Progressive Revival

Progressive Revival


The turmoil on Wall Street is continuing, and even though it is closer to me than even Russia is to Alaska, I understand less than little about economics. And yet the human toll of the crashes and crises is poignantly clear, and is spreading. 

Can the religious community have a voice in fixing this? Or is it just a matter of offering spiritual succor to the victims, from Wall Street to Main Street? Over the years I have written pieces on what the variety of religious traditions say about a rightly-ordered economy, but for every assertion of a principle there is an equal and opposite reaction, or, as is often the case, especially among some Christian communities, the view that economics is not the proper forum for Christian preaching (beyond vague appeals to the Golden Rule). The economy becomes a person, in a sense, afflicted by original sin that will inevitably bring the cycle of prosperity down again, with the only hope of salvation a true and full liberty to make proper choices. (That’d be unfettered capitalism).


That’s actually understandable in the Christian context especially, as Christianity seemed initially like an enterprise built for the short term. Only by the end of the first century did we start selling long-term bonds. But Adam Smith was no mean theologian, and the Catholic bishops wrote what a truly powerful pastoral letter on the economy in 1986, called “Economic Justice for All.” Unfortunately it is hard to find (good luck searching the bishops’ web site; the link here is to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul social justice office) and amid the debates over who is a good enough Catholic to receive communion, it doesn’t look as though the pastoral letter will get much of a hearing. It should. As Dickens might have said, the present crisis is so much like the past that they are almost indistingushable. And as the bishops say up top:


“Our faith calls us to measure this economy, not by what it produces but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person. Economic decisions have human consequences and moral content; they help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, advance or diminish the quality of justice in our land.”

Yes, I think there is a “Christian-omics,” so to speak, and one that is applicable to today’s crisis and future policies. But it takes into account the common good as much as individual freedom, and that does not play well among even those Americans such a vision would help, and especially in an election year in which shared sacrifice for shared benefit is not a crowd-pleasing line.  


BTW, the differing approaches may be summed up by the McCain and Obama responses, as summed up in a Times article today: McCain pointed to greed on Wall Street, Obama to lax regulation in Washington.


UPDATE: Click, don’t walk, to check out Mark Sargent’s review of the new Charles R. Morris book, “The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash,” reviewed here in the latest Commonweal magazine. (Morris is brilliant, and wrote the indispensible, “American Catholics.”) The full article is subscribers-only, but it costs a pittance, and you’ll save lots more in the long run. Here’s a taste:


A lawyer and former banker, as well as a distinguished writer on business and finance (and Commonweal contributor), Morris cuts through the bafflements of modern finance to explain why the credit markets crashed in October 2007. In the process, he demystifies financial terms and jargon, linking them in an overarching narrative that extends from the Nixon administration to today and offering a brilliant analysis of how the ideological paradigm of free markets and deregulation contained the seeds of its own destruction.  

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posted September 16, 2008 at 11:10 am

Obama-nomics is not Christian-omics. Obama-nomics dictates that FORCE should be the controlling factor of our lives — political, government force.
Christian-omics is about Liberty and Voluntarism, about loving your neighbor, not mutual enslavement.
If you love your neighbor, GIVE. Don’t use government to force your beliefs about giving on others. That’s not what Christ taught.

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posted September 16, 2008 at 12:53 pm

A Christian form of economics would be to not defraud your brother or sister in any service or product you provide. If they give you money for something, give them something of at least equal value in return, understanding that some profit has to occur to provide for your own existence. Such an approach allows one to participate in being our brothers keeper. An honest product or service for an honest price is the idea.
In providing charity, we are always struggling with the issue of the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. The undeserving poor hurt the charitable enterprise by taking advantage of the system. Many are substance abusers who are enabled by the charity to keep on leading a destructive lifestyle. And, they deplete resources that could actually help someone else.
In economic downturns, more deserving poor cycle into the charitible enterprises, and it is good when they can be helped. The community is strengthened. The problem is that during economic downturns, many of the charities find they are “tapped out.” The homeless shelter in my own is hanging by a thread because the state and county financial resources have dried up.

