June 4th, 2010
02:00 AM ET

My Take: The market has become God

Editor's Note: Jim Wallis is CEO of Sojourners and author of "Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street — A Moral Compass for the New Economy."

By Jim Wallis, Special to CNN

It was a difficult May for “the market.”

On May 6, the stock market plunged nearly a thousand points before recovering to close a few hundred points down. By month’s end, stocks had experienced their worst May in 70 years. It’s more evidence of a broken system - and that the market has become the end rather than the means. If we don’t rewire our values, our losses will have been in vain.

The cultural messages over the last several decades have clearly been: greed is good; it’s all about me; and I want it (all) now. Not ruthlessly following these maxims has become a sign of weakness and deficiency – or of being stupid for not looking out for “number one.”

Over the past 30 years or so, the market has become like an invasive species, devouring everything in its path. This is what idols often do. The rituals of consumption have replaced the practice of citizenship. And the identity of the consumer has replaced the identity of the citizen - even in the strategy of political campaigns, which are now just marketing blitzes to sell candidates.

When you divorce morality from economy, the moral health of society is the first casualty. And then we all begin to worry about where all the values have gone. When economics comes before values, we have idolatry. If the market ultimately defines what gets our attention, we will be defined by the moral limits of the marketplace.

Let me be clear. Performing necessary roles and providing important goods and services are not the same things as commanding ultimate allegiance. Idolatry means that something has taken the place of God. The market can be a good thing and even necessary, but it now commands too much, claims ultimate significance, controls too much space in our lives, and has gone far beyond its proper limits.

In what became a prophetic essay, the Harvard Divinity School’s Harvey Cox wrote about what was happening to the economy, without any moral or theological reflection, in a 1999 Atlantic Monthly article.

Called “The Market as God,” the piece said that there have always been a variety of different types of markets. But meaning or purpose for life, society, and all of civilization always came from different centers of society.

It has been a slow growth over the past 200 years, and an accelerated growth over the past 30 years, that has elevated “The Market” to a godlike status with godlike qualities. That is why all of this bears some religious reflection: The market now has all the godlike qualities - all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful, even eternal - unable to be resisted or even questioned.

But this crisis presents us with an opportunity, not just to be smarter and more prudent about our economic lives, but to change something much deeper - to reject the idolatry of our market worship, to expose the idols that have ensnared us, and to reduce “The Market” to simply “the market,” asking the market to again serve us, rather than the other way around. Indeed, it could be that the religions of the world might help lead the way here, challenging the idols of the market and reminding us who is God and who is not — a traditional and necessary role for religion.

Christianity and Judaism, in the Psalms, say that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world, and they that dwell therein.” These things do not belong to the market.

Let us also remember that human beings are merely stewards of God’s creation, not its masters. And we humans are the ones who preside over the market, not the other way around. Despite our differences, the religion of the market has become a more formidable rival to every religion than they are to one another.

But together, we could challenge the dominion of the market by restoring the rightful worship of God. The market’s false promise of its limitless infinity must be replaced with the acknowledgment of our human finitude, with more humility and with moral limits - which are essential to restoring our true humanity.

The market’s fear of scarcity must be replaced with the abundance of a loving God. And the first commandment of The Market, “There is never enough,” must be replaced by the dictums of God’s economy; namely, there is enough, if we share it.

The crisis of the Great Recession could do more than prompt a reset of our economic life. It could restore a sense of right worship.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jim Wallis.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Leaders • Money & Faith

soundoff (199 Responses)
  1. angela

    first – i'm really surprised an article like this made it on CNN. They usually are very quick to publish stories that talk about how hypocritical and messed up Christians are (and some are!) However, I think its pretty cool that this man is bringing MORALITY back into the picture.

    ***Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's ... and render unto God what is God's. And isn't it all HIS to begin with?

    ***For the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. Well, not ALL evils ... but MANY! I love how he talks about us all believing (being brainwashed into thinking) that we are #1 ... we are most certainly NOT #1 ... we are # last (or so we should be).

    PUT OTHERS BEFORE YOURSELF – be last! Nowhere did Christ tell us to "look out for yourself and screw everyone in the process" right? Where did our values go? Why are people so cut throat and willing to sell their soul for a few bucks?

    ***For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

    Hmm – come SOON JESUS – COME SOON!

