Howard M. Merken, Ph.D.: Bible on economics


— I read with great respect the letter by Murray Tucker in the March 11 edition of the Steamboat Today. It was factual and mathematical, devoid of emotional rhetoric and one-sidedness. It looks like it came out of a college textbook, a thesis or a dissertation. Rare are such academic letters in newspapers.

I'd like to add another aspect to how we should think about the economy - Biblical teachings.

If memory serves me right, 20 of the 613 "mitzvot" (religious commandments) in the Law of Moses deal with diet, while at least 120 deal with financial transactions. Add this to the rest of the Jewish Bible, such as the book of Proverbs, which warns against co-signing six times, and we've got the best teachings on economics. The New Testament contradicts none of this and even adds such admonitions as refusing to feed a man unwilling to work. Finding a potential Achilles heel in the Bible, such as stoning for moral failures, does not nullify the God-given economic wisdom that we are paying the price for ignoring.

I view politics as dimly as George Orwell did. As we face a potential four to eight years of a president who openly substitutes pragmatism for idealism, we should start by reading 1 Samuel 8. The children of Israel felt vulnerable.

Although some of their own leadership was corrupt, they wanted a human king to "fight our battles." The good prophet Samuel warned them about rapine, the draft, taxation, even compulsory non-military service. The king would take the best of their lands and give them to his servants. The people would sell their personal freedoms for the sake of being like the other nations. Samuel warned, "And ye shall be his servants." But they wanted security.

Sound familiar? Listen to the news. Our nation feels some of this same vulnerability. It is falling for an intelligent rhetorician who speaks as if he has forgotten that our nation was founded on idealism, a whitewashed view of Athenian democracy and a heavy dose of a form of Christianity which recognized the value of including all of the Bible in life's teachings, philosophy, government and day-to-day activities.

Want a cure to this economic depression? Start and end with the Bible. It - uh, oh - discourages borrowing. It has more economic wisdom than anything we can think up ourselves. It's the only thing that will save our necks.

Howard M. Merken, Ph.D.

Steamboat Springs


jk 8 years ago

" he will send you to a place where you burn, suffer, scream, and cry, where you will be tortured, ridiculed be dealt pain to, slowly deteriorate, and die slowly:" Not to add light to the situation, but this sounds like what happens to you if you don't agree with a certain few on the old Pilot blog lol.


Howard Merken 8 years ago

My world is sculpted by experiences including having worked in five countries, including eight states in the USA. I also studied in two foreign countries.

We're now one of the most indebted nations in the world, if not the most indebted. I would have to leave the USA to see some of the newest technologies, as people, at least temporarily, keep them out. The principles of trying to keep out of debt, of free enterprise within certain limitations as opposed to nationalization, and of keeping out of other peoples' wars (which I didn't mention in my letter) have centuries of testing. I've watched the standard of living in my beloved country plummet as we dig ourselves an economic grave. Look at the former USSR. We didn't need to fight them on the battlefield; they went bankrupt.

My science teachings include three degrees from two state (not Christian) universities. You wouldn't believe how many university professors reject evolutionary teachings, a rejection based on math and science.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights were based to a great degree on a view of man developed by religious leaders during the Reformation, a view that saw the dignity and individuality of people. "Religion begat prosperity, and the daughter devoured the mother." Let's stop this matricide.



Howard Merken 8 years ago

I know about the witch trials. I grew up next to Salem, and that's where my parents moved after the kids grew up.

The Puritans made mistakes. What was going on back then was far more complicated than is usually presented. And there's more. The Reformers were guilty of antisemitism, and I grew up Jewish. Nowhere does God ever tell the children of Israel to get involved in someone else's war (protecting people they had been tricked into making a treaty with is the closest thing to an exception), yet we Americans tried politcal assissinations forty odd years ago, and we still try to enforce our will around the world militarily. Yes, we humans mess things up but good.

But these mistakes were generally the result of ignoring, not obeying, the Bible. I remember the gold standard, which imposed a real financial discipline on economic growth, helping to prevent bubbles which burst. Guess what? Money in the Bible was hard currency. The Bible teaches a kind of environmentalism ignored by the right wing conservatives which have courted Christians for years. Look at what it says about not cutting down food trees, or trees with bird nests. If ony the Israelis would stop cutting down Arab-owned olive groves, to build their version of the Berlin wall. Point by point, the Bible usually gives us a better solution than the politicians do. Our religious freedoms, first devised by Christians, keep us from repeating the witch burnings. And our current economic crisis, caused in part (as was the Great Depression in part) by governmental intervention, will not be resolved by ignoring Biblical wisdom.


oldskoolstmbt 8 years ago

where is 'hunter dog' when we need him..... anyway, anything i have to comment on this "story" is all said in a new great movie..."religulous" it!!


