- Purchase/rental options available:
History of Political Economy 36.1 (2004) 207-209
[Access article in PDF]
Divine Economy: Theology and the Market. By D. Stephen Long. New York: Routledge, 2000. 270 pp.
Economics and theology have not always been strangers. Before economics evolved into its own discipline, human economic behavior (as a quick pass through any number of texts on the history of economic thought will demonstrate) was in the public domain, open to analysis from business people, politicians, moral philosophers, anthropologists, and theologians alike. In the pre-Enlightenment world, buying and selling was not compartmentalized and studied separately from political and religious life; human information was not gathered as quantifiable data but was viewed both intuitively and philosophically. Life was seen as a series of integrated exchanges that encompassed everything from market behavior and laws to family life and religion, and it is only in the modern age that science has sought to divide one facet of life from another. For Christian theologian D. Stephen Long, these divisions are problematic, and he seeks to reunite the disciplines. In Divine Economy, Long traces and critiques the various ways theologians in the twentieth century engaged the discipline of economics, and offers his own vision of how this engagement should look.
Long distinguishes three traditions in Christian economic thought—the dominant, the emergent, and the residual—which can be identified in part by their main conversation partners in the field of economics. While there is no uniform agreement among them, Long identifies theologians in the dominant group as those who take their cues from the capitalist tradition that begins with Adam Smith, mingling the Christian doctrine of original sin (self-interest) with a Stoic belief in unintended consequences (the invisible hand). As does Smith, theologians such as Michael Novak, Max Stackhouse, and Dennis McCann see the interference of religion in the economy as potentially hazardous, and freedom from constraints for both individuals and markets is seen as the basic starting point for economic thought. Most of these theologians agree that corporations can be instruments of good works in the world (Novak goes so far as to say Christians should "love" corporations as they [End Page 207] do their churches ) and that theological language is unnecessary to responsible economic thought.
Not all thinkers in this group accept classical or neoclassical doctrines outright; Stackhouse, for example, rejects the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill because it leaves no room for "the good" and prefers the Kantian model of duty, and Ronald Preston favors Keynes and believes original sin calls for greater intervention by the state. But what these thinkers have in common, according to Long, is method. He also calls this dominant tradition the "Weberian strategy," in that it accepts Max Weber's fact-value distinction with regard to social science and theology, viewing economics as an autonomous science that studies hard facts about human economic behavior, whereas theology considers the "values" or meanings that underlie and evolve from that behavior. Long critiques these theologians for sacrificing uniquely Christian theology and narrative in order to appear relevant to the current economic situation, thus reducing their thought to little more than capitalism with Christian meanings added on as an afterthought. The ironic result, he concludes, is irrelevance: "Theology does not matter to the economy . . . not from the lack of theological work in this area, but because of it" (79).
The second tradition of Christian economic thought that Long identifies is also found wanting in his estimation because it does not sufficiently challenge the basic assumptions of the dominant tradition but rather "emerges" directly from it, much in the same way Marxism emerged from classical economics. Thinkers in this tradition—such as Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether, and African American theologian James Cone, identified under the loose heading of "liberation theology"—generally speak from the point of view of oppressed groups and, perhaps not surprisingly, are overwhelmingly influenced by Marx. Unlike the dominant group, these theologians see capitalism and Christianity as fundamentally opposed to each other; capitalism is based on exploitation, while Christianity is fundamentally about freedom and justice...