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. righteous-in-Christ

    Because there are more believers in this nation than Atheists, Agnostics and most religions.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:23 pm |
  2. Trevor, Austin, TX

    C'mon Jim, get with it! There is no God!

    June 4, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      Trevor, with all respect, we get this all the time. How can you prove to us that God doesn't exist when many of us have experience God's divine Spirit? The physical eyes are deceiving and therefore can not see God, but it takes the spiritual eyes of the heart to really see God, open them up.

      June 4, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
    • Goodw/ogod

      ric, the reason that no one can prove that god doesn't exist (which, even if we can't, it doesn't really add any evidence to your beliefs, does it?) is because there is nothing there to prove. Carl Sagan always said it best. When people would ask him about the existence of god he would always respond very briefly by saying that there was nothing to talk about. And there literally is nothing there to talk about. People who believe in god will also generally reject the idea that there is any other metaphysical or paranormal existence even though their beliefs have just as manyif not more underlying assumptions. The physical eyes are indeed not an ideal source for knowledge or truth, but nioether is a non-existent non-embodied "heart" which doesn't have any kind of eyes with which to perceive. Just as the physical eyes need the imagination center of the brain, your spiritual heart's eyes need it even more in order to conjure up god. Your "experiences" are those that are experienced by people who practice meditation and yoga. Heck my first kiss felt like an other-worldly experience. It can all (luckily) be explained by science. You sound like Descartes. Which is a bummer because nobody ever thought h e was right, then or now.

      June 5, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • Gary

      Walnut creek and barton creek greenbelt mountainbike trails are proof there is a loving lord...

      June 8, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  3. righteous-in-Christ

    @ jk8 – You tell me that I make Christians look back and than in the other comment you say that you are on my side? What's up with you?

    June 4, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      I meant to say:

      "You tell me that I make Christians look bad....."

      June 4, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
    • jk8

      We should be in a chat room LOL. See posted comment. It's nothing personal It's just how we've been trained to talk

      June 4, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ


      @righteous slow down! I'm on your side...I think. All I'm saying is Jesus' teachings are now being turned into what we want them to be. Calm dowm you make us all sound like raving loons....FAITH HOPE & LOVE that's it! Not money or the Markets!

      June 4, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      @ jk8 – Trained to do what? It's bad enough that Atheist comes against us and now we do the same thing? Where is the Love? I love my brothers and sisters in the Lord and the very one to back them up...I am my brother's keeper, as I am yours!

      June 4, 2010 at 10:15 pm |
    • Goodw/ogod

      Then maybe Christians ought to actually "keep" their brothers. Sheesh. Its the atheists and really the non-theists who "keep" thier friends. You don't see us having to jump all over each other to decide who has the more direct hotline to the truth, who uses the Christian jargon the best and who can spout off the most verses. Probably has something to do with the atheists being based in reality and not being tied up in another life that will never happen.

      June 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  4. Jim Bob

    Mammon, not money, is the root of all evil.

    June 4, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
  5. Richard Horan

    Jim Wallis, were were you in the 70's when the dow hit 550, Stocks go up and they go down, wake up

    June 4, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
  6. Allah

    I'm the only true God you infidels. Death to all your false gods.

    June 4, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      ALLAH 1, ALLAH, 2, ALLAH 3.....YOU'RE A LOONEY....LOOL! Jesus Christ is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, God of allah and your God, my God and everyone's God!!

      June 4, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
  7. ThinkAgain

    Ok, first off...why is it that a person who happens to be wealthy–and probably has worked his tush off to get there–should have his comments devalued just because of this? Also, this article was not evangelical in nature–why can't the man be allowed to write an article and have his ideas considered WITHOUT many of you assuming this is only about his particular brand of religion?

