. Science, you see, is value-free. Mm-hm. Value-free. Well, they make normative judgments that are not value-free. And that’s part of the complexity of the two positions that they talk about out. That part of his work, by the way, is already evident in two earlier books that are major writings of his, Reaching for Heaven on Earth, 1991, and a decade later, Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond,” 2001. And now we have this book about to come out in 2010, a decade later. These two previous books trace a development of these worldviews in the economics profession that has presumptions about what policy is and what policy ought to be followed that are not scientific, but are religiously held. These are identified as the dominant, the secular religion in Bob’s earlier books.

In this one he focuses more on the environmental religion. And he adds this other kind of point. Namely, that the nation state has become the adjudicator of what religion shall dominate and that we’re tempted to try to develop an established religion, an established secular religion in these modes.

At another level, which has already been hinted at by the previous speakers, secular religions are in fact dependent on major motifs of the Judeo-Christian traditions. They all involve the notion of Creation, the fall into sinfulness, a prospect for redemption or salvation. And they all view their own movement as a company of those who are going to be the agents of redemption. So as the socialists had the idea of the proletariat, and the capitalists had the idea of industrialists or the bourgeois classes, the environmentalists have the idea of naturalists as this redeeming people. And they are all opposing each other and the economics model in trying to persuade public policy to bend against them. The heretical views. Otherwise we’re going to have hell on earth.

So they try to establish a theocratic regime without God. That’s a good trick. A theocratic regime without God. But it would be bureaucratized, hierarchical, a new Holy Roman Empire. And Bob points out in one place that we had a Reformation. Maybe we need a new one. While devotees of the environmental religion oppose the economic faith and criticize the false claims and rationality, progress and so forth.

Another major theme. The Roman Church model did not produce this. This is Protestantism. Think of Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He has some hints in something that he wrote a long time ago, that we have to protect the natural laws.

Now this is engendered by Protestant roots, but these two forms of secular religion borrow from that tradition. But they do not have characteristic teachings. That in a sovereign God, providence in spite of sin, and a calling to do God’s will in the world. Well, they have that. But it’s not God’s will, it’s natural will, I guess. An agency. But Protestantism’s influence is in several stages. It’s not only the Protestant ethic of capitalism or in technology. Robert Merton, by the way, you know, technology and the Puritans and the study of the origins of that. But it also gets traced through the intellectual history and this is one of the contributions of the volume: the intellectual history from John Calvin through Jonathan Edwards, John Locke to John Muir. And that’s a terribly intriguing chapter, and I think a contribution in itself to understand our American historical legacy.

This cluster of ideas now begins to string together, you can begin to see the interaction of the different levels. The book gets especially interesting for a theologian. One of the questions has been mentioned before, but it has to do with Creation and the definitions of Creation. By the way, the dispute between the Fundamentalists, Creationists, and the New Atheists—anti-theology, anti-theists—that’s a boring discussion. I can’t understand why it gets so much press. If I had to write a book on physics or chemistry at the level of understanding that these authors have of theology, I would be laughed out of the court. It really is not a serious challenge to any serious view. But the idea of Creation does have some resonances which are not picked up by either of these secular religions. If you use the word Creation, you imply that there’s a Creator. And that’s something rather remarkable, because that means there is a source and a norm for Creation for the biophysical world that is not part of the natural world itself but is somehow supranatural. It’s transcendent to the natural.

And then you begin to look and see both the possibilities for economic behavior and progress, and the possibilities of reducing the destruction of the environment, because nature is a gift. And then you get the idea that it’s not only a gift, but it’s a gift to be treasured, and it’s an incomplete gift. A faulty gift. Because humanity is charged with the duties of having dominion. By the way, dominion’s a very tricky word in theology. It comes from Dominus, which means Lord. And the way it’s used in “now you shall have dominion” is to treat it the way the Lord God would treat it, with loving care. It’s not domination in that ordinary sense of it, an imperialist attitude toward it.

But we are charged to develop the culture by tilling the fields and naming the beasts. Naming the beasts means that you have a personal relationship to those creatures and that you have a capacity also to command them when they’re disobedient the way God commands us. But you’ve got to command the beasts and so forth under the watchful eye of the Divine Commander. That means you’re under norms which you don’t make up and don’t construct yourself. That’s the theological overtone. We’re using the word Creator. And humanity is created too, with certain gifts, reason and will and affection. The capacities for these. And of course, all of them can be misplaced and therefore, we have sin and manifest in all sorts of ways. You can have not only rationality, but you can have rationalization. You not only have will, you have willfulness. You not only have caring and love and affection, but you can put your loves in the wrong, undesirable objects. And those can be mixed and compounded in various ways.

