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Secular Economics

Secular Economics – Introduction
When it comes to secular economics, Secular Humanists do not agree about the ideal economic system, although most support socialism in one form or another. Robert Schaeffer writes, “Many humanists see socialism as a vital element of humanism; indeed, at one time, most humanists believed this.”1 Some former socialists, however, have realized its impracticality. Paul Kurtz has turned from socialism to free enterprise. Sidney Hook, a lifetime socialist, now acknowledges, “I no longer believe that the central problem of our time is the choice between capitalism and socialism but the defense and enrichment of a free and open society against totalitarianism.”2

Nevertheless, Secular Humanists on the whole embrace some form of socialism because they believe in the inherent goodness of humanity and in human ability to overcome evil—theoretically the only thing that prevents a socialist economy from succeeding. Erich Fromm declares, “We socialists are not ashamed to confess that we have a deep faith in man and in a vision of a new, human form of society.”3

Secular Economics – Socialism and Interventionism
While many humanists might disagree with this portrayal of secular economics, Humanist Manifesto I (1933) and Humanist Manifesto II (1973) call for a socialistic redistribution of wealth.4 Many early Humanists in the United States openly proclaim the need for socialism. Corliss Lamont championed socialism for more than half a century: “I became a convinced believer in socialism as the best way out for America and the world...about 1931 or 1932.”5 John Dewey, a former leader of the socialistic League for Industrial Democracy, also believed socialism was the best economic system. He claims that “social control of economic forces is...necessary if anything approaching economic equality and liberty is to be realized.”6 Dewey’s worldview coincides with that of Karl Marx in the belief that we must embrace socialism to be truly free.

Erich Fromm also supported socialism: “We are not forced to choose between a managerial free-enterprise system and a managerial communist system. There is a third solution, that of democratic, humanistic socialism which, based on the original principles of socialism, offers the vision of a new, truly human society.”7

On the other hand, John Kenneth Galbraith, a former Humanist of the Year, supports only a limited socialism, saying, “In an intelligently plural economy, a certain number of industries should be publicly owned.”8 As author of Humanist Manifesto 2000, Paul Kurtz calls for a free-market economy although he does not give a ringing endorsement of capitalism.9

Secular Economics – Limited Socialism, Enlightened Capitalism
One reason given for secular economics to abandon the notion of socialism is that it has never worked wherever it has been tried. Robert Sheaffer says, “[N]o intellectually honest person today can deny that the history of socialism is a sorry tale of economic failure and crimes against humanity.”10 Since Humanists are also pragmatists, they prefer an economic system that truly serves the people. Marvin Zimmerman writes, “I contend that the evidence supports the view that democratic capitalism is more productive of human good than democratic socialism.”11

Secular Humanists, whether leaning toward capitalism or socialism, favor some degree of government intervention in the economy in the form of a redistribution of wealth. Interventionism expresses the belief that the state has a responsibility to manage and direct some aspects of the economy in order to uphold certain moral values.

Secular Economics – Conclusion
A socialist system of secular economics is consistent with the Secular Humanist worldview. Although some support a free market economy, many of those who shaped Secular Humanist thought in the last century were socialists.

If we deny our fallen nature, some form of socialism becomes the most attractive economic system for creating a heaven on earth. If original sin does not exist, then a community of mutual cooperation and sharing of work and wealth becomes a possibility. Socialism or some degree of interventionism becomes the economic system best suited to promote the ethics of Secular Humanism and rectify the evils of capitalism.

Over the past century, socialism has been instituted in the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, and a host of other Latin American, South American, and African countries. Socialism has failed in every case to change human nature for the better. Yet because of a commitment to evolution, Secular Humanists believe that socialism is part of the next step in humanity’s advancement. Many believe the move to socialism in the United States is inevitable. Dewey predicts, “We are in for some kind of socialism, call it by whatever name we please, and no matter what it will be called when it is realized.”12

Nothing illustrates Dewey’s prediction better than a careful reading of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. The expression “politics of meaning” refers to “all of society’s institutions [family, school, church, workplace] are wrapped around the state.” Indeed, as Goldberg says, “The politics of meaning is ultimately a theocratic doctrine because it seeks to answer the fundamental questions about existence, argues that they can only be answered collectively, and insists that the state put those answers into practice.”13

Read On - Secular History


Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Robert Scheaffer, “Socialism is Incompatible with Humanism,” Free Inquiry (Fall 1989): 19.

2 Sidney Hook, Out of Step (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1987), 600–1.

3 Erich Fromm, On Disobedience and Other Essays (New York, NY: Seabury Press, 1981), 90.

4 Socialists love to distribute wealth that they have not created! See Igor Shafarevich, The Socialist Phenomenon (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1980); Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1981); Tom Bethell, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages (New York, NY: St. Martin Press, 1998); Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2002).

5 Corliss Lamont, Voice in the Wilderness (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1975), 1

6 John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action (New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1935), 356–7.

7 Fromm, On Disobedience and Other Essays, 74.

8 John Kenneth Galbraith, Economics, Peace and Laughter (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1971), 101.

9 In fact, Kurtz doesn’t mention the word capitalism. Ever since Karl Marx made the word a “forbidden” expression, liberals like Kurtz have shied away from it. See Paul Kurtz, Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call for a New Planetary Humanism (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000), 60.

10 Scheaffer, “Socialism is Incompatible with Humanism,” 19.

11 Paul Kurtz, ed., Sidney Hook: Philosopher of Democracy and Humanism (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983), 80.

12 John Dewey, Individualism, Old and New (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1999), 119.

13 Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2007), 336.

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