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Marketplace of the GodsHow Economics Explains Religion$
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Larry Witham

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195394757

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195394757.001.0001

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The Merits of Mammon

The Merits of Mammon

(p.183) Chapter 10 The Merits of Mammon
Marketplace of the Gods

Witham Larry

Oxford University Press

The economic approach to religion has critics and supporters. Theologians say it reduces a spiritual human phenomenon to self-interest or to “buying and selling.” Evolutionary biologists say the economic approach is inferior to how natural selection explains religion. In history, others have proposed altruistic systems that defy economic self-interest by proposing a “gift” culture or unselfish economies. Nevertheless, the models of self-interest and exchange provide an insightful interpretive principle for religion. Religion has a definite self-interest element. In this view also, religion is rational. As a market phenomenon, religion has produced valuable products for humanity: property rights, cosmic explanations, social welfare, insurance against life’s uncertainties, and cultural enjoyment. In contrast to the social-psychological explanation of religion, the economic approach emphasizes the importance of freedom and the “supply” of religion, which requires liberty, effort, and innovation.

Keywords:   altruism, evolutionary biology, freedom, jubilee, freedom, property rights, reductionism, socialism, supply-side

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