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God, Idols and the Free Market

"As Christians we seek for God in listening to the poor and abandoned and in permanent conversation with the Jewish-Christian tradition. In it we find the struggle of the prophets and Jesus against the idols, the pseudo=gods and the religious gods... Submitting to the self-made god seems inevitable and without alternative."
God, Idols and the Free Market

By Jerry Poeter

[This article first published in: CuS (Christ und Sozialist) 3/2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.brsd.de.]

[Jerry Poeter worked as a priest in Central America for many years. At the beginning of 2001, he interrupted his work for several months to give lectures in Germany and other European countries. Rev. Poeter writes on his journey: "I experienced much hospitality and great interest in our work and in the perspective gained in living in disadvantaged parts of the world. My way of viewing this world is clearly not the only way. I have received much food for thought and corrected some of my positions and perspectives."]

How do we speak of God without falling in the net of an oppressive, exploitative and manipulative society that only emphasizes a conformist and well-adjusted idol?

How do we hear God without the filter of television through which nothing passes that does not benefit the rich and powerful or harmonize with the supposedly only possible way of thinking today?

Remembering that God is transcendent far beyond all our thinking, feeling and acting, beyond all our human realizations of truth, beauty and justice seems vital. We can never possess the transcendent God or make any statements about him that are absolutely certain. We can only seek and long for the God as he appears in the best tradition, constantly approaching him and being surprised by him. A God who no longer surprises is a perfectly adjusted idol. Spiritual life and prayer does not only mean speaking but hearing and listening. As Christians we seek for God in listening to the poor and abandoned and in permanent conversation with the Jewish-Christian tradition. In it we find the struggle of prophets and Jesus against the idols, against the pseudo-gods and in the case of Jesus against the religious gods. An idol is something that we people produce ourselves and later fall down on our knees in worship. Submitting to the self-made god seems without alternative.

Idols don't like any free discussion, free thinking, searching all life long and making constantly new surprising experiences. Idols should be accepted by decree and are dogmatic in the worst sense of the term. Reason and critical thinking are compliantly turned off. One's own eyes and ears are given away and exchanged for others. Idols promote exploitation and legitimate oppression that make them appear as divinely ordained. The false gods demand human sacrifice. That idols are made by people and can be cut down to size or put in their place by us should not be forgotten. Out of idols could come instruments controlled and used by people. Not all people are involved in the same way in the production and preservation of idols. A few profit from them; many others are subjugated and killed. A few strive that no harm happens to the idols. Some make themselves accomplices, some out of fear of the punishment threatened by the idols.

Consensus: No harm should befall the idols

Are there idols today? Which is the main idol? The main idol today is the so-called "free market" when we recall the criteria handed down by the prophets. This idol is made by people, has catastrophic murderous consequences and presents itself as an unalterable practical necessity and positional advantage paralyzing hands, feet, and heads. Instead of an idol, the market could be an instrument, controlled by people and benefiting the life of everyone. The motto of our days is: "consensus". The great fear is that the idol scattering society could be endangered in its bustling activity. Differing, warning and accusing voices are skillfully neutralized. Much present theory revolves around itself and is seldom confronted with reality. Criticism when it is still allowed must be positive, contribute to improved functionality and not put the idols altogether in question. The idol "free market" produces inequality, violence, destruction of the environment and brainwashing in our days as never before.

In 1960 the richest fifth of the world's population earned 30 times more than the poorest fifth. In 1990 it was already 60 times and in our days over 70 times more.

The wealth of 447 billionaires is greater than the income of the poorer half of the world's population.

The poor countries of the world repay $250,000 in debts every minute to the rich countries without reducing their liabilities.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund - exploiting indebtedness - force the governments of poor countries to an economic policy that deepens their dependence and allows ever higher mountains of debt to accumulate.

Capital should be freely transferred and export expanded. Social benefits of the state should be reduced. When all poor countries are forced to increase exports of tropical agricultural products, lower prices result (cf. coffee prices among others). The rich of the poor countries bring their capital abroad although it is urgently needed for investment and social benefits in their own countries. Consider the scandalous cases of politicians like Marcos, Mobuto, Salinas, Fujimori and syndicate members. Others never come to light. These groups incur debts whose interests are paid out of slaves taxes largely embezzled from the poor. The rich pay less and less taxes here and everywhere in the world.

Free Market: Prescription against all calamities

The introduction of the unlimited "free market" is praised as a prescription against the calamities of the "Third World". The idol depends on and propagates the loss of reality and fading of memory. In the 19th century, the English threatened cannon boats or war. Free trade was forced. Previously they pursued for centuries the worst "deadly sin" of protectionism to build their own industry. Later the US imitated this hypocritical English example (protectionism for its own economy, free trade for the others, and war when a sovereign state sovereignty refuses to accept this ). Incidentally, the slave- and opium trade were also legitimated with the "free market". Toxins prohibited in Europe and the US can be massively sold in poor countries by firms from the rich countries. The "free trade" in the 19th century laid the foundation for the world division of labor that condemns poor countries to the production of increasingly poorly paid agricultural products and raw materials and enables the rich countries to profit from their monopoly in industrial production. The rich countries altogether did not become rich countries through free trade but through a conscious state policy that single-mindedly promoted and protected the development of their own economies in the first phase, the exact opposite to which the poor countries are forced again today.

Enrichment without limits: Desirable, legitimate and unpunished

Enrichment and propagation of ruthless enrichment promote violence.

Since 1970 the reports of criminal acts grew three times more than the world population. Criminality increases everywhere on earth.

In the US there were 1,800,000 prisoners in 1997, more than twice as many as ten years before.

In the US, five times as many blacks are imprisoned compared to the worst times of apartheid in South Africa.

In El Salvador, more persons are murdered now after the war than during the war.

The media preach day in and day out that enrichment without limits and without regard for the consequences is legitimate, desirable and unpunished. Why should it suddenly be a sin when enrichment occurs with the help of weapons? To young persons in the district where I work, the message communicated night after night is that the only rewarding life takes place in the upper middle class in the US or perhaps Brazil or Mexico and that whoever doesn't possess these values is inferior. In the morning they wake up with the certainty that their dreams will never be realized. However the great crimes are not committed by young persons from the slums although the slums are always presented as hell. The administration of justice and public discussion are less and less interested in learning and discussing the causes of the growing criminality. One hides one's head in the sand and demands more police and more severe penal laws.

The abductions and the enormous ransom payments affect the rich. For a long time, the po9lice have proscribed cars with darkened windshields since they can be used for all mammoth crimes. However while the abductions affect the rich, they completely resist the prohibition against driving invisible cars. If my daughter or son is abducted, I also would not refuse all shady businesses. This hesitation and absurd discussion continue. Every week there are abductions carried out by cars with darkened windshields. Young persons from the slums sit in jail for years on account of a little theft or because their parents could not afford a lawyer. The offenses of the rich are simply not defined as offenses. Whoever is enriched in the construction of buildings or bridges by economizing on steel is not put on trial when these buildings collapse in an earthquake. Corruption and transferring abroad money gained in poor countries is odious. Supposedly he can do what he wants with his money. The free market as an idol paralyzes thinking.

The Hague Tribunal

Recently Milosovec was brought before the Hague tribunal at the urging of the US and with the promise of considerable gifts of money for the state that delivered him up to a court. The US mocked and simply didn't notice this court a few years ago when it was condemned itself. The news about human rights violations are weighed by the media. A great silence prevails when violations are committed by friendly regimes that receive enormous quantities of weapons as for example Saudi Arabia or Indonesia. The news that the US government admits now and then what it had always denied, that Latin America's chief torturers paid by the US learned torturing in a training camp in the US was reported in a very few words. This torturing spreads fear and continues up to today in democratic regimes. Hardly emphasized, this torture training was quickly forgotten.

Concerning military force and the war danger, the countries with a veto right in the Security Council of the UN that should protect world peace and think they can do this best are the greatest weapons traders of the world. The production of weapons and the trade with them encourage their utilization. As a result, the war danger is increased. We are witnesses of a new type of war in which the soldiers of the offensive rich countries are not killed or are hardly killed. The problem which confronted the US in the Vietnam war, namely legitimating the war to its own population while the coffins arrived back home, has disappeared. The media present this new war as a computer game. Weapons and aircraft are emphasized, no longer the persons who die or are injured in the wars. They are made invisible like the spreading misery.

Drug cultivation in Latin America - a pretext for military intervention

Drugs are a pretext for war in Latin America. Since communism has been dropped as an enemy, new enemies must be sought or produced if necessary so one's own military intervention can be justified. In the US, drugs play this role which justify military interventions in countries like Colombia. According to the familiar enemy construction, the cause for drug consumption in the US is located there. This pretext is given to the US military presence at the Salvadorian airports. One hardly ever hears anything about the arrest of drug dealers in the US. Drug consumption in the US did not decline when Colombia did not produce any more as drug experts in the US admitted. However rebellious small farmers in Colombia are now bombed and fields sprayed with toxins while new and old top torturers are paid and supported with the justification of protecting our youth.

The European Consumer Model

In the past European readers could imagine that all these problems were far away. With the environmental theme, European children are endangered by a wild "free market" and the underlying interests of certain groups of persons. The European consumer world is astonished by the populations in the Third World. All the world dreams of imitating soon. Ten planets would be necessary, each as great as the earth, as the Brundtland report proves.

The free market needs deregulation. The state should keep away from economic activities and leave the initiative to the free market. Who benefits and who is disadvantaged is kept silent. The destruction of the environment or the destruction of the future of children born today can only be stopped through regulation. Deregulation drives and intensifies the destruction. That the free market could solve the environmental problematic is a mad liberal idea. Neoliberal globalization means competition around positions. Positions are temporarily attractive when few or no conditions exist for protecting the environment. This dynamic was clearly and brutally affirmed recently by the president of world power Nr.1. The US government does what benefits business and as a result refuses to follow the agreements on climate protection. In 1992 several inadequate measures were resolved at the Environmental conference in Rio that are hardly observed. Five years later, there was an evaluation of the accomplishments. In these five years, tropical forests in Italy were destroyed and much fruitful agricultural land became wilderness as in Germany. One important cause is the absolutely mad decision for reasons of profit to shift personnel away from public transportation. In 1950 Europeans used public transportation for of their travels and today , for US citizens 1/20.

For more and more people in Latin America, this transportation system praised by the North has become an idol, a sub-idol in this case. The gasification in the urban conglomerates becomes increasingly unbearable. Seven campesinos who came to Mexico City to demonstrate had to be admitted to the hospital because their lungs were not accustomed to so much toxins. In Santiago de Chile, a classic example for the success of the neoliberal market idol that was introduced by Pinochet through torture, disappearances and fear, a new born child daily breathes the dose of seven cigarettes emitted by the cars now circulating in a narrow space.

The Old can be freer than the young

A change can only be achieved politically. Participation in elections is not enough; too much hope for alternative political parties has contributed to paralysis. We older persons are one group of the population that could become active until the young are a little more awake. The elders were always bound with their grandchildren. We elders can be freer, no longer stopped by career offers or threats of unemployment. At least we the elders can say that we do not agree with submission under the murderous idol. We can still speak - publically! - before it is too late.

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