Despite the nonstop coverage, I guess that most of us struggle to make much of the BBC Business Correspondent, Robert Peston’s illuminating analysis of all things economic! Some of us may even be under the impression that the ‘Credit Crunch’ is what Alistair Darling has for breakfast! But for many of us, the words ‘derivatives’, ‘hedge funds’ and ‘sub-prime mortgage’ have now become familiar, if not welcome, additions to our vocabulary. Joking aside, few of us will be left unaffected by the economic recession. And sadly some of us may have to face the harsh reality of unemployment. What’s certain is that none of us is immune from recent events in the world’s stock markets. But what are to think about the current financial crisis?
I think the biblical concept of idolatry is as good a way as any to make sense of things. An idol is essentially a God substitute. It’s a created artefact that’s taken the rightful place of God in our attention and affections. It’s the thing we believe can provide us with the experience of our version of heaven for which we so long. And so it becomes our functional saviour and the thing to which we offer worship, obedience and sacrifice. Associated with whichever idol we’ve chosen is a religious system involving the holy places and those who conduct the rituals of worship, the High Priests. Underpinning the whole thing is an evangelistic mission that seeks to keep our love of the idol on the agenda. And so, I wonder whether the following four observations might help us chart a way through the treacherous waters of financial analysis?
1. The functional saviour that we believe can deliver the heavenly experience is the free market economy. We might not express it in those terms, but that’s what’s going on. In the past, people used to regard God as the self sufficient, inexhaustible, mysterious, benevolent and all-powerful source of what we need for an abundant life. But that old religion has now been displaced by the worship of the capitalist economic system. And so, as one person put it, ‘If people in the ancient world worshipped sticks and stones, today everywhere can be found the worship of stocks and shares’. And so the economy is revered and afforded sacred status and any criticism of the capitalistic ideology is regarded as blasphemy. Many are absolutely convinced that capitalism is the thing that can save us.
2. The heavenly experience for which we so yearn is material wealth. To be wealthy is to have attained salvation; poverty is hell from which we must be delivered. The purpose of life is simply to be wealthy. In plain denial of Jesus’ words in Luke 12, many are committed to the idea that salvation is found in the abundance of our wealth and possessions. And so the meaning of life is described in economic terms. We’re valued only to the degree in which we participate in the economy system. This means that the stay at home Mum, the unemployed, the unemployable or the homeless are viewed with sympathy, at best or derision, at worse.
3. The High Priests are the only people that properly understand the intricacies of the financial markets. They gather together in the financial institutions where they pour over their sacred writings in the financial press, like the Financial Times. Laymen might try and get our heads round what’s going on by reading the popular literature like the supplements in the Sunday papers, but for most of us it‘s nothing more than incomprehensible mumbo jumbo! If it’s true that many have yet to find someone who can explain the truth of the gospel in language they can understand, the same could be said of the financial world!
4. The evangelistic mission of this false religion is propagated through advertising. This marketing endeavour could simply inform us of the merits and benefits of a good or service. If that was all that it did, it would serve a valuable purpose. But advertising seeks to tap into our insatiable appetite for more. Apparently the average American watches about 85 different television advertisements every day! Every single one of them has one unrelenting message; you’re life is imperfect until you accumulate the good and services that we’re promoting. Cultivating contentment and thankfulness against such a barrage of unhelpful visual stimulation requires godly determination.
And so, given recent events in which this idol has been stripped bare, it ought to be apparent that worshipping the economic system is an exercise in futility. The free market economy is nothing more than the creation of human hands and therefore it cannot save. We don’t need to get rid of it; it’s still the best way of doing things. Just don’t expect it to do what we hope that it will; provide salvation.
Some of us may have become secret devotees of materialism, worshipping at the altar of the economic system. And so, this is a good time therefore to do the following two things; first, to repent of our willing greedy participation in the perpetuation of this senseless idolatry and secondly, to redirect our trust and hope for the future to the God who has promised to save us.