Bill Murchison

When the stock market is receding to the levels of a decade ago, and no one agrees on what to do, the coming of the season of penitence might seem easy enough to overlook. Or, relevant enough to engage every fiber of mind and body and spirit.

Boy, do we humans blow it at times! Are we moronic (or worse)! Such are Lent's logical lessons: hard to grasp when the hedge funds are soaring, and borrowing to buy a house is easy as driving up to one and walking in.

The Christian church prescribes the 40 days before Easter as the occasion for soul-searching and accountability seeking. Here is the Book of Common Prayer on the subject: " … Create and make us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness … "

Jeepers. Sins! Wretchedness! Us, you mean? Little ol' us, who never pass a dog whose ears we don't scratch or a panhandler with whom we don't consider sharing a few cents? We're … we're … "nice," is the word. The odds are Bernie Madoff considers himself nice. So, too, Al Sharpton, ex-Sen. Ted Stevens, Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez and other such worthies, whose recent functioning haven't impressed many. Republicans would include Democratic tax-dodgers in the list; Democrats would list Republican so-called "regulators."

We're all "nice" in our way. We're also not nice a lot of the time: stupid, greedy, conniving, self-centered, materialistic, callous, abandoned, selfish … you get the idea.

The Christian churches, I say, designate Lent as the annual opportunity for reflecting on our not-niceness: acknowledging it, then doing something about it through the instrumentality of considered repentance, capped by divine forgiveness.

You know how those people go around on Ash Wednesday with the black smudges on their foreheads? That's the preliminary confession -- of messes made, due essentially to the good old human preference for putting Self first. You can squeeze in the necessary repentance for such delusions during Lent, but you're encouraged not to waste time.

A corollary, if mostly unspoken, premised during the Lenten exercise is the insufficiency of politics for the redressing of the problem. The Lenten exercise presumes insufficiency among humans at large: the consequence, however you want to interpret it, of an unhappy business involving an article of fruit and a talking snake.

A lot of modern people (including some who took too many science courses) resist the snake-and-fruit part, but that resistance comes in the face of powerful evidence that something is out of kilter, human-wise. Was it just lack of government oversight that brought down the banks and the market, or was it something more basic, something deadlier by far?

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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