Saturday, March 27, 2010


Jim Wallis - founder of Sojourners magazine and current nemesis of Glenn Beck - would like to shift the nation's conversation from competing partisan ideologies to shared moral values. That's the theme of his newest book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street, published this January in response to the ongoing recession.

Without ever quoting Jesus' warning against the false god Mammon (Matthew 6:24) or St. Paul's observation that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10), Wallis argues that the free market - which, he notes, has played a major role in alleviating worldwide poverty - has become a dangerous idol that is now turning on and devouring its worshipers. The market is good only when it is subordinated to a more fundamental value: commitment to the common good. "The goal is not to destroy the market," Wallis writes, "but to understand its proper place. It is not to get rid of commerce but to build it upon a foundation of values."

The values Wallis lauds include strong families, social justice, care for the environment, concern for future generations, hard work, and contentment. He believes balance needs to be restored between "the public sector (the state), the private sector (the market), and the civic sector (our voluntary and nonprofit institutions - including the faith community). When any one of those begins to take over the others, or one is weakened and does not perform its functions, all sectors are in trouble - and so are we."

Non-wonks need not avoid this book. Full of personal stories, startling facts, and impassioned pleading, it is more like a motivational talk than a lecture on the "dismal science" of economics. It is also short, which I consider a plus in almost any book, and includes "twenty moral exercises" to help readers improve their own values ("Make a list of the priorities in your life ...").

Republicans need not avoid it either. Wallis is unlikely to join your party, but this book is about moral vision, not politics. That is probably why Wallis is now a regular speaker at World Economic Forum gatherings of CEOs of multinational corporations.

As Scot McKnight wrote, "This is Jim Wallis at his best, now softened and measured by his family life." For more about Rediscovering Values, read  McKnight's excellent review or this more detailed review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.

1 comment:

  1. Anytime anyone uses the word "values", I check my wallet, my ammo, and my internet connection. lol. The term 'values' is an individualistic take on moral standards, of the kind that an individualistic society can't defend. Writers who use the term typically want the reader to assume that there is a relationship between the values they espouse and virtues or some transcendent moral law (such as can't be named by individualist). It's a weasel term.