Merciful Minerva! Great St. Crispin’s Ghost! The issue of faith and investing is a scary topic to tackle. Not to worry, we won’t go controversial here, and we certainly won’t make a theological argument either way.
Rather, it behooves a good investor, often, to seek some awareness of how theological debates enter into the economic and investing realm. Specifically, Christianity’s influence. No matter how you slice it, you can’t understand today’s baseline attitude toward debt and credit (and wealth in general) without having at least dipped your toes into Luther’s Reformation, along with (and maybe especially) Calvin. Those guys are central to how much of the West views debt, and their influence on our consciousness seems invisible but is indelible, even today.
So, without a stamp of approval either way (MarketMinder remains politically and theologically agnostic), three books worth consideration as an investor:
The Humble Approach: Scientists Discover God – Sir John Templeton
One of the great investors of his time (or any, for that matter), deeply Christian Sir John Templeton makes a sometimes didactic, and often repetitive, case for religion as harmonious to science. We here at MarketMinder, along with our boss Ken Fisher, have long been admirers of Sir Templeton’s investing career and insight.
Leaving Templeton’s metaphysics aside, be instead keenly attuned to the basic philosophy of humility as a path to knowledge and clearer worldviews (most of this is in the introduction and chapter one). As demonstrated in Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (still one of the best books ever on investing few investors realize is germane to the subject), seemingly rock-solid mathematics and science are routinely usurped by new knowledge, new frontiers and new insights. This “humble approach” to knowledge is key to investing success.
God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’ – William F. Buckley, Jr.
Written in 1951 by a mere 25-year old, this book turned out to be the opening salvo in one of the great polemic, didactic, journalistic, editorial careers ever in William F. Buckley.
Being a lecturer at a big academic institution myself, I can only imagine how terrified most of Yale’s faculty must have been by this book: Regardless of its position, God and Man stands as an almost unassailable study in effective rhetoric and argumentation. If it’s anything, it’s a genius study in clear, forceful prose. Which is likely why it proves so potent, even today.
While the book is ostensibly about the conventions of political and theological attitudes at Yale, it goes far deeper, with pithy—often beautifully constructed—arguments on how theology plays a role in the never-ending battle between socialism and capitalism.
The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success – Rodney Stark
Again, dear investor, no one is implying you must accept the premises of this book. Instead, view it as a vastly useful (and very compact) western economic history—with the effects of Christianity baked in. My sense is this is perhaps the most controversial of the books reviewed in this column. Indeed, Victory is well argued but often incomplete. It is far too grandiose and reductive, for instance, to claim Christianity is the sole reason for the West’s economic rise through history—there must be an accounting for all sorts of other advantages the West enjoyed. And, economic innovation happened in other areas, too: The appearance of government-backed paper money in feudal China or the tremendous scientific knowledge accumulation in the Middle East during the West’s Dark Ages, for instance.
Nevertheless, this is compelling reading and worth an airplane ride’s consideration. Capitalism’s green shoots appearing in segmented post-Roman Italy, Amsterdam’s trade and financial innovation, London’s expansion into global trade channels, Spanish imperialism in South America, the emergence of post-reformation America as an economic power and so on, are all covered in a mere 225 pages. As often argued here at MarketMinder, world history is frequently guided by large, faceless economic forces, not just wars and mercurial/charismatic leaders, and this book bolsters the case.