A Response to an interesting post about the Ground Zero story


My response is in the comments section of this link. The text of my response is also included below…

What a thoughtful piece. Hat tip to my friend Dr. Kenneth Howell for linking to this article. I do think that there is an answer to the malaise: the God we are worshipping is the God of economic indicators and corporate profits. The materialism of the unfettered “free market” and the heedlessness of the very wealthy who don’t care about the stability and well-being of the society that allows their business enterprises to flourish is the real issue at stake here. This materialism and market fundamentalism drives many of the other social problems mentioned here. I think Charles’s comments below agree in part with my preceding assessment.

I dare to requote your story discussing Pope Benedict’s visit to the empty Ground Zero site:

Like Plato, Benedict XVI emerged from this cave trying to make sense of these our shadows. The Twenty-zero-zero is increasingly an empty decade for America. A hole remains at Ground Zero. Mortgages are underwater. Two wars never end. New Orleans isn’t rebuilt. Our politics go paralyzed and polarized. We’re in debt. A lot of it. Rampant divorce. Broken Families. Mediocre education. America doesn’t have problems which it has ignored; we treat these traumas with our very best and yet they fester.

I must say that I think we do NOT treat these traumas with our very best and they fester and are indeed stoked by the corrupt and decadent power elite in this country who care little for the families, communities, and natural environment who are negatively impacted by the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

If businesses profit by doing the following: offshoring production jobs in order to cut labor costs and then re-import finished goods so as to boost profits, selling complex and deceptive financial products to desperate and gullible people, befouling the environment and the public health without concern for the consequences and with full willingness to shift the terrible costs onto the backs of the society at large, and avoiding paying taxes that support the schools, hospitals, roads, police, fire, and other vital social services so important to the basic public good.

We should follow the conservative tradition of Adam Smith, Karl Polyani, and others who recognize that the economy is a political creation and a social reality—not an abstract deity following hard and fast Cartesian mathematical principles. The link below contains a Charlie Rose episode from November 1994 not too long after the GOP swept into power in the midterm elections.


Rose’s guest is the late European businessman Sir James Goldsmith, a scion of old money and an old-fashioned conservative quite unlike anything seen in the contemporary “conservative” (I say it’s not about conserving but about destroying and regressing) movement. His arguments against unfettered globalization made then—including predictions of massive urban overcrowding in the developing world, massive destruction of rural communities and environments, the swelling populations of unemployed and underemployed people in wealthy countries in Europe, North America, and the Far East; and massively increased financial instability—ring true and are quite prophetic. We know the enemy—and it is that we have elevated an economic system and its riches people above the protection and the sustenance of culture and society. Economic and business concerns are important and valid; but democracy, community, family, faith, culture, and society (including meeting real human needs for healthcare, housing, and education) are primary and must be met FIRST. A serious believer in the teachings of Christ cannot disagree with this contention. If anything, the unquestioned support for the mythology and the theology behind the belief that “free” markets solve all social ills from amongst religious believers has done much to discredit the message of Christ and make it less visible in our society.

Pope Paul VI once said famously: “There can be no justice without charity, but there also can be no charity without justice.”

Martin Luther King, speaking in Harlem in April 1967, warned that America was dying a spiritual death at the hands of the twin evils of militarism and materialism. We need a charity-justice ethic to oppose the continuing corporate plunder of our society, or as James Goldsmith would have described it, “the devouring of society by the hands of the business elite.” We need the courage to look past the shiny edifice of the morally bankrupt economics profession and re-ground our understanding of what an economy’s true function should be: serve the well-being of the society as a whole and not the richest at the expense of the rest.

America has become a society of “the rich and the rest.” It is not a society that values and protects middle class people or affords working people the dignity they had fought so hard to earn by the mid-20th century. The duty of a moral person in public life is to envision this struggle for dignity as part and parcel of an authentically Christian calling.

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