Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Economic Prophets, Or [Mis]diagnosing Greed

During the "Roaring 20's" the Christian Century magazine had the moral and spiritual wherewithal to condemn the largesse of a nation basking in the unprecedented wealth of unrestrained capitalism. I found this article and I'm not sure what the author was even trying to say. Anyhow, I culled the following quotes from the article and found them hauntingly pertinent to our own Christian context. In my opinion, these quotes should have been the things coming out of the mouths of our Christian leaders for the last two decades! Instead, we got the Christian Coalition. I think that these men did some great things, but how often did you hear James Dobson or Pat Roberson or Jerry Falwell or Ralph Reed, or any of the other evangelical leaders say things like this:

"The desire for quick and unearned results is a national disease" (June 7, 1923).

They condemned a "speculative mania in America" that allowed for the rapid financial growth of some without the "accompanying trust to be carried on for the welfare of the whole people" (December 27, 1923).

One of their reporters wrote in 1924: "Unless we shift our weight Western civilization will enjoy an illusive prosperity and greatness for a time, but then will stagger, stumble and eventually collapse" (January 24, 1924).

Later, they referred to the economic boom as an "orgy of speculation" and argued that religion must "protest a social or industrial order in which men wallow in sudden wealth which they have not created while their fellows by the million face want" (March 22, 1928).

They saw that, in Wall Street, wealth had been separated from the activities that actually produce goods. Further, they saw human labor being replaced by machines and said that these issues presented "the church and civilization with moral issues as important as the elimination of war" (June 21, 1928).

Prior to the crash of the stock market, the editors condemned the church for capitulating to the capitalistic society. They wrote, "To put the matter bluntly, how far will a church, involved in the obligation to supply profits, question or disturb the premises and practices of a profit-seeking, profit-taking society?" (February 7, 1929).

The Century saw the crash of 1929 as an opportunity for "national sobering up" (November 6, 1929).

They pointed out the hypocrisy in the fact that Americans were quick to condemn racketeering as "the poor boy's easy road to quick wealth" while at the same time they ignored how "the son of a comfortable home seeks to make his pile and make it quickly" (August 6, 1930).

Further, when Roosevelt's New Deal did not set restrictions upon profits, they asked pessimistically, "Can human nature which has been so long conditioned by the stimuli of capitalism discipline itself while still subject to the same stimuli, to the point of curtailing its greed for profits when profits are to be had?" (August 30, 1933).

In the midst of the Depression, the Century urged pastors to look at the moral dimension of the situation: "Is the church genuinely a creative source of human welfare, or does it merely share in and decorate the goods created by economic and other secular forces?" (November 11, 1931).

America, I think we as Christians failed to diagnose your greed. We sinned right along with you. I'm sorry.

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