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Soaring ‘Sin Stocks’ Signify Souls Seeking Solace

This side of Sept. 11, more people than ever before recognize spiritual need in their lives. Sure, some are trying to fill it with age-old carnal remedies. But now, at least, they recognize the need. Many are open to authentic answers to their questions about how to fill that void. Expect even more honest questions as this Sept. 11 reminds us all of mortality and the fragility of life.

“Profit, so fleeting on much of Wall Street, has come easily to firms catering to humanity’s weakness for fatty foods, strong drink, wastrel ways and carnal passions,” U.S. News & World Report observed. “Despite an economy that slogged through 2001, people continued to buy bigger homes outfitted with larger home video systems and kitchens brimming with food and drink. And companies that indulge these and other human weaknesses indulged their shareholders as well.”

Writer Noam Nuesner researched the seven deadly sins for profitability and detailed how companies that cater to the Big Seven not only fared better than the “socially responsible” mutual funds, but also outpaced the overall stock market as well. Consider the sins and some of Nuesner’s findings:

Gluttony: Diageo, owner of Burger King and Johnnie Walker Whisky, climbed 7 percent in a year. Not bad, but the firm trailed beer maker Anheuser-Busch (up 8 percent) and Yum!Brands, owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut (which posted a 15 percent gain).

Lust: “Most firms that titillate for a living also market non-salacious fare,” the article noted. However, cable companies posted millions of dollars in profits, partly from pay-per-view adult movies. And condom <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />makerChurch & Dwight saw stock prices increase by 16 percent.

Anger: Smith & Wesson, huge manufacturer of guns, reorganized and saw its shares grow by 155 percent. (Note to friends in the NRA: This was Nuesner’s illustration, not mine.)

Pride: “Construed … as vainglory, pride offers several compelling opportunities for profit,” the article observed, pointing to gains by luxury automobile companies and cosmetics firms, not to mention “snooty retailers” Kenneth Cole (which gained 8 percent) and Gucci (up 12 percent).

Sloth: The biblical term for laziness is manifest these days “by substituting technology for minor inconvenience,” the article pointed out, taking aim at the ubiquitous remote control. Of particular note is the 59 percent gain posted by Sharper Image, which sells a remote control to control other remotes.

Envy: Keeping up with the Joneses never has been more competitive, expensive and—for people in the business—more lucrative. So, Toll Brothers, which builds luxury homes, is 11 percent richer this year.

Greed: Name the quintessential something-for-nothing icon of greed in this or any generation. Gambling, of course. Not surprising, then, that stock prices for Harrah’s Entertainment, which runs 25 casinos, went up 43 percent.

All this is disturbing for those of us who like to use “real world” object lessons to teach eternal truths to our children. Some smart-alec 16-year-old is likely to paraphrase next Sunday’s memory verse: “The wages of sin is increased profitability.”

However, perhaps we can make a more significant connection between the preying profiteers who peddle amid unpredictability and souls who seek spiritual strength. Can we connect the dots between these market trends and true human need? Can we recognize the opportunity we Christians have to fill that void with a vital relationship to Jesus Christ, not a consumer product that is purchased today and trashed tomorrow?

Liquor and porn are the easy targets, of course. For generations, Baptists have been the best at putting our fingers on this one. We instinctively understand that some people try to escape their problems in a bottle or a sexual encounter. We know they’re attempting to fill a spiritual vacuum with pleasure that only brings pain.

But what about the spiritual implications of some of the other trends? Can we connect Americans’ penchant for “super-sizing” fast-food lunches to true spiritual hunger? Is our fascination with homes the size of train stations and cars more sophisticated than Apollo spacecraft in any way related to yearning for an authentic relationship with a transcendent God? What are the spiritual implications of fixation on the labels we wear on our clothes? The psycho-babblers could have a field day with this, but it’s more serious than afternoon talk-TV.

Americans in the first decade of the 21st century seem to have an itch they can’t quite scratch. And since Sept. 11, it’s been burning like fire. It’s a longing that won’t go away with another helping of dessert, the turn of a key in an ignition or the swipe of a credit card. Someone, I believe it was Soren Kierkegaard, once observed that every person is born with a hole that only God can fill. But Americans are trying to cram everything from expensive loafers to designer wines to mini-mansions into that space.

Ironically, this is good news for us, for the church. We’re offering the only Living Water that can quench eternal thirst. We carry the only Bread of Life that will satisfy perpetual hunger. We hold the keys to the only Home where people can find true peace and rest. However, to be authentic, we must live as if we believe what we profess. If our quest for things does not differ from anyone else’s, then why should others believe we have anything to offer them they can’t get through the Home Shopping Network?

This side of Sept. 11, more people than ever before recognize spiritual need in their lives. Sure, some are trying to fill it with age-old carnal remedies. But now, at least, they recognize the need. Many are open to authentic answers to their questions about how to fill that void. Expect even more honest questions as this Sept. 11 reminds us all of mortality and the fragility of life.

And no matter what the world’s wisdom tells you, remember: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This side of Sept. 11, more people than ever before recognize spiritual need in their lives. Sure, some are trying to fill it with age-old carnal remedies. But now, at least, they recognize the need.
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Marv Knox is editor of the Baptist Standard. This column was reprinted with permission.