George Orwell, observing the loss of religious faith in Europe (which he had applauded), remarked: “For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all, it was a cesspool full of barbed wire. … It appears that amputation of the soul isn't just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.” As we evaluate the global economic collapse of 2008 it appears things have gone very septic indeed. In fact we are now experiencing septic shock.
We should not be surprised. The likelihood that this would happen was prophetically suggested in an address on Market Economy and Ethics by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in 1985. He noted that Christians who participate in managing the economy have a long tradition of regarding their faith as a private concern while in their business concerns they abide by economic laws. He stated that to overcome this dichotomy requires that these two arenas come together, for any economic system operating for the common good depends on an ethical system born and sustained by strong religious convictions. He then continued “Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.”
Over the past 23 years since his address, we have seen a continual erosion of the place of religion in public life. Ethical thinking has played a continually diminished role. There has been an every widening gulf between our public, secular lives and our private, religious lives. Many times we can take on a Dr. Jekyll - Mr. Hyde lifestyle without feeling any guilt at all. This leads to an unconscious “live for God on Sunday and the devil the rest of the week” mentality. Considering religion to be only a private concern has proved disastrous. The market has now collapsed. The religious branch we were sitting on has been sawed off. We are living in the cesspool we have created. We are now experiencing the consequences of our decisions. We don’t like them, but are we willing to change? That is the question facing us at this moment in history.
The return from the moral abyss our nation is in will require a deep change in our view of the relationship between our religious and secular lives. They must be brought back together. We must regard this issue with the same seriousness that Jesus did. In his seven woes pronounced against the Pharisees in Matt 23 he says “You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness” (v. 23). The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was largely due to their having separated their life of faith from their life in the world. This allowed them to live their religious life devoid of justice, mercy and faithfulness while flaunting their religiosity. It is only as we bring the secular and religious aspects of our lives back together that we can see change. It is only when our nation begins to embrace ethical thinking based on the laws of God that change will occur. The best place to begin is with us. Am I willing to allow God to influence every area of my life?