Salvation as a Selective Incentive: An Olsonian Analysis of the Faith vs. Works Cleavage


As club goods, religions face the problem of free riding. Smaller religious clubs, such as cults or sects, can often surmount this problem through communal pressures or by requiring their members to provide easily monitored signals. Generally, however, such tactics will be unavailable or too costly for large denominations, and, as such, these denominations must look for other techniques to avoid free riding. This paper argues that the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by faith and works serves as an Olsonian selective incentive, and presents empirical evidence in support of this claim. It also examines the historical and theological development of the doctrine in an attempt to discern if the faith plus works model of salvation evolved in the Roman Catholic Church for economic, as opposed to theological, reasons.