I Have My Doubts

This is the title of a book study series that Father Chris Reuter is offering this fall at Immaculate Conception Parish in Columbia IL, where he serves as Sacramental Minister. It was designed to attract those "who have more questions than answers and are comfortable with ambiguity." A group of about 25 adults is gathering in a series of six sessions to identify and wrestle with some of the most vexing issues of our time - under the categories of History, Language, Technology, Economics, Politics, and Religion. As the advertising flyer advised, "Warning: This is not for the fainthearted or for anyone with a need to be always right and certain!"

The study group is using two current books to start its discussions: The Market as God by Harvey Cox and The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. Reprinted here is Father Chris' review of the Cox book, which was printed in the September 21 issue of The Messenger (newspaper of the Belleville Catholic Diocese).

Book Review by Christian N. Reuter, O.F.M.

Harvey Cox, The Market as God.  Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.

In criminal justice circles, where I ply my prison ministry trade, some of us speak of the “Prison-Industrial Complex”—the alarming collusion of government, business and the media, in the privatization of punishment. In my presentations I refer to it as “an unholy and incestuous love triangle” as I try to sound the alarm about mass incarceration in our country. Most people who are employees of corrections or vendors to it, including many Catholics, are blind to the Market’s incursion into territory that was once off-limits. They validate Upton Sinclair’s observation: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Harvey Cox, the eminent American theologian who focused our attention on The Secular City so many years ago, has done us another great favor in The Market as God. In prophetic language that cannot be mistaken, he annotates the rise of the corporate world from its former status as one player in our social compact to its present dominant position. The chapter entitled “How the Market Became Divine” captures it well. The entire work, however, is an insightful discussion—using scripture and history, theology and economics, with their vocabulary and images—to chart the fascinating interaction of God and Mammon.

The Market as God, I suggest, should be read alongside another contemporary book that is drawing attention, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. Their analyses and recommendations could fuel a serious study group for an entire year. Dreher argues that the battle for minds and souls has been effectively lost in our post-Christian era and that it’s time for a strategic withdrawal to salvage what remains of religion and culture in the West. Cox optimistically concludes with a chapter entitled “Saving the Soul of the Market."

There is not a single word about criminal justice in The Market as God, but I could see the implications on every page. When it comes to “temporal punishment”, it’s hard to say how much church and state have “borrowed” from one another over the centuries! Let me suggest in closing that the Church, in all its disciplines and ministries, should be alert to “colonization” by the corporate world. As we carry the Gospel into the public square and marketplace, we must be vigilant that our product is not for sale and that our corporate body is not on the takeover block.