the-market-as-godIn these economically turbulent times I’ve come to revisit a dissertation I wrote as a theology undergraduate student at Cardiff University some eight or nine years ago. I was looking for something less ordinary to write about and came across an article written by Harvey Cox (professor at Harvard Divinity School) titled The Market as god – living in the new dispensation. I found the whole thing quite intriguing and decided to put his idea to the test   – can the free global market really be regarded as a religion? I mean, from a Christian view point, if this is correct it would create some interesting issues to deal with, wouldn’t it?

Cox writes that 

A few years ago a friend advised me that if I wanted to know what was going on in the real world, I should read the business pages. Although my lifelong interest has been in the study of religion, I am always willing to expand my horizons; so I took the advice, vaguely fearful that I would have to cope with a new and baffling vocabulary. 

Instead I was surprised to discover that most of the concepts I ran across were quite familiar. Expecting a terra incognita, I found myself instead in the land of déjà vu. The lexicon of The Wall Street Journal and the business sections of Time and Newsweek turned out to bear a striking resemblance to Genesis, the Epistle to the Romans, and Saint Augustine’s City of God. Behind descriptions of market reforms, monetary policy, and the convolutions of the Dow, I gradually made out the pieces of a grand narrative about the inner meaning of human history, why things had gone wrong, and how to put them right.

Cox finds myths of origin, sacraments, eschatology, and he describes how the Market god has evolved from being a deity sharing its glory with other gods, to a state where it has “risen above these demigods and chthonic spirits to become today’s First Cause.” 

Well, then, what would the aim and mission be for this deity, one may wonder? According to Cox, it is to turn all things into commodities, with the help of motivational researchers and the prophets of Wall Street, and to reach a “total market” where all things are for sale to prices determined by supply and demand.

Hmm, you might think that this is totally ridiculous and far fetched. And you’re probably right. But I remember that  I really enjoyed writing the dissertation. And for sure, we’ve totally managed to evoke the wrath of this deity this autumn. And it demands its sacrifices. People and laid off, business are closed down, countries fall into recession, and the world trembles. Thus is the will of the Market. For the Market has spoken.

Anyway, the whole thesis really stands and falls on two issues:

1. How you define the free global market

2. How you define religion


These are quite complicated subjects, and its way too late in the evening for me to start thinking about these things now. I’ll leave it at that for now and come back to this later…