"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
"A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine." (Rev. 6:6)
In the 2000 election, Religious Right activists throughout the country supported George Bush for the presidency in overwhelming numbers; to hear some Christians put it, one would have been tempted to believe that Bush's election to the presidency was almost as important as the Second Coming.
While most Christians were not quite that enthusiastic, they believed, nonetheless, that anything would have been better than Al Gore - ANYTHING! After all, wasn't Bush a Christian? That's more than Al Gore was, right?
The founder of one devotional web site said that he called both George Bush and Al Gore and asked them to send him their testimonies. Gore's office said that he didn't have one at hand (evidently, proof to anyone conversant in such matters that Gore wasn't a Christian); Bush, however, had one available - all typed up and approved by the Bush campaign for distribution, and it was promptly forwarded to the site's webmaster, who in turn passed it on to the Christian community in general, with the words,
"Here it is ... please pass it along! Very Important!!! This could change America."
The testimony read in part:
"... the seeds of my decision (for Christ) were ... planted by the Reverend Billy Graham. (Several yeas ago) ... he visited my family for a summer weekend in Maine. I saw him preach at the small summer church, St. Ann's by the Sea. We all had lunch on the patio overlooking the ocean. One evening my dad asked Billy to answer questions from a big group of family gathered for the weekend.
"He sat by the fire and talked. And what he said sparked a change in my heart. I don't remember the exact words. It was more the power of his example. The Lord was so clearly reflected in his gentle and loving demeanor. The next day we walked and talked at Walker's Point, and I knew I was in the presence of a great man. He was like a magnet; I felt drawn to seek something different. He didn't lecture or admonish; he shared warmth and concern. Billy Graham didn't make you feel guilty; he made you feel loved. Over the course of that weekend, Reverend Graham planted a mustard seed in my soul, a seed that grew over the next year. He led me to the path, and I began walking. It was the beginning of a change in my life. I had always been a "religious" person, had regularly attended church, even taught Sunday School and served as an altar boy. But that weekend my faith took on a new meaning. It was the beginning of a new walk where I would commit my heart to Jesus Christ."
Obviously, then, Bush claims to be a Christian - and not only that, he claims that it is precisely his Christianity that has propelled him into politics. Bush explains:
"I could not be governor (i.e., be in politics) if I did not believe in a divine plan that supersedes all human plans ... I build my life on a foundation that will not shift. My faith frees me. Frees me to put the problem of the moment in proper perspective. FREES ME TO MAKE DECISIONS THAT OTHERS MIGHT NOT LIKE ..."
One of these "decisions" that people "might not like" (but one that Bush and his business cohorts and banker friends feel is the "RESPONSIBLE" thing to do) is a measure aimed at modifying the bankruptcy laws. Bush justifies the change with rhetoric straight out of the lexicon of the Religious Right, the kind that vilifies the poor as irresponsible failures whose indolence and inertia are responsible for their destitution, and treats bankers and creditors as paragons of virtue whose wealth is proof positive of their moral superiority. Bush says:
"During the more than half century of my life, we have seen an unprecedented decay in our American culture, a decay that has eroded the foundations of our collective values and moral standards of conduct. Our sense of PERSONAL responsibility has declined dramatically, just as the role and responsibility of the federal government have increased. The changing culture BLURRED THE SHARP CONTRAST BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG and created a new standard of conduct: 'If it feels good, do it.' and 'If you've got a problem, blame somebody else'. 'Individuals are not responsible for their actions', the new culture has said. 'We are all victims of forces beyond our control'.
"We have gone from a culture of sacrifice and saving to a culture obsessed with grabbing all the gusto. We went from accepting responsibility to assigning blame. As government did more and more, individuals were required to do less and less.
"The new culture said: if people were poor, the government should feed them. If someone had no house, the government should provide one. If criminals are not responsible for their acts, then the answers are not prisons, but social programs ..."
Now stop for a moment and take notice of what's being said here. Note the clever way Bush intermingles MORAL failure and words that connote unethical lifestyles (i.e., "crime," "prisons," "blame," etc.) with FINANCIAL failure (i.e., phrases like, "... the new culture said: if people are poor, the government should feed them. If someone has no house, the government should provide one," etc.) as if the two were one and the same thing; as if financial failure (i.e., poverty) equals MORAL failure.
THIS IS NO ACCIDENT! It is a shrewdly designed stratagem that has been used over the years again and again by the rich to inculcate into the minds of average people the thought that FINANCIAL failure (i.e., poverty - which the rich presume is tantamount to financial failure) results from a MORAL breakdown; and that FINANCIAL success results from MORAL integrity.
HOW CONVENIENT FOR THE RICH! - and it goes a long way in justifying the harsh changes in the bankruptcy laws that Bush has proposed, changes that have the potential of REDUCING A GREAT PORTION OF OUR POPULATION TO A CONDITION APPROACHING "INDENTURED SERVITUDE" TO COMPANIES LIKE VISA, MASTER CARD, AMERICAN EXPRESS, AND BANKS LIKE WELLS FARGO, BANK OF AMERICA, CITICORP, CHASE, etc.
Think about it! - if financial failure can be successfully linked to moral turpitude in the eyes of the public, then it makes it all the easier for the nation's credit card companies and banks to impose the austere measures they feel are necessary to bring the debtor class "to heel." And if the Bible can be brought to bear on these scofflaws, so much the better. The truth is, if Christians can be enlisted to bash in the heads of the poor, the banks and credit card companies can seize the moral "high ground" in their uncharitable, hard-hearted efforts at "debt collection."
Wow! - who said it was impossible to squeeze blood out of a turnip? With the help of the Christian community, a "miracle" in this direction may not be all that impossible! My oh my, well miracles never cease!
There is, of course, no basis in the Scripture for such ideas (i.e., that those who are successful financially are ipso facto men of high integrity); though, no doubt, many people (especially Christians) probably think that there is.
It has been repeated in the language of our culture so often that it has now taken on the aura of biblical truth - for example, take a passage like the following, a passage which has been extracted straight out of the folksy lexicon of one of this country's most well-known purveyors of such thinking, Benjamin Franklin -
"Remember that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again it is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes five hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding-sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown (five pounds), destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds. "
This all sounds so biblical - it even has a biblical cadence to it. The use of terms like "beget," and "to the thousandth generation," lends to it a certain biblical veracity. But Franklin was no Christian; he was a Deist. He had, as a result, no real knowledge of the Scripture. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the quote used above has little to do with the Bible - at least insofar as the New Testament is concerned - and everything to do with the "wisdom of this world," which the Bible UTTERLY condemns and TOTALLY rejects,
"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." (1 Cor. 3:19)
The fact is, the New Testament does not hold the rich in any kind of esteem or respect; quite the opposite! - it scathingly condemns them in terms which can only be described as brusque and severe; for example,
"Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation." (Luke 6:24)
"... a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
"... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matt. 19:23-24)
Not only that, but what's even more frightening, the Bible says that the pursuit of wealth - if unchecked - will actually drive men into DESTRUCTION and PERDITION -
"For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
"And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
"But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. (1 Tim. 6:7-9)
And one should remember here that the above verse (i.e., I Tim. 6:7-9) is directed at a Christian audience; in other words, it's not just unbelievers that wealth has the potential of ruining, but it also has the very real possibility of destroying Christians as well.
Nonetheless, one would think in listening to the pompous toadies of today's Christianity that the words of Benjamin Franklin carry more weight in the councils of the church than do the words of the Apostle Paul.
Max Weber (1864-1920), a sociologist and a political economist at the University of Berlin (and later at Heidelberg and Freiburg) was one of the first to take note of this new kind of Christianity (the kind that Bush and his ilk embrace and are using to justify their harsh changes in the bankruptcy laws) and its connection to men and women of wealth. He did so in a book that remains a classic, even today (almost one hundred years after its original publication): The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber wrote,
"What person, who keeps his eyes open, has not met representatives of this view-point (i.e., people who see the acquisition of wealth as the sine qua non of the Christian life), even in the present? The idea of a man's duty to his possessions, TO WHICH HE SUBORDINATES HIMSELF AS AN OBEDIENT STEWARD, or even as an acquisitive (i.e., grasping, greedy) MACHINE, bears with chilling weight on his life ... for holding wealth ... and increasing it by restless effort ..."
While Weber was horrified by the thought of Christianity being used in this manner, he clearly recognized that powerful interests in the service of capitalism were bending every effort to push this kind of thinking on an unsuspecting public; its utility insofar as the rich were concerned was beyond measure. Think about it! - a religion that could justify the rich's accumulation of wealth, while at the same time defending their effort to reduce ordinary people to docile servants or "cogs in a machine" built to service the ambitions of the wealthy. Now that's the kind of religion the rich can get behind and support!!
Weber labeled this ethic, "THE PROTESTANT ETHIC" because its roots lay in the "reconstructionist" inclinations of Calvinism and Puritanism which tended to emphasize success in the world (especially in the business world) as a sign of God's grace, and which made the establishment of the "community of God" in the "here and now" one of the main objects of the Gospel. In this atmosphere - an atmosphere that did little to differentiate between "this world" and the "Kingdom of Heaven" - business success was seen as something that advanced the "Kingdom of God."
While the theology of this type of Christianity (i.e., Puritanism and Calvinism) does not entirely de-emphasize the transitory nature of life in the "here and now," there is on a practical basis an utter failure in the concepts that undergird it to take into account Paul's injunction that we Christians should view ourselves as "sojourners" in this world, people who see themselves as merely "passing through."
