Not being a member of the American “Investor Class,” with the exception of a few small retirement savings accounts, I have been following the stock market and the events of the past week and a half with more interest than I would normally give to that activity. I spent a number of years as a high school social studies teacher, and actually went back to school to get some additional training in order to be more effective at teaching the senior level, required Economics course, and that exposure, along with recent events, leave me wondering about the entire financial industry and the way we go about counting our material resources.
From a Christian perspective, in which I was raised and have spent the majority of my life, there is, of course, a well known Bible verse that is frequently cited as being supremely authoritative with regard to our worldview when it comes to money. Paul’s advice to Timothy, found in I Timothy 6:10, seems to be pretty clear.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Ouch! Literally, I mean.
So there is one of the great oxymorons of American culture. On the one hand, there is the fact that American history is, for the most part, steeped in Protestant Christian culture and heritage, and there is a movement among conservative Evangelical Christians to drag it back into that tent. On the other hand, there is the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, Standard and Poors, and everything that goes along with the daily exchange of billions of units of value measured by a green printed piece of paper with George Washington’s picture on the front. The country’s attention is far more focused on Wall Street than it is on anything else. And a good number of those same conservative, Evangelical Christians have sold themselves out completely, worldview and all, to policies and politicians which have far more to do with the conducting of that business than with anything related to their faith or the morality that is supposed to be the evidence of it.
It is very disconcerting to realize that the value of your life’s work, your personal livlihood, and your entire net worth is determined and controlled by circumstances that are well beyond your control. It is even more disconcerting to take note of the fact that the whole system functions, not on a dependable, regular, mathematical system of numbers, but on rumors, speculation, information leaks and even misinformation and wild guesses. The 620 point drop a couple of days ago came as a result of a rumor that the credit rating of France, like that of the US, might be downgraded by Standard and Poors. Our bottom line is literally dependent on fewer than 1% of the population, who hold a significant percentage of the nation’s wealth in their bank accounts, who are all trying to turn the massive wealth that they have into more wealth by second guessing where the value of stocks and bonds will go, who buy low and sell high and never have a worry from day to day about whether they can make their mortgage payment or their car payment, or have a concern about what they will do if their health insurance premium is raised so that the company can turn a bigger profit.
What’s even more crazy than that is the fact that, as the stock market has come back from its lowest point since the Depression, the jobs didn’t come back with it. American workers do get paid more, mainly because they come into the business world with better training, more skills, and tend to be very productive. The business corporations that are based in this country have become the biggest in the world because they employed Americans who took pride in their work. But companies no longer seem willing to pay for the quality labor they get from their fellow citizens. They prefer to exploit the cheap labor of the third world. So the jobs have not come back in the volume that they once did, because greed has replaced trust in the way business is done, and the corporate culture has put up the money to elect politicians who will allow this practice to continue. Loyalty and gratitude are values which have exited the American free enterprise system.
Some people just think that’s the American way. We’ve always been a nation that talks a lot about human values and morality, but in practice, we put most of our energy into the pursuit of the dollar. If that’s true, then what does that say about the influence of Christianity on the culture?