Voices Crying Out in the Wilderness

Everyone has a religion.  Oh sure, they may not call it a religion.  They might call it a philosophy, or a cause, or a political program.  But, at the end of the day, it is a religion.  It has a set of ideas that are at the heart of how that person views the world.  It has a set of beliefs about what is right and what is wrong.  It has saints and sinners.  It is functionally no different from Judaism, or Christianity, or Buddhism, or whatever.

There is a religion that is very popular in America (and other places, but particularly in America) that, until recently, has flown under the radar as being a religion.  Partially, this is by design--it cloaks itself in other forms that make it hard to discern its true identity.  It is ensconced in university departments and professional schools, where is portrays itself as a "social science"--as if it is simply describing the objective realities of the world, as opposed to advancing a particular vision of the world-as-it-should-be.  On my DirecTV service, three entire cable channels are devoted to it--in the main band of channels, too, not consigned to the outer darkness with the foreign language channels.  Political leaders of both parties go out of their way to pledge allegiance to it in public statements, and the slightest deviation from the tenets of this faith is punished severely by opinion leaders.

The religion I talking about worships a god called The Market.  The Market, you see, has a power that can only be seen as divine.  It takes the individual actions of billions of autonomous players (done for any reason or no reason at all) and magically aggregates them into an outcome that is perfectly logical and maximizes the best outcome for everyone.  Moreover (and counter-intuitively in light of The Market's claims to providing the best outcome for everyone), if you understand the deeper mysteries that The Market has to teach, you can turn it to your advantage.  Power, material possessions, status, influence, sex--all of these can be yours if follow what The Market has to teach you.  But The Market is a jealous god.  You must hold fast to its teachings.  You must not allow other values, such as solidarity or distributive justice, creeping into your thinking, less you become a heretic and call for the elements of The Market to be altered to accomplish those goals.  You must not allow anyone to interfere with the workings of the Holy Market.  Amen.

As anyone who follows any news, about anything, is aware, Pope Francis had some rather pointed things to say about The Market in his Evangelii Gaudium.  Mostly, he called it out for what it was--a religion that has become more and more successful in taking over the way we look at the world and our fellow man.  He called our attention to the human costs of this faith, in the form of impoverishment, exploitation, degradation, and despair.  Perhaps most importantly, he drew a line in the sand for those who profess to follow Christ--you cannot worship this god of The Market and the Son of God.  Indeed, we know this to be true because Jesus said so Himself--"You cannot serve God and mammon."

Predictably, the high priests of the religion of The Market took exception to Pope Francis's statements.  I won't go into depth about what they said, because Jon Stewart did a far better job than I could ever do.  Suffice to say, they are not willing to give up their Golden Calf.  Instead, they took a page out of a long-forgotten playbook, and called the Pope a Marxist.  That word, which perhaps had real meaning thirty years ago, is really a kind of ritual incantation at this point.  It is a way to invoke some of the shadows of the past to darken any attempts to bring some light to the current situation.

No, the Pope is not a Marxist when he criticizes "trickle-down" economics.  He is doing something far more radical than that.  He is bringing to light the fact that The Market brings with it a set of moral rules and attitudes, rules and attitudes that too often have been accepted uncritically by society.  He is calling us to be critical.  He is reminding us of what should be clear from the Scriptures--the morals of The Market are not compatible with the God of Sinai, not compatible with the God of the Prophets, and not compatible with the Word Made Flesh.  We are going to have to choose which god we are going to serve.

We should all think very hard about that decision, because it is not simply a question of morality.  David Simon, the creator of The Wire, wrote a similar jeremiad to Pope Francis's where he pointed out the potential, tangible consequences of our decisions.  Simon forces us to confront a reality that we, particularly in America, are not willing to take seriously.  Our collective worship of The Market can only go so far before it pushes against a truly irresistible force.

We're either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we're going to keep going the way we're going, at which point there's going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody's going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there's always the brick.

"There's always the brick."  That's the end-point that is staring us in the face.  Pope Francis, the child of Latin America, knows that Simon is right--he is seen it in his own back yard.  That's why his call seems to be so urgent.  He knows that, for people who have been dispossessed and demeaned and cast aside, there's always the brick.  Even here in America.


Last Sunday's Gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of Advent was about John the Baptist, calling people to repentance in preparation for the coming of Jesus.  But he was also calling them out of their complacency and sense of self-satisfaction:

Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:9-10).

Like John, Pope Francis, and others such as David Simon, believe themselves to be voices crying in the wilderness.  Will we listen?


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