Paul's declaration that those who wish to serve God must consider the world as "alien territory," and they themselves as only "sojourners" in it - has a hollow ring to it insofar as the practitioners of Calvinism and Puritanism are concerned. There is very little room here for the thought that we are people who are merely transiting through the world on our way to another land, a heavenly country whose "builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10), and that while here on earth, there is a necessity laid upon us to continually remind ourselves of our "alien status" by -
"... confessing (both in word and in the way we live) that we are strangers (foreigners) and pilgrims (travelers, wanderers, wayfarers) on the earth ..." (Heb. 11:13);
- and that we must not only accept this fact, we must "embrace" it; we must be "persuaded" (convinced) by it, and by doing so, we must actively demonstrate that we are -
"... seeking another country ... a better country, that is, an heavenly (one)." (Heb. 11:14) ... wherefore God is not ashamed to be called our God: for He hath prepared for us (a heavenly) city." (Heb. 11:16)
To be sure, there are certain "restrictions" laid upon those who practice this form of worldly Christianity, especially insofar as their manner of living is concerned; but they are minimal given the "freedom" this kind of Christianity allows people in their pursuit of success in the "here and now." Weber describes the nature of these "restrictions:"
"With the belief that he is standing in the fullness of God's grace and that he has been VISIBLY blessed by Him (as evidenced by his wealth), the ... (Christian) business man, as long as he remains within the bounds of formal correctness, as long as his moral conduct is spotless, and the use to which he puts his wealth is not objectionable, he could follow his pecuniary interests as he would and feel that he is fulfilling a divine duty in doing so ..."
In other words, Christians can chase after money and still be called "good Christians" so long as they do not APPEAR to be vulgar and crass in the way they spend their money. For example, for those practitioners of this form of Christianity in TODAY'S world, one can spend money on the kind of "UNDERSTATED" luxury that expresses itself in a $65,000 Saab or Lexus but not on the ostentatious luxury of a Lincoln or a Corvette, even at half the price of the Saab or the Lexus; one can spend $35,000 on a "country-kitchen," but not $15,000 on a sound system or a wide-screen TV; similarly, it would be acceptable to spend six hundred dollars on top-of-the-line hiking boots, but it would be vulgar to buy four hundred dollar Italian dress shoes; it would be acceptable to spend $4,400 on a Merlin XLM bike, but it would be superficial and showy to buy a power boat; it would be unacceptable to spend money on a $35,000 tour of the capital cities of Europe, but it would be acceptable to spend $55,000 on a tour of the Andes - so long as it included an occasional side trip into the villages of the indigenous population to leave behind a few Bibles.
This, of course, is EXACTLY the kind of morality (and, ipso facto, Christianity) that Religious Right leaders like Charles Stanley, Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, Kenneth Copeland, D. James Kennedy, and Jack Hayford preach from their pulpits Sunday after Sunday ad infinitum to countless numbers of Christians throughout the country: a Christianity of APPEARANCE, not SUBSTANCE. Weber continues:
"The Protestant Ethic gave him (i.e., the worldly Christian) the comforting assurance that the unequal distribution of the goods of this world was a special dispensation of Divine Providence, which in these differences, as in particular grace, pursued secret ends unknown to men."
Wow! What a marvelous religion - and so much more comfortable and self-assuring than the old biblical kind of Christianity that so RUDELY insisted that "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matthew 6:24)
Think about it: a religion that so elegantly contradicts (or at least neutralizes) verses like Matthew 6:24, and by doing so, saying that, "You can have your cake and eat it too;" a religion that justifies the rich in their wealth, and excuses them in the miserable way they work the poor in their hideous "Third World" sweatshops for wages calculated to just barely keep body and soul together. NOW THAT IS THE KIND OF RELIGION THAT CAN MAKE THE MOGULS OF WALL STREET AND THEIR "TOADIES" IN THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT SIT UP AND NOTICE.
But Christians who participate in such a religion, those who misuse the Scriptures for their own selfish ambitions and purposes, will someday pay a heavy price. Life doesn't go on forever. There comes an end, and after that, the judgment. It's not without reason, therefore, that the Bible warns:
"Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth,
"WHO TREAD UPON THE POOR, and take from him burdens of wheat (i.e., his just wages) ...
"I know your manifold transgressions, and your mighty sins ... YOU TURN ASIDE THE POOR IN THE GATE FROM THEIR RIGHT (again, their wages). Amos 5:7, 11-12)
"... I WILL COME TO YOU IN JUDGMENT, and I will be a swift witness AGAINST YOU WHO OPPRESS THE HIRELING IN HIS WAGES." (Mal. 3:5)
Again, unfair wages may be a part of the present world system of man; and, yes, while it may be true that Jesus does not call on His followers to reform the world in order to equalize wage rates (the Bible says that this "present evil world" is beyond reformation and fit only for judgment), and that He calls upon His followers to obey those who have "the rule over them," that does not give the Barons of Wall Street the right to take advantage of the evil inherent in the world. It also doesn't give Religious Right leaders the right to sell their parishioners - as it were - to the "highest bidder" on the world's labor market in order to ingratiate themselves to their paymasters in Big Business, and induce them to give more money to their extravagant building programs, to their exorbitant new ministries (most of which have very little to do with the Gospel and everything to do with "self-affirmation" in the "here and now), and to their so-called "missionary projects" in the "Third World" (which owe so much to the "kind-hearted benevolence" of the CIA, USAID, and DOD). Yes, sweatshops exist, and men are poor because of the greed of the rich - that's the way of the world is -
"... BUT WOE TO THAT MAN BY WHOM THESE OFFENSES (i.e., these evils) COME!" (Matt. 18:7)
Finally, one should take careful note of the proximity of Amos 5:7 and 11-12 to the warning in Scripture in Amos 5:21-23, i.e., that those Christians who trifle with God insofar as the poor are concerned, who refuse to pay their workers a "just wage," and who treat them dishonorably, GOD WILL GIVE THEM UP! - even if they are called by His name. Concerning such people and their form of Christianity, which is based not on SUBSTANCE, but on mere APPEARANCE, the Lord says:
"I HATE, I DESPISE your feast days, and ... your solemn assemblies.
"Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
"Take thou away from me the ... (music) of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. (Amos 5:21-23)
Not much consolation for the kind of Christians who love to stand for two or three hours in trance-like ecstasy in "praise and worship" meetings involving paid professionals dressed in designer clothing, and who then afterward climb into their $45,000 (or maybe even $65,000) SUVs and leave for an afternoon of skiing on the slopes, or barbecuing around the pool, or golf at the country club.
But this is PRECISELY the kind of Christianity that George Bush and his minions on the Religious Right embrace; this is the kind of Christianity the wealthy use to justify themselves; the kind they use to oppress the poor; and this is the kind of Christianity that links Wall Street to their bootlickers in "Establishment Christianity" - people like Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy, Charles Stanley, Robert Schuller and all the rest of these "flunkies to the rich."
And it all can be traced back to what Weber labeled the "Protestant Ethic" - the raison d'être or rationale behind the alliance between Big Business and the "Christian Establishment."
Listen, brothers and sisters: ideas count; theology counts. Good ideas (theology) lead to good results, but bad ideas (theology) lead to bad results - and that certainly is the case when Christianity is apostatized and made to serve the needs of the wealthy. That is the heinous result to mankind of Calvinism and Puritanism - and make no mistake about it, these ideas have by now spread far beyond their original "containers" (i.e., Puritanism and Calvinism) and now infect all of Christianity. Weber calls the "Protestant Ethic" the "LEADING IDEA OF THE CAPITALISTIC ECONOMY!" Think about that: "the leading idea of the capitalistic economy!" That's quite a statement! Specifically, he says:
"This (i.e., the Protestant Ethic) led to the formulation of a leading idea of capitalistic economy - i.e., the productivity of low wages ... The whole ... literature of (capitalistic Christianity) ... is saturated with the idea that faithful labor, even at low wages ... is highly pleasing to God ... IT LEGALIZED THE EXPLOITATION OF (THE CHRISTIAN WORKER'S) WILLINGNESS TO WORK ..."
"The legalized exploitation of the Christian worker!" Wow! - no wonder this is the kind of Christianity that Wall Street will fund till the "cows come home." No wonder Big Business finds it so convenient to underwrite missionary groups like the Wycliffe Bible Translators, WYAM, etc. in parts of the world where they plan to set up their sweatshops. They could care less about the Gospel and about saving souls. What they care about is a pliant workforce, and Christianity - the kind that Wall Street's "sycophants" and "fawners" in the Religious Right preach - gives it to them.
This is the exact same kind of Christianity that the mavens of Wall Street never tire of using as a billy club to bash in the heads of the poor - the kind of Christianity that grinds men and women into the dirt and legalizes their relentless and unmerciful exploitation.
Strangely, however, the rules that Wall Street applies to its "menials," it does not apply to itself. In this case, what's good for the goose is NOT good for the gander, and this is particularly true insofar as the concept of "RESPONSIBILITY" is concerned, especially as the term is applied to debt - and most especially as Bush and his cohorts want to apply the term to the new bankruptcy law. It seems that while it's RESPONSIBLE for the credit card companies and the Banks to force the "little guy" to pay up on his debts, it's IRRESPONSIBLE to force the rich to do the same; while it's IRRESPONSIBLE to bailout the "little guy," it's RESPONSIBLE to bailout the wealthy.
For example, when about three years ago - on September 24, 1998 - the New York Federal Reserve Bank organized a bailout of Long-Term Capital Investments (LTC), run by John Meriwether, long one of Wall Street's star traders, with the help of Robert Merton, a Harvard Business School economist who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1997, and Myron Scholes, another Nobel laureate in finance, some of the biggest banks and brokerage houses led the way in helping to construct the bailout, including Chase-Manhattan, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, etc. LTC is a so-called "hedge fund," one of several thousand such funds worldwide. Everybody involved in the bailout OF LTC believed that it was the "RESPONSIBLE" thing to do.
But, good grief! - is it that hard to see the double standard that is at play here? Is it that complicated to discern the titanic presumption inherent in the kind of mindset which says that such a thing is okay? - i.e., that it's "RESPONSIBLE" to bailout the honchos of Wall Street when they get into trouble, but "IRRESPONSIBLE" to bailout "Joe Six-pack" when he gets into the same kind of trouble.
This is the kind of double standard - one for the rich, the other for the poor - that the Bible very plainly condemns in Matt. 18:23-35:
"Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
"And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
"But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
"The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
"Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
"But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
"And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
"And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
"So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
"Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
"Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
"And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
"SO LIKEWISE SHALL MY HEAVENLY FATHER DO ALSO UNTO YOU, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (Matt. 18:23-35)
That's what is going on here; that's the kind of morality - the kind that embraces a double standard, one for the rich, and the other for the poor - that is driving Bush and his allies in the banking and credit card industry. And be clear here, as with the servant who owed his master ten thousand talents (as opposed to the one who owed a mere hundred pence) - LTC wasn't fooling around with a credit card debt of a mere $8,000 (which is the credit card debt of the average family in the United States - a sum so paltry that it wouldn't even register as a blip in the minds of people like John Meriwether, Robert Merton, and Myron Scholes) but with sums approaching $1 trillion - that 's TRILLION with a T - all of it linked to high risk (some would say "IRRESPONSIBLE") "financial instruments" called "derivatives."