    Here's the deal: everyone deserves to have their ideas given consideration, no matter their particular flavor of faith. And his idea here–if you actually take time to consider his point–is that the human race has gotten a little to full of itself. We've put our philosophy–PHILOSOPHY, not absolute, beyond-a-doubt truth–about economics, free enterprise, and our concept of wealth up on a serious pedestal. If you are a Christian-oriented person, then sure, take his article word for word. But even an athiest should be able to read this article and understand the point: something in this whole debacle is seriously out of wack. And it's not the market, and it's not the government, and it's not big business: it's us. We've developed two really problematic traits.

    First, we think we're invincible and don't have to answer to a higher power as a society. I have news for you: whether you believe in a literal God or not, there is justice and injustice in this world. Right and wrong. And vanity is wrong. Vanity is putting overwhelming stock in material things, because as we've all seen, they can disappear or be devalued in an instant. Secondly–perhaps the root cause of our vanity–we don't have faith in anything! If everyone could get on board with believing in each other and the potential for human good, we could literally accomplish anything. But we're all too busy tearing each other down!

    Athiests: dismiss God if it isn't your cup of tea. But stop brushing aside ideas from anyone who does see value in God. Some of the smartest–and better yet most kind–people throughout history were and still are people of faith. Belief in God DOES NOT NEGATE INTELLECTUAL CAPACITY! And Christians: stop insisting on this being a Christian nation and knocking the Athiests for being cynical. On the first count, you're both wrong: the Founding Fathers had a very odd history with religion, even more strange philosophies of how faith and government should or should not integrate, and the strangest personal faiths you may ever coume across! I dare say that's what happens when very intelligent people try to tackle life's ultimate questions! On the second count, can you blame Athiests for their viewpoint? The disaster train that is the world's religious history is not reassuring! Stop yelling at Athiests that they're possessed by Satan–1)doesn't make your point; 2) how rude! Do you really expect to be respected now? Whatever happened to WWJD? Isn't there some lesson about...hmm...maybe speaking and acting with kindness in the face of injury? Insulting someone is not a command from the Bible, in defense of your God or not!

    No one's going anywhere. And live and let live is not enough. We have to start engaging; we have to learn to value the point of what others say; we all need to lose the incessant need to be right all the time!

    Something to bridge the gap: Jim Wallis is a social liberal. He does not appear to be interested in converting anyone with his politics, but rather is interested in a progressive social agenda. Yep, if you talked religion with him, he'd probably say he's all about Jesus. Good for him, whatever floats his boat. He is not a Bible-beating conservative. He is a very interesting personality and has more than enough intelligence to distinguish between his personal faith and moral imperatives that this world needs to wake up and support. If you all actually read some of his books, you'd find that the man genuinely focuses on making politics a more honest business and reinstating a sense of humanity in our society. No matter what your belief or non-belief, you'd be crazy to call this a bad thing.

    June 4, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
    • jk8

      Well put

      June 4, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
    • jk8

      my only issue...and it is small, is that he he using religion to sell tix to the show (story) but I agree

      June 4, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
  8. jk8

    What makes me sick is is the grouping of God and $$ in this story. Didn't Jesus say to not seek "worldly possesiones"? The whole thing to me is a cluster F

    June 4, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      What do you know about Jesus to give this claim? He meant not to seek "worldly possessions" more than God! God is the owner of all silver and gold! He doesn't need us, we need God!

      June 4, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
    • jk8

      @righteous slow down! I'm on your side...I think. All I'm saying is Jesus' teachings are now being turned into what we want them to be. Calm dowm you make us all sound like raving loons....FAITH HOPE & LOVE that's it! Not money or the Markets!

      June 4, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      I know you are...LOL, and I read your post after you posted the second one! I am on your side, I apologize....GOD BLESS YOU!

      June 4, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      I meant to say that I read your first post before you posted your second one. : – )

      June 4, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
  9. jeff

    If the market is "god" it is shurley doomed to fail.

    June 4, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      Jeff, if the market and America kicks God out, it is surely doomed to fail and we are seeing it with our very own eyes!

