In his book, Economics as Religion, Robert Nelson argues that modern economics is paradigmatically theological. Its proponents advance value judgments even while disowning their relevance in a neutral market, and maintain that theirs is a hard, not a soft, science. Economists are the new priesthood, who preach the way to material prosperity, human wholeness, and adhere to various (competing) ideological presuppositions which inform their policy-making.
Interestingly, Nelson draws a parallel between the Chicago school of economics and the Reformation:
Chicago economics falls in the tradition of the “protesters” against the mainstream orthodoxies of the times–one might thus see the Chicago school as a modern, secular continuation in the tradition of Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Indeed, the connections to Protestant theology found at Chicago go beyond this sociological comparison. The welfare and regulatory state of the twentieth century has in many respects served as the modern equivalent of a church. If progressive religion has served as the gospel of this national church of America, the Chicago school of economics has protested that American Progressivism preaches a false religion, and that the church itself has been corrupted to serve special interests and other private purposes. Washington, D.C., is the new Rome where the original American virtues have been lost.
While the analogy shouldn’t be taken too far (since, as R.H. Tawney and others have pointed out, capitalism pre-dates Protestantism), the sociological parallel seems fairly apt. As one who grew up in the individualist wing of Protestantism, and also avidly read Friedman as a teenager, I found the two systems extremely compatible. While I believe that early Protestantism was not nearly so reactionary, many segments of modern Protestantism exemplify the true-orthodoxy-in-exile mentality that also typifies many in the Austrian and Chicago schools.
And further, I’m amused to realize that my own affirmations of, and objections to, the Chicago school and modern Protestantism are strikingly similar.
(Cross posted at Theopol.)