But they give us the capacity to follow something of what some Calvinist theologians call “the cultural mandate” to create cultures that are caring in the way that the Lord cares for humans. Well, the producers of the world see without God, nature as a resource for economic religion as we have heard. And they see technology as made possible essentially by an opposable thumb and a brain that is expanded by additional proteins. And they see progress and efficiency as providential. A substitute for providence. It’s like the hidden hand of the economists and it’s reward for obedience and failure as punishment. A fall into poverty. They foresee the innovation that will cure disease, find new sources of energy, bioengineer the whole civilization. Geoengineer the globe so they’ll stop global warming. And that becomes then a manifestation, from a theological standpoint, of arrogance and pride, not only giftedness.

Well, the preservers see nature as good, Creation with sinful humanity, violating, raping its beauty with ecological imperialism bringing apocalyptic possibilities and the end of the world. And we’ve heard about that a little more from Bob. But this is not all that Bob has argued. This is a glimpse of it. And what he’s done is connect the dots between the levels so that one can see that you are dealing with a holistic problem even if the parties don’t have holistic solutions yet.

What shall we make of this contribution? Well, I’m not sure sometimes in the second reading, third reading whether to rejoice or lament. I rejoice because he’s done this exposé of the deep roots of the conflicts. And that is a contribution to our moral and intellectual history. But I lament that there’re some unanswered questions, Bob, and I’m going to ask you about this. When you come to your punch line, that you’re in favor of libertarian environmentalism, well, what does that mean? What is the role of government in libertarian environmentalism? I presume it means maximum freedom is possible and wise with grassroots care for the habitat. I’m all in favor of that. Is that all you mean? That could be just a social adjustment that would try to deepen that. But you may have more in mind. And is it possible that you’re wrong about the fact that the Judeo-Christian traditions are growing increasingly defunct? They may just be covered up. And it may be possible to exhume them and reconstitute them. State them in contemporary terms in a way that is compelling. Do you think they can ever become compelling to a contemporary audience, or is the game up on that point?

And is it possible to have economic progress that is environmentally sensitive? Is there some combination? It seems to be that it would require a larger religious vision than either one of these two secular religions have. That would be the theological task, and I’m not sure that the current present crop of theologians from whom I’ve just retired are really up to that task. But theology works over the generations, and it may be possible to nurture another generation.

Well, finally this is a global issue. And many of your examples and many of your treatments are in fact, national. Of course, you’re working on national policy all the time and have a good excuse for that. But can your answers begin to address the global issues? Because the economic and the ecological don’t respect national boundaries anymore, and yet we think still in national boundaries and the power of the nation state. The power of the nation state itself is compromised by the global developments. So where can we go?

Now I’m willing to wait another decade for your answer. [Laughter]. God willing. But I want to say again, congratulations. This is a magnificent contribution to all of our thinking. [Applause].

Audience Q&A

Robert Nelson

As a result of all this analysis can I say anything about how we ought to organize society? Mine wasn’t necessarily the greatest solution, but it was the best I could do. And essentially I guess one way to think about it was to think that maybe libertarian environmentalism is like freedom of religion. And it’s like Protestantism. I come from a Protestant background, although you might not know it at times. But so you could have a lot of different churches and they could compete with each other and each church can do its own thing and it has to be protected from state interference. I’m not ready to tell people what they should believe. I’ll probably never be ready to tell them. And so I see that in these matters of belief as so fundamental, and people fight about them, but that doesn’t work very well. So we ought to give them a lot of freedom to believe, but only within their own community.

I’m willing to say that a community—a physical community with even its own government—can have very wide latitude to have its own religion, if you want to call it that, as long as you don’t try to coerce other people. That would be something where we need to hire an authority to make sure that doesn’t happen.

And the other thing is to say that everybody has to be guaranteed the right of exit. So if you have a community, you can’t force people to stay. And some outside power will come in and interfere if you try to do that. But beyond that, it’s a fairly minimal role. But you could have a lot of theocracies. So I’m not against theocracy. But just small theocracy. I don’t want big theocracy. And so that’s kind of the vision. But it’s probably a little bit rough around the edges [laughs], but it’s a start. It bares some resemblance to Robert Nozick and his idea of utopia. And he says well, the idea of utopia from the past—there really is no utopia because we don’t know what it is. But we can have multiple utopias. And so if you went back and read Anarchy, State and Utopia, it has some resemblance to that, but I’m sort of getting there from a lot of other analysis which is actually the heart of the book.

Alex Tabarrok

Okay. There’s a question at the back, and just wait for the microphone and then please—here it comes.


Lately there’s been a lot of buzz in the media about two commercials against global warming. One is a British video of people being executed, school children even, for not reducing their carbon emissions. It’s on YouTube. It’s called “No Pressure.” The other one is a photograph of a girl with a noose around her neck standing on an iceberg that’s melting. Both are grievously offensive. So I’d like to know what your comments are on the perspective that this is growing out of religion or a twisted version of a religion.

