Mortgage Meltdown: Ten Commandments


Ten Commandments and the Mortgage Meltdown

Sixth Aliyah: G‑d descended upon the mountain, and summoned Moses to its summit. G‑d instructed Moses to again warn the Israelites about the tragic end that awaited anyone who approaches the mountain itself. Only Moses and his brother Aaron were allowed on the mountain during this time. G‑d then spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelite nation. They are: 1) Belief in G‑d. 2) Not to worship idols. 3) Not to take G‑d’s name in vain. 4) To keep the Shabbat. 5) To honor parents. 6) Not to murder, 7) commit adultery, 8) steal, 9) bear false witness or 10) covet another’s property.

Seventh Aliyah: The Israelites were left traumatized by the overwhelming revelation, the awesome “light and sound” show. They turned to Moses and asked that from thereon he serve as an intermediary between them and G‑d—Moses should hear G‑d’s word and transmit it to the people. Moses agreed. The reading concludes with a prohibition against creating idolatrous graven images – considering that no image was seen when G‑d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai – and the commandment to erect a sacrificial altar. The altar stones should not be hewn with iron implements, nor should there be steps leading to the top of the altar.

People often ignore their faith by failing to consider the effect of living their faith as good people rather than living strictly accordingly to the laws of necessity. Necessity is of the moment and in the eyes of the beholder. The events leading up to Mount Sinai and the delivery of the ten commandments constitute the first successful attempt to organize a civilized society that would function in accordance with the consent of the governed, based upon a higher good, and administered by people chosen for their wisdom. 

Religion: It might seem a stretch to connect the economic problems facing the world today and the possible remedies under spiritual analysis but consider, just for a moment, the possibility that people were motivated not by saving their property, blaming another, punishing the people who put us in this mess and giving vent to anger. Let’s take a look.

The first Commandment is to believe in G-d. Everyone has an opinion on this. The choices boil down to three (a) belief, (b) not sure (Agnostic) and (c) non-belief. Dig down deep and you will find a believer in some higher power in every agnostic and atheist. Dig just a little and you will discover that nearly everyone knows right from wrong and their knowledge and belief as to right and wrong is pretty much covered by the ten commandments or something like it in the scriptures of some other faith.

So let’s approach the commandments as a heuristic (rule of thumb) theory that most of us would agree with on one level or another regardless of our religious preference or our preference in expressing belief in a higher power or being. In fact, that takes care of the the first commandment: belief in a higher power whether physical or spiritual is all that is necessary to satisfy its requirement.

Don’t worship idols. As Suze Ormand says, put people first, not money. Money is an idol not a thing. It is a concept that facilitates commerce as long as people are willing to accept the concept. It changes in form from wampum, to beads, to giant rocks to precious metals, precious gems, coinage, written promises of redemption into precious objects, fiat money (paper declared to be money by the government because they say so), digital forms used in electronic payment systems, and more exotic concepts like derivatives which create changes in our money supply without the help or interference of our supposed lender of last resort, the Federal Reserve. Most of us spend more time on issues concerning money than issues concerning G-d or the other commandments. 

My point is that if you pursue money at the cost of the other commandments, you will end up with neither. The reason has nothing to do with G-d’s wrath. It has everything to do with staying with fundamental straightforward conduct of commerce that everyone can understand and that can be counted using the most primitive of systems. Wall Street professionals, of which I am one, are fond of saying that in the end it is the fundamentals that count. But they don’t — not now and not for a long time. 

Don’t take G-d’s name in vain. Whether you are an evangelical preacher or a Wall Street tycoon, don’t pretend that your words come from G-D or are inspired by G-d — unless you can prove it. And you can prove it by showing that you are living the life of a pious person who follows the commandments. You are not following it if you use G-d’s name to get money from someone else and put it into your own pocket for your use. Note that I do not condemn or even disfavor commerce. I merely offer the judgement that if the commerce is done in G-d’s name it is a false claim. 

