Playing With Fire?

by Bruce Matthews

On the Theology of Free-Market Capitalism…



What Fools These Mortals Be, Puck Magazine, 1917,

Dogma number one: an individual’s self-interest sustains and enriches human life, by guaranteeing self-regulating markets fostering democratic forms of governance. This dogma fires the zeal of Globalization’s clergy, whose greatest challenge thus far is the current ‘debt crisis’ in the European Union, and the growing loss of faith in this dogma among the ‘common people’.


Traveling through Europe now for the past two months, it seems as if the free-market theologians are losing their ability to convince their ‘consumers’ of their religion’s promise of immanent material redemption and salvation. The ruling powers, both secular (Governments) and religious (Bankers and their economists), when they preach sacrifice and call on us to wear the hair shirt of austerity, now sounds like so much dangerous hypocrisy in the face of the unconscionable riches they still enjoy. It is not only the economic duplicity of this dogma that is planting the seeds of a Reformation, but the growing realization that the connection between free-markets and democracy is also a myth.


Nowhere was the more obvious than in the reaction of Europe’s Elite to outgoing Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s call for a referendum. In the words of a Financial Times editor, to allow the people to have a voice in this process is “playing with fire”. And based on my conversations with taxi drivers in Berlin, Vienna, and Paris, allowing citizens to actually be citizens and participate in such a referendum would burn down the house of cards that is the current EU. To a T, almost every middle-class person I’ve talked with about these issues has sung a variation of the song that the EU has primarily benefited the elite, leaving them with seemingly less money and security than they enjoyed 20 years ago.


My cabbie in Berlin was the most ominous in his comments, speaking openly about the inevitability of war, since in the past that is how we have always dealt with debt crisis when they spiral out of control. Listening to him while driving past remnants of the Berlin Wall, I couldn’t help but think how the greed and lust for power of the few, disguised behind a mythic narrative of glory and redemption, has always led us to support the most inhumane acts of cruelty. Such is the power of myth and theology, and all things sacred: like all things, we humans can use it to create or destroy. The challenge now it seems is to develop a new myth, a new theology,  that will support a sustainable globalization.


Dogma number one: human life is enriched only when we orientate our lives around a principle greater than our own narcissistic self-interest.



The Banker, Puck Magazine,


For information on Puck Magazine, “America’s first humor magazine,” which was published from 1871-1918, please read more here




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