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Paul, seeking wisdom

posted September 16, 2008 at 1:30 pm

IF every person in America attended a church, temple, synagogue or Mosque and;
IF every person gave a true tithe and;
IF ever house of worship used that tithe as was intended, to serve the need of the community;
THEN we would not need a government to regulate what we are unwilling to do ourselves.
Not only are we called to give according to our ability, the corporations are also, under the Law of Moses, to do likewise. In fact they have a greater obligation because they have greater resources.
BUT because we fail to tithe, fail to worship God in service, we have placed the burden upon our government to force us to do what we should do naturally. All you “Christians” who fail to tithe and all you churches that fail to use the tithe to aid and assist your communities, you have robbed God and your tax dollars mean nothing to Him.
I may seem a bit “preachy” but that is the way it is. If you want to serve God, serve your nieghbor for the Love of God. If you don’t want the “Government” to pay the bill, pick up the tab yourselves. I’m tired of paying my tithe and picking up your tab through taxes, but because I Love God and my neighbor as much as I can, I’m not going to complain (much). And if my government need more money to do what is right befor God, I will continue to pay my portion to them.
My complaint is when they spend money on themselves and pay out gross amounts to failing corperations and power kings of energy who give littleback to the community.

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posted September 16, 2008 at 2:17 pm

The three scariest things for Christians are sex, death, and money. Of the three they are more willing to talk about the first two. As privatre as their sex lives or their faith may be, they are even more private, even secretive, about money. It is as if God’s power stops when the financial reports come on or the bank statement is opened. One of the most economically pornographic pieces in the Sunday newspapers each year is Parade magazines cover story on salaries around the country, from the most to least affluent (You want to look away but you can’t – and the reader is contstantly comparing what each person’s salary is to their own)
There is and has always been Christian-omics, it simply has not had a specific name. How we take in money through stewardship or pledg edrives, tithing, or special offerings are all Christian-omics. What we do with the money, either in mission, building, education or other programs is Christian-omics. Even how we are stewards of our facilities is part of this whole Christian-omic piece. The question is, do we reflect the lives of our members or model for our members?
This is not unique to Christianity. So perhpas there should be aheading for Religion-omics. Pastors and/or clergy who preach the properity “gospel” are certainly familiar with some aspects of this. But so are liberation theologins. I would like to see someone integrate liberation and prosperity theologies, just for curiosity’s sake. Until economics joins with sexuality and death on the chancel, in the sacraments, and in the pulpit it will forever be a mysterious force that no one really controls openly, but which will be exploited secretly by an abusive few.

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posted September 16, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Michael Novak is a good Catholic theologian when it comes to economics. On the Prot side, Craig Gay has written some good material on the sociological side of economics. Personally, I think creating hundreds of jobs in the community and providing affordable housing has been a pretty good form of Christian-omics.
Although the Bible is silent on the matter I think that Jesus made a profit when he was a carpenter. I am also sure that his services were top notch, not simply because of his deity, but because of his commitment to morality by not stealing from his customers in giving them poor quality work.

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David Gibson

posted September 16, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Winston: Thanks for the leads, and the comments.
And Jestrfyl, this will go on my bulletin board:
“The three scariest things for Christians are sex, death, and money…”

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posted September 16, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Paul: while i agree that the church has fallen in a lot of what it should be doing. There are still many of us who are tithing and serving the communities to which God has called us.
Secondly, the government is not really interested in doing what is right before God. The government is profit oriented. It is about the bottom line. I grew up in a country with socialized health care which is great if you have a critical situation, but heaven help you if you have a chronic condition because the money isn’t there to care for its people. It is one of the highest taxed nations in the world and there still is not enough money to do everything. I for one, would rather put my money directly into the hands of charities, humaniarian organizations and Churches, because there is NO way that the government knows what to do with it.

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posted September 16, 2008 at 11:38 pm

Mr Gibson,
Glad to help where I can. BOO!

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Charles Cosimano

posted September 24, 2008 at 3:36 pm

It would seem that Jesus would have been the last person I would have hired to do work for me because with all the time he spent off preaching, getting drunk at weddings and other such behavior he would not have time get the projects done. (To say nothing of his apparent psychotic break in the Temple when he attacked a group of honest businessmen with a home made flogger.)
And of course the history of economics shows that people prospered best when they prayed the least.

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