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Friday, June 21, 2024

The culmination of a brutal year for every aspect of the Western economic paradigm birthed a dismal Christmas retail season. The blind faith in overheated consumerism that fuels the economic engine of the world exploded over the last year - and even 8-pound, 6-ounce baby Jesus could not steer us clear of fiscal ruin.

Faith is necessarily blind - the belief in something that is not directly available requires a certain amount of devotion and conviction, whether one anchors their faith to an unseen organizing force or an untenable return on investments. Our prophets of profit, now exposed as charlatans and shysters, were promoted by an unquestioning media as combination shaman/celebrities for the past two decades. The real American idols were not carrying any tunes but rather toting briefcases and practicing slash-and-burn farming on fiscal regulations.

Once the regulatory landscape was suitably barren, a cult of personality grew up around investors who brought back big returns. None more so than Bernie Madoff, who descended from Mt. Nasdaq with two mystical Blackberries and built what the Wall Street Journal called "the atomic bomb for Jewish charities."

In Western Europe, religious voices have begun a wide-ranging dialogue on finance and faith. The Financial Times, a British newspaper focusing on economic issues, has been chronicling the growing chorus of Christian voices opposed to our deregulated hyper-capitalism. In Germany, Bishop Wolfgang Huber accused Josef Ackermann and Deutsche Bank of "a form of idolatry" by establishing the shaky goal of pretax returns on equity of 25 percent.

Quite clear is Huber's assertion that money has become a god of our cratered and uncertain fiscal landscape.

An article in the same paper only a few days before quoted Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as he forcefully inserted himself into the British discourse on this most urgent crisis of faith. Williams told the BBC that the sorry state of world economies represented "sort of a reality check" and "a reminder that what I think some people have called fairy gold is just that - that sooner or later you have to ask: 'What are we making or what are we assembling or accumulating wealth for?'"

Assembling meaning from life is a far more difficult proposition than accumulating wealth, as any Joe McMansion can attest to.

More than 20 years ago, Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the potential demise of our economic system due to hollowed-out ethical tenets and our lust for the paper over the papal. The Pope foretold of wholesale and systemic economic collapse when the ethical concerns for community and family took a backseat to pure profit motives. This opinion has become increasingly valuable as deregulation squeezes out more and more of the flailing middle class.

Certainly, our modern societies cannot reasonably cleave faith and money - but newspapers all over our country are chronicling how the economic crisis is coercing the masses into church pews. With this shove from reality, the country is now dependent upon the pontificating voices of easy-credit-compatible American evangelism to sing a new tune.

The need for change is certainly far from a hidden conclusion - you know it was a bad year for our false American idols when there are more stampede deaths in one morning at Wal-Mart than over the five days of Hajj.

Tommy Maple is a journalism graduate student. His column appears on Tuesdays.

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