"We live in a culture that worships the marketplace. There is a distinction here between respecting the market and understanding its place in our economy and worshiping it. Market worship is the most prevalent form of idolatry in our culture today. And unfortunately, we have allowed these market values to virtually trump all our religious values, sometimes even in the lives of our parishes.
"Theologian Harvey Cox wrote in U.S. Catholic a thoughtful and humorous commentary called 'The Market Is My Shepherd, and I Shall Want and Want and Want . . .' After reading and studying the business press and media for many years, Cox discerned a coherent theological framework in the market credo.
" '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. Theologians call these myths of origin, legends of the fall, and doctrines of sin and redemption. But here they were again, and in only thin disguise: chronicles about the creation of wealth, the seductive temptations of statism, captivity to faceless economic cycles, and, ultimately, salvation through the advent of free markets.'
"One characteristic of the gospel of the marketplace is its tendency to put everything up for sale. Instead of maintaining some noncommercial 'no go zones' or even sacred realms of human endeavor, in the religion of the market anything can be a commodity. Cox writes,
" 'In Catholic theology, through what is called "transubstantiation," ordinary bread and wine become vehicles of the holy. In the mass of The Market a reverse process occurs. Things that have been held sacred transmute into interchangeable items for sale.'
"Things that it was once unthinkable to consider 'for sale' are now traded for Mammon: air, water, human body organs, religious icons, sacred burial grounds, outer space, and more. This 'radical desacralization,' in Cox's words, changes our human relationship to God's creation.
" 'The latest trend in economic theory is the attempt to apply market calculations to areas that once appeared to be exempt, such as dating, family life, marital relations, and child rearing. Henri Lepage, an enthusiastic advocate of globalization, now speaks about the "total market." . . . Like the Hound of Heaven it pursues us home from the mall and into the nursery and the bedroom.'
"The media focus on clashes around the world between Hindus and Muslims, Protestants and Catholics, and the myriad differences between different faith traditions. But the differences between the great religions pale compared to what they all share in common juxtaposed to the religion of the market. At the heart of all these religions is a respect for life, creation, and human potential. There is a common recognition of a sacred reality that cannot be bought or sold. The values of the mark and the values of the great religions have radically different perspectives on the human body, the human community, the natural environment, and the importance of life.
"The Gospel values tradition, for example, views nature as a gift of creation that we are charged with protecting and being good stewards of. God retains the title, but gives us a long-term lease, as long as we are faithful trustees. The market perspective is that nature is a commodity and its value is measured in what its products can be sold for as real estate, timber rights, minerals, bottled water, etc. We can buy it and dispose of it.
"Gospel values respect the sacred and recognize the revered values of human beings and natural gifts. This includes some of the common institutions that we build together, such as religious communities, social gathering places, and institutions to pass on knowledge and protect the natural bounty. Market values do not recognize the sacred, and this has led to commercial encroachment upon the sacred. With Gospel values, there are some things that cannot be sold. In the market, everything is for sale. Everything and everyone has a price.
"The values of the Gospel recognize that humans are individuals within community, that we draw life from the human community and have obligations to it. Market values recognize only the individual as worker, owner or consumer. The market does not recognize any duties of obligation or solidarity toward anyone else. To help someone other than one's self is 'economically irrational' behavior according to the values of the market.
"Market values celebrate the new, the young, and the mobile. Gospel values celebrate old and new, young and old, tradition and innovation, and staying put!
"Gospel values affirm a feeling of attachment and a reverence toward certain locations and human artifacts. We find holiness in places, in a mountain, a cathedral, a rural chapel, the site of an apparition, a plaza, a historic shrine. Market values have no attachment to place, except to the extent it provides a market for products or a source of raw materials.
"Gospel values treasure the unusual, the irregular, the traditional, and the quirky. A sacred Irish well, the tradition of saying the rosary, a tree trunk in a Mexican chapel, a river bank, a prayer association they don't conform or add anything to the measurable economy. Market values push the society toward a common mold and a homogenized set of values. The market eliminates twenty varieties of traditional corn or apples and replaces them with one dominant genetically modified version that is easier to harvest, but doesn't necessarily taste better.
"Gospel values recognize that the most valuable things cannot be measured or priced. Market values recognize only what can be measured and sold. The raising of children or taking care of a sick relative doesn't count in the Gross Domestic Product. Divorces, however, make the GDP go up, as people set up more households.
"Gospel values find security in community and in sharing. The parable of the loaves and the fishes is an example of putting faith in the abundance that comes from sharing. The market finds security only in accumulation. Market values profess to be driven by what the customer wants. Gospel values are rooted in the notion of the greatest common good.
"We currently live in a society that does not affirm life, in part because of the internalization of market values in our everyday lives. Gospel values recognize that a person has inherent worth by virtue of being part of God's creation.
"Market values do not recognize an inherent worth in people except as workers, owners, or consumers. The market ranks people by their worth in the commercial marketplace, not by their inherent worth. Those who are worth a great deal command enormous salaries, perks, ownership stakes, and privileges in our society. Those whom the market does not recognize as 'worth much' are invisible and are marginalized in extreme poverty.
"How often do we go through life sorting other human beings into market categories? How often do we forget the holy and inherent worth of all we encounter? Opening our eyes to the ways each of us has unwittingly internalized the values of the market can be shocking and painful, but it helps in our journey to build an economy based on Gospel values.”