GOD IN THE PITS: THE ENRON-JIHAD
“God in the Pits is a compelling story of
Mark Ritchie’s quest for meaning and truth in the Commodity pits and the pits
of life. I read about 30 books a year. None has gripped me more…. With his
trading experience as a backdrop, he unveils a path to truth about his physical
and spiritual world that has real meaning. Must read for seekers of value,
truth, and reality in the biggest sense.”
J. Oster, Publisher Futures Magazine
traders are few and far between, and fewer still write autobiographies. But the
public clamor for insights into the minds of successful traders has placed
books such as Reminiscences of a Stock
Operator among the bestsellers of all time. God in the Pits deserves
to join it…. A dynamic and well written book— a truth page-turner.”
"Makes a case that it
is possible to go long on soybeans without compromising one’s religious devotion.”
“Could be just what the pits
—Donald J. Trump
“One of the five books
that should be in the business person’s essential library.”
“Some people would be
surprised, even skeptical, to hear a trader talk about how he found God and
about the importance of God in his life. But that is the story Mark Ritchie
successfully relates in this poignant and sensitively written book.”
—Kansas City Times
“They are ordinary guys
and certified psychos, calculating entrepreneurs and seat-of-the-pants
gamblers. They are all found in the pits…. Then along comes Mark Ritchie, and
you can add Mother Theresa to the stew. Ritchie is a former pit trader and a
founding partner of Chicago Research and Trading, one of the leading
commodity options trading firms. Unlike most of his peers, the excess baggage
Ritchie took to the pits was a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, and even more unlike other traders, he gives
his trading profits away to the poorest people in the world…. The effort is
something you can pull for, and Ritchie’s story is surely one of the most
unexpected to emerge from the trading floor…. It is, however, a truth tortuous
journey to the promised land.”
—Chicago Sun-Times Book Review
“He provides insights into
the ethical and moral inner conflicts that anyone doing business must face and
offers illuminating glimpses into the workings of commodities trading, as well
as explains how he can be both a rigorous money-maker and a man of strong
Christian belief. He writes with a genuine sincerity and without
Library Association Booklist
“His wit and honesty are
very appealing. He has a genuine capacity for discerning and conveying
spiritual insights––with a refreshing lack of ego inflation. A welcome and
unusual item in the confessional genre.”
“Ritchie seems to have
managed the biblically impossible task of serving both God and mammon. An
observant (albeit live-and-let-live) Christian, the author has earned a
considerable fortune in Chicago’s rough-and-tumble futures markets. On the
evidence of his low-key text, which combines a spiritual autobiography and
personal memoir with a rags-to-riches success story, he’s also an extremely rewarding
writer…. Obviously aware that his insistence that Christians live up to the
teachings of the Master will win him few friends among organized religions, the
author pokes gentle fun at truth believers and ideologues…. Nor are his
oft-expressed views that amateurs should not speculate in commodities
calculated to endear him to fellow traders who make fine livings from the
public. Another Mark (with the last name of Twain), is said to have remarked on
the ‘calm confidence of a Christian with four aces.’ Ritchie has this sort of
assurance and more, which he shares in a very special book.”
in the Pits
The Enron-jihad Edition
Mark Andrew Ritchie
(Originally published as
“God in the Pits: The Confessions of a Commodities Trader," Macmillan,
To the unusually outstanding
Reedsport Union High School
Class of ’66
PROLOGUE—The Road to Kandahar—Accident or Jihad .............
CHAPTER 1 Shortages: Silver and Purple Pencils
CHAPTER 2 A Ticket to Kandahar?
CHAPTER 3 God Murders Everybody Once
CHAPTER 4 Going to Herat Blues ..................................................
CHAPTER 5 Thou Shalt Not Enjoy
CHAPTER 6 Hypocrisy.................................................................
CHAPTER 7 Risk ...........................................................................
CHAPTER 8 The Importunate Hazara ...........................................
CHAPTER 9 Cautionary Tales
CHAPTER 10 The Love of God Compels Us
CHAPTER 11 Welcome Home to God’s
EPILOGUE—Jesus never Killed Anybody...............................
The Road to Kandahar--Accident or Jihad
The day will come when
those who kill you will believe that they have done God’s work.
In all my years I had never heard anyone in America
speak the word Kandahar. But in the wake of 9/11, things are different. Concepts so obvious they
were taken for granted without discussion are now open for review.
For me Kandahar is just such a subject. We may now add it to
that immortal list of places where Americans have given their lives for the
freedom we love with such passion. Who could have predicted this turn of
When I first wrote this story for Macmillan, it evolved into
a spiritual journey in which Afghanistan and Islam were
factors, but almost incidental ones. No longer is this so.
