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The failed 'god' of The Market

By Andrew Gerns

[This column appeared in The Morning Call, October 11, 2008. Canon Andrew T. Gerns is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton, and chair of the Evangelism Commission of the Diocese of Bethlehem.]

The best question not answered during the whole second town-hall-style presidential debate was when one woman asked ''Is it right to treat medical care as a commodity?''

The very idea is, of course, heresy. This person questioned the basic tenets of The Market!

According to the Theology of the Market, the answer to the question is ''Why stop at health care? Everything is a commodity!''

Theologian Harvey Cox once analyzed the language of the business pages and he found a kind of belief-system at work. He said, ''Since the earliest stages of human history there have been bazaars, rialtos, and trading posts -- all markets.

''But The Market was never God, because there were other centers of value and meaning, other 'gods.' The Market operated within a plethora of other institutions that restrained it.''

Only in recent generations has The Market risen ''to become today's First Cause.''

Cox was not the first to observe that The Market had become like a religion. At about the same time as Cox's essay, the writers of '' Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,'' wondered what a culture would be like if its whole cosmology was built around commerce.

And so we have

''The Rules of Acquisition,'' some of which are:

1. Once you have their money ... never give it back.

18.A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.

34. Peace is good for business.

35.War is good for business.

45. Expand, or die.

58. There is no substitute for success.

60. Keep your lies consistent.

89. Ask not what your profits can do for you, but what you can do for your profits.

97. Enough ... is never enough.

The Market has become our own little god. And now we are having a crisis of faith.

Without significant offerings of cash, the The Market will freeze and no one will be able to get ordinary credit. No one is loaning money at the macro level, everyone is hoarding cash and no one trusts anyone.

As Cox said, ''Like the proverbial shark that stops moving, The Market that stops expanding dies. That could happen. If it does, then Nietzsche will have been right after all. He will just have had the wrong God in mind.''

Together we have built this idol, constructed a religion and world view and lived under its rules. Now we are shaken to our core.

What Jesus taught never appeared to more true. He said ''Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.''

Money can be an enormous power for good. It can be our power for good. As bad and as scary as things are right now, we still have more wealth, and all that wealth brings, than most people in most of the world. And we can do profound good with that. We still have power.

Whether it is seeing to elimination of poverty by supporting the Millennium Development Goals, or by making sure your local food bank has enough food to feed the hungry or seeing to it that kids have books to read or the homeless have a safe, clean place to sleep, or by providing for free or low-cost basic health care locally, we can do powerful good with the wealth we have.

We have a choice, every day: we can live in service to The Market, or use our money in service to God, all God's people and all God's creation.

The god of The Market has let us down because it promises are hollow and its premises bankrupt. As a master, it will take everything from us and give nothing back. Wealth that lasts and makes us truly rich comes from faith, generosity of spirit, mercy, forgiveness, compassion and, above all, hope.


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