Will the Crisis Save Our Souls?

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Money, the idol to which millions bow, has turned out a colossus on clay legs. From the United States to Great Britain to Russia, careless banks fall like a house of cards while ordinary people realize that spending more than earning works only for a short period of time. Harmful as it appears, the current financial crisis may eventually prove to be a blessing in disguise.

There was not a sin that the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah would not commit. As they refused to listen to warnings, their depravity could not escape God’s attention. The Almighty wanted to destroy them at once, but mollified by Abraham, he agreed to give Sodom and Gomorrah a last chance: If Abraham found at least ten righteous people, the cities would be spared. Despite his desperate efforts, however, the prophet fished out only one soul – his nephew, Lot. Accordingly, not a stone was left of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Today’s financial crisis is purely of our own making. Contrary to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, we did not need divine intervention to bring ourselves to the brink of financial and moral bankruptcy. For a long time, we were deaf to the warnings that living on loans would sooner or later backfire. The first signs of a looming crisis became visible at least two years ago but instead of sobering up, banks doubled their efforts to grant credits to as many people as possible. Nobody asked how the loans would be paid back. When the answer came, we did not like it.

Fortunately, it is never too late to react. Judging from the latest decisions of Congress, which decided to award irrational spending by pumping additional $700 billion into Wall Street, it may be far easier to change our behavior than our financial institutions. What we should do in the first place is to understand that modesty – not excess – should influence our decisions. The United States did not become the world’s richest nation by borrowing money from foreign nations. Instead, it built its strength and power on responsible fiscal policies and the puritan moral code.

Our generation has come under a false illusion that money is everything. We spend more than we earn. We work seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with no regard to the sanctity of Sunday and other holidays that our forefathers faithfully observed. Our bank accounts may be growing but at the end of the day, other things will matter more. “Money disappears, becomes nothing,” Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday. “And thus all these things which seem to be real and upon which we can rely, are in fact of secondary importance.”

We call ourselves realists. And as realists we have expelled God and religion from our lives. The result is now painfully visible. Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday: “A realist is one who recognizes that the Word of God – this reality that appears so weak – is in fact the foundation of everything.”