For example, a few decades back when I stepped into that
travel agency at the Chicago Board of Trade, I wondered how I would ask the lady for the
fastest ticket to Kandahar. A fellow trader from the soybean oil pit stopped by
and to show interest, asked where I was headed. I told him that I had a
personal tragedy that required me to get an emergency ticket to Afghanistan. There was such an inquisitive look in his eye, I
had to give some detail; highway accident, remote desert, family tragedy. But I
decided not to mention Kandahar.
In the years since that day, I’ve heard from a variety of
unrelated sources that the accident on the road to Kandahar was not what it
appeared to be. The camel may or may not have gotten in the way. In fact, maybe
there weren’t any camels on that deserted section of road that day. Possibly
the word jihad would come closer to describing the event.
Jihad. There’s another word I’d never heard on the lips
of an American. Until now. In the rush to return to normal following the
tragedy of 9/11, jihad has been baptized with a spin that would
make a politician proud. A church near my home even invited a mullah to speak
to their congregation and clarify Islam for them.
Christians were pleasantly surprised to learn that jihad could refer to
something as mundane as the struggle against a sweet tooth. This is clarity?
Over the years I’ve developed a peaceful coexistence with this sort of error,
viewing it as the customary naïveté that Americans, in this case church-goers,
embrace; we have a love affair with acceptance and toleration.
I was brutally jarred from the error of such thinking when my
mother walked into a place of worship in Islamabad, Pakistan. She was there to teach English to
Afghan refugee women. On that morning, the sermon was interrupted by another
spiritual message delivered by a man packing grenades. The grenade that landed
a few meters from Mom failed to detonate.
when I woke up to the reality that I am one source of the problem; I tolerate
American naïveté. I even chuckle at it. Jihad is an
Arabic word that means “to struggle”. In Asia, everyone knows that it refers to
the struggle to preserve the faith of Islam. It means killing people on the road to Kandahar
and throwing hand grenades at eighty two year old ladies in church. To some in
America, it means struggling against candy. In Asia, my mother stumbles out of
church stepping over the severed bodies of her friends.
I have labeled this the Enron-jihad Edition not because it
will focus on either Enron or jihad,
but because these two disjointed settings provide the backdrop for my own
personal struggle. The poverty and mystery of Afghanistan is a
spiritual enigma all its own. And the wealth of capitalism has brought
us greed that we’ve hardly noticed. I use the Enron-jihad label because my
trauma centers on the private parts of humanity, parts that brought us both
Enron and 9/11.
The common denominator that these apparently disjointed
problems share is spiritual. To a young commodity trader starting out, I have
often advised, “Get your spiritual house in order and keep your office on the
first floor.” Then I brace for the reaction, “What’s spirituality got to do
with bottom line profits?”
In our current culture, spiritual issues are often seen as
boring or irrelevant. Pop culture tells
us that if you have personal convictions, keep them personal. Pushing a
spiritual theme to a busy capitalistic culture is a bit like selling bicycles
to goldfish. The only negative review of the first edition of this book labeled
my story “embarrassingly personal.” The implication was, “who needs it?” What
my publisher wanted was a title with three words worked into it—how, to, and million. (I did my best to spice up my arguments with the
sex-in-the-elevator story on the first page.) Demonstrating that spiritual
issues are relevant is an uphill battle.
your spiritual house in order? What for? He who stops to tend to matters of the
soul will surely miss the next big buying opportunity.
I’m not going to say that my country is totally ignorant of
spiritual issues and I have no complaint about the sales of the early editions
of my story. But let’s face reality: who looks after spiritual issues when
everything is going great? Then, when that proverbial “stuff” hits the fan, whose spiritual roots are
deep enough to endure it?
All of this was summed up in a comment posted on the web.
“Some people believe in Buddha, others in Yahweh, still others in Jesus Christ or Allah.
Does it matter? Your beliefs are your beliefs. As long as they don’t infringe
on mine, why should I care? As long as your likes or beliefs please or comfort
you, and don’t harm others, why should anyone else care?”
will give credit to the writer because it is fashionable to do so and because
it is a well-written paragraph. But we must assume that even the writer herself
would not claim any originality for this thought. It summarizes the most
commonly held attitude in Western civilization today.
Let me put this as simply as possible because it may be the
most important issue of our day: An
inaccurate belief system is a trap. The more diabolical the belief system,
the greater ability it will have to masquerade as if it pleases, comforts, and
does no harm. Then one morning we wake up to discover that an inaccurate belief
system has just taken down the World Trade Center.
No one knows about traps like commodity traders. The market
rallies as if it is headed to the moon. Everyone buys all he can afford on the
way up. Then the market stops moving up, maybe moves down a little. Everyone in
the pit looks at each other wondering where in the world we will sell this
stuff when the serious down-move begins. All of us who trade in the soybean
meal pit now anticipate the line from our partner-in-pain down in the middle.
At such moments the colorful fellow, now gray-haired from a long and successful
career, yells, “I’ll give up the cheese; just let me out of the trap!”
