When David Brat defeated House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in the Republican primary of Virginia’s 7th Congressional District last night, House Republicans likely lost their only Jewish representative. In his place, they may have gained a radically pro-capitalist Christian theologian.
Christian Tea Party candidates are certainly not unusual, but a trail of writings show that Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon college, has an especially radical theology to support his right-wing politics. Brat’s CV lists him as a graduate of Hope College, a Christian school in Michigan, and Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Church U.S.A. seminary in New Jersey. He claims to be a “fairly orthodox Calvinist,” but several of his published writings expose a unsettling core theology that is centered around lifting up unregulated, free-market capitalism as a morally righteous system that churches should embrace—or else.
In a 2011 paper entitled “God and the Advanced Mammon — Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?”, published in Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, Brat champions the moral superiority of the capitalistic system. “Capitalist markets and their expansion in China and India have provided more for the common good, more ‘social welfare,’ than any other policy in the past ten years,” he writes, adding “So, as a seminary student concerned with human welfare, I naturally wanted to learn about these free markets.”
Brat goes on to list a number of arguments for and against the practice of usury, but concludes the paper with a chilling warning about what will happen if churches fail to build a movement in support of free-market capitalism—namely, a Hitler-like figure could rise to power. He writes:
Capitalism is here to stay, and we need a church model that corresponds to that reality. Read Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the weak modern Christian democratic man was spot on. Jesus was a great man. Jesus said he was the Son of God. Jesus made things happen. Jesus had faith. Jesus actually made people better. Then came the Christians. What happened? What went wrong? We appear to be a bit passive. Hitler came along, and he did not meet with unified resistance. I have the sinking feeling that it could all happen again, quite easily. The church should rise up higher than Nietzsche could see and prove him wrong. We should love our neighbor so much that we actually believe in right and wrong, and do something about it. If we all did the right thing and had the guts to spread the word, we would not need the government to backstop every action we take.
“I think the main point is that we need to synthesize Christianity and capitalism,” he adds a few lines later.
This isn’t the only time Brat has sung the praises of religiously-supported capitalism. The idea was also at the center of Brat’s 200-page PhD dissertation at American University, entitled “Human Capital, Religion, and Economic Growth.” The dissertation, which was also obtained by ThinkProgress, examines the role Pietistic Protestantism — as opposed to Catholicism — played in the rapid industrialization of Germany and Great Britain in the 19th century. Although he is more cautious than in his 2011 article, Brat ultimately argues that Protestantism — particularly Calvinism — deserves credit for creating scientific advancement, economic prosperity, and especially a decentralized government in German and Britain. According to Brat, Christianity — especially Calvinist Protestantism — inherently supports “the decentralization of power” that, to him, leads to economic prosperity.
Brat is not alone in using problematic theology to shore up a free-market economics. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., sponsors a “Values and Capitalism” website where writers frequently make claims similar to Brat’s. Brat’s CV mentions a visit to AEI in 2012, where he attended a talk about conservative economics and reportedly explored “potential roles for [Randolph-Macon College] students at AEI.”