Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 20, 2008
Idolatry is source of economic crisis
To some, the world Synod of Bishops now taking place at the Vatican may seem like a sideshow to the real action in the world this month – the efforts of the world's political and financial leaders to save the Western world from economic self-immolation. The bishops titter about ways to lead more Catholics to be inspired by the Bible; political leaders are engaged in salvation of the world as we have known it.
One obvious comeback to this way of thinking is to state that, of course, the bishops are concerned about the only salvation that matters – eternal salvation. What is our prosperous way of life really worth; it is only transitory in the eternal scheme of things?
While this is true, it sells short the importance of the economic crisis. The crisis really does matter. It matters greatly that people are losing their retirement savings and that others may be thrown out of work in a recession. We ought to care about this and we ought to encourage world leaders to do what they can to mitigate the economic and social damage.
What Christians need to say is that the root of the economic crisis is greed. The root of any environmental crisis that may occur – and don't pretend that that cannot happen too – also lies in unregulated human greed.
The reliance on massive debt, speculation and leveraging to drive an economic system led to a book value of economic assets that far exceeded their real value. Huge fortunes in paper money were created out of this flimsy house of cards.
(The Bible, incidentally, has a lot to say about debt – none of it positive.)
Pope Benedict, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, says "History cannot be detached from God and then run smoothly on material lines. If man's heart is not good, then nothing else can turn out good either.
"And the goodness of the human heart can ultimately come only from the One who is goodness, who is the Good itself" (p. 34).
In other words, any economic system that is bereft of goodness, that is run in isolation from God, will perish. It will perish under the weight of its own arrogance. It will perish because it puts its faith in either the invisible hand of the market or the iron hand of socialism.
Faith in anything other than God is idolatry and we have seen plenty of idolatry in recent decades. Government deregulation not only provided room for idolatrous greed to run rampant, it gave such greed a moral endorsement.
What the Synod of Bishops will issue is not a prescription for economic restructuring, but a call to turn to the source of life and light and love. It is hard to imagine that a person who spends an hour a day meditating on the Scripture can live in anything but poverty of spirit.
Poverty of spirit is the foundation for a strong society. One can only be poor in spirit, if he or she finds their wealth in God. It is this wealth that can at least temper our desires, if not bring them under control.
The Second Vatican Council proclaimed that Scripture provides "food from divine words." The nourishment of Scripture "enlightens the mind, strengthens the will and fires the hearts of men and women with the love of God" (Dei Verbum, 23).
It is no small thing that the bishops are gathered at the Vatican to discuss how to feed God's people more effectively with the Word of God. Their recommendations will, of course, have to be translated into effective pastoral programs in local churches around the world. And those programs will have to bear fruit in the lives of millions of people.
But this is our only real hope for society. Right-wing and left-wing ideologies provide no solution. Good government, however, is essential. So is personal moral responsibility. But none of these things can come to fruition without hearts that are open to the Word of God.
- Glen Argan
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