Americans are hoping the new administration will ride into Washington like a knight in shining armor to rescue us from our economic woes.

Let's pray it does. The sub-prime mess has shaken financial markets worldwide; it's the deepest crisis since the Great Depression. Millions have lost their homes to foreclosure; the unemployment rate climbed from 5.7 percent in August 2008 to 6.1 percent at the beginning of October. Great Wall Street institutions have collapsed, sinking the Dow Jones and plunging world markets into chaos. Western governments have injected massive amounts of capital into their banks.

Can Washington really fix all this? The government is surely responsible in large part: Congress was grossly negligent, milking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for multimillion-dollar patronage jobs and forcing them to give shaky mortgages to unqualified borrowers. So reform is desperately needed (if only Congress could reform itself).

But if we look honestly at what started the credit crisis—moral failures and following false worldviews—we recognize that the solution demands more than any political savior can possibly deliver.

The roots of the crisis go beyond political blunders to Wall Street, which devised a clever new product: Buy mortgages from banks, bundle them into mortgage-based securities, and sell them. Wall Street bankers reaped a windfall, but the scheme shifted the risk from the lending bank or mortgage broker to some Swiss hedge fund. Unintended consequences quickly followed. With cash flooding into the banks (which had no risks), every savings and loan, Internet start-up, lender, and mortgage broker urged people to take mortgages whether they could repay them or not.

The result: Many who could not afford a home were taken in. They knew they could pay the low interest rates for the first two years, and were assured that if they could not pay higher rates once those kicked in, they could sell their houses, which were supposed to have risen in value. Everything worked so long as home prices kept rising. When they stopped rising, the scheme collapsed.

Individuals, having collectively run up trillions in debt and a zero rate of savings, share much of the blame—but no one accepts responsibility. When the meltdown started in October, the culprits in Congress feigned surprise; the public flooded them with e-mails opposing the bailout, half of them (according to polls) because they didn't feel responsible. So much for the public good.

This is dramatic evidence that worldviews do matter. The dominant attitude of recent decades says there are no moral truths—that we should simply live for the moment and get whatever we can out of life. This worldview has led to the chaos we are experiencing. By contrast, the Christian worldview teaches us to live within our means, defer gratification, and treat others honorably—all requirements for sustaining personal prosperity and the free-market system.

But free markets can remain free only if individuals behave responsibly and police themselves. We are not doing that today; we have ignored moral restraints, even labeling them intolerant.

Where this would lead became clear to me when, in the wake of the late-'80s S&L scandals, a friend endowed an ethics program at Harvard Business School. I had stated publicly that ethics could not be taught in an institution committed to philosophical relativism. In response, Harvard invited me to address the business school. Neither students nor faculty challenged my arguments, and Harvard later dropped the course. Over the years I have given my lecture about the inconsistency of ethics and moral relativism to many schools and read the ethics curricula of top business schools. They are all about diversity and sensitivity, not inculcating character based on moral absolutes. We are now paying the price.

This financial crisis is in reality a crisis of character. And the taxpayers are stuck with a staggering bill and a shaky economic future.

The long-term casualty of this debacle is freedom. When free societies abuse their freedom, governments step in. The government recently announced that in the future, mortgages could not be granted unless there was a written record proving the borrower had the ability to repay the loan. How comical that simple common sense now has to be written into law.

So good luck to the incoming administration. I pray it can bring stability back to the economy. Band-Aids won't do. We need a complete overhaul of our national priorities. But we Christians have an even bigger job. Unless we can renew in our culture a worldview encouraging virtue and responsibility, the economic maelstrom of the past year will only be a foretaste of things to come.

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