Full Text: God in the Pits




            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.”

            —Merrill J. Oster, Publisher Futures Magazine

            “Successful 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 need.”

            —Institutional Investor


            Donald J. Trump

            “One of the five books that should be in the business person’s essential library.”

            —Working Woman

            “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 proselytizing.”

            —American 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.”

            —Library Journal

            “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.”

            —Kirkus Reviews








God in the Pits


The Enron-jihad Edition





Mark Andrew Ritchie






(Originally published as “God in the Pits: The Confessions of a Commodities Trader," Macmillan, 1989)



To the unusually outstanding

Reedsport Union High School

Class of ’66

with apologies



        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 Country.............................

        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.

        Jewish rabbi



        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 history?

        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 naďveté 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.

That’s when I woke up to the reality that I am one source of the problem; I tolerate American naďveté. 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. 

Get 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?”[1]

We 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 my story.

        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 entitled.

        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.[2]

        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.

        Killing others, 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.


[1] Posted at Cyberkat.blogspot.com/2002_02_24 at 8:06 AM by Kathleen Ann Heijtink, an obviously very nice person who prefers Kathie, Kath, Kate, Kat, or even Chatty Kathie, to whom we owe this succinct summary of our current atmosphere.


[2] Many rabbis avoid abusing God’s name by spelling it.

Excerpt from God in the Pits, The Enron-Jihad Edition, by Mark Andrew Ritchie
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