Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Forest and the Trees

Almost all of the articles in Zak's book on Moral Markets explicitly or implicitly dance around the possibility that values in a society have an exogenous component. As Christians, how could we believe otherwise? One place for a Christian to start examining the values that might influence the marketplace is the collection of shorter writings in the Old Testament known as the "Minor Prophets" (minor doesn't mean unimportant, it just refers to the length of the writings).

Motivated by the exogenous values issue, I've been reading through some of the minor prophets. Two things have jumped out at me:

1 ) It seems to be easy to mistake the trees for the forest. The underlying forest is the unfaithfulness of Judah and Israel. The trees are the particular manifestations of that sin. Each of the prophet portrays a different part of the forest, which is great. But that means that you can't absorb any one of the prophets in isolation. In the PCUSA there's a long tradition of studying and preaching from Amos, with his strong social justice lens on the people's unfaithfulness, but less attention is paid to Hosea, where the lens is sexual promiscuity. I wonder if there are other denominations where the opposite occurs?

Both witnesses (and the other accounts in the prophets) are "accurate" descriptions of the sins of Israel and Judah, but it's only when you read many of them (together with the historical connections in books like I & II Kings and I & II Chronicles) that the forest becomes clear. The root unfaithfulness of the people was that the Chosen People abandoned Yahweh. Once that was in process, the bribery, adultery, oppression and prostitution followed.

2 ) Israel and Judah did not abandon Yahweh for atheism or agnosticism. Instead, they moved into pantheism and syncretism. Specifically, they fell into the idea that there was nothing wrong with worshiping both Yahweh and Baal (the local fertility god) at the same time. Sometimes these practices are as simple as Baalist household gods. In other cases, it appears to have reached the level of child sacrifice and Baal-cultic prostitution. In any case, the sin of Israel/Judah was not they they came to believe in no God, but rather that they came to believe in every god.

In the next post, I will try to bring these idea into the current day and into the context of moral markets.

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