Howard Merken 8 years ago

You're right. Wisdom does not come from only one source, which is why I advocate getting as much education as possible. I certainly couldn't have taught eight years of college chemistry out of my Bible. But I do have a standard in which to judge spiritual, moral, ethical, religious, civil, and economic issues.

What is happening now has a three-millennia precedent, recorded in God's word. I'll trust that Book more than anything else. If we make the same mistakes, we'll reap the same results. Gravity hasn't changed here.


JusWondering 8 years ago

Dr. Merken (you education has earned the respect of using a proper title), While I may or may not agree with you on religious beliefs (I have no intent on divulging as it detracts from the topic at hand), I wholeheartedly agree that the moral/philosophic teachings found in much of the book are absolutely essential for our culture if we expect to survive.

It is simply too bad that there are many commenting here that have listened to rhetoric and have NEVER BOTHERED TO READ the book.

Rather they espouse opinion with no basis of fact except the writings and interpretations of others with very specific agendas.

For those espousing that the book has no value perhaps they would listen to other well-known philosophers such as Robert M. Hutchins (former Dean of Yale Law) who argue the same point brought out in 1 Samuel 8: "The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."

If there is any person that is arguing with the financial accountability and stewardship teachings found in the Bible my carnal and stoic suggestion would be to let them rot in their folly.

In addition to the many laws you mentioned there are so many allegories and stories that bring out the wisdom of following the book's financial advice.

Everything from appropriate stewardship of the environment (planting for six years and letting a field lay fallow the 7th) to not harvesting a field completely clean can be found in the book. We can also find excellent guidance on our financial dealings with each other, the under privileged and weak.

Oh wait, let's not forget one of the greatest stories in the book as found in the story of Joseph in Genesis; storing up during the years of plenty so you don't die in the years of famine (sure sounds a lot like a savings account to me).

Before one ccomments based on ignorance of content I would suggest they actually explore for themselves what is said and get beyond the rhetoric of religion versus philosophy and good sound living and decision making. Who knows, perhaps they would learn something that would keep them out of bankruptcy court.

Dr. Merken, perhaps the compassion you have learned from your reading is wasted on this group... but I guess the teachings of the book demand it regardless of the ignorance of the audience listening.

Do you ever wonder why there are over 2,000 self-help books written on an annual basis? When the last time that one was written that was was truly new and groundbreaking?


MDSand 8 years ago

Reading a piece like that kinda gets a man wishin' there were still some Injuns around here to whoop on. There just ain't nothin' better than havin' God on your side.


JusWondering 8 years ago

MDSand... you miss the point I think. It is not about religious zealots executing atrocities against their fellow man but about sound principles of living one's life. IF YOU DID READ the Bible as literature you would see the man Jesus chastizing one of his followers for using violence like this to get a point across.


MDSand 8 years ago

I've read what Jesus said, and don't see his words in the words of our Doctor Merken. I don't care to get into a discussion about people's religious beliefs.


JusWondering 8 years ago

MDSand. I think if you read my post it has absolutely nothing to do with religious beliefs... but whatever. I don't think Dr. Merken mentioned Jesus. Jesus is one of many figures in the book of the Bible which as literature has many good philosophies to guide life.


playa46 8 years ago

"Jesus is one of many figures in the book of the Bible which as literature has many good philosophies to guide life."??

Religion has convinced people that there is a big invisible man in the sky, who has a list of 10 things you must never do. And if you break any of these, he will send you to a place where you burn, suffer, scream, and cry, where you will be tortured, ridiculed be dealt pain to, slowly deteriorate, and die slowly..............but he loves you?

This economic crisis is something only we can fix. If god going to give us money if we pray? No, he is not. I am a christian myself, to an extent. I think we can get out of this ourselves.


JusWondering 8 years ago

Playa... regardless of where you think they come from aren't the "10 things you should never do" good guiding principles if you are to get along in a society and not live as a hermit?

Stop making it about religion. That seems to be the problem with our country in general. We hear the word Bible and instantly throw up our "freedom from religion" guard. Duhh... it is a book. If you read it as a book that is all it is. If there are sound economic principles (which is Dr. Merken's original point) then perhaps one should heed them. Gee, not borrowing what you can't pay back seems like a sound principle to me.

It is time to stop being so hyper sensitive about religion.


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