February 9, 2009
— Martin E. Marty
This week's collage of Wall Street Journal headlines, none of them explicitly but all of them implicitly evoking "public religion" themes, is broken up by passages from the King James Version of the Bible, and from me - my attempts to see if we can find perspective. For beginnings: Since some of the public some of the time trusted the princes of finance (and government, the church, the academy, et cetera), recall the bracing word of Psalm 146:3: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help." What follows are some effects of helpless princedoms, chronicled.
These headlines appeared in the Wednesday, February 4th Wall Street Journal: ¨Detroit Reels as Auto Sales Skid." "California Credit Rating Lowest in U.S." "Disney Net Sinks As All Units Lose Steam." "Heat Rises on Dow Chemical...$1.55 Billion Loss." "Motorola Chiefs under Pressure to Stem Losses." "After Uproar, Wells Fargo Calls Off Trip to Las Vegas." "CME Took Hedge-Fund Hit." "The Battle Over Lehman Brothers' Real-Estate Carcass." "Condo Boom Goes Bust for Corus Bankshares." "Early Filers Pile on Errors."
Now for comment: Most of these devastations occurred because the princes were confident about the future, made bad investments, gave worse advice. Micah 5:12 warns, "...and thou shalt have no more soothsayers." Or: "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will...buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow...But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil."
From the Thursday, February 5th Wall Street Journal: "More Call for Probe on Financial Crisis." "Kodak Fails to Calm Skeptical Investors." "Auto-Parts Makers Seek Bailout." "Kraft, Sara Lee Reduce Forecasts as Consumers Trade Down." "Roche Offers Dim Outlook as Profit Drops 8 Percent." "Cisco CEO Presages Gloom for Retailers." "Allergen Net Drops 6.1 Percent; Job Cut..." "Station Casinos Mulls a Bankruptcy Filing." "Forget Golf: [Wall] Street Junkets Get Junked." "Securities-Lending Business Made Risky Bets. They Backfired on Insurer." "Mortgage Banks Push for Federal Support." "Prudential Says It Lost $1.57 Billion." "Lazard's Net Falls 36 Percent." "AIGs Risky Wagers Helped Cripple Firm." "Costco's Profit Warning Creates A Warehouse of Worry for Investors."
From Psalm 2:4: "God that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision."
From the Friday, February 6th Wall Street Journal: "Madoff Clients Exposed." "Deutsche Bank Fallen Trader Left Behind $1.8 Billon Hole." "Connect, Fabulous...and Broke." "Retailers Stop Making Sales Forecasts." "Estée Lauder Profit Declines 30 Percent." "Glaxo Net Fall 7.1 Percent ; Job Cuts Planned." "McClatchy Posts Loss." "At UBS, Questions Over Bonuses." "Watchdog Says U.S. Overpaid For Troubled Assets of Banks." "Traders Wonder How Low These Banks Can Go." "Buyers: Beware False Profits."
And a postscript: Reinhold Niebuhr, in The Irony of American History, comments about Psalm 2:4's "sting of judgment upon our vanities," that "if the [divine] laughter is truly ironic it must symbolize mercy as well as judgment. For whenever judgment defines the limits of human striving it creates the possibility of an humble acceptance of those limits. Within that humility mercy and peace find a lodging place."
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.