Yesterday, a Texas politician proposed ending social distancing to get the economy back on track.
Sometimes in the midst of crises we lose our sense of ultimate importance. And it seems as if we have placed market demands above the sanctity of human life. Let’s be clear-eyed about the nature of this suggestion and the faith behind it.
The Market as deity
A generation ago, a Baptist scholar from Harvard put forth an article in The Atlantic that speaks so prophetically and articulately to us now it’s uncanny. In 1999, Harvey Cox wrote an article titled, “The Market as God.” A friend advised Cox, a religious scholar, if he wanted to know what was happening in the world he should read the business news.
Cox writes: “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.”
When the Market—he capitalizes “Market” ironically to emphasize the mystery and reverence of this deity—is the prime concern or ultimate reality—as theologian Paul Tillich defines God—then it claims our ultimate allegiance.
Cox’s basic point is when our only value is monetary, then everything, every place and everyone has a price.
This religion is alive and well in the Texas Senate. And the priest of the Market has spoken. Now, he is ready to move to the holiest of acts—the sacrifice. Those over 70-years-old should make the sacrifice, says this priestly leader. For the sake of the Market. We must not risk His wrath.
Passing on responsibility
Of course, ending social distancing to get the economy back on track and risking lives in such a cavalier way is a ridiculous idea. Which is why it is news.
This begs the question of whether or not this whole “schtick” simply is a shock jock’s attempt at plausible deniability. Obviously, we aren’t going to sacrifice a significant part of the population for the sake of reopening the cafeteria dining room.
The State of Texas has chosen to pass on responsibility to city and county authorities across the state. Assuming people won’t take their car and cross over county lines, that might be an effective means of stopping the spread.
It seems this state leader now is able to escape responsibility completely. In a time of crisis, he has chosen not to take the necessary precautions to impede the pandemic. Instead, he and others have passed responsibility on to local authorities, while campaigning against these authorities for the sake of the economy.
Indeed, one could argue this is a derelict negation of responsibility on the part of a state leader. Or is this an act of faith for the appeasement of a jealous deity?
Perhaps the invisible hand is patting him on the back today saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Garret Vickrey is senior pastor of Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio.