We are talking about L'Affaire Madoff in the post office, in the locker room, at our Hanukkah parties, in our synagogues and churches, at the supermarket, everywhere. Jews and Christians are talking. Even Hindus are wondering about it. It's a big story.
Some people are asking about the Madoff psychology (viz. Allan Chernoff at CNN). What made him think he could pull this off? What freed him from all bounds of conscience?
People are asking if it is important to note that he is Jewish? The AP writes that Some Jews fear case stokes anti-Semitism. Duh. Most definitely - all Jews worry about that.
Know well. We can never enter into the mind of a Madoff and discover the tortured paths of reasoning that enabled and motivated his evil deeds.
We can speculate.
What bothers me is the obvious. I keep thinking that someone who starts a Ponzi scheme knows without a single doubt that there is no exit at the end. You can never sell the business, pay back your investors or walk away. Perhaps his death or disappearance would relieve the principal perpetrator of some humiliation or suffering at the end. But there is no satisfactory conclusion to the narrative of the Ponzi scheme other than collapse and prison (and for Ponzi himself, ultimately deportation). So what was Madoff thinking and believing?
Here is where religion might enter in. If he has Jewish beliefs (and we don't know if he is a believing Jew) then Madoff could have thought to himself that the Messiah would come before his scheme collapsed, and that in the messianic age he would not be required to pay back his investors. Stop laughing. It's a possible explanation, as good as any other.
If he has only general religious beliefs, then maybe he believes in miracles? Only a miracle could enable him to escape at the end of a Ponzi scheme. Or perhaps Madoff is secretly a Christian and believes that at the end of the line he can be forgiven of his sins and born again by dint of faith in the Christian savior. Hey. It could be.
Another point about motivations. Madoff's scheme is so way out of proportions it begs for an explanation. The sheer magnitude of the chutzpah of the Madoff scheme boggles the imagination of us ordinary humans. It's a drama of cosmic proportions - it's a plot of biblical and canonical size. So I begin to wonder - maybe Madoff studied a lot of bible as a kid and it help inspire the size of his nefarious ambitions. Hey. We all say that the bible is a book of inspiration.
Bernie now knows that no miracle saved him and that the Messiah did not come in advance of the collapse of his evil financial empire. There was no deus ex machina dropping down to save the protagonist of this drama.
Bottom line. Religion provides great motivations for personal good and for the betterment of society when it is employed by good people.
We ought to at least entertain the thought that confused, dysfunctional, sociopathic people can find their own solace in their private grotesque distortions of religious tenets.