[NOTE: Derivatives are "investment instruments" (I love these "high-priced words like "investment instruments," financial instruments," etc., don't you? - it makes everything sound "so right.") whose value is linked to or "derived" from some other security. More often than not, derivatives are linked to very complicated SPECULATION in the currency markets. For example, one PEARL derivative (a derivative marketed by Morgan Stanley in the late 1980s and early 1990s) was linked to its principal multiplied by the change in the U.S. dollar over a particular period of time, plus twice the change in the value of the British pound, minus twice the change in the value of the Swiss Franc. How's that for high-risk gambling? Yet Wall Street calls this "responsible," and credit card debt run up by the "little guy" "irresponsible." Go figure! I suppose when one is dealing with a trillion dollars, that makes someone "responsible," but when one is dealing with a mere $8,000 dollars, that makes someone "irresponsible." It should be further noted that just about every major mutual fund in the country is in the derivatives market. Not only that, but most major corporations are into it up to their necks, companies like Mobil, Ford, GM, Procter and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, DuPont, etc. Frank Partnoy, a professor at the University of California, San Diego and author of the book FIASCO - an expose of the "goings on" in the derivatives market - sums up derivatives in this way: "I believe derivatives are the most recent example of a basic theme in the history of finance: Wall Street bilks Main Street."]
And then what about the banks? What about the way the government bailed them out when they got in over their heads in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s pressing loans on a variety of Latin American and Asian countries in order to reap the usurious interest that accrued from such loans. To Citibank, Bank of America, Chase, and a number of other high-profile American banks, the "Developing World" became a kind of "cash cow" that brought them unheard of profits at the time, and so much so that the president of Citibank was fond of boasting, "Around here, its Jakarta (Indonesia) that pays the check."
And that was indeed the case. For example, Citibanks net income from Latin America increased 300 percent between 1972 and 1974. Earnings from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa rose by more than 200 percent in the same period, and by the mid-1980s, Citibank was earning half of its profits from the "extortionist" rates of interest it was charging the Third World. And what was true for Citibank was pretty much true for the other big American banks as well.
So enthusiastic were the banks' efforts at increasing their portfolio of loans to Third World governments (and, ipso facto, earning the high interest rates which derived from them) that when finance ministers met in Washington for the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (which, despite their names, are really American institutions) they were literally accosted on the street by loan hawkers from the big American banks. Indeed, on the short walk between the Shoreham and Sheraton hotels the finance minister from one poor Latin American republic recalls how he was stopped on one occasion by five separate loan officers all hawking loans at high interest rates for projects of dubious value. One former Latin American minister of finance recalls how -
"... the bankers tried to corner me at conferences, to offer me loans. They wouldnt leave me alone ... IT'S TERRIBLY TEMPTING TO BORROW MONEY ..."
The "Third World Debt Crisis" which finally resulted as the consequence of this recklessness has been described as a "morality play;" a story of greed, corruption, naiveté, and "irresponsible" behavior - kind of like the "rap" these same bankers are now heaping on those small American consumers who have fallen behind on their credit card debts. But unlike the "little guy" in this country that the banks want to drive into chapter 13 bankruptcy (as opposed to chapter 7 bankruptcy - more about this later) the banks didnt go under. They survived and even prospered. How? - by convincing the U.S. government to bail them out of their bad loans using taxpayer money.
The bailout was advertised as a "rescue" of irresponsible "Third World" countries and their indigent populations, but in reality, what it really was, was a bailout of the "IRRESPONSIBLE" American banks that had loaned the money - and it worked in this way: the bailout money was "routed" from the U.S. taxpayer to the various countries in which the loans had been made with the stipulation that the money could be used ONLY to repay the big American banks. "Routing" the money in this way helped to hide what was really happening from average American taxpayers - i.e., that it was the banks that were being bailed out and not the "Third World" countries and their impoverished populations. And to make sure that the "routing mechanism" was adhered to, it was done under the auspices of the so-called "World Bank," in reality a "wholly owned subsidiary" (so to speak) of the big American banks. This is called "debt restructuring."
All this to say that the meaning of words like "RESPONSIBILITY" and "IRRESPONSIBILITY" when applied to money are often no more than what they are in the eyes of the beholder.
Again, to bankers and Wall Street investors, it's apparently "irresponsible" when the "little guy" gets in over his head in credit card debt - and it's "irresponsible" to release him from his liabilities - but when banks and investment firms get in over their heads, it's the "responsible" thing for the government to bail them out. One rule for the rich, another rule for the poor - or does anyone suppose that a poor farmer who has fallen behind in his debts would get the same treatment from his bank that LTC got from Chase-Manhattan, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and the New York Federal Reserve, or that Bank of America, Citibank, and Chase got from the U.S. government? If so, I have a bridge I would like to sell them in Brooklyn.
