How we got where we are today

[I’m still crunched for time, so this is going to be another re-run. I thought it might be interesting, though, to remember where we were four years ago, and how we got there. Here’s a post inspired by the late Chuck Colson, originally published Sept. 20, 2008]

Chuck Colson has an, um, “interesting” perspective on the recent financial turmoil. He begins by conceding that there may be legitimate cause for concern.

Most of us have been badly shaken by the tumultuous events of the last 48 hours in Wall Street. If you have an IRA or some kind of retirement plan, no doubt you’re licking your wounds. You may even be fearful. I understand. I’ve experienced those apprehensions myself.

As an influential Christian leader, however, Colson has to remain focused on the really important issues, like “How can I use this crisis to persuade even more people to trust Christianity?”…

But as I told a worried young man on our team today, we need to remember that fear is always the enemy of faith. A few months ago, in the midst of fervent prayer during my devotions, I had an especially strong realization that my life was completely in God’s hands. To live is Christ, to die is gain. I’ve known that intellectually, but for the first time in my life, it is now engraved in my soul. Now, when things go wrong, I turn to God, pray, trust Him, and feel an amazing peace. I’m His.

Don’t think of it as a major economic crisis brought about through greed, gullibility, and failure of government oversight. Think of it as a clever technique God uses to help us grow more trusting and to be less concerned with real-world consequences. After all, if we worried too much about preventing such crises, we might deprive God of valuable opportunities to lead us into disasters that will force us to cry, “God help us all, because sure as hell nobody else can!”

Colson seems to realize, at least, Who is ultimately responsible for the current mess.

And you know what else? The financial markets are His. The world is His. I don’t know why it took me 35 years to get this, but I finally have.

Ok, sure, to those of us who aren’t in on God’s wonderful and mysterious plan, it looks like God’s management of His financial markets has led to wealth for a few greedy individuals and major financial hardships (to say nothing of financial ruin) for many others. At least He means well, right?

But wait, even though the markets are supposedly in God’s control, their current state is not really God’s fault after all:

What’s more, there’s a great opportunity for you to explain the importance of a biblical worldview to your friends. Because these financial troubles are the direct result of our nation turning its back on God.

No, Chuck, these financial troubles are the result of a lot of people gullibly believing whatever men tell them, just like you want them to merely take your word for it that God is in control and is making everything good no matter how bad the real world evidence shows it to be. And of course this crisis is also the result of government policies that emphasize promoting the profits of big business even at the cost of important consumer safeguards. That’s something our born-again conservative Christian president is real big on, isn’t it?

Colson ignores the financial and legal factors that led to this crisis in favor of blaming one of his favorite scapegoats: “moral relativism.”

Simply put, the rise of relativism in postmodern Western life has led to the collapse of a moral consensus. With everyone making up his own rules when it comes to right and wrong, is it any wonder our economic system is under stress?

The problem isn’t that everyone is making up their own rules, it’s that too many people (and people in high places no less) are making up their own facts, so-called, and are using the power of talking points to push an alternative “worldview” that doesn’t match reality. Any time this happens, there are going to be consequences. You can stretch the truth only so far before it snaps back into place. And woe betide those who get caught in the backlash.

Colson’s “solution” to the financial crisis is to work even harder to reinforce the same absence of skepticism, the same focus on spiritual (i.e. subjective) values, and the same “God is in control” fatalism that gave business the green light to inflate their own profits at the expense of consumer safety. For all that Colson complains about an alleged loss of “moral concensus,” he only treats greed as “immoral” when it leads to (yet another) major crisis. And this moral ambivalence about greed is also a contributing factor in the current financial mess, and not a solution to it.

My wife and I were talking about finances a few years ago, and she was telling me about what great deals all her friends were getting (some as low as only $200/month payments on a 4-bedroom single-family home). It sounded too good to be true, and my Skept-a-larm was clanging like crazy. “There’s no way the banks can be making a profit at those rates,” I said, and we decided not to refinance. Because of that, our home is still on a fixed-rate, low-interest mortgage, and our payments are fairly constant (plus or minus property taxes and what-not). The same skepticism that makes me suspicious of Colson’s bland don’t-worry-be-happy faith in Jesus also made me suspicious of these too-good financial promises.

So to all you faithful, financially-troubled Christians out there, who followed your born-again administration’s policies into financial ruin, I have a small word of hope: it’s not too late to begin to exercise a little less gullibility and a little more healthy skepticism. Really, it’s in your own best interests to take a grain of salt when men start making unsubstantiated promises that offer too much while showing too little. And that’s true whether we’re talking mammon or God.

4 Responses to “How we got where we are today”

  1. Skeptic Griggsy Says:

    ” Faith,however defined,doth that to people.”Fr.Griggs

  2. Nemo Says:

    Fear, the enemy of faith? No, fear is faith’s best friend. Faith is what people turn to when they’re afraid, and they’ve run out of ideas.

  3. Thorne Says:

    I agree with Nemo. Faith feeds on the fears of the uninformed/uneducated.

    And the same applies to the financial crisis. It’s fear that makes people dump their stocks and 401K investments at the first hint of a problem. I kept mine, held on tight, and they recovered, just as I suspected they would.

  4. Loren Petrich Says:

    How is this causality is supposed to work? Do they believe that God fixes economies like the way he fixes elections and sports games?

    I also note a curious tone of Pollyannaishness and Panglossianism. Almost as if Chuck Colson would consider it for the best if he was subjected to eternal damnation.

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