News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Why Do Christians Worship Greed?

Only in America can one find significant numbers of Christians who argue that unfettered capitalism represents God's Plan for human thriving.

Please remember Frederick Douglass.

That is to say, remember the Frederick Douglass of "power concedes nothing without a struggle." And I'm not sure that the struggle with market fundamentalism has even been joined yet, at least not at the level of principle where it most needs friends.

Like old Simeon in Luke's gospel, I am one who hopes to live long enough to see the consolation of Israel. Only in my case that consolation would take the form of deliverance from the malignant free-market madness that US conservatives have successfully promoted for four decades. Known (and much loathed) abroad as the "American model," or the "Washington consensus," this is the Friedman-Greenspan regime of total deregulation wherein the public, in effect, subsidizes big capital to work its high-growth wonders to the ostensible benefit of us all -- that chimera known as the trickle-down effect.

Because Americans live in a kind of perceptual bubble -- a bubble related to but not identical to financial bubbles of recent memory -- we have never seen the full extent of the devastation wrought by the "Washington consensus" on the lives of others and on the life of the planet itself. We've never seen the effects of the global sweatshop up close; we've never seen what privatized water markets look like in places like Bolivia; we've never asked whether there might be a connection between NAFTA's effects within Mexico and the urgent need of Mexicans to reach El Norte, even risking death by dehydration to get here.

Free market fundamentalism seemed to work out pretty well for us. To be sure, we could see the enormous wealth beginning to concentrate at the top of our own society. But as long as enough trickled down to us plebeians (and as long as we could get easy credit to keep up with those Joneses) we were okay with it. It is only now that the latest and largest financial bubble has burst that we are beginning to break through our perceptual bubble to wonder whether entrusting our fates to self-interested and unregulated moneymen was really such a great idea.

But I would not count on, say, the bad odor now adhering to the word "banker" to lead to our deliverance from the bankers' grip. To imagine that we can escape their clutches automatically, as it were, is to pretend that they've not achieved a substantial ascendancy within the culture that goes well beyond mere financial ascendancy.

They still own the government, after all. Their image may be a bit tarnished, but just two weeks ago they scuttled a Senate bill that would have allowed busted homeowners to seek relief in bankruptcy court. As Sen. Dick Durbin told a hometown radio station apropos of this fight: "The banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place."

The free marketeers are also heavily invested in think tanks and academic centers that perpetuate the hegemony of neoliberal doctrine, and these institutions aren't going away any time soon. They likewise own the major news media -- and we might note here that the accelerating collapse of old-fashioned newspapering is bound to lead to even less real investigative scrutiny of their endless conniving and insider dealing.

And, to get to the point of this essay, they also own a significant part of religious thought in this country. They always have, inasmuch as Anglo-American Protestants could never quite decide how much to follow Jesus Christ and how much to follow John Locke. But fealty to high finance has doubtless gained market share among the religious in recent decades. Recall how Alabama's Republican governor, Bob Riley, a conservative Christian citing gospel principles, tried to bring some tax fairness to his state in 2003. Riley got smacked down hard by the Christian Coalition, which by that time had adopted "thou shalt not tax the rich" as its 11th Commandment.

See more stories tagged with: