love of money

Lisa Sharon Harper 5-30-2017

THIS SPRING I sat with former President Jimmy Carter and 150 others to talk about human rights.

Women and men from Pakistan, Iran, Israel, Palestine, DR Congo, Indonesia, South Africa, Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., and other nations attended the Carter Center’s #FreedomfromFear Human Rights Defenders Forum in Atlanta in the midst of a year marked by increased attacks on human rights and on the people who defend them.

Yuri Dzhibladze, president of the Moscow-based Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, shared what he had learned about authoritarian leaders by defending human rights in Putin’s Russia. “For authoritarian leaders to take power,” Dzhibladze said, “they must propagate the belief that they are the protectors of their countries. They must cast multiple actors as imminent threats.”

Donald Trump’s campaign declaration rang in my ears: “I alone can fix it,” Trump said at the GOP national convention. Inside the Beltway those words sounded insane, but, according to Dzhibladze, Trump was simply reading from the authoritarian leaders’ handbook 101. “In authoritarian regimes,” Dzhibladze said, “propaganda dehumanizes scapegoats. Meanwhile, devious enemies are always plotting against us.”

LaVonne Neff 5-21-2013
Golden calf, Genova / Shutterstock.com

Golden calf, Genova / Shutterstock.com

Last week Pope Francis spoke out against the cult of money. Here is how Catholic News Service's Carol Glatz summarized his remarks:

Pope Francis called for global financial reform that respects human dignity, helps the poor, promotes the common good and allows states to regulate markets.

"Money has to serve, not to rule," he said in his strongest remarks yet as pope concerning the world's economic and financial crises.

A major reason behind the increase in social and economic woes worldwide "is in our relationship with money and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society," he told a group of diplomats May 16.

"We have created new idols" where the "golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal."

LaVonne Neff 2-15-2012
Der Mammon und sein Sklave. Holzstich.via Wiki Commons, http://bit.ly/zom5Df.

Der Mammon und sein Sklave. Holzstich, 1896 via Wiki Commons, http://bit.ly/zom5Df.

Tuesday's New York Times carried a thought-provoking op-ed by David Brooks called "The Materialist Fallacy." I recommend that you read it: it's only 764 words long. Brooks argues that "in the half-century between 1962 and the present, America has become more prosperous, peaceful and fair, but the social fabric has deteriorated." This is not just because of job loss (the liberal explanation) or government intrusiveness (the libertarian explanation) or "the abandonment of traditional bourgeois norms" (the neo-conservative explanation).

It has more to do with declining social context and social capital, says Brooks, who never met a financial capitalist he didn't like. He really likes Charles Murray's new book, however: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. (If you're not up for the 416-page book, you might want to read Brooks's January 30 column in praise of it.) Both authors worry about nefarious social forces that are driving a wedge between rich and poor, productive and non-productive, law-abiding and outlaws.

Brooks is partly right, and so are his critics. Yes, there's a rip in our social fabric. Yes, it is caused or made worse by job loss, ill-advised government programs, and shifting (or abandoned) values. Yes, it diminishes social capital and impoverishes social context. But also, Mr Brooks, and perhaps fundamentally, our decaying social fabric is the direct result of our enthusiastic worship of Mammon--the love of money that is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

I don't need to remind anybody about rapacious financiers, bloated CEOs, unscrupulous lobbyists, and corrupt politicians. But there were plenty of those in the 1890s and the 1920s, and, as Brooks points out, the social fabric still stayed more or less intact back then. Even two World Wars and a Great Depression didn't unravel it. People still finished school, still got jobs, and still got married before having children, if not always before getting pregnant. Why did things start to break down in the 60s?

Subscribe