Rich Mayfield: A crisis of biblical proportions
If you want a theological analysis of the current financial crisis you’ll have to go back to the beginning … and I mean the very beginning with Mr. Adam and his lovely wife Eve.
Whether you understand the goings on in the Garden of Eden as historical fact or ancient mythology really doesn’t matter because either way the message is the same: When it comes right down to it, we humans are a pretty selfish lot.
Even the unreligous probably know the story. There they are, the very first man and his very first mate with everything they could ever need to live happily ever after. They begin their pleasurable if daunting task of procreating the rest of the planet when they decide that having their every need satisfied isn’t enough. So they pick that famous fruit and the rest is, well, if not history then a pretty good way of explaining why we humans always seem to want more than we already have.
Some folk call it Original Sin. Others temper the religious language by pointing toward what they perceive as our inherent imperfection. Books from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” to William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” have pursued this troubling theme and, over and over again, found the truth in its problematic proposal: When left to our own devices, we inevitably get downright devious.
So it does seem rather curious that the caretakers of our nation’s economic policies, particularly those who often claim their allegiance to a conservative form of Christianity, were so clueless about their abrogating responsibility. As the restraints and restrictions on financial institutions fell by the wayside in recent years, as CEOs and hedge fund managers pocketed astronomical personal assets, as the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission buried his own head in the sand and the members of Congress continued to turn their well-fattened cheeks, it’s no wonder, most theologians would say, we’ve wound up in the mess we are in. Instead of just swearing an oath on the Bible, maybe our publicly pious religious representatives should begin to read it.
One of the conclusions it would seem easy to draw from the morass on both Wall and Main streets is that an unfettered free-market economy may work in theory, but when put into practice we all wind up somewhere east of Eden. The ancients obviously knew it. We moderns are quickly coming to realize it as well.
One of the purposes of government is to protect society at large from the shenanigans of the few. Enacting reasonable restrictions that seek to prevent the calamity of self-indulgence now taking place in our country and around the world is a responsibility that has been, if you’ll pardon me, sinfully ignored by our leadership.
The lessons of history have been obviously lost on those authorities who bear the responsibility of oversight. The evidence passed down over the eons has been passed over by leaders who should have known better. Great civilizations have often fallen not from conquerors outside the gates but corruption inside its walls.
So what now? Again we can turn to the wisdom of the past for guidance into the future. One ancient and sacred book admits that “God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and unjust.” In other words, “Life ain’t fair.” and that truism is made even more painful as we watch so many of the perpetrators of this latest financial fiasco go unpunished. Perhaps this passage that points to the innate injustices of our common existence will temper our outrage but I hope not. I would rather it fuel our commitment to recognize reality, and begin to shape a society where such infuriating indulgences are seen for what they are, and regulations are put into place to protect us from the ever recurring truth first “discovered” in the Garden of Eden.
Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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