Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Speaking of idolatry...

... I found this story about Christians praying for the US economy by placing their hands on the Wall Street bull jaw-droppingly ironic. (H/T Neil)

2 comments:

Julian said...

>So you have a bunch of Christians praying over a golden calf which looks suspiciously like idolatry. But then when you take it to its next level, they're not really praying to a statue, they're praying for the economy. But by meeting at the Wall Street Bull, they are essentially aligning themselves with the financial industry, which means they're really praying for Wall Street who, through their greed, has ended up causing misery for the entire nation. So in many ways these Christians are praying for an institution which is based on greed - and that, according to Paul in the Colossians, is idoltary.


Interesting logic. Wall street brass bull + Christians praying for economy = golden calf and Idolatry of Israelites. Furthermore financial industry = greed + misery for entire nation.

I admit that it is a bad PR move for Christians to be seen doing this.

Here are just some quick points:
1. Is the bull imagery of modern financial literature really equivalent to the fertility gods of the OT? Or is it a throwback to Greek literature describing the movement of a large number. You might argue that it is where people's hearts is that matter - but that is the issue in this story.

2. The financial industry issues in the US are as much about government regulation and the voter demand for this, as it is financial services greed. Most Christians have no problem praying for their government to make wise decisions. It follows that Christians should pray for government to make wise decisions in financial regulation.

3. Can you say for a second that your life, your education, stable government, well-policed suburb and well defended borders have not come from a healthy economy? That this is the way in which God has chosen to bless you in working out his plan for creation? I contend that the way God has worked in your life to this day cannot be separated from the operations of the economy (and God's work in that).

4. There are a lot of different categories within the financial services industry - the day to day banking with which you get paid, the insurance that covers the house you live in (if even your landlords), your superannuation. This is the financial machinery with which we build our churches, we pay for school scripture, by which we fund missionaries overseas.


So when you pray

"Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
Give us today our daily bread."

be aware that our glorious and gracious father continues to work out his purposes in creation through financial machinery such as this.


JG

(PS - I had this photo before I read this article).

byron smith said...

Julian - thanks for your comment.

Can you say for a second that your life, your education, stable government, well-policed suburb and well defended borders have not come from a healthy economy?
Yes. They have not come from a healthy economy. They have come from (reasonably) good government, well-trained and committed teachers, a police force that respects the law and so. A healthy economy is a shorthand, and perhaps you might use it as a shorthand for these goods, but I think it is a dangerous shorthand, since there are all kinds of economic activities that contribute to "a healthy economy" without contributing to the social good. The goal is not a healthy economy (as measured by GDP or an increase in production or a rising stockmarket or various other measures), but the common good. Insofar as a "healthy economy" contributes to the common good, then I am thankful for it. But the economy is not itself a goal and to treat it as such is destructive.

Idolatry is taking something that is good and making it god. To attack idolatry is to criticise the misuse of a good thing. This criticism need not imply that the thing in question is not good.

The image of praying to the bull may have some ironic references to OT Israelite idolatry, but it also has contemporary resonance in a social discourse that places financial security and economic growth over all other goods. These things are good, but when they are elevated as the highest goal, then they have been turned into idols and become destructive. So I can be quite thankful for insurance or banks or all kinds of economic activities that contribute to the common good, and yet still be deeply concerned about idolatry and greed.