The reformation of the bankruptcy laws, of course, were not topics that Bush talked about much when he was running for the president, so it is not surprising that few if any voters gave much thought to this matter when deciding how to mark their ballots last November. But, as David Broder of the Washington Post says, elections have consequences, even for issues that go undiscussed in the campaign. The clear winners here are the business interests that supported Bush and lobbied hard for these actions. Banks and credit card companies have been pressing for the bankruptcy law changes for five years, eager to stem their losses from people who accept the "easy-credit" these same companies market with their 3 billion solicitations a year and then get in over their heads. [And in this regard, one should bear in mind that the losses from these loans which have "gone south," have already been factored into the amount of interest charged people for this credit; in effect, then, what these companies are doing is "double dipping."]
Think about that! - 3 billion solicitations a year! THAT SOUNDS LIKE THE SAME KIND OF "IRRESPONSIBLE ENTHUSIASM" THAT THE BANKS EMBRACED WHEN THEY WERE PRESSING LOANS ON THE "THIRD WORLD" BACK IN THE 1970s AND 1980s - AND IT IS! Today, the average household receives 75 credit card solicitations a year, and the fastest-growing part of the credit card business has been in "subprime lending" to lower-income people (which, as we just indicated, is twice as profitable as other lending, even with the losses factored in).
Data gathered by the National Bankruptcy Review Commission suggests that the profile of the typical bankruptcy filer is a person who has not been tripped up by financial recklessness, but by a "bad break" such as a divorce, a layoff, uninsured illness, or a business failure - this certainly isn't the profile of the scofflaw that the banking and credit card companies are portraying to the American public.
And insofar as those people who are barely making it and shouldn't - for their own sakes - be using credit at all, it looks more like ENTRAPMENT of hard-working, lower-middle class families who have been induced into a credit trap by the banking and credit card industry than anything else - i.e., banks and credit card companies using the same technique that drug pushers use to push dope in the play yard of the local school, a technique that involves giving the dope away almost free to begin with, and then - after the kids are hooked - making hoodlums out of them to pay for their habit.
That's what Providian is doing today; that's what Capital One is doing; that's what Sterling Bank is doing; that's what countless similar "subprime" banks and credit card companies all over the country are doing, including such new "subprime" financial operations as Money Mart, EZ Money, Check Max, Payday Loans, Cash and Go, and on and on which offer "payday advances" at interest rates that would make the "Mob" blush with embarrassment. And standing behind them - just far enough away to keep their hands from getting dirty, at least insofar as the casual observer is concerned - are some of this nation's best-known, first-line banks.
You doubt? - well, ask yourself where all these new "subprime" financial companies came from, appearing suddenly out of nowhere on just about every street corner of every "blue collar" neighborhood in the land. Do you think that they just appeared out of the sky? No! - there is a lot of money and a lot of "know-how" behind these operations. And why is that? - because, as we just indicated, these companies are generating vast amounts of money on the "payday advances" and other so-called "credit services" they offer to poor folk. For example, the typical loan on a Money Mart "payday advance" is $200. The charge for such a loan is about $35; the duration of the loan is about two weeks. Now say that a typical "borrower" has to borrow that $200 twenty-six times over the year (i.e., just before the end of every two week pay period), each time paying it back plus $35. Do you know how much that person will have paid by the time the year is up? - $910; run out over a year, that's an interest rate of 450 PERCENT. My heavens! - YOU COULD GET BETTER TERMS FROM THE MAFIA!! That's why some of the most well-known banks in the country are behind these operations! [In the near future, we will be doing an expose on this in which we plan to name names.]
Offering credit (and very, very expensive credit at that) to people who barely have the means to stay afloat anyway is not only heartless, but it is very cold-blooded as well. It's called "loan-sharking," and the people who "arrange" these loans are called "loan sharks" because they rend the lives of their victims much as a shark rends the flesh of its victim, tearing it limb from limb without mercy and without feeling of any kind.
The sad object of this "loan-sharking" are people who rarely have enough money to take a vacation, go out for dinner, buy toys for the kids, buy decent clothes and so forth. That's the truth of the matter! - and then a "subprime" credit card company like Providian, Capital One, First Premier Bank, etc.), comes along and offers them a credit card with a $1,000 limit, and they take the bait - after all, as the finance minister from Latin America remarked when he was accosted outside the Shoreham Hotel in Washington D.C. by "loan hawkers" from Citibank, "... IT'S TERRIBLY TEMPTING TO BORROW MONEY..." - and that's especially true when you have such a great need for it.
At first the borrowers contrive to make the minimum monthly payments - payments that do nothing to pay down the principal, but manage to just service the interest on the debt - usually at nineteen to twenty-one percent (and that's if they are lucky).
Just as it begins to get impossible again, and Christmas is only a few weeks away, Providian (or Capital One, or whatever) increases the limit on the card, from $1,000 to $2,000 because they have been "so prompt" in paying their monthly bill. What a bonanza! - and just in time for the holidays! And so it goes for several more "go-arounds" - pushing the total debt ever upward - until the wife loses her part-time job at the local Seven-Eleven, Dad loses the overtime pay he had been counting on, and their child gets sick (and Dad's employer doesn't offer health benefits).
