Paganism, Conservationism, and Fear of Competition
“The image of God in man laughs at Malthus’s closed-universe paganism. The end of history will not be economic. It will come not because we have run out of resources…The end will be covenantal: it will come because the church has fulfilled the Great Commission and has made the whole world submit to Christ, and has made all His enemies His footstool.
– The Population Bomb, Paul and Anne Ehrlich
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Welcome to Episode 82 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will cover one of the greatest fears of our time, and the religious foundation of that fear. In previous episodes we saw that fear is the most powerful emotion people experience, and, judging from its prominence in the Bible, it is also the most important. We also saw that fear itself has a religious foundation and nature; and more than that, it is also a religion itself. (Ever been in a situation where you tell people paralyzed by fear that they shouldn’t be afraid, only to see them lash at you as if you were some sort of a heretic?)
In 1798, an English pastor and scholar, Thomas Robert Malthus, published a book: An Essay on the Principle of Population. On the surface, it was just another scholarly thesis that came out of the Enlightenment. Of the right wing of the Enlightenment, to be precise, the one prevalent in England and Scotland and Prussia and Hanover, not the left wing, prevalent in France and Italy. The Enlightenment’s standards for all scholarship were that it was supposed to be as technical and mathematical as science, and, most importantly, free of any ethical values and considerations. Yes, even the right wing Enlightenment, the one that was driven by church ministers (as was Malthus himself) and used religious language and rhetoric as its justification. From this Enlightenment perspective, Malthus’s book was the perfect scholarly thesis.
His topic was simple: the relationship between food production and population growth. It wasn’t anything new, to be sure, others before had tried that topic as well. It was a particularly common topic among the educated elite of revolutionary France – after all, that’s how the French Revolution started, with the people starving because of an alleged depletion of the resources for food production. A few revolutionary leaders argued that for France to remain full and content, about a quarter of the population should be exterminated to match the land available for food production. These ideas were, however, a little too extreme even for the French taste at the time; besides, most of their proponents – like Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton – were themselves guillotined. Similar ideas were floated in Prussia as well, although the Prussian monarchy, always in need of more soldiers, never took them seriously. So Malthus was not writing in a vacuum, the topic had already become “hot” among Enlightenment theorists on both right and left. He was, however, destined to become the father of a whole new trend with his theory. Why? Because he was much better educated than all previous writers, he was capable to write about in a perfectly technical, rather disinterested way (quite creepy, given the horrible bloodthirsty advice he was giving the political elite), and he was writing in a country that was politically stable and socially stratified, where scholars and church ministers like him had quite an audience and influence. He had the privilege of coming from a well-educated family, as well. His father, Daniel Malthus, was a non-Conformist (probably from an old Puritan family) and personal friend of men like David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Thomas took orders in the Church of England, contrary to his father’s religious views, probably to avoid the non-conformist disabilities and be able to take positions as a college professor. There was also another point where he disagreed with his father: unlike his father, who was a staunch optimist about the future, Thomas was a pessimist. And his book was the ultimate expression of his pessimistic views.
In a very short sentence, the thesis of the Essay on the Principle of Population is that the prospects for humanity are bleak. Why? Because, as Malthus explained in mathematical terms, while the world’s population grows geometrically, the means for food production only grow arithmetically. That is the simplest and most popular way of presenting his thesis. In reality, however, his thesis was a little more complicated. He had to make it more complicated in order to add respectable Christina religious language to it, in order to conceal his true intentions. A fuller explanation of his thesis would be this: There is a certain number of population that matches the available resources for food production. However, when food production increases, mankind – and especially the lower classes of mankind – are not wise enough to maintain the same stable rate of human reproduction with the purpose of achieving higher standard of life. Instead, they are stupid enough to start reproducing more and more, exponentially. Eventually that exponential human reproduction catches up with and even overtakes food production, and people, even with the new and higher level of food production, are left much poorer and hungrier than before. That point where human reproduction catches up with food production has come to be called Malthusian catastrophe by sociologists, and the level at which the excess population stops growing due to shortage of food is called Malthusian trap. In short, all that Malthus’s analysis promised humanity was inevitable suffering in the future, marked by short periods of prosperity which, because of the very nature of humanity – especially of the poorer humanity – will inevitably lead to more and worse suffering.
When he came to his policy proposals, he had to conceal the true nature of his religion under a lot of pious verbiage. He used long-winded phrases and metaphoric language for regular phrases (for example, “virtuous affection” instead of “marriage,” etc.) to satisfy the spirit of the time and especially the academic spirit of the time; but to make his proposals acceptable, he had to pretend that his motives were honest and virtuous. When asked why God would create a world of limited resources for a growing population, his answer was that this was so that God teaches us prudence in procreation. But under the verbose expression of love and concern for the poor and needy, he practically declared that the political elite must do everything they could to prevent the masses from achieving any sort of prosperity, even if that meant artificially created shortages. He was in favor of government taxes on food so high as to keep sufficiency of food beyond the reach of the average family; in his view, the masses of people needed to be kept at the brink of starvation even in years of abundant crops. In his pious language, it was better to be poor than foolish and use the abundance for more irresponsible procreation. He didn’t even shy of recommending violent death as a final measure; since natural famine and pestilence didn’t always do their job in regulating the population, he believed governments should finish the job by starting wars just for the sake of thinning out the population.
In the final account, behind the seemingly dispassionate academic language, there was evil. His proposals, no matter how dressed they were in religious lingo, smacked of the ideology of the ancient pagan empires, especially the Biblical Assyria. The last time Europe had encountered such ideas and policies was in the last three decades of the 14th century when Tamerlane, a distant relative of Genghis Khan, tried to restore the Mongol Empire. Tamerlane was so systematic in exterminating whole populations that he beat even Genghis Khan himself. However, ever since the 14th century, no one in the known world ever used such policies nor advocated for them, not even the Ottoman Turks. (They had their share of atrocities but, in general, the Sultans viewed conquered populations as sheep to be bred and milked and sheared, not as vermin to be destroyed.) Malthus brought back to life ideas that everyone before him thought should have passed away with the passing of paganism.
I will touch later on the influence of Malthus’s ideas in the last two centuries, and especially in our day. But before we do that, we need to first look into the religious origin of these ideas, and especially into the religious climate these ideas both require, and help create or recreate. Where did he get his ideas from? Is it possible that a Christian scholar come up with such ideology of cruelty? Is there really a Christian justification for Malthusianism, and Malthus claimed? Or could there be something else behind it, religiously? We all know that ideas have consequences. But I have argued before, in some of my articles, that ideas are themselves consequences of something deeper and greater than ideology – namely, faith. Ideology is always based on some religion, and even when we present our ideas in a seemingly rational and unbiased and academic form, they are still religious in their origin. There is still some deep moral commitment, some deep religious impulse that drives our ideology. I can bring in tons of quotes from Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen here to illustrate what I am talking about, but I prefer this short phrase by Dennis Peacocke which beautifully explains presuppositional epistemology in general and my argument here: “The mind only justifies what the heart has already chosen.”
So, what was it that Malthus’s heart had chosen that his mind masterfully justified in that book?
I have a name for the religion behind his thesis: Paganism of a Closed Universe. Or, a Closed-Universe Paganism, if you wish. Those who have studied physics know that I am borrowing a term from physics: Closed System. A closed system is a system that doesn’t allow the transfer of mass or energy in or out of the system. In the same way, a closed universe is a universe that does not allow any transfer of energy in or out of the universe. All that there is, is inside the universe; if there is anything or anyone outside that universe – like a God or something – it or He is irrelevant to the system and its working, and can neither bring anything in nor take anything out of it. For the people within the system, they are stuck with whatever energy and other resources they already have available, and nothing more. From there, good luck.
If we are to be consistent, of course, all paganism is closed-universe paganism. Yes, yes, I know, there have been pagans in the last two centuries who did not believe in a closed universe, and have been rather optimistic about humanity. But, as I will later mention, they have all been like that only because of the residues of Christian worldview they have adopted from their culture. But when paganism is consistent, without any influence from Christianity, it must necessarily be closed-universe. Why am I saying this?
What is paganism, ultimately? It is the rejection of the belief in one God, Creator of heaven and earth, Who is outside time and space and controls time and space. For paganism to make any sense, such God must be entirely excluded from existence. Or, at the very least, of any consideration. He must be irrelevant to the universe in which we live. Such a God is dangerous to any paganism. Why? Because, by definition, He must be radically different from humans, who live inside the universe. God Who is outside the universe and intervenes in the universe is a God Who can not be grasped or comprehended by humans – and especially by human rulers, which is the more important part of it. He would be, therefore, a God that can’t be controlled or manipulated by humans. He wouldn’t need human permission to exist or to be relevant or to have any influence in human societies. Even worse, He wouldn’t need the permission of human authorities to do it. Once such a god is allowed to exist or be relevant to human thought and action, all the other gods cease to be relevant. Oh, and did I mention, all human authorities cease to be relevant, except if they cease to be authorities and become servants of that God. Paganism then, even if it uses the same word for its magical beings (“god”), is radically different from Christianity. As a matter of fact, given that very important difference, atheism is not different from any religion; it is right there, in the same basket as all paganism. It basically believes the same things as any paganism.
For paganism to exist as a system of thought and belief, it needs gods who are inside the universe itself. The universe first existed, preferably in the form of chaos. (For if there was order in the beginning, that might smack of a pre-existent God Creator.) For whatever reason, movements within that original chaos produce the first divine beings – but, remember, those divine beings came out of that pre-existing universe. They are creations, just like man is. They are not radically different than man; they are just more powerful beings who can use their power to overpower the chaos they came from . . . and overpower other beings like them, as well. Like, other gods. Or humans, who are much weaker. Humans, however, may not be that weak. They may be capable of finding ways within the universe of manipulating these gods, these more powerful beings, to do their bidding. Or, at least, convince them to help in their human causes and agendas and ambitions and aspirations. After all, these gods are themselves creations of the universe itself, and who knows if there are mechanisms in that universe of controlling those gods? The gods themselves are still discovering their potential; what of humans find a potential way of controlling the gods. And, even better, what if powerful human rulers discover these ways, and use the gods to establish their power over an increasing multitudes of people?
We are used to think of paganism as something that is basically the same as Christianity – it’s just their gods are rather smaller and weaker. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The reality is, paganism is very deliberately opposed to Christianity. Why? Because paganism needs its weak gods; they are needed to serve men and especially human rulers. Pagans elect their gods and don’t allow anything to be a god unless they have approved of it and it has proven to be useful to them. (Read Tertullian’s Apology to have a good laugh of how he presents and mocks pagans for their religions. Also, read Greek mythology to see the real development of all such paganism to its logical end.)
So far so good. Christianity chooses to have a God out of this universe Who intervenes in the universe, and pagans – and atheists and agnostics with them – choose to declare such a God either non-existent or irrelevant to whatever happens within the universe. That is, both of these categories – and they are actually one and the same category, anti-Christians – have to postulate a universe that is closed to any outside being. No transfer of energy is allowed, inward or outward. No communication is allowed, inward or outward. No exchange of information is allowed, inward or outward. We all live in a closed system, and there is no recourse above and outside the universe. If you have a problem and no resources within the universe can solve it, too bad for ya. You have no one to complain to. Well, perhaps you can complain to your gods, but, remember, they are just as limited within the same universe as you are, and are subject to the same ultimate limitations. Their ceiling may be higher than yours, but it is certainly not higher than the end of the universe. And they can’t overcome their own nature of created being. Or, rather, haphazardly evolved. To quote Colin Feltham from his book, Keeping Ourselves in the Dark,
We evolved haphazardly within a random universe; no purpose underpins us, no God watches over us, and no assured glorious future awaits us. . . . We can make ourselves as comfortable as possible, as doctors tell their terminally ill patients, but we are sadly incurable.
Now stop and think: If that closed universe was a reality, could man really hope that such universe really contains solutions to his problems? I mean, perhaps solutions to some individual problems may exist in the same haphazard manner he and his gods have evolved. But can he hope that there is a systematic solution to all his problem in a manner that is both predictable and practical? Why would there be such a solution? Why would anyone expect that a universe that spawned man as a secondary byproduct would care to contain solutions for him? Why would there be any relation between the needs of a product of chance, and the inner workings and nature of the universe? It doesn’t make sense, does it, to really expect the impersonal universe to be so benign and favorable to the personal man.
In such a view, there can be no hope for long-term progress or long-term prosperity. At least, no intellectually consistent hope. Perhaps there might be some temporary growth, for a relatively short time, based on factors that are purely random. Perhaps mankind may discover a new continent out there that has wide plains with arable land. Perhaps there may be an improvement in the climate which will last for a few hundred years. Perhaps somewhere, randomly and by accident, some new device will be found that will increase productivity – although, there is no reason to believe that that can happen on a systematic and predictable basis. But mankind is stupid, in general, and every time such positive event occurs, men will use it not to increase their personal prosperity but to produce more offspring. And then, of course, the opposite trend will hit, and humans will suffer once more, and worse than before. In the final account, all resources will be spent, and humanity will disappear. A pagan who is consistent with his view of a closed universe has no reason to believe that that closed universe holds anything but more misery and eventually extinction. In short, there is a good reason why, in every pagan mythology, the Golden Age is in the past, not in the future; obviously, given the presuppositions of all paganism, there is no reason to believe that the future holds any systematic improvement for mankind.
Time to push the antithesis now. What does Christianity say about this? What is the Christian view of long-term population growth, resource availability, and prosperity? What is the Christian view of the universe: is it open or closed? Is there a source of resources that we can draw on, that we don’t have available now, or are we chained to whatever we see around us today?
As I have always said, the Christian worldview is covenantal, and covenantal means ethical/judicial. That means, we can’t grasp God as He is, but we can know Him from His works and, more importantly, from His commandments. When it comes to population growth, His commandment is given at the very beginning of the Bible, as part of the Creation Covenant with man: “be fruitful and multiply.” Population growth is not a technical question to be decided in the context of economic factors; it is the ultimate covenantal – and therefore the ultimate moral, judicial, economic, aesthetic, environmental, etc. – imperative that mankind is under obligation to obey. Fail to obey that one, and nothing else matters. You can find any excuse in all kinds of factors, and try to control population growth, or condemn population growth, or present population growth as evil or dangerous or foolish; but the commandment remains: Be fruitful and multiply. There may be temporary measures for times of trouble, as Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 7, but as a principle, and in the long run, population growth is a command, and failing to obey the command will make God change the whole context – economic, financial, environmental, political, etc. – that the worst consequences will come no matter how well you have planned against them. That’s the nature of covenant theology and covenant reality: Disobedience never brings the results it has been rationalized for.
But what about prosperity? God specifically says that prosperity will come with population growth. Deuteronomy 28:11 is perfectly clear about the parallel growth of both: “The LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.” See that? Abound both in prosperity and in the offspring of your body. Not one or the other but both.
So mankind is explicitly commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and it is explicitly told that high birth rates will go together with increasing prosperity. That is the given presupposition behind the Christian view of population and resources; the truth that the Christian heart is commanded to chose. Only then, the Christian mind is expected to rationalize it, based on the Biblical evidence. That’s the way covenantal thinking works.
Then how does a Christian answer the pagan objection? How does a Christian rationalize his beliefs on this issue when countering the pagan argument that population growth depletes the available resources, and therefore increasing prosperity is impossible with increasing population?
The answer, of course, is this: Our universe is not closed. Therefore, the limit on resources is not internal to it; it doesn’t depend on anything inside the universe. It depend on an external source. Transfer of energy between the inside and the outside of the universe is possible, and has happened many times. In fact, that’s the regular way our universe operates.
How can we say this?
The first and most obvious reason we can say this is because the Bible is clear that God can intervene in His universe with an infinite amount of resources and energy, as He wants. Now, there are some even in Christian circles who claim that because God has finished His creating the world, therefore He is not creating anymore energy to put in it when He pleases. All that the universe is driven by is the laws of nature operating on the resources of nature as God has established them in the beginning. Such a claim, however, flatly contradicts the Biblical record. God intervenes in history with a multitude of miracles . . . and what is a miracle if not God intervening in His universe with His own, freshly created energy? The objection may be, “Well, He is only directing already created energy, not creating new energy.” The answer to this is, Even if it was so, energy control in itself requires energy. Resources control requires resources. In fact, we can argue that there is nothing really “natural” in the universe. What we consider “natural laws” are nothing more than the statistically most common and predictable way God governs His universe; but He always preserves for Himself the power and the privilege to change His ways of governing as He pleases. Thus, what we call “miracles.”
All this is good as a conjecture, but will God really intervene miraculously to produce more resources for an obedient and growing population? Can we safely bet on such intervention. Absolutely. In fact, it is specifically promised in the very next verse after Deut. 28:11 I just read earlier. It is in the next verse, 12: “The LORD will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand. . . .” So God promised that He would personally intervene in the universe to transfer more resources into it. That’s a promise. He will make our fields and our work in them more productive by miraculous intervention. that’s what an open universe is all about.
But there is more. It is not just about His direct intervention. It is more than that. The word “productive” I just mentioned is another clue. “Productivity” has to do with the ratio of resources used to capital goods and sevices produced. The less resources, and the more goods and services, the higher the productivity. God promised that He would directly open His storehouse and would improve productivity. But He has still another way – and indirect way – to intervene in the universe and improve productivity. Namely, through His image. Man was created in His image, and thus, man carries what theologians and philosophers may want to call a “divine spark” in man. I personally dislike the term, but I can use it for the limiter purposes I have here. That “divine spark” in man is not divinity in itself – man can’t comprehend God, can’t grasp God, and man can’t approach divinity or God. (I wiull talk about the practical importance of this fact in a future episode.) But man can know God through His works, and can know God’s works, and can know how God works in His universe. Specifically, man can understand how resources work and how they transform into real, useful goods and services. And man can then control and regulate – that is, take dominion – that process, and learn how to make it more productive. In short, because of the image of God in man, man can grow in knowledge and discover newer ways of transforming energy into goods, and raw resources into food, and thus overcome what now seems to be a necessary limit on the expansion of mankind.
Or even shorter: the image of God in man laughs at Malthus’s closed-universe paganism. The end of history will not be economic. It will come not because we have run out of resources – although, the limit on resources may theoretically point to an end of history. The end will be covenantal: it will come because the church has fulfilled the Great Commission and has made the whole world submit to Christ, and has made all His enemies His footstool. This is the end and the purpose of the Gospel teaching.
So, on one hand, we have paganism (and atheism with it), which is by its very nature closed-universe – at least those pagans who are consistent with their paganism. On the other hand, we have Christianity, which is by its very nature open-universe – at least those Christians that are consistent with their Christianity. Over the centuries, the closed-universe worldview of paganism has been declining with the growth of Christianity. We should expect, then, that in the last century and a half, with the decline of the Christian faith in the West, we should see a resurgence of the pagan view of a closed universe. Do we see such resurgence?
We surely do, and that in many forms. Malthus was only an early prophet of the newly revived closed-universe paganism. He was followed by many others. Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin, the two intellectual fathers of modern evolutionism and “natural selection” were deeply influenced by Malthus. Darwin’s subtitle to his book, The Preservation of Favoured Races, was strictly Malthusian, based on the idea of species and races, including human races, striving to grab a larger chunk of the available limited resources. Social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer applied Malthusian analysis to society. Both colonial wars and World War I were entirely motivated by the intellectual belief that each nation and race were fighting for survival in an evolutionary framework which required that the remaining few resources were allocated to those who were most powerful to get them. Hitler’s rise in Germany can’t be understood without understanding the prevalent Malthusian view in Germany that without “living space” (“Lebensraum”), the German nation would be condemned to extinction. Several historians of Nazi Germany have pointed out Hitler’s obsession with “scarce resources”; much of his political rhetoric against foreign countries and Jews was motivated by his belief that there was a world Jewish conspiracy to deprive Germany of the resources she rightly had a claim on. Contrary to what many people imagine, Malthusianism was the worldview at the heart of almost all politics and political ideologies in the 19th and the 20th century, and, as we will see, it continues to govern today’s politics as well, including the politics and the views of Donald Trump.
Karl Marx was a strange exception to that rule. He criticized Malthus for his views. But remember, as we have seen before, Marx was deeply influenced by the optimism of the Christian worldview, and he had tried to include a secularist version of it in his system. Those of you who have listened to a previous episode, “The Oxymoron of Cultural Marxism,” know that the technological development of the tools of production is the active element in the evolution of man and man’s society. Marx couldn’t explain why tools will develop to higher productivity, he just took it for granted after having borrowed it from the Christian worldview. But after taking it for granted, he criticizes Malthus on the basis of that belief: that Malthus didn’t take in account the evolution in productivity which technology can bring about. Marx was right about it, of course, but he was inconsistent. In everything else, he still stuck to a closed-universe paganism. When he got, for example, to explain his projected “crisis of capitalism,” he said that it would be a crisis of “surplus production,” when capitalists will have produced more than the working masses could buy, which would lead to mass bankruptcy, mass impoverishment, and consequently, a socialist revolution. Strangely enough, in this prediction, he didn’t seem to remember his own expectations that the same technology that will lead to greater productivity and “surplus production” will allow both lower prices and higher wages, and thus the result will be not a crisis but increased prosperity. And the very idea that “surplus production” will lead to poverty is rather laughable if you think about it. So while theoretically, Marx objected to Malthus, in practice, he was just as Malthusian as anyone else, and so were his followers, for the most part. The most vehement Malthusians in the United States have always been the labor unions; for a long time, the concept of “depleting resources” was a central concept of their ideology, and all their activism was directed at keeping those shrinking resources in the hands of a few people.
The 20th century, however, saw some other examples of closed-universe paganism that we don’t always connect to a closed universe; and many of them are still with us today, and still dictate the policies of our politicians, and, I am ashamed to say, the political views of the majority of Christians in the US.
One of them, of course, is birth control. Now, eugenics has been a prevalent part of Western politics ever since the 1850s; socialist countries like Sweden had strict eugenicist policies for decades. Nazi Germany practiced birth control on a large scale: Whole populations were sterilized or exterminated, while “Nordic race” women were sometimes forced to sleep with “Nordic race” men and have children. The main proponent of birth control in the English-speaking world was, of course, Margaret Sanger, and her writings are full of references to Malthus. In fact, she became a renown speaker for what was called at the time – mark the name – The Neo-Malthusian Society, and the conferences she spoke at were directly named Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conferences. And Sanger herself proudly bore the name Malthusian scientist. Over the last one century, Planned Parenthood gradually dropped the conspicuous relation to Malthus, but their ideology has remained essentially Malthusian.
Another area where closed-universe paganism has been raising its ugly head has been environmental sciences and activism. Now, there is nothing wrong with environmental sciences and with a concern about the pollution; after all, you all surely remember a recent episode of Axe to the Root titled, “Technology and the Environment.” But environmental sciences that study to protect the environment in the context of population and economic growth is one thing. Environmentalism that tries to stop growth in the name of “protecting nature” is another thing. The very concept of “protecting nature” is already pagan because it assumes that mankind and its economic progress are not part of nature. And since nature outside man is the normative foundation, then the universe is even double-closed: there can be no legitimate intervention by God to improve things, and there can be no legitimate intervention by man to improve things. The only “improvement” is a return to a world with zero growth.
Modern environmentalism often aligns with the socialists in modern politics, and, in fact, it has a great deal of overlapping. One thing is common for both of them, and that is a hatred for capitalism. We all have seen how many times proponents of the different environmentalist scares (the ozone hole, global warming, etc.) have admitted that their agenda amounts to nothing less than destruction of capitalism. There is a good reason for that: They all associate capitalism with freedom of competition, and rightly so. Most of us have this idea that what socialists hate about capitalism is the profits. In reality, what they hate is competition. Environmentalists also hate competition, and there is a philosophical reason for it: if the universe is closed and resources are limited, then pushing one competitor out of the market will mean total control over scarce resources by the successful competitor.
Now, under the open-universe view of Christianity, competition is not about control over resources; such control is meaningless in a world of constantly increasing productivity where resources play smaller and smaller role – smaller and smaller quantities – in producing more and more output. Competition is about determining the best possible use of resources, while re-directing inefficient effort to better use. In the simplest terms, if two cobblers make shoes and one makes them faster and at a lower price, the other cobbler is in the wrong business. There is another niche on the market that needs his skills, and shoes are not it. Thus, competition, under the open-universe view, only makes the world more efficient and increases the many different ways people can serve their neighbors. Perhaps the inefficient cobbler’s real market skill is to produce something else, or to be a musician, or an inventor, or who knows what else. When pushed out of the market of making shoes, he is forced to find the best application of his true abilities.
The closed universe ideology’s hatred of competition is expressed in many different ways, but the two most common today are the fear of free immigration and the fear of free trade. Trade restrictions (tariffs and quotas) have always been justified with “protecting our producers against unfair competition.” There is, of course, nothing “unfair” in the competition – unfair is only the government compulsion on the consumers to pay higher prices. But closed-universe paganism always sees competition as “unfair,” based on its foundational presuppositions. If you want to understand Donald Trump’s ideas about China and the trade wars, you need to understand that in his mind, there is no such thing as a win-win situation: If China is making profit, then it must be only because America is losing. The way to make America win, we need to make China lose. Zero-sum game is just another logical extension of the zero growth ideology.
Immigration restrictions are, of course, the twin brother of trade restrictions. After all, goods and labor are the two principal economic resources. And just like trade protectionism, immigration restrictions have always been sold as protecting the domestic population against competition. Whether it is competition for scarce jobs, or competition for welfare, or political and cultural competition for whose values will control the society, the philosophy behind immigration restrictions have always been one or another version of closed-universe paganism: We just don’t have that many resources for so many people to come and compete for them. Thus, immigration restrictions are simply another form of that paganism, together with abortion, socialist control of the economy, and environmentalist zero-growth policies.
With the resurgence of the closed-universe paganism, Malthus’s influence on modern politics has increased. Almost solely responsible for the growth of that influence is an American physician and political activist whose name is not very well-known among the general public, and certainly not among the Christian and conservative public. That is mostly because he is a far left activist, and has kept low profile for the last 50 years. His name is John Tanton, and he has been a devout follower of Thomas Malthus and Margaret Sanger. Tanton is a radical believer in zero growth: so radical, in fact, that in many lectures and articles he has blasted the environmentalist concept of “sustainable growth” as “unrealistic” and “oxymoron.” In his view, no growth is sustainable; only complete stagnation and zero growth can be sustainable. Tanton started his political activism back in the 1960s, with financial and political support from the billionaire Warren Buffet and a leftist politician, the Democrat Eugene McCarthy. Tanton started with being instrumental in founding and expanding several local chapters for the Sierra Club (a leftist environmental organization) and Planned Parenthood. He also became the president of an organization called Zero Population Growth (it changed its name to Population Connection in 2002): the organization is committed to fight population growth and advocates, US government support for abortion worldwide, sex education in schools, and government population control, including mandatory abortions. In 1979, Tanton left Zero Population Growth and directed some of his effort towards reducing and even stopping immigration to the United States. He started several organizations, with each one designed to target a specific niche of the political market – conservatives, liberals, libertarians, socialists, etc. Among his immigration control organizations are the Federation for American Immigration Reform (designed to appeal to the leftist part of the spectrum and the trade unions), NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies (both designed to appeal to the Christian and conservative part of the spectrum). Those of you who have been immersed in the immigration debate of the last several years, you may remember the “gum-ball illustration” of why immigration is bad. That “illustration” was entirely the work of John Tanton. Tanton also held racist and eugenicist views, and at least for a short time in the 1960s advocated for mass sterilization for certain racial groups based on IQ results. (He stopped using that argument after the 1960s.) His work has been so successful, that he has been able to lure even Christians to abandon their traditional views on population control and immigration and adopt his pagan worldview. The conservative shift on immigration can be almost entirely ascribed to his efforts.
In one man, we have all of the closed-universe paganism, making a comeback: environmentalism, eugenics, population control, zero growth, trade and immigration control, fear of competition. And churches and Christians have been deceived to buy into it. The apostasy from Biblical Christianity has led to the emergence of the closed-universe paganism again, and it is the dominating idea of our society today.
To restore the Gospel preaching in our day, and to restore Christendom, we need to attack paganism in every area. And the paganism of a closed universe is part of it. I know, most of you all still can’t figure out how we are supposed to do that. But give this episode some time to ferment in your minds. You will start seeing the problem more clearly, now that you know of it.
The reading assigned for this week is The Population Bomb by Paul and Anne Ehrlich. This is a book written by our opponents, keep that in mind. It was published in 1968 and it predicted mass starvation in the world in the 1970s and the 1980s, based on the ideas of the closed-universe paganism of which we talked in this episode. Of course, reading the predictions in the book from the perspective of our rising prosperity today when the world throws away more food every year than it produced back in 1968 will be a fun experience. But while reading, also pay attention to the worldview behind it. Keep in mind that, at the time, it was powerful enough to shape policies, and continues to shape policies even today, 40 years after the book has been proven to be pure garbage. Never underestimate the power of a worldview, even if that worldview has been proven wrong many times.
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