Keep the Sabbath. Here is where we cut to the chase. If you really wish to live a life of peace, contentment, satisfaction and goodness, then you will allow time to contemplate your existence in this dimension,universe or world or whatever you wish to call it. A little prayer, a little reading, a little observance of some ritual that reminds you and your family that the leader of the family sets the tone of everyone’s life by instructing the children on the concepts of right and wrong, and brings the children within a community of like-minded individuals. Or you can try to make one more deal and worship the idol of money and wealth, or football and worship the idol of competition rather than cooperation. The assumption of Adam Smith with his faith-based “invisible hand” is true only in the abstract. we can only approximate it by our own good behavior. In the end, we are creatures exhibiting both competitive and cooperative qualities. How we reconcile and channel those qualities for the good of our selves and those around us is the great challenge of humanity and the meaning of our lives.

Honor parents. We live in a society where many children barely see or know their parents, who are busy acquiring material things or otherwise pursuing goals in life that have little to do with the bond of parent and child. Taken in a broader sense, honoring our parents goes back generations when people conducted commerce and social events for the benefit of themselves and others. Children need models, not money as a substitute for attention. If we want our children to honor us, we must earn it by giving them all we can of our wisdom and a true sense of right and wrong. A child honors his/her parents by committing themselves to being educated — but only if the parents show an interest in the child’s education. Every study of every kind provides us with the inescapable conclusion that a child that develops in a home where reading, analysis and articulation of ideas is a way of life, does well in school. Every study shows that the more successful a child is in school the more likely he/she will be in life in attaining meaning, content and satisfaction. And every such child will be led by their own inner sense to honor their parents. Buying things you don’t need, or don’t want shortly after you buy them leads a child to see your unhappiness and leads them to search for ways different than the way you conduct your life. Arguments over money and spending leads memories of discontent rather than a model that the child will follow to honor his/her parents.

Don’t Murder. This seems obvious. Yet scratch the surface and you find that we, as a society, promote, allow and create conditions all over the world which resulted in the needless death — violent and otherwise — of millions of children, women and men. You may say this is not your intent. But if you know the result of your action or inaction will be produce the death of someone, what’s the difference?

Don’t commit adultery. In a world of people seeking contentment and satisfaction, unguided by the principles of basic right and wrong, adultery is a natural consequence. Commitment to one’s spouse and family, no matter how difficult or challenging, is far more likely to deliver the results you seek.

Don’t steal. Our sophisticated financial systems have taken the “art” of stealing to new heights and produced the greatest fraud on mankind in human history — the mortgage meltdown and credit crisis where thousands of towns, villages and counties are suffering from a decrease in revenue from their tax base because of the schemes of those who sought money for nothing, commerce without risk.  They took the lives of millions of people who wanted homes and millions of people who wanted to invest their money in safe investments, and created a bubble of lies. It worked too well. And now we have the problem and opportunity of remaking our world in the model we all seek. We may need new currency, new nations drawn from old boundaries, and new regulation and transparency that will reveal those in our midst who will ignore all moral precepts and seek only personal gain. The mortgage meltdown crisis was theft: from borrowers on one end and investors on the other end.

Don’t bear false witness: In short, don’t lie, ever. And don’t give the time of day to those who do. If we followed that, our government would be made up of different people, operating under different principles (originally set forth in our constitution and declaration of independence) and with far different result. Indifference to the suffering of others, education of our young to avoid mistakes we don’t want in our society, would be minimized. I’ve asked about a hundred people the following question: If you had a button that you could push and the result would be that everyone in government would be fired, would you push it, the answer was yes in every case. The reason cited was lies.

Don’t covet another’s property. It seems that in our world right and wrong have been turned upside down. The objective in commerce is to get you to part with your property and have it in the possession of another. The objective is not to add value to each other’s lives. Our social and economic policies have gone down the historical path of channeling wealth from the people who can’t afford it to the people who don’t need it. As the foreclosures, dislocations, bankruptcies and dissolution of families takes another giant leap forward, social unrest becomes a an increasing probability. Maybe, as Jefferson said, a little revolution now and then is a good thing. But is it necessary?

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