The widely accepted conviction that everyone’s belief system
is his own personal business which no one has the right to judge is a trap far
more dangerous than any I fell into while trading commodities. And trust me; I
got into most of them.
The people who brought us 9/11 sincerely
believed that they were doing God (and us) a favor. The same goes for those who
took Wall Street Journal writer, Daniel Pearl’s, life. But this is far ahead of
Do you doubt that an inaccurate belief system was the primary
cause of the attack on America? Do you doubt that an inaccurate belief system
was the primary cause of the Enron debacle? I
wrote this story for anyone who is confused on these questions. It was
dedicated to my classmates because of the affinity I share with them; our
generation has been paid dearly for this confusion.
Some have suggested that the trauma of 9/11 turned
America back to God in our hour of trouble--that it forced individuals to
search deep in their souls to find more meaningful answers to life. While this
is truth at some level, what it really did was to show a spiritually sleepy
country that spiritual orientation is at the core of what matters. It drives
people to do things they would never otherwise do.
In America, we think that the purpose of religion is to
provide the ultimate wall of restraint. This may be how it gains such a
reputation for being boring. The list of evils that need to be avoided can get
quite long in some circles. But on 9/11 we were
confronted by what appeared to be an evil act that a very strict religion not
only failed to avert but actually perpetrated. Denials of this statement are
rampant. But if we could hear the mullahs preach in the privacy of their
mosques, these rampant denials might be reconsidered.
Who can blame our culture for its total confusion? On
September 10th, 2001, we loved everybody and celebrated diversity. On September
11th, we began a long and intricate strategy to shoot
people who disagree with us. And many of us out here in Anytown, America only
want to get back to normal.
If “normal” means accepting everyone’s beliefs as equal in
value, we may never get back there. Osama bin Laden believes he
is doing God’s work. All our love of diversity notwithstanding, Americans in
general accept that it is our patriotic duty not merely to convince him
otherwise, but to kill him.
If “normal” means that the Arthur Anderson School of
Accounting is good enough for the masses, we may not get back there either. My
hope is that the day will come when board members of our major corporations
will say, “You need far more integrity than Anderson to keep the books of this
company.” Some will call this arrogant; some will call it self-righteous. We
must hope that it will be known as the protection to which the innocent are
The big question I have for America is this: Can we get back
to normal without doing the spiritual inventory necessary to answer some
difficult, and yes, sometimes embarrassingly personal questions? Normal for us
has been a place where spiritual health matters are overlooked without
consequences. A rabbi of a bygone era made this point with a story.
It seems that one day the rabbi found a boy crying. Upon
inquiring, he discovered that the boy was in the middle of a game of
hide-and-seek with his friend. “My friend hid, and I searched for him and
finally found him,” the boy sobbed. “But when it was my turn, after I got in my
hiding place, he went home and didn’t come looking for me.” You’ve taught me
about G-d, the rabbi said to himself. G-d wants us to search for him and we
went home without even looking.
Presumably this story was told long ago but how well it
describes our present character. We have forced even conversations about God so
much out of the public arena that when a trader, like myself, describes his own
spiritual journey, it can be criticized for being “embarrassingly personal.”
One strong suggestion received early in this process was to
get God out of the title. “No New York media people or book reviewers will give
any attention to a book with ‘God’ in the title,” they said.
This prejudice, or at the very least nervousness, about God
is the exclusive fault of his followers to live up to expectation. The
occupants in the pew have given God a bad rap.
But the point here is not to solve the problems in the
church, or in Enron, or in Islam. Nor is it simply to belabor that old saw we know
so well: the world’s a mess. My thesis is that we have consistently attempted
to clean up the wrong mess. The mess is not military. The mess is neither legal
nor political nor corporate. Neither is it systemic. These are merely the
fields on which the mess is made. Killing Osama will
not clean up the world’s mess. Jailing Enron execs will not clean up the mess.
Writing better laws won’t force corporate execs, Enron or any other, to put
their employees’ interests ahead of their own. Someone will gain hero status by
achieving these goals. This will lead us to believe that we are cleaning up the
world’s mess when in fact we are not.
The mess is spiritual. And in spite of the Islamic view of
jihad as a physical war against evil, the real struggle is internal. My critic
was correct; this story is embarrassingly
personal. It is to this struggle that I now turn, and with a degree of sadness
I must confess; judging others and throwing a few stones is easier, more fun,
and less threatening. But there’s only one target I know I can hit—myself.
especially if it can be justified, has an element of glamour that cannot be
denied. (Rest assured that the 9/11 highjackers
possessed ample self-justification.) But the battle inside is where the real
adventure begins. It is not for the faint of heart or the easily-intimidated.
For those who can stomach a deeply personal struggle, call it a jihad if you
like, I invite you to join me on a trip.