Now these are honest people - not at all the scofflaws the banks and credit card companies have been painting them. They're young, inexperienced, and have never been in trouble before. Until the new bankruptcy law came into effect, these people would have been able to discharge their debts through Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code - and for now, many of them still can provided that they fall below the state's median average for "household" income, and they can weather the paper work that the recent law has made that much more difficult to wade through. But for those who fall above the median "household" income, they have to apply for a "reorganization" of their debts in a Chapter 13 filing.
If this happens - God forbid - to you, what it will mean is that the court will be able to seize up to 25 percent of your monthly HOUSEHOLD income - and you will have to adjust your expenses accordingly. It will then use this "attached" income to pay your debts off (or as much of the debt as is possible) for up to FIVE years.
Now consider carefully what that might very well mean to you if you are so unfortunate as to fall into this credit trap, especially as the courts continue to move in a "conservative" direction - and remember here what "conservative" means. It not only means "conservative" insofar as SOCIAL issues are concerned (i.e., issues like abortion, prayer in the schools, vouchers, etc.), but ECONOMIC issues as well.
This means that you can expect very little sympathy from the courts. As far as they are concerned, you have FAILED in your FINANCIAL responsibilities; and, again, you need to bear in mind here that to a "conservative" court, a FINANCIAL failure is tantamount to a MORAL failure.
That's what Bush and his business cohorts believe; and that's what their flunkies in the Religious Right - people like Charles Stanley, D. James Kennedy, Jack Hayford, Kenneth Copeland, etc. - preach.
Now think about the dilemma you might be facing, especially as the regulations in the bankruptcy code are tightened up as the years go on under the impress of a Religious Right / Business Right coalition. The courts have taken 25 percent of your income (and that's 25 percent before taxes, not after). That's your HOUSEHOLD income - and your wife was working just prior to your Chapter 13 filing and, as a result, her income was used alongside your own to establish what your HOUSEHOLD income should be. That means that your wife will have to continue working no matter what! She can forget about staying home after the new baby is born. Both you and she are now nothing more than INDENTURED SERVANTS. You can, of course, apply to have your income adjusted to reflect the fact that she can no longer work, but that is by now almost impossible. She's stuck. The baby is trundled off to day care.
It's now the second year of your INDENTURED SERVITUDE - three more years to go. Legislation has now been passed so that the courts can now lawfully seize up to one-third of your income, and they have done so. One-third of your income! - that barely leaves enough to survive on. Both you and your wife have taken on second jobs, so that you don't have to sell the home. But this may be the year you will have to do so. You have been reduced to heating one room at a time during the winter, and you never turn your air conditioner on during the summer.
Of course, you rarely see each other anymore either. You've become strangers to each other. When you get home from work, she is heading out the door to her job, and now that both of you work weekends, all that can be said of your relationship is that you occupy the same home - though rarely at the same time. Between your full-time jobs and your part-time jobs (all of which pay less than $10.00 an hour) you both are working twelve hour days, and because you had to sell you second car, you have to get back and forth from work using the bus, which is a 70 minute ride each direction.
The baby is two years old now, but neither of you see her anymore. Your wife has sunk into a depression. There's never a smile on her face - not even a hint of one. She cries a lot. You have applied to the courts more than seven times over the last year for relief, but there is very little sympathy for your plight. Again, in the eyes of the court, FINANCIAL failure equals MORAL failure. You got yourself into this problem, and you'll have to get yourself out. The church shuns you - what "upstanding Christian" wants to be seen with someone who has been branded a MORAL deficient. No one, that's for sure.
Time goes on, and the laws concerning bankruptcy are tightened even further so that by now, only those who fall into the lowest income brackets can escape filing under chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code. As a result, because of the hard times there are many, many people now in your predicament - so many in fact that if you could all vote, you probably could change things around. But the vote has been stripped from all those under "court supervision" - and that includes not only those under supervision for criminal behavior, but for financial failure as well. The two - i.e., criminal behavior and financial failure - are just about the same thing these days in the eyes of society. YOU'VE BECOME NOTHING MORE THAN A COG IN A MACHINE. ALL YOU ARE GOOD FOR IS TO WORK, GO HOME AND SLEEP, AND GET UP AND GO BACK TO WORK AGAIN. THAT'S WHAT LIFE HAS BECOME TO YOU.
Finally, five years pass. You are discharged from your debts - at last. Your divorced, of course. The home is gone. You live in a seedy downtown hotel. Your child is in foster care. You go to the mailbox - and there is a new "pre-approved" application for a Providian card with a $500 limit - and more if you pay your interest on time.
You think we're being silly here - but, we're not! This nightmare is closer than you think. All the pieces are in place: (1) a mindset pushed by today's Religious Right / Business Right coalition that equates FINANCIAL failure with MORAL failure; (2) a new bankruptcy law that will force all those who fall on hard times (regardless of reason, such as a temporary loss of job, a business failure, a medical emergency, a divorce, unexpected court costs, etc.) and who have a HOUSEHOLD income above the state median average (about $35,000 on a national level) into Chapter 13 bankruptcy where up to one-quarter of the HOUSEHOLD income can be attached for up to FIVE years; (3) a growing willingness to place more and more people under court ordered supervision of their daily lives, and strip such people of their rights as citizens; and finally (4), a willingness to expand the draconian reach of these laws by administrative fiat or legislative amendments once the law's central features have been enacted.
