This one comes to us from the illustrious Jim Zucker:
Living in Houston, even more than ten years after the collapse of Enron, references to Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Andy Fastow, et al., still catch my attention. Recently, Fastow, the Enron CFO who became the Government’s “star witness” in its prosecution of Lay and Skilling and has served his own jail sentence, spoke to a Financial Statement Accounting class (riveting!) at Tufts. His observations (as conveyed by the professor) on the effect of the law and regulation are not surprising to regular Mockingbird readers:
“Regulation has not prevented fraud. In fact, it may have exacerbated the problem. Enron viewed the complexity or ambiguity of rules as an opportunity to game the system.”
Or, as Paul writes in Romans: “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.” And “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. . . . I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.”
Fastow’s explanation for his actions is also telling:
“Why did he commit fraud? Why did a bright, aspiring, stereotypical MBA cross the line and misrepresent the true financial picture of Enron? According to Fastow, greed, insecurity, ego, and corporate culture all played a part. But the key was his proclivity to rationalize his actions through a narrow application of ‘the rules.’”
I do this all the time (though I will leave aside my “greed, insecurity, and ego” in this post and focus on rationalization). I rationalize my actions through a “narrow application” of the Law in order to “game the system.” That is, I take a low view of Law and believe I have satisfied it or can satisfy it or at least come very close in some respect. But this is the genius of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, which restores a high view of the Law and explodes my “narrow application” by equating anger with murder, lust with adultery, and so on. Indeed, Jesus removes the “complexity and ambiguity” by focusing on my heart. But that is the Good News: I can’t “game the system,” and my only hope is for a Savior.