In the Name of God بسم الله
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According to neoclassical economics, efficiency is directly related or proportional to the degree of competition, so a free market in exchange is deemed preferable to a monopoly. Based on this, neoclassical economics employs rational-choice theory. According to rational-choice theory, individuals and communities evaluate costs and benefits on the basis of available information. Neoclassical economics applies rational-choice theory to the laws of exchange in the context of a market-based economy. Applied broadly, rational-choice theory posits the existence of man as a rational and fundamentally economic actor. Some sociologists have since applied neoclassical economic theory to religion. For example, Rodney Stark argues that free competition among religions and religious sects leads to a more “virtuous” society than would be the case under a monopolistic, state-backed faith that prohibits proselytisation by or conversion to rival faiths. Based on this, a free market in religion and religious choice is said to encourage critical thinking and promote meritocracy, a corollary of which would be the success of the faith that best delivers on its promises, in terms of creating a functional, productive, and virtuous society. Historically, however, institutional religions have sought to create state-backed monopolies within their territorial jurisdictions. On the level of the state, Islamic law, for instance, enshrines this principle by prohibiting the propagation of non-Islamic faiths, as well as by imposing capital punishment or hudud on (public) apostasy. However, promoters of neoclassical economics in the sphere of religion use rational-choice theory to argue that religious pluralism in the context of a free market would promote virtue better than a religious monopoly. Institutional religion is thus more “aristocratic” than “mercantile.” Rational-choice theory would thus deprive the state of a coercive religious monopoly and instead delegate religious authority, as well as freedom to choose among religion(s) and sect(s), to individuals as well as their respective local communities. Proponents of this approach highlight the inefficiencies of a monopoly in the sphere of economics, besides the abuses that monopolistic central authorities have often resorted to, as justification for their view that the central state, as opposed to individuals and local communities, should not exercise authority in matters of dictating and/or imposing religion. Furthermore, proponents argue that a religious monopoly tends to lower the overall volume of worshippers, both in quantity and quality, while an open market that allows one to freely choose among faiths and sects yields a more observant population, as in the early Dutch Republic, the United States, and other states that a) lacked a central religious monopoly and/or b) tolerated or encouraged a free market in religion, that is, religious pluralism. Even today the United States is at least somewhat more religious than many European countries, most of which historically or presently have featured a state-linked church. In light of all this, why do religious authorities, including those of Islam, generally trust men to make their own decisions in the realm of economics, but not in terms of choosing religion? Why do they apply rational-choice theory to economics but not to religion? After all, if men cannot be trusted to freely choose among religions, but must be subject to a statist monopoly, then why would they be permitted to exercise greater latitude in their economic decisions? Is a statist monopoly in the sphere of religion, as in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or once-Christian Europe, more or less conducive to the cultivation of a virtuous society?
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