Robert Nelson

Well, maybe I’ll get up in environmental religion. If you actually pursue some of the logic, you recognize that in environmentalism what’s basically good is natural, and bad or evil is unnatural. But in environmentalism people are unnatural. And so that means that people are evil. And so if you pursue this logic it actually leads fairly directly. And I’m not by any means even close to the first person to point this out. William Cronon, who might even consider himself an environmentalist, had made the point 15 years ago, that there’s a certain perversity to thinking that human beings are unnatural but then defining good as natural. But you also find in environmentalism, like David Brower, he’s one of my favorite people to quote, but also Dave Foreman, they both have said human beings are the cancer of the earth. And Tom Watson, who is a founder of Greenpeace, modified it slightly and said human beings are the AIDS of the earth.

And so you might say this is extreme. And of course, it is. And of course, any sensible environmentalist would know, even if these people were sensible, and they’ve already retracted it, as I understand it, but there is a logic to it that actually you can get to the conclusion that the new utopia, if it’s not a people utopia, is actually a world without people. And there’re books now, popular books—it’s the new utopian literature. The World Without Us—that’s the title of one book.

Steven Hayward

Well, there’s an organization out of Oregon, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. I thought their bumper sticker should be, “You First!” [Laughter].

Robert Nelson

The moderates in this movement say that it will be done by just voluntary abstinence from having children. And so in a hundred years we’ll reach our goal. But the thing about it is that the assumptions that get you there are embedded in mainstream environmental thinking. Now, of course, they never pursue them to that level and they wouldn’t believe it. They’d be actually somewhat distressed, I’m sure, if they actually came to accept my analysis, which is that their implicit assumptions lead to that conclusion. If you actually are a philosopher, you rigorously follow the line of where those assumptions go. But I think most environmentalists I know are actually pretty nice people, to tell you the truth.

Steven Hayward

I’ve often said that the problem with environmentalists and the left generally is they don’t have a sense of humor. The “No Pressure” ad proved that the problem is worse than we thought.


Thank you very much. I’ve found all the comments very interesting. I have not read the book. But this morning I read an article in the Wall Street Journal—it was quite interesting—on these 24 new dams they’re going to put in the Amazon tributaries in Brazil. I’ve lived five years in Brazil. In the sixties and seventies, they built huge dams with a lot of ecological damage, which at the same time produced a lot of power. Well, it’s a very poor country. They need power. The environmentalists don’t like the other forms of power. I don’t know, I mean, except for, I suppose wind and things like that that don’t make too much economic sense. And in this case the builders made dams that are smaller. Now they have a different type of turbine to get more power out of it. The environmentalists have sort of opposed it, but have been almost defeated by the fact that these are not such egregious violations of the environment.

So my question to you is, does that represent a compromise between the economic religion and the environmental religion? What they are trying to do with these new dams.

Robert Nelson

I’ll take this opportunity also to respond to something that Steve said, which is that environmentalism is changing. And I think my critique is really most appropriately directed at the environmental movement from, let’s say, about 1970 to 1995 or 2000. And partly it’s because of climate change. You just can’t play in the climate-change debate without becoming somewhat pragmatic and looking at energy systems and all these other things. And I actually noticed this with my students. I teach environmental policy at the University of Maryland, and the students that I’m getting right now, they’re all basically coming out of the environmental cause, but they’re more pragmatic. They’re moral, as you were just suggesting. And they’re getting into questions of, okay, how do we organize society in terms of the energy systems and everything else?

But the problem the environmental movement faces is that to the extent they get into these, they don’t really have anything much to offer. They’re not particularly good at analyzing these questions. And the contribution that they made in the past was this sort of unique moral vision. And it was easy for environmentalists to have their vision and have their policy advocacy when what they were advocating was more wilderness areas. I mean, that was a direct reflection of what they believed. It didn’t fit at all with economic religion. But if you’re talking about energy, both of them actually start getting closer together on more common ground.

I actually do think that the environmental movement itself is in a transitional stage. But I do think that criticisms such as the ones that I make in this book have played at least a modest role. I think more environmentalists now are aware—the honest ones are aware of some of these difficulties and the fact that some of their thinking leads to these theological dead ends and so forth. And so they’re trying to work something out. And I don’t know how it’s going to play out.

Alex Tabarrok

I’m a big fan of Stewart Brand’s book called Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto. That’s a new book, it’s very good.

We have a question back here.

