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Read More From John B. Cobb, Jr.
  1. (1-1) Introduction
  2. Spiritual Bankruptcy: A Prophetic Call to Action by John B. Cobb Jr.
  3. Spiritual Bankruptcy: A Prophetic Call to Action

The uncritical understanding of religion that focuses on religion for its own sake is what Cobb calls secularism. After teasing the concepts of secularization and secularism apart, Cobb proposes an alternate path for secularization that will help us reevaluate our relation to our world and each other. Our Heritage from Greece and Israel. Religiousness and Secularizing in the Church. The Rise of Secularism. The Secularist Intention of Modern Philosophy. Secularist Education.

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The Discipline of Economics and the Triumph of Economism. This happens to be a Christian verse, but I believe it to be a universal truth common to all the great faith traditions. This foundational moral teaching that we must put life before money goes to the heart of explaining the failure of our economy and our society. We have given over our lives, our values, and our politics to a system of economic institutions that put service to money ahead of service to life.

These perverse institutions are both manifestation and cause of the moral corruption of society and their success is a measure of the failure of our religious institutions to fulfill their prophetic mission. Our religious institutions and teachers have allowed academic economist to become the primary arbiters of societal values and have stood idly by as economists and the institutions they serve have corrupted the moral culture of the society. The economics of market fundamentalism is an immoral and counter-factual ideology based on the premise that money Market fundamentalists have created a public culture that would have us believe that greed is a virtue and sharing is a sin.

How many of our churches measure their success by the size of their financial collections? And how many of them bend their message to appeal to those who have the means to make generous donations? This is just one manifestation of the larger issue. It is extraordinary how this morally and factually flawed economic ideology has turned universal ethical principles on their head, creating a public culture that would have us believe that greed is a virtue and sharing is a sin. The prophetic mission of our faith institutions, now as it has always been, is to affirm the moral truth and keep it at the fore of societal consciousness.

Take the practical matter that we measure the performance of the economy by growth in gross domestic product GDP. Growing GDP has become the defining purpose of our society. GDP largely measures two things. One is the rate at which we are extracting useful resources and turning them to toxic garbage to make money for the very rich.

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The other is the rate at which we are monetizing human relationships and thereby undermining the caring relationships of family and community. I became conscious of the tragic implications in my work abroad. One day it hit me that many of these people were previously living happier and more fulfilling lives as subsistence farmers with no need for money. Development stripped away their means of subsistence, left them dependent on money, and forced into slums, sweatshops, and lives as landless agricultural workers separated from their homes and families to earn that dollar.

At a deeper level, we might conclude that that the crash was a product of the failure of our religions institutions to provide society with a positive moral compass. Are you ready to out the moral corruption of a failed economic ideology? The design of our economic institutions is based on an illusion that money is wealth and that by making money we create wealth. Unquestionably, Wall Street makes lots of money.

We are thus to believe it is making us all richer. Yet in truth money is nothing but a number, most of which exists only as accounting entries on computer hard drives. It has no meaning or value outside the human mind. Yet we who live in modern societies worship it as the ultimate totem of modernization and progress. Most of what Wall Street does simply pumps up those accounting entries—inflating the artificial values of financial assets that the few then treat as securing their entitlement to the real wealth of the rest of us.

Money is a useful institution, but only when we use it as a means rather than as an end or purpose. The practice of treating a lack of money as the defining resource constraint keeping us from meeting the needs of those for whom our current economy offers no opportunity is similarly flawed. There are many real constraints, skills and energy among them. As a society, however, money should never be the defining constraint. Just make the accounting entry and get on with putting people to work growing food, caring for the elderly, or doing whatever else needs doing.

Meanwhile the rest of the society goes unemployed and faces foreclosure for a lack of money. We need a New Economy based on foundational faith values. We need to rethink the entire discipline of economics accordingly. It is time to fulfill the charge of spiritual teachers through the ages to create societies devoted to mutual love and caring in the service of life. These are the societies of which most humans have dreamed for millennia.

A New Economy is foundational. In system terms, the planetary system of local living economies is nearly the mirror image opposite of the economy we have. Properly designed, the institutions of the new economy will self-organize toward financial stability, ecological balance, shared prosperity, and living democracy. There are seven primary institutional sources of the current economic dysfunction.

They are foundational, because it is not sufficient to advance an awakening of positive values in individuals. The positive values must translate into a profound institutional restructuring, a piece of the work that is often overlooked. We can change the dominant institutions of society only through collective action.

Our faith institutions provide a primary mechanism for defining and mobilizing that action. The use of financial indicators like GDP and stock market indices to assess the performance of the economy.

(1-1) Introduction

We currently see just how invalid these financial measures are. The Dow Jones is climbing, but wages are stagnant and foreclosures continue. Neither GDP nor stock prices is a valid measure of economic performance. Wall Street control of the creation and allocation of money. As we monetize more and more of our relationships, most people never notice that this gives more and more power and control to people who control the creation and allocation of money.

Fiscal policies that support extreme and growing inequality in the distribution of income and ownership.

Spiritual Bankruptcy: A Prophetic Call to Action by John B. Cobb Jr.

Absentee ownership is a defining feature of in the publicly traded, limited liability corporation. Publicly traded shares separate the power of ownership from the social and environmental consequences of its use. The corporate charter is a license to create global-scale legally protected concentrations of economic power under unified management dedicated to advancing narrow and exclusive private interests beyond public accountability.

Such institutions are both anti-market and anti-democracy. Fragmented and dependent local economies leave people captive to the financial interests of distant institutions and persons with no concern for their well-being, and. We need to flip each of these seven sources of dysfunction around and translate them into seven positive structural changes:. Replace financial indicators like GDP with indicators of human- and natural-systems health as the basis for evaluating economic performance.

You may have heard the discussions around Seattle of the Bhutan Happiness Indicator, which wonderful positive example. Decentralize and democratize the money system so that it redirects the flow of money away from Wall Street speculators to productive Main Street businesses.

Most of us in this room grew up at a time when we had a system of community banks, mutual savings and loans, and credit unions that were locally rooted and served local needs. But that system has been largely dismantled and transformed into too-big-to-fail Wall Street mega-banks dependent on government subsidies and protections that function as huge vacuum cleaners sucking the wealth out of communities.

Spiritual Bankruptcy: A Prophetic Call to Action

There is nothing esoteric about the banking system we must create. It looks rather much like the system we had not so long ago. Implement tax, fiscal, and work place policies that distribute income and ownership equitably.