      June 4, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  10. Surthurfurd

    The US has far more in common with the Roman Empire that Jesus lived under than we would like to believe. We seem to have assumed that claiming we are a Christian nation means it is so. Yet, we have adopted the Prosperity Gospel approach where we assume that those who are wealthy and healthy are so because God favors them and the opposite for the poor. This is so completely opposite of Jesus' teachings that it is near blasphemy.

    June 4, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      Well said! God isn't in favor of all wealthy and health people! Some are doom to h3ll. What profits a man to gain the whole world, but loses his soul? ((Mark 8:36))

      Did you know that when you spend your life focused on ANYTHING more than God, you are breaking the 1st and 2nd Commandments??

      You are in fact putting another "god" before the Lord God and "worshipping an idol". An idol is not just a statue that you might bow down before, it is ANYTHING that takes your time, energy, attention and commitment AWAY from God!

      "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2:10)

      The Bible clearly states that if you have broken just ONE commandment, you have in effect broken them all and you are guilty of the punishment of death and an eternity in hell.

      "For the wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23)

      "The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." (Psalm 9:16-17)

      "Every man shall die for his own sin."
      (2 Chronicles 25:4)

      Jesus warned: "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

      June 4, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
    • jk8

      Read your post after I commented...you are right on!!!

      June 4, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      jk8, glad you read it! God bless you in abundance!!!

      June 4, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      @ jk8 – How is that? What is wrong with using the word "ABUNDANCE'"? What kind of Christian are you?

      John 10:10-1110The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (Abundance). 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

      June 4, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
    • jk8

      I'm a God fearing Southern boy, that also understands that spouting off words that were used in the 1800's, makes christians sound like crazy people...its nothing personal....It' s hust a peev....sorry

      June 4, 2010 at 10:00 pm |
  11. lance

    south park was making fun of this concept 2 years ago.

    Glad everyone else hopped on the train.

    June 4, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
  12. rick masters

    The old biblical saying, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto You", has more meaning in our present day than in mankinds entire human experience. A simple lesson from our Father. As our relationships become more complex this simple truth stands out as our only way to not only survive the dailey tests we endure, be it global confrontations, environmental issues or personal problems of any sort. I really think our Lord included all of his creation when he said the above. We are not the only living beings that make this planet special, but we are there caretakers. I truly hope we live up to his expectations.

    June 4, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
    • MikeP

      I fear the day when the masochists of america begin to live by that trite little saying, walking the streets with whips and cattle prods doing unto others....

      June 4, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
    • rahnbj

      well said

      June 9, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  13. Gods Warrior

    What a well written article and so true to the world we live in today. We put the penny before god and he will damn us. This market/system will not restructure itself until we structure our inner selves towards the lord.

    June 4, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  14. Brain Doc

    We will all perish together if we do not REPENT. The idolatry that exists in America does not go unpunished, and will not be overlooked by the Almighty LORD GOD of Israel, and his holy Son JESUS CHRIST. Please, please put him first, he is and has always been our only hope.

    God bless.

    June 4, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      AMEN! GLORY TO GOD! THIS IS WHY WE ARE SEEING AMERICA FALLING APART! Keep thinking that the illegals are the cause of our corruption!! If America didn't have followers of Christ, God would have destroyed this nation as He did Sodom and Gomorrah! God is our only hope!

      June 4, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
    • Guy Montag

      I thank my very existence every day that Atheism is spreading, and idiots like you are becoming less and less acceptable.

      Religion is a sickening sham, and comments like these make me even more proud to be an Atheist.

      June 4, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      @ Guy Montag – The only idiot fool denounces God! As you are being confused, you need to seek God so He can prove to you of his existence. Also, religion is not of God. God is seeking to have a spiritual RELATIONSHIP in Christ Jesus! Atheism is of Satan and as I see, Satan is still angry of the fact that he lost the victory when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead!

