Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The gods of Wall Street

Yesterday was a public holiday here.  It's officially known as the 'Day following the Mid-autumn Festival'!  Being in a relaxed mood, I switched on the morning news.  There were pictures of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ike in Texas, but the hurricane that was getting the most attention was the one threatening the imminent demise of Lehman Brothers with speculation that it would soon devastate Merrill Lynch and AIG, not to mention other banks and financial institutions as well.  For those in Texas who have lost their homes inevitably it's the damage caused by Hurricane Ike that matters most, but this hurricane which has just hit Wall Street looks like it will leave devastation everywhere across the world.

For someone like myself, who is not particularly knowledgeable about economics, the hardest thing to grasp in all this is the utter stupidity of those who have brought this financial crisis on us all.  Those who were meant to be the best of the best when it came to financial management and investment engaged in business involving billions of dollars the like of which most of us wouldn't have even risked in a game of monopoly.

Sadly, this isn't monopoly.  People have lost real homes, jobs, and livelihoods.  For most of us in the western world the past few years have seen incredible financial growth.  It's as if we have been celebrating the victory of capitalism as the only credible philosophy and way of life. Yesterday the party finally came to an end.  Now there is only the clearing-up to do.

For the Christian seeking to comment on these events there is both a temptation and a challenge.  The temptation to be avoided is the temptation to gloat and adopt an 'I told you so' attitude.  For those on the verge of losing everything to be told that there is more to life than money is cold comfort.  Christians sounding superior is not what we need at the present time.

The challenge though is to provide some kind of ideological and moral leadership that seeks to step into the vacuum left by the demise of communism, which recognizes the need for financial growth and development, but which rejects the idolatry of capitalism.  For the past ten years or so it has seemed that only Islam has been capable of providing a coherent world-view as an alternative to capitalist idolatry.  Maybe this is because too many of us as Christians have allowed ourselves to be caught up in the worship of the gods of Wall Street.  We need a Christian theology that isn't so other-wordly that it has nothing to say to people in the real world in which we live and do business, but which isn't so in thrall to the gods of this world that it becomes just a religious version of capitalism. 

In the meantime, we can only pray for those made unemployed, bankrupt, and homeless by human greed and love of money.   

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