In the coming months, we hope to explore all of this in greater detail, but suffice it to be said now that all of us - Christians and non-Christians alike - will be coming under increasing economic pressure as time goes on aimed at reducing us to various forms of INDENTURED SERVITUDE and making us nothing more than cogs in a machine whose only purpose is to serve the needs of the wealthy, so that now the meaning behind that mysterious lyric in Rev. 6:6 becomes understandable:
"A measure of wheat for a penny [literally - denarius, a Greek coin which represented a WHOLE DAYS wages], and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine."
The meaning of this lyric is that the condition of man during this era (i.e., the end of days) will be reduced to such that he will have to labor a whole day simply to buy a loaf of bread or three measures of barley. But the second part of the lyric [i.e., "... and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine ..."] means that the "hard times" of this period will not extend to the elites. This is the common interpretation - the one subscribed to by Ryrie, Pentacost, Ironside, Gaebelein, etc.
Now we can face this problem in one of two ways: (1) we can do what most people would be inclined to do, and that is let the "devil take the hindermost" and fall back into a mindset which evinces a selfish, "every-man-for-himself" attitude, or (2) we can begin to live in the reality of "church-life" and "community" - WHEREVER we are - AND THAT'S THE ANSWER!
Listen to me, brothers and sisters, God's solution for us in the difficult time ahead is the church - which is a place where, in "... lowliness of mind, each esteems the other better than himself" (Phil. 2:3); a place where, because of love and the exigencies of the moment, people are willing to put the needs of others first, just as they did so many years ago in the early church. Obviously, this kind of "church-life is not the kind of "Sunday-go-to-meeting" church-life that Charles Stanley and D. James Kennedy talk about, but the kind of "church-life" the early church was involved in - the kind of "church-life" that was able to defy the frightful pressure and appalling persecution of the Roman World.
That kind of church-life" was about LOVE and COMMUNITY. But what does that exactly mean? The word "community" is taken from the word "commune," which means to "communicate intimately with," or to "be intimate with." The word implies "closeness," "affection," "familiarity," "friendship" - and is the word from which we derive the word "communal," meaning "belonging to," as, for example, in the way it is used in Mark 9:41:
"For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward."
We belong to Christ, and its for this reason that those who help us help Christ; and in doing so, Christ incurs an obligation to them (i.e., He becomes indebted to them) - hence, His obligation to reward (or pay) them.
Now be clear whats happening here. Its not Christ per se who was helped; it was those who belong to Christ (i.e., Christians) who were helped; but because we belong to Christ, the debts we incur as a result of our testimony are ipso facto incurred by Christ. Our debts become Christs debts. He is obligated to pay them. This is the sense that "belonging to" implied in the Ancient World. Therefore, when one "belonged to" a community, his debts too "belonged to" that community; his obligations became the communitys obligations. Thus, "community" in the Ancient World meant "to hold things in common" in the sense that we today attach to the word "communal" or "commune."
In the Ancient World, the church was the "community of God," it was the "commune" of God. Hence, unlike what most modern-day Christians have been taught, the early "communal" organization of the church in Jerusalem was no accident or fluke. It flowed naturally and in a very uncontrived manner out of the early saints understanding of what "community" meant - which is to say, "communalism." Consequently, in speaking of the early church, the Bible says:
"And all that believed were together, and had all things common ..." (Acts 2:44)
"And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." (Acts 4:32)
Pretty scary, isnt it? It certainly strikes at our modern, "free enterprise" understanding of the church-life - but to the extent that this frightens those who are reading this material, its to that extent that we have missed the mark of what the real church-life is all about -
"the unreserved sharing of one another in a community of believers who possess the life of Christ."
What, then are we talking about here? - we're talking about a FAMILY. That's what families do! We are able to live in "community" with one another because we are the family of God. Families derive their validity from love. What motivates the action of family members is love, not coercion. We repeat, the church is a family; its not an institution! We are the Lords "brothers" and "sisters," and "brothers" and "sisters" one of another. The Bible says,
"While he (i.e., Jesus) yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.
"Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.
"But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
"And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
"For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. (Matt. 12:46-50)
Together, we all share the same life - Christs life. Jesus said:
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:4-6)
By abiding in Christ, we share Christs life, and because we share Christs life, we become Christs family. This is why Jesus said:
"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. (John 15:7)
We are members of his family, and this is why we can ask the Father what we will - because we ask as His children:
"... what man (i.e., father) is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
"Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them (i.e., his children) that ask him? (Matt. 7:9-11)
We are the Fathers children because we are the brothers and sisters of Christ - we share Christs life.
This brings us back to the matter of communalism. The communalism of the church is an attitude, its not a "necessary way of doing things." Was the communalism of the early church a normal thing? Probably not. Was "living together" and "having all things in common" what everybody really wanted? Probably not. Living together and sharing things in common are not normal things - nor should they necessarily be. Nevertheless, the church should have a communