Drunk on Facts?

Humanity is deeply prone to “figuring it out.”  We live, in a sense, within a world of hyper-rationalism.  ”Just the facts mam.”  That is not to disparage “facts.”   It is however important to simply sound a gentle warning that we can become drunk on “facts.”

Reading through the news recently, two countervailing stories sat side by side on the front page.  One was on the strains within the current economic paradigm of Communist China. The other story wrote of JP Morgan’s posting of a $2 billion loss in its banking business.

In regards to China, the article read, “With the recent political upheavals, and a growing number of influential voices demanding a resurrection of freer economic policies, it appears that the sense of triumphalism was, at best, premature, and perhaps seriously misguided. Chinese leaders are grappling with a range of uncertainties, from the once-a-decade leadership transition this year that has been marred by a seismic political scandal, to a slowdown of growth in an economy in which deeply entrenched state-owned enterprises and their political patrons have hobbled market forces and private entrepreneurship.”

That same sense of triumphalism apparently fueled the catastrophic losses at JP Morgan recently announced as well, even though the economic model is far different.  This was a nearly universally lauded bank that had charted the tortuous waters of the 2008 economic implosion and come out the other side the largest bank in the country.  The story now appears to be of triumphalism misguided.  The Chief Executive of JP Morgan stated that the losses stemmed from “Huge moves in the marketplace but we made these positions more complex and they were badly monitored.”

So both economic models – the Chinese and American – arguably failed within a certain context.  Triumphalism … misguided.  That is not to debate freedom or open markets or the plusses and minuses of capitalism – concepts that have alleviated a great deal of human suffering.  It is however to say there is an unquestioned assumption underlying both systems that human minds can “figure it out”, that somehow there IS a perfect economic system and that if we create it all other ills of society will somehow dissipate.   And we believe we have “figured it out” – triumphalism reigns.  Utopia.

Triumphalism inevitably however is misguided any time we become drunk on the “facts.”  For both systems.  There is little doubt that those responsible for the challenges in China and the challenges at JP Morgan are incredibly intelligent – maybe be even brilliant.  There is little doubt that they had and have at their disposal an almost unimaginable access to “facts.”    Pass the bottle please.

That is why faith for me is becoming increasingly uncomfortable   That discomfort is not from a spiritual crisis of faith but from from an aching alarm that “facts” – economic, religious or otherwise -are creating a numbing drunkenness.  Do Churches ever function under an assumption of “triumphalism” in ways that are every bit as costly as the JP Morgan debacle?  Yes.  Do those who have rejected church/ faith likewise at times function under an assumption of “triumphalism” that they have now “figured it out?”  Yes.

See there is a bigger picture here.    Of course, our proclivity is to fill in the disquieting “blank” with pious certainties – either economic, spiritual or rational.  However, I don’t that is the call here.  I think the call is again and again to return to the concept that truth is a form of love and as such those who are loving are the one’s able to most hold the truth.  But we would rather have “facts” unencumbered by any wider picture.   It may just be what we are dying of.   And it maybe where the God of surprises will work one spectacular miracle of rediscovery.

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