In the comments to my War on Christmas post, a correspondent called, charmingly, Youaredumb wrote that a world without religion is a world without morals. Leaving aside for the moment that I didn't say anything about eliminating religion from the world, lets look at the implications of that belief, a belief that shows up with dreary frequency in any discussion of atheism or religious vs. secular values. When you think about it, what they really mean when they say that religion is required for morality is that God, and fear of his divine retribution, is required for morality. They are saying that the only thing that will get people to do the right thing is knowledge that their every action is being watched by a higher authority who promises severe punishment for any transgression; without that we will all run amok. It's a profoundly bleak view of human nature and an ugly insight into their opinion of their own ability to control their worst impulses.
This belief in the absolute necessity for a supervisory authority and threat of punishment runs deep in conservative religious philosophies all over the world. For crime, they favor lots of police and have deep faith in the deterrent effect of draconian punishments like the death penalty, chopping off body parts, and three-strike laws. They want the state to protect them from temptations by banning or severely restricting access to vices like gambling, drugs, pornography, and the "wrong" type of books. They believe that families need to be organized as a strict hierarchy with the father/husband at the top. In child-rearing they favor corporal punishment, a strict father figure, and believe children need to have their wills broken as a first step to becoming good citizens. In international relations, they prefer military might over diplomacy. They believe that other people's freedoms--as in gay marriage--are a threat to the proper order of their own lives.
But American Christian conservatives allow one glaring exception to this world view. In economics, they believe that corporations, banks, and other businesses should all be allowed to do whatever they want with no supervision or regulation at all. How they can think that it's impossible for individual humans to behave decently with out a heavenly big brother watching their every move and imposing a strict code, while at the same time believing that groups of people wielding vast financial power will always do what's best for us all if we would only remove all supervision and regulation, is beyond me, but they manage to square that particular circle.
One of the challenges of the next few years, will turning back some of the ill-considered and ideologically-driven deregulation from the last thirty years. Maybe pounding on this contradiction in conservative thought will provide an arguing wedge to break some of their resistance. If not, it should at least be a good argument to keep in reserve for tormenting your conservative friends and kin. And that's always worthwhile.