The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book The New Holy Wars

The New Holy Wars

Economic Religion Versus Environmental Religion in Contemporary America Robert H. Nelson
  • Copyright: 2010
  • Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25
  • Page Count: 416 pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-03581-9
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-03582-6

Winner of the 2010 Eric Hoffer Award and the 2010 silver medal in the category of Finance, Investment, and Economics of the Independent Publisher Book Awards

“Nelson makes an overwhelmingly persuasive case that in our times the leading secular religion was once economics and is now environmentalism. . . . Out of that utterly original idea for scholarly crossovers—good Lord, an economist reading environmentalism and even economics itself as theology!—come scores of true and striking conclusions. . . . It’s a brilliant book, which anyone who cares about the economy or the environment or religion needs to read. That’s most of us.”
“Robert Nelson argues that environmentalism is a religion. . . . This provocative thesis raises hard and embarrassing questions about the bases of environmentalism that every serious student of the subject must confront.”
“Nelson compellingly argues that religion is a powerful force in economic and social life, . . . even if that fact is seldom recognized by most academics and policy makers. The dominant religious influences are secularized versions of Catholicism and Protestantism, not because the leading scholars are piously trying to advance their faith by other means, but because their intellectual horizons have been shaped by worldviews that have framed their consciousness. He convinces me that unless these presuppositions are acknowledged, examined, broadened, and revised, the economic and ecological crises that the world now faces will not be understood or met at their deeper levels.”
“Anyone who wants to understand twenty-first-century politics should begin with The New Holy Wars, which makes clear the fundamental conflict between how economists and environmentalists see the world.”
“Though one might quibble with details here and there, the central contentions of The New Holy Wars are largely convincing. Its central thesis is incontrovertible. It should be required reading for orthodox religious believers so that they may know where the real challenges to their faiths lie.”
“This ambitious book was awarded the Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize and a Silver Medal from the Annual Independent Publisher Book Awards. It is ripe for consideration and study, both for its rich treatment of the development of these so-called secular religions as well as for the implications the holy wars of economic religion and environmental religion have for contemporary policy debates. In tracing the development of the secular religions of economics and environmentalism, Nelson invites their adherents, as well as adherents of non-secular religions, to explore the theological roots of these seemingly secular frameworks and to identify common ground between them.

In a time of deep disagreement about environmental issues, such as climate change and regulation of the oil industry, and a time of religious divisiveness, Nelsons work is a timely invitation both to understand the roots of the struggle between environmentalists and economists, and to think more deeply about the relationship between society and nature that we envision.”
“This book is a good read for economists of all backgrounds and persuasions, including Christian economists, for several reasons. . . . the overall theme and theses of the book provide stimulating food for thought and insights into the possible ethical and philosophical drivers underlying the economic growth and environmental protection advocacy positions, movements, and policies in contemporary America.”
“This book should be of interest to a wide variety of audiences, not only to scholars of religion, but also to economists, environmentalists, and the general public interested in religion. It is highly readable and touches on many relevant and controversial issues in contemporary society, and concludes (most likely to the chagrin of economists and environmentalists) that these are religions like any other. For scholars of religion, it reminds us to reconsider the social movements of our time . . . many of which are not ’secular’ at all, but are saturated with adapted versions of traditional religious beliefs and practices.”
“Nelson convincingly argues that economics and environmentalism are two new secular religions that require theological understanding. . . . To engage the issues Nelson raises, theologians and pastors will need to devote more time to reading sociology, economics, and theology and less to studying psychology and spirituality. That might be thought of as the opportunity cost of doing God’s business in the early 21st century.”
“[Nelson’s] book is an excellent contribution that will help us better understand the intersections between economics, ethics, and theology. . . . The theological approach Nelson adopts is illuminating, and he does a great service by pointing out how much of the materialist and environmentalist gospels [is] . . . derived from religion.”
“Nelson has offered an exciting argument and revealed an important pattern. . . . Both modern American economists and environmentalists have been engaged for over a century in creating new secular versions of American Christianity by replacing God with science.”
“[Nelson] presents . . . insightful and incisive critiques of the shortcomings of both secular economism and environmentalism. . . . An excellent explication of the contradictions and inconsistencies of the utopian or eschatological visions presented by these competing religions.”
[The New] Holy Wars is an essential read for anyone interested in contemporary religion and the relationship between Christianity, economics and environmentalism. Many of the arguments are compelling and often controversial, making this work a primer for rewarding debates. Throughout the work it is emphasised that secular religion presents more than just an intellectual puzzle. Secular versions of religion are arguably more influential in everyday life than ‘traditional’ Christianity, and they have vast political implications too. Nelson’s final conclusion is therefore one that all scholars in the field of religion must surely heed: ‘It is time to take secular religion seriously.’”
“As a book about religion, economics, politics, and philosophy, The New Holy Wars should be of interest to all readers of [the Review of Social Economy]. The provocative arguments in this book are sure to cause at least some degree of unease among economists and environmentalists alike, as [it] challenges the claim of scientific legitimacy by both fields. Nevertheless, I suggest that this book is worthwhile for all who are interested in better understanding and transcending the conflict between economics and environmentalism.”
“The text is beautifully written and clear so that the reader can easily judge whether they are compelled by Nelson's conslusions. . . .

The New Holy Wars succeeds in giving voice to the tangible tension in environmental policy. It challenges readers to re-examine the triple bottom line measuring all environmental action.”
“At a time in which Harper One produces a “Green” bible “in conjunction with the Sierra Club” (and presumably Harper One does not produce a “Free Markets” bible “in conjunction with the CATO Institute”), it is time for a discussion of these important economic, scientific, and theological issues. Nelson’s book, although imperfect, is a good place to start.”
“Robert Nelson’s The New Holy Wars takes a measured, philosophical approach to the environment and the economy. . . . The New Holy Wars offers a broad, non-polemical critique of the environmental movement, uncovering the shaky intellectual foundations of its ideology and science.”

The present debate raging over global warming exemplifies the clash between two competing public theologies. On one side, environmentalists warn of certain catastrophe if we do not take steps now to reduce the release of greenhouse gases; on the other side, economists are concerned with whether the benefits of actions to prevent higher temperatures will be worth the high costs. Questions of the true and proper relationship of human beings and nature are as old as religion. Today, environmentalists regard human actions to warm the climate as an immoral challenge to the natural order, while economists seek to put all of nature to maximum use for economic growth and other human benefits.

Robert Nelson interprets such contemporary struggles as battles between the competing secularized religions of economics and environmentalism. The outcome will have momentous consequences for us all. This book probes beneath the surface of the two movements’ rhetoric to uncover their fundamental theological commitments and visions.

Robert H. Nelson is Professor at the School of Public Policy of the University of Maryland and a Senior Fellow of The Independent Institute. Among his previous books is Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond (Penn State, 2001).

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