      Just as in the days of Noah, people mocked God and made fun of Noah. Noah warned many of what was going to happen and they didn't believe in him. The door to the ark was opened for a very long time and when the time came, God, not Noah, closed the door to the Ark and immediately started to rain heavily. People were scared and ran to Noah and knocked on the door and begged Noah to open the door, but Noah said, "God warned each and every one of you and you didn't believe. You didn't enter the door that God opened to all. It was big enough for all of us, but you mocked God. Now, God has shut the door of the Ark and I can't open it." This is the same thing that we are experiencing today. The door of God's kingdom is open and God is sending His people to preach the Kingdom of God to those that are lost. Many today are mocking God and His people, but the day will come when the door to the Kingdom will be shut and many will be as in the days of Noah, knocking, begging to enter in, but it will be too late!

      June 4, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
    • NewWicca

      Satan is a Christian deity and only found in Christianity. No other religious belief has a Satan. There are gods of the dead and underworld, but they are not the same as Lucifer or the fallen angel of biblical repute. Satanic worship is a twisted form of Christianity, not a pagan religion. Atheists don't believe in Satan, either...he's one of yours!

      June 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  15. Brain Doc

    We will all perish together if we do not REPENT. The idolatry that exists in America does not go unpunished, and will not be overlooked my the Almighty LORD GOD of Israel, and his holy Son JESUS CHRIST. Please, please put him first, he is and has always been our only hope.

    God bless.

    June 4, 2010 at 7:35 pm |
  16. Jasen

    I will pray for all of you:)

    June 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
    • Brain Doc

      Amen, we all need it right now more than ever.

      God bless.

      June 4, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      Thank you, Jasen! We all need God! He and only He alone can sustain us! With out Him, we are doomed, nothing!!

      June 4, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
    • Tastyfish

      Through prayer and meditation on the Bible thought I've had my most best, most profound thoughts come to the fore, put there by our Creator.

      June 4, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  17. Robert Wooller

    This is outrageous if it has. I mean, religion is meant to be something whch is free of capitalist interests and it clearly isn't. If you go around America there are many tv channels advertising religion as if it were money or a DVD. And I agree the recession will force us to gain comfort in the Bible than in tv or the Lottery. Religion is there for all. It is no market, as God is bigger than that.

    June 4, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  18. Sleemium616

    Worshiping a dollar bill is at least worshiping something tangible. When someone finally creates an unabashed Church of Money, I predict they will get rich quick.

    June 4, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
  19. VK

    For some reason I just don't think Jesus would get behind something like Free Market Capitalism. Of course he's been dead for a long, long time... so odds are good he wouldn't get behind anything. As for God, I think history has proven his/her/shim/its actions are questionable at best. Yet another reason the world should worship Me. You'll get nothing in return save my love. I mean that.

    June 4, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  20. jpl89

    Lots of fervent belief systems have similarities to religion. But for a belief to be religion, I say the belief must incorporate a supernatural being, a being who cannot be known by the human mind, innaccessible to experimentation or testing, and unbound by any kind of natural law that can be discovered by humans.

    If anything the market libertarians are every bit as materialistic as the old Marxists. They see nothing outside of economics and try to define all human interaction in terms of trading. And I think that is sad, because we are losing touch with our social needs. We are increasingly socially isolated, miserable and mad because we're not filthy rich.

    Conservatives are no better. Instead of the moral guidance provided by religion, the conservatives have also replaced religion with the market, which is supposed to pass judgement and reward good behavior. The problem is that the market is about as unpredictable as Yaweh of the Old Testament. "The market" has become just another way for conservatives to discard the people who are inconvenient.

    And, finally, the liberals have tried to destroy any semblance of discipline. Instead they worship pyramids, crystals, and create fantasy land propaganda like "The Secret" where hard work and discipline are denigrated, and you can have whatever you want by wishing for it like a 3 year old.

    I'm sick of the whole rotten bunch of them.

    June 4, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
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About this blog

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.