    July 5, 2010 at 2:30 am |
  2. antoni caleca

    Money and power are gods for many. Capitalism and the free market is good, Socialism is bad and ends in tyranny, Capitalism is the best system, but it can be undermined by selfishness and greed, surely, much more the removal of God, from everything. The removal of God in our country began in the early 60s as God, the cross, the Bible, the Pledge of Alegiance, everything began to be removed from the schools that taught children morals. Certainly parental examples are more important, but as immorality crept in our society and families fell apart, the schools have had most of the influence. The American school system is devoid of God, therefore of teaching morality, conscience, the overall good of doing the right thing, justice. Why should we be surprised of what has happened. It's not the fault of Capitalism. It is the fault of our idiot leaders removing God from everything. Now, they want to replace God with Government, that's called Socialism, Marxism, the very tyranny that our forefathers were trying to escape. And look what has happened, we brought this on ourselves because of our spiritual ignorance. Obama will be voted out, the Republicans will create gridlock. Yet much damage has been done. And now Obama wants Kagan on the Supreme Court, certainly...so that these liberal ideas will be carried out in the courts when the Democrats will be outnumbered again for a time, so that the Marxist cause will not lose ground in the USA. Beware of Kagan, like Obama, SHE HAS NO EXPERIENCE, was a professor, never been a judge, a liberal with an agenda, a Progressive. Don't you get it? See the pattern? She's liberal, gay, for abortion rights, you can see the "know it all" look on her face like Obama. The elitist liberals believe they know more than us "stupid conservatives". We are in their way to bring about their ultimate power in their "Utopean State". It didn't find success in the USSR. The end result is always tyranny. These elitists all look and act the same. Why can't people see this? I am disgusted that CNN has again blocked me from making comments on many stories that are covered. My ideas I suppose are too revealing and are a menace to Obama's and Ted Turner's liberal agenda. So much for Freedom of Speech. Here's the only place I can find to comment on CNN. I am an accomplished Journalist and own a media outlet. I am not some bozo making some noise. News gathering is a serios business and we are loosing ground quickly. Now, a military interview must be cleared in advance and must only be held with designated people. This is a sign of "Government Control" of the media. We have already entered a dangerous zone. America is no longer the land of freedom, it is a joke today. Other nations have more freedom than us. I am moving elsewhere, I have had enough, read the writing on the wall "mene mene tekel upsaron"...it's in the Bible, refers to Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar, applies to us today: "Your kingdom will be taken away and given to another" Why? When the government becomes god, it is over baby! Game over! God steps in there! Check your history books, we have arrived.

    July 4, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • angela

      PREACH IT – yes, the second government takes over we are SO OUTTA here. And/or the second we turn from Israel ... it is all in the best history book of them all – if only people would do their homework 🙂

      July 5, 2010 at 2:32 am |
  3. Doesthislookinfectedtoyou

    Yeah right, capitalism has failed. What an outrageous lie. Government interference and arrogance has failed, not the free market.

    July 4, 2010 at 1:27 am |
  4. Hayne

    Either God rules the market, like everything else, God doesn't care about the market, or there is no God. In any of these cases, the current economic problems will not reset. Most people think that Greed is king in the market, but the truth is the customer is king. Companies bow and scrap to keep the customer happy, sometimes to the detriment of the employees. By the way, we are generally the customer, and a company that does not keep the customer happy soon ceases to exist. That is the basis of the market, service to the public, not greed.

    July 2, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  5. Torsten

    Maybe a few commentators may have a look outside the US.... The discussion about hte imaginery friend called GOD makes me wonder, if the people of the US are still living in the 20th century. Most people in Europe can´t see a real difference between those fanatic moslems in the East and the fundamental christians in the States...

    June 25, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  6. jesus 2.3

    I have not read all that has been written hear, but i would like to clear up something that was written about the formation of this country. Before this country was formed, there was the thought, and that thought was that 'Truth will set you Free'.
    The search for the meaning of this has been the source for many a revolution. The reason for this is because of the misunderstanding of what Freedom is.
    There are those who believe that freedom means to think and do whatever one may want to do;
    And there are others who desire freedom from worry, freedom not to worry about what happens in the next moment.

    Freedom is neither. Freedom is none other than the Buddhist concept of Nirvana, and the Bliss that is found when a person submits to the will of God.

