Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
-- John 2:15-16 (NRSV)
On Sunday, March 15, 2009, the Third Sunday of Lent, the Reverend Janelle Tibbetts-Vaughan, the incredibly talented and creative Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Encino, California, delivered the best sermon on the above passage (and several surrounding verses) I have ever heard.
Janelle thoroughly analyzed the passage and concluded that Jesus was not angry over the simple fact that business was being transacted on the grounds of the Jerusalem Temple. No, Jesus was angry because the Jewish peasants who came faithfully to the Temple and attempted to practice their faith were being fleeced mercilessly by predatory merchants taking advantage of certain mandatory Temple rules that left the poor of Judea no choice but to be gouged before they made their sacrifices.
As I was listening to my colleague deliver her powerful message, I could not help but relate it to some headline events from the preceding week.
As just about everybody with access to any sort of media knows by now, Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s media-critical The Daily Show, last week delivered a pile-driver knockout punch to Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s Mad Money. Stewart’s “interview” (to use a polite term) was the culmination of a feud with CNBC that had started over his sharp-tongued critique of that network’s insistence on approaching financial and economic news as entertainment.
Over the past several years, Jim Cramer had built quite a reputation for himself with his manic and bombastic on-camera persona. With an I-can-do-no-wrong smugness, Cramer often turned Mad Money into an assault on the stupidity of anyone who would be foolish enough not to follow his machine-gun-fire advice on investing.
Cramer, along with most of the rest of America’s financial press, failed to see the iceberg that lay dead ahead in the path of the economy. Stewart and his staff had no difficulty at all in finding excerpts from pre-meltdown editions of Mad Money and other CNBC shows featuring financial predictions that were about as wrong as they could possibly have been. Cramer wasn’t necessarily any worse at it than many other financial personalities, but his overbearing style made him a particularly tempting target when the world economy fell apart.
It would be a huge mistake to blame Jim Cramer or any other single member of the financial media for the catastrophe that has overtaken us. So many people had to fail so miserably at their jobs in so many sectors of the economy that it is virtually impossible to single out any one cause.
But, as Jon Stewart argued, Jim Cramer, CNBC, and all of the other Wall Street cheerleaders can certainly be held accountable for helping to create what amounted to a Lucifer Effect level of cultural blindness. Greed was good and anyone who suggested otherwise was roasted on a public spit of know-it-all sarcasm.
What has happened stands contrary to the economic ethics of not just the Judeo-Christian tradition, but of nearly every other recognizable religion that has had anything to say on the subject. We all should have known better.
Even those of us who were not carried away with the orgy of phony wealth-building should be held accountable for not denouncing it loudly enough, soon enough, or effectively enough. If Jon Stewart were to invite me on to The Daily Show he would be just as justified in pummeling me as a religious leader for failing to make the case why we were heading for a crisis that was not merely economic or ideological, but thoroughly theological as well.
Right now, it’s easy to denounce Jim Cramer and so so many others. The one-time heresy that greed should be curbed has now become conventional wisdom. We have learned our lesson and the excesses of the past decade are not likely to be repeated for quite some time to come.
But how can we begin right now to build an economy that will sustain our grandchildren and their children and their children without ever suffering a disaster on the level that we currently face? Can we fashion a culture that will firmly resist the inevitable efforts by the economic predators of the next generation to live large at everyone else’s expense?
I pray that we can all be strong enough, whatever our professional discipline, to resist the Lucifer Effect when next it seeks to destroy our economic well-being.
My father lost his business in 1929.I was born in 1931. We made it through the Depression years successfully. He built someone else's business to the 13th largest in the country. We lived well on tenderloin steak at 25 cents a pound. We need a Roosevelt and the NRA in the White House,NOW. The man, who is there now better get moving. He has a complete roadmap provided by FDR. (Incidentally, gas was 5 gallons for a buck. Watch the pump prices.)
By Eugene Kravis | Posted on March 21, 2009, 9:43 pm
The greed began in the garden of Eden so to speak. Greed will not end. When society holds no lessons worthwhile because there are no consequences at the family level, while children are raising children using the State to finance their being, when morals and values are considered moot and those that lead us are selfish and not interested in the whole, as the country continues to be amused into stupidity, we provide the playground for the devil's work. After all if sin were not appealing, no one would be interested.
By Jeanne O'Neill | Posted on May 13, 2009, 1:44 pm