From my hotel balcony here in West Jerusalem, I can see the walls of the Old City, and behind them the steeples and minarets of this city that haunts the imagination of the world. The religions of Jerusalem have been around a long time, and in their separate ways the faiths and the religious establishments of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic worlds today face a variety of challenges.But with the world’s financial markets gyrating wildly and the threat of a true depression looming over the still fragile economic recovery, the faith today that seems under the heaviest assault is more modern: the faith that natural and social science would lead humanity to an era of progress, security and peace. The religion of Enlightenment, born in Europe and North America in the 18th century, swept through the world faster than any of the faiths of the old prophets. Barely two hundred years after its birth the faith in progressive modernity had conquered the world.
OCTOBER: This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February.It also means that another one of our operating assumptions is wrong. We like to assume that history is getting calmer, more settled, safer and more predictable. It ain’t. history is going to remain radically risky, radically unknowable, and scarier than anything Stephen King ever wrote.Liberal democratic capitalism is not a strategy for making God unnecessary by creating a stable and predictable world. Liberal democratic capitalism is a revolutionary force that brings us face to face with the haunting uncertainties and big questions that since the dawn of time have driven people to God in search of answers.
Jerusalem is a good city in which to contemplate the crisis of humanity’s faith that enlightened reason can solve our problems and make us safe. The constant efforts to find a way for Jerusalem’s religious and tribal groups to divide the city and reach some kind of peaceful solution have frustrated the efforts of some of the world’s greatest statesmen and leaders.Sometimes as I watch diplomats toil to bring peace to Jerusalem, and European elites struggle to build a new kind of political architecture to give Europe a better future, or watch economists everywhere trying to develop the policy and regulatory frameworks that can give us the kind of steady growth we all yearn for, I feel as if I’m watching Sisyphus struggling to push his rock up the slope — or watching the ancient Middle Easterners try to build a tower in Babel that would reach up to the sky.The Tower of Babel fell; the global system fell in 1914 and then crashed repeatedly through the twentieth century. Worst case, something like that could be looming just ahead.If it is, we will need Jerusalem more than ever. This city points to the fragility and failure of human striving; but it also points to an enduring hope. The domes, steeples and minarets of Jerusalem point to our undiminished capacity to recover, to rebuild, to rediscover faith in the ruins of broken dreams. The Middle East is littered with the ruins of fallen towers, but people keep building.There is still a better than even chance that the world economy will recover its footing, and that the Greek mess is a stumble rather than a fall. But sooner or later the unthinkable will happen, the bottom really will fall out of things, and we will all be left groping for some way to understand what is happening around us.When that day comes, it will be to Jerusalem that most of us turn; the gods of Brussels are letting us down.