John Berlau

Yes. John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and an author of Eco-Freaks. It’s good to see you, Bob. All of your lectures are enlightening as always. I was wondering if you and others on the panel could speak on the racism expressed historically by prominent environmental leaders. For instance, Paul Ehrlich advocating, and never taking back, that all Indian males be sterilized after their third child is born. Charles Wurster, the co-founder of Environmental Defense, allegedly saying that we don’t have to worry about the side effects of the ban on DDT because it will only affect harmfully, his quote, “Mexicans and Negroes.” And going back to John Muir when he was calling American Indians, Native Americans, ugly and a blight on the land. So with all the focus on the racism supposedly in the Tea Party, I’m wondering if they’re looking for racism in the wrong movement. And it seems to me this could have some real policy effect. Because if you don’t want a new housing development near you that has blacks and Latinos, you can’t express it openly, but you join an environmental movement that says we can’t have this because this is urban sprawl and we need smart growth. It has the same effect of blocking housing for the poor blacks and Latinos. So if anyone could speak on this.

Robert Nelson

Well, I will say one thing about it. It’s a very small number of environmentalists who are overtly racist with respect to blacks. But yeah, some of their solutions, you know, Ehrlich in Population Control, I think Garrett Hardin and other people, I mean, basically they thought that we had to impose coercive measures. But not just on races, on the whole world. But there is an element of racism that I’ve actually written about in the book and in multiple times. And that has to do with the idea of wilderness, and the idea that when we go into wilderness we’re going into an area which is untouched by human hand. And it turns out that most areas in the world have actually been touched by human hand. Native Americans burned and hunted and they did a lot of things. And they may have even wiped out the mega-fauna. And so this whole vision that environmentalism offers of nature untouched by human hand, actually it dismisses the whole presence of native people who massively altered many of their environments.

And so as a fantasy, you could say well, what are they doing? I mean, they either don’t know anything about the reality of what happened out there, which might be true in some cases, or they’re implicitly dismissing the humanity of these native people and saying well, even if they did change it, they don’t count. They’re different. Or they’re not corrupt. Or something. But anyway, it’s putting them in a whole different category from European people. So it’s really only European people who can actually go out and alter the landscape and thereby erase God’s creation. And there is a strong, implicit racist element in that way of looking at things. But I wouldn’t say it’s racist against black people; it’s racist in the treatment of any native population basically.

Steven Hayward

I’ll offer a comment. You know, John, I think it is mostly—not wholly, but mostly—a mistake to traffic in those dreadful and embarrassing quotes of those guys. Mostly because they’re a bunch of has-beens. I know they’re all still alive, but I think it’s better to talk about the distributional aspects of environmental policy as they play out in the real world, which is race-neutral on the surface, but I’ll give you one example. Ten years ago when I was still living in California and the state was still growing then, but California has some of the worst regulatory structures making new housing more expensive which meant it disproportionately affected the Latino minority in the state. And so I said one day at a forum to some environmentalists that “smart growth” could be made out to stand for Send Mexicans Across the River Tomorrow. And they went berserk. You absolutely could not say that. How dare you say something like that? I said, well then tell me why I’m wrong about the distributional effects of your policy. And then they get incoherent, of course.

I’ve debated Ehrlich. He’s a has-been, I think. I think it’s much better when you’re talking to him rather than say what about this stupid thing you said 40 years ago, which by the way, I’ve gotten him to acknowledge a couple of times I’ll bring them up that he was wrong about. But I’ll say what about your Malthusian methodology? How can you defend that today, and why do you still think you are right today and just wrong in your timing? I think that works a whole lot better. Once in a while those guys may deserve it, but just as I cry foul when people bring up something stupid Trent Lott said 20 or 30 years ago, I think we ought to be a little restrained in how we retail some of that stuff. Just my opinion.

But I think the guy’s had his comeuppance. You say he’s a has-been. I think he’s a bit of a laughing stock even among many environmentalists. By the way, how sort of the wheel turns, did you know the Matthew Connelly book, Fatal Misconception? It’s a history of the population control movement from Harvard University Press by a liberal historian at Columbia and it’s absolutely scathing. Planned Parenthood International. That’s by mainstream academia. It came out about two years ago. There’s nothing left of these people at the end of that book. And that’s why I say that at the end of the day, usually, that’s why I have some confidence in science, the truth wins out on these things. And so I didn’t say you’re wholly wrong. I just say you want to be careful about that, I think, and judicious about it. That’s all.

Alex Tabarrok

Okay, go ahead.

Max Stackhouse

I think your question reveals something that we need to mention. If you’re going to talk about religion or especially a theological approach to religious secular or sacred religious traditions, and that is that the Judeo-Christian tradition is deeply interested in justice. And that the ecological and some of the economists are also interested in justice. But it’s not constitutional in their presuppositions. Whereas the Judeo-Christian tradition may have disputes about the nature and character of justice and what is fair, what is righteous and who’s included and so forth, but it’s not generally a part of the discussion as I’ve read it in the ecologists and in the mainline economists who adhere to their religions that Bob has outlined.

Alex Tabarrok

And with that, if you’ll join with me in thanking all of our speakers today. [Applause]. Thank you all for coming.

  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless