"A Surprising Economic History of the World"

Tuesday, Jul 07, 2009

I take... a more materialist view of the role of religion which is that: if you look at individual religions and if you look at the theology of individual religions, it's really hard to trace through any link from that to the societies that actually believe in them. Everyone believes that there's this prohibition on lending money at interest in the Koran, for example, which is why I focused that particular chapter on Islam. And that's not really true. It's not true in the theology and it's certainly not true in the practice at the time. Indeed, if anything, there's a stronger prohibition on money lending within Christianity than there is within Islam. And I think really what matters with religion is not what the particular theology says, but just the role that that religion can play in any given society.

What I would say was instrumental in turning North America into this thriving, free-thinking, capitalist, individualistic society was not really the fact that some of the early colonists were Puritans. But that if you didn't like it, you can go and found a religion, or you can go found a colony somewhere else. If you didn't like the stifling conformity of Massachussets, you can go and find Rhode Island, or you can go to found Pennsylvania.

And one of the most important things of the Protestant Reformation within Europe was that it... created this sense of plurality that there were different decisions you could take. There were different routes you could take. There were different ways to the truth. There were different ways of thinking about things. And by challenging the primacy of any given one religious authority and one religious theology, it let people come up with their own ideas. And it also meant that when merchants and traders and so on and so forth began to grow as organized groups, they were able to have inconvenient laws and invonvenient religious rules and so on disposed of, without threatening the entire basis of a society. I think that's the most important thing about the way that religion works. It's not what the religion itself says, it's the way that it's used by authorities of any given country.

C-SPAN BookTV, Alan Beattie, world trade editor of the Financial Times interviewed by Patrice Hill on his book, False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World, 25:45, April 25, 2009, http://www.booktv.org/Watch/10479.