Market Idolatry

By Jim Wallis

The Great Recession is not just an economic crisis, it is the result of a loss of values, a moral crisis. And to say that it is a moral crisis is also to say that it is a spiritual crisis. At the center of most religions is the question of who and what we worship? Where is our deepest allegiance?

So the Great Recession bears some “religious” reflection, as the market has gradually become all pervasive–a replacement for religion and even for God. It is the Market now that now seems to have all the godlike qualities–all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful, even eternal–unable to be resisted or even questioned. Performing necessary roles and providing important goods and services are not the same things as commanding ultimate allegiance. Idolatry means that something has taken the place of God. The market can be good thing and even necessary; but it now commands too much, claims ultimate significance, controls too much space in our lives, and has gone far beyond its proper limits.

Idolatry comes in a lot of different forms. Today, it is much more subtle than bowing down to a golden calf. It often takes the form of choosing the wrong priorities, trusting in the wrong things, and putting our confidence where it does not belong.

Today, instead of statues, we now have hedge funds, mortgage-backed securities, 401(k)s, and mutual funds and, for some, bonuses. We place blind faith in the hope that the stock indexes will just keep rising and real estate prices keep climbing. Market mechanisms were supposed to distribute risk so well that even those who were reckless would never see the consequences of their actions. Trust, security, and hope in the future were all as close to us as the nearest financial planner’s office. Life and the world around us could all be explained with just the right market lens. These idols were supposed to make us happy and secure, and provide for all our needs. Those who manage them became the leaders, to whom we looked, not just for financial leadership, but direction for our entire lives. That is indeed idolatry.

Rich and poor alike were sucked into making heroes out of those who seemed to be able to turn everything they touched into gold. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel lost virtually all of his personal wealth and his foundation’s, up to $37 million, to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. “We gave him everything, we thought he was God, we trusted everything in his hands,” Weisel said.

The market even has its priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, and shamans. These money and market commentators translate the often confusing signals of the Dow, international currency exchange rates, or futures indexes and tell us all what they mean and how they should act as a result. Sometimes they preach famine and the retribution of the market for the sins of the people, and other times they praise the market and the feast it provides. Those who question the market “god” are called heretics and lunatics and are burned at the stake on conservative talk radio.

In claiming the power to define what is real and true, and bowing to no limits beyond itself, the market now claims “a comprehensive wisdom that in the past only the gods have known,” according to theologian Harvey Cox. And like a god to be feared and worshipped, we now can even know the market’s moods on a daily basis–moody, angry, restless, or satisfied. And to even question the market’s “high priests” and their declarations is now to commit heresy. The worship of this false god, The Market, has become quite ecumenical. Across denominational and faith persuasions, herds of us are bowing down to the doctrines and dictates of The Market.

Read the entire Huffington post article, here.

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4 Responses to Market Idolatry

  1. Really, the idol that is worshiped in Capitalism is the idol of the physical form or body that the living souls in this world are confusing as themselves. People don’t worship the economy or the market, but they worship their own bodies as themselves and thereby create this huge world economy based on a false bodily concept of life.
    Nope, people don’t worship the dollar or the economy. They worship and serve themselves that they are wrongly accepting to be the material body.

    Money buys sense objects and sense pleasures. It buys influence and prestige. So, money is not the object of worship, it is simply the resource by which people purchase sense pleasures and prestige. People worship their own senses and are busy trying very hard to satisfy the dictates of the senses by acquiring the money required to purchase material sense objects and sense gratification.

    Capitalism is not in itself bad. It is how the fruits of capitalism are being abused that is the problem.

    The “market” is not our enemy. The enemy is material, selfish unholy desires for undue and unnecessary sense gratification that does nothing to satisfy the spiritual needs of the soul.

    The enemy is not out there. The enemy is within the polluted hearts of the Capitalist money grubbers. The idol of worship is the material body and the bodily senses that give the soul a false sense of pleasure.

  2. Much of the same could be said for the Internet. The Web is growing towards “all pervasiveness,” especially through mobile technology and Wi-Fi; it is “all-knowing” to the degree that people contribute to it and rely upon it for information.

  3. How ironic that Elie Wiesel, the professed athiest, and author of the book ‘Night’ found that the real God was not good enough. He invested in another infallible-god, Bernie Maddoff, only to be disappointed. Turns out that our need for God must be fulfilled by either investing our hearts in the real deal…otherwise the heart will, by default, try to find the best substitute that it can find in this material world.

    I agree with the author. The default substitute for the real God has popularly become the marketplace for the modern man.

    I thought that the article was absolutely magnificient! I have been reading articles where people are questioning if the freemarket corrodes moral character:

    This article is extremely insightful. The all pervasive and highly complicated mysteriousness of the marketplace has a power over the hearts and minds of the modern man that the forest deity used to have in the lives of the forest dweller.

    I loved how the author described the moods of the marketplace. Certainly, people in more agrarian societies used to co-relate the mood of the weather that their lives so dependant on with the moods of the gods of weather.
    In financial companies I have worked in, co-workers have told me how they have lost their appetite when they saw how much the market had dropped. People tremble when the Market-god is upset. They are elated at its happiness.

    Who is free from the influence of the marketplace? How many people are free from being struck with fear because we are falling behind in the market? The marketplace has an unquantifiable presence and sense of authority in the psyche of people all over the world. It is the fear of the punishment of the economy and the marketplace in our personal lives that keeps people motivated to work hard.

    The author is right. In the modern era, if one were to find the biggest presence in our psyche that substitutes for God, I would say it is the marketplace.

  4. Perhaps it could be more appropriate to say that the markets have replaced the Church, rather than God Himself, in terms of human efforts to provide the general public with a sense of direction and personal prospect, and even a sense of purpose as well for this human existence.

    With that, it may be worth consideration that if modern global trade alliances and world banking institutions now largely consider religion to be not more than an archaic and primitive means of utilizing and managing the masses as “human resources” to be implemented in service of the world’s “social elite”, they would and often openly do tend to consider themselves as viable, and even more refined & equipped candidates for such a role, as a “guiding light” & “moderating hand” in society, than religion.

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