If you are a Christian, follow me at your own risk, because you may find your political beliefs disturbed if you are also against the stimulus and the bailout. I am going to argue that, as a Christian, you should probably agree with the bailout of homeowners who signed up for more mortgage they can afford. Further, you should consider bailing out the banks, although not the bankers, and the auto industry, although perhaps not its management. Why? Because Christ died for our sins. He is the Redeemer. Of what? Of our debt, because it is one of our many sins (although not the Original.) I didn’t make this up.
Let me admit first that I have a crummy religious education, and have been most of my life practicing Buddhism-lite, a life philosophy but not a religion. That means I can’t argue theology convincingly, and I’m not going to.
Born a Jew, I never practiced that religion, nor any other. However, I have had a stellar literary education, and even remember some of it. Most of the literature that was taught when I was getting my education was from the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Therefore, I remember the Lord’s Prayer line, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” from my childhood. Likewise the one that says “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” These seem to me to be instructions for today’s life. I try to live by them. I have, for instance, been a Foster Mom and written a book about it.
Which brings me to Margaret Atwood’s lectures, to which @Hil121, a Twitter friend I’ve never met in person, sent me last night. I have always loved Margaret Atwood the novelist, and now I know why. Last fall, she gave a series of lectures, the combined title of which is “Payback.” They are about the philosophical and religious underpinnings of debt, and they have such compelling individual titles as “Debt as Sin,” and “Debt as Plot.” You can listen to them here, but I warn you that they require a deep background in English literature; because that’s the field in which I happen to have a Ph.D., much in them brings back things I read not once, but three times: once at Cornell, once at Columbia, and once at Syracuse, while amassing my three degrees.
I then saved these works of the Western canon on my “backup drive,” and haven’t performed a “restore” until I listened to Margaret Atwood last night.
Here are some major principles that jumped out at me from her interpretation of the canon, beginning with Welsh folk tales and traveling at least as far as James Joyce according to Atwood.
Most of them can be traced to the Old Testament, the concept of Original Sin, and the New Testament concept of Redemption.
Atwood points out that historically, borrowers and lenders have an obligation to each other. They are locked together in a contract, part of which involves memory or the tracking of debt, and redemption, the payment of debt. There is no debt without memory, so forgiveness of debt requires forgetting it. (I read recently about some millionaire who is living in his home without paying his mortgage because the bank “lost” the original of his loan contract).
In ancient folk tales, there was someone called the “sin eater,” who symbolically consumed the sins of a dead person so the corpse could go freely into the afterlife. Later, the sin eater was replaced by The Redeemer, the Saviour, who also causes our sins to be forgiven.
These concepts evolved because debt has always been associated with sin. It is definitely sinful to go into debt; however, debt is erased by death if there is a sin eater. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” says Polonius, because it isn’t good to be either one!
There’s also the old saying “Nothing is inevitable but death and taxes.” Why? Because taxes were a sort of protection racket. The tax collector who takes your money is supposed to give you something back. If you get nothing back, you don’t have to pay taxes.
We pay taxes. Surely we should get something back here, and that should be “protection,” which is also in some ways the Redemption.
Margaret Atwood points out that there is a long tradition of erasing debt, and that tradition comes from the Bible. It has been done before. And if we want the economy to start growing us out of the recession, it has to be done now.
So all the moralizing about who should be saved and who should be allowed to fail is decidedly un-Christian. No one should be allowed to fail if he confesses his sins and accepts the Redeemer. “Forgive us our debts/ as we forgive our debtors.” Isn’t that our heritage?