The whole Occupy Wall Street protests have been fascinating to watch. Even moreso is how Christians respond to the event. I know that there have been clergy taking part and other tweeting positively about the protests, which have now spread around the country.
I’m not very sold on the whole thing. Yes, they are talking about some important issues, but in many ways they tend to be the inverse of the Tea Party movement. Where the Tea Partiers blame government for, well… everything, the Occupy folks blame corporations. Instead of trying to find ways to alleviate the suffering that is going on, both movements seek easy and comforting answers to what has happened.
Economist Bruce Wydick writes that the problem “those people.” No, the problem is far closer to home- the problem is us:
Like most protests, the Occupy Wall Street folks are better at identifying something that is wrong than identifying a way forward that is right. But even if the protestors don’t understand much about financial economics, they have a clear sense that something is wrong. That something, however, lies deeper than the behavior of a relative handful of Wall Street moguls. That something, I believe, is a sense of material entitlement that has crept into the American psyche. This sense of material entitlement has infected our personal choices, our politics, and our financial system…
The crisis has spiritual roots. Jesus warns his followers, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NIV). But a syncretistic form of Christianity has emerged in our country, a syncretism that mingles genuine New Testament Christianity with the consumer materialism of the American Dream.
How has this religious syncretism contributed to the financial crisis? First, our sense of material entitlement has had a profound impact on the financial choices of American families. As the stock market began to peak after the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, money began to flood into the real estate market, further inflating home prices which had already reached historic highs. With home prices skyrocketing, the coveted American dream of home ownership for many seemed to be slipping away. In response, families over-extended. In the home-ownership feeding frenzy, they bought houses beyond their means on easy credit terms, which the laxly regulated financial industry was too eager to provide.
No one should be shocked that politicians would try to seek simple answers to the ongoing financial crisis. But it is sad that the church has not been more thoughtful about this issue. Instead of forcing those of us in the pews to see where we have fallen short and seek forgiveness and repentance, we have joined the political circus, seeking to pin blame everywhere and anywhere else. The Great Recession/Lesser Depression is a reminder of how broken creation is. What happened was not something that you can pin on the one percent; it was a systemic failure. Whole institutions failed society as well as families that were not prudent in their finances.
None of this means that Wall Street is innocent, I don’t think it is. But the image of Wall Street tempting the innocent 99 percent is false comfort and will do nothing to help shorten this crisis.
I think that instead of just running towards the latest agenda, the church needs to help people learn to be more careful with their money and less materialistic, to push for more forceful regulation of the financial industry and to ask for a government to live within its means. I think we need to occupy less and confess more.
h/t: Michael Kruse