    Because Christianity has made God a person, and Judaism has personified God, Western society believes that we all can be Gods and to that effect the market and the goverment, are the tools for achieving all that we desire. If we can't get it from the market, we'll get it from the State.
    There are those who believe that God is Love,
    and those who believe God is the Law,
    and then there are the politicians who believe they are above us all.
    In my mind, God is Reason, and Truth is Reality. God is no man, and God does not choose one people over another.
    To achieve the Freedom that Truth offers, one must realize that Nirvana is the same without a God,
    and that you must submit to God's will before you can achieve a Blissful state of being.
    To do this, you must walk the walk, and talk the talk. To put it bluntly, you must take responsibility for your conceptual realities and the physical reality you find yourself in. Once you have done this, you will have peace of mind,
    You must have peace of mind, before you can be certain that your actions will be peaceful. When you have joined me, you will not need to worry about any market.

    June 22, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
  7. CatholicMom

    Joe, you ‘believe’ that atheism is not a religion. You say it has no dogmas. Having no dogma IS the dogma of your religion. You ‘believe’ that science proves everything and you will accept a theory where proof is not evident. My religious ‘belief’ accepts scientific proof as right but does not accept theories as proof.

    An atheist’s religious ‘belief’ states there is no supernatural being, my religion states that there is. Two differing religious ‘beliefs’. You can assume there is no supernatural being and I CAN know there is. Who has the most mounting evidence to support their religion? You look around and ask ‘where did everything come from—the trees, the air, the water, you, me—is it from a ‘big bang’ or what, right? I look around and see the same thing and say ‘only a God could be so creative’—even if it started from a ‘big bang,’ who made the ‘big bang’ happen? So far which religion has the more logical answer?—only God could make the universe and put it in place—working with not a unit of matter to start with. Science knows that nothing can create its self out of nothing. So now I am closer to knowing God than I was before I thought about this Truth.

    My next question would be—WHY would God create you and me and all that He has—all the beauty of the universe that is seen and unseen? Your religion does not allow for thinking on this, does it? But my religion encourages me to seek out my Maker and get to know Him. Having done this for many years now, I have grown to love God for all He has produced-you, me, and everything! Do you know the love of your Maker? God is Love—He loves and proved His love for us by dying on the Cross so that we might have life everlasting. My religion has shown me the Way, the Truth, and the Life and I want it for all eternity. What has your atheism religion shown you that can take you happily into eternity?

    Your religion may tell you that eternity does not exist but because my God has given you reason [because He loves you, too, regardless of your religion!] you know that eternity does exist.

    So there you have it—two religions with specific beliefs. I will never leave my Catholic faith [religion], but others can and have; it is called ‘free will’ and everyone is given it out of love for them from God. Of course, some have come to love God and have found His Church and His Bible.

    May the Holy Spirit fill you with the grace of God, so that you will find Jesus Christ who wants all souls to enjoy eternity with Him forever. What LOVE!

    You are an amazing person just because God made you. Thank you for writing on this blog so I could get to know you.

    June 17, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  8. Ponter B

    "The market’s fear of scarcity must be replaced with the abundance of a loving God. And the first commandment of The Market, “There is never enough,” must be replaced by the dictums of God’s economy; namely, there is enough, if we share it."

    I agree with this statement, but it's not God. It's a systems approach resource based economy. Open your mind and eyes. Check out The Venus Project.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  9. ben

    Yes market is becoming like an invasive species. Look at the vaste it create. 90 percent of all goods you see in a supermarket are just toys like stuff and will be in garbage within an year. We should find a way to plant more trees and
    make woold based product which is environmental friedly.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  10. Captain Gort

    I wonder if "The Market" is Christian, Jewish, Buddist...or????

    June 11, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  11. Snotgrinder

    Gary... Nice to see there are other agnostics or free thinkers (those who come to their own conclusions about the world through their own experiences and conclusions, and not by the coercion of others).

    June 10, 2010 at 8:11 pm |
  12. Snotgrinder

    Bottom line: Whatever floats your boat is okay by me.

    We will all find out in death if we are wrong or right as atheists or faithful ones. Personally, I think there are more ramifications if you are atheist who find out that God exists rather than a holy roller who finds out they wasted their time praying.

    One more bottom line: Dead men (woman) tell no tales...nor do they blog. LoL

    June 10, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • Gary

      Thats the point we will not find out until we are dead. unless God reveals himself to us before hand...which he never has to me. A book written two thousand years ago is not revealing of anything....Agnostic not Atheist ..

      June 10, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.