Ben Wiker: secularism is causing the economic collapse.

So we’re headed toward the fiscal cliff and, while our legislators are hot on the job (or on vacation, either way), many Americans are wondering how we got here.  Well, Benjamin Wiker over at The National Catholic Register has figured it out: it’s secularism.

That we seem to be merrily rolling along toward a fiscal cliff is evident. Why is not as clear — at least not the deep why. Some of the depth of the problem can be plumbed out if we look at the relationship between secularism and our current morbid financial mess.

To live in a secular world means that the only heaven, if there is to be one, will be on earth. And since there are no souls in a secular, materialist world, then the only goods we can get are bodily goods. Thus, we run on from the self-preservation of having sufficient food, clothing and shelter to seek superfluous pleasures, titillations, entertainments and luxuries.

The horror!  People actually want to be happy!  And they actually want to be happy in this life, rather than chasing the carrot of titillation, entertainment, and luxury after we die.

A read-through of the article (which I recommend only for the most ambitious masochist) reveals that Wiker doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the national debt and the fiscal cliff.  No matter, he can just lean on god for advice, which is a lot easier than research.

I did read through the whole thing, even after the glow of my initial “Ooooooooh, this is batshit insane” reaction waned at about the third paragraph, because I wanted to see if Wiker would propose that we avert the fiscal cliff by following the Catholic church’s example: pay zero taxes.  It never happened.  Instead, the piece was full of your standard GOP talking points about entitlements (or, as Jesus liked to call it, healing the sick).

Both in America and Europe, the burden of increasingly bloated entitlement programs is sinking state ships. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment, disability and so on make up about 62% of the U.S. budget. We’re approaching ever nearer to the roughly 65% spent by European liberal democracies.

And yet, many of those countries are doing just fine economically.  Take liberal-as-all-hell Finland for example.  They have free education through college (and have the best education on the planet, with even high school teachers required to have PhDs), paternity leave (and lots of it) for both the mother and the father, universal healthcare, and despite being less resource-rich than many other European nations and remains one of the most stable economies in Europe.

So a social safety net is clearly not what sinks an economy.  And even if taking care of people from all the diseases with which god decided to lace his supposedly perfect creation really is a financial hurdle too great to overcome, what does that say about the world god made?  Thanks for the world in which treating your endless gobs of diseases leads to economic collapse, you dick.

…as we became more secular, things became more crass. Some began to argue that a vice, greed, was actually good, because the desire for wealth — especially if it is inordinate and all-consuming — will produce more wealth for oneself and others and spread technological, medicinal and practical benefits that enhance everyone’s life.

Hold on a sec…isn’t greed the driving force behind capitalism?  And isn’t the “free market” and “purely capitalist” approach the ideal of the GOP which is largely supported by Christians and opposed by atheists?

So what happens when some people realize that they can get a lot richer, a lot more quickly and with a lot less work, if they milk the system for whatever its worth, whatever the consequences for anyone else? They make super-risky investments with other people’s money, sell rotten bundled loan packages to unwitting investors, strike secret deals with members of Congress, crush competitors by gaining control of regulatory agencies, set up super-cushy CEO compensation packages in companies they’re riding into the dirt (companies that then get government bail-outs), and rig and manipulate stock market trading with elaborate computer programs. Government covers the risky investments, rewards rather than punishes the chicanery and, even more, becomes the place where the money-makers increasingly go to control the market.

I see.  So, as secularism grows, we become this.

Pictured: a guy who leads a group that has found it can get rich with little effort by milking the system. He makes investments with other people’s money (tithes, as they call it), sells loan packages to unwitting people (he’s managed to convince them that they’ll receive ludicrous dividends, but only after they die), strikes deals with Congress, gains a corporate advantage by circumventing regulations (like, say, paying taxes), and has set himself up in a cushy position while the government rewards his chicanery. Indeed, the Pope is an example of secularism run amok.

Good to know.

Given Wiker’s opening salvo about how pursuit of happiness in our one guaranteed life drives us to acquire worldly goods (like the type pictured above), I have to take a moment and pity Wiker.  Does he think there’s no avenue to happiness in this life aside from avarice and deceit?  Is it really a revelation to him that we can dredge pleasure from this life by telling others the truth, and thereby making friends (as opposed to smiling while looking for an outlet to swindle them)?  Has it escaped his keen eye that caring for others generally makes us feel good, and can be done for that reason and not because god is pointing our greedy asses toward the destitute (who, it should be noted, he can’t be bothered to help)?

But no, in Wiker’s world, the only way to get ahead in life (and, hence, to be happy in life) is to connive and cheat.  This explains a lot about the Catholic church.

  • Rolf Boettger

    To pick a nit… About Finland being the 4th largest economy – it comes in around 12th place. Besides Sweden, Denmark and the UK, Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and a few more all have economies that are larger than Finland’s.

  • Anonymous

    Dear JT Eberhard,

    Fine article. I’d like to point out that Finland is not ‘the fourth largest economy of Europe’. You might mean GDP, but that is about tenth in Europe.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_in_Europe_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita). Still a well off country of course
    Regards.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd JT Eberhard

    Ah, you’re both right. I was thinking knowledge economy, in which they are fourth.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_economy

    Will fix.

  • Jasper

    See, when someone doesn’t have to spent thousands of dollars a year on healthcare, guess what magically happens…

    They have money to spend on products! You know – driving an economy!

  • Liberated Liberal

    Ok. First of all. Where do I start? I grew up Catholic (with a Mormon father) and I don’t know a single Catholic or Mormon person who isn’t just as materialistic and product-driven as the best of them. I’d even argue (unscientifically) more so, because worrying about how they can outshine their peers and appear superior is the number one passion of all the religious I’ve ever known. They just say things like “we need to remember where tue happiness comes from” all while doing exactly the same things as everybody else and judging everyone else for it. God, I hate religion.

    Also, as you already pointed out, the very people responsible for this disaster tend to be religious lunatics themselves. Uh, has everyone forgotten the douchebag Romney who thrived on running businesses into the ground and exporting his money into overseas investments and basing taxes? He isn’t part of the Secular world.

    Third, THE VATICAN. THE POPE. Hello?? Swimming in gold and money and property and working very freaking hard to build and maintain their wealth and power. Living in a fortress and sitting in thrones. Fucking hypocritical morons. Anybody who addresses the world with the demand to stop shopping for Christmas while wearing golden attire and Prada shoes needs to go fuck himself.

    How did this guy think anything he wrote “proves” that secularism caused any of our problems?

  • Anonymous Commenter

    Actually, high school teachers in Finland are required to have a master’s degree, not a PhD (But some, like my high school history and Finnish teachers, do).

  • Anonymous Commenter

    Actually, high school teachers in Finland are required to have a master’s degree, not a PhD (But some do).

  • baal

    “So a social safety net is clearly not what sinks an economy. ”
    Extremely true. GDP per capita in Finland is half that of the US. HALF! The US is larger and not everything scales up equally but if they can provide all that with HALF as much economy per person surely we can do better on infant mortality (pick your favorite demographic; we were 12th or so in 1960 globally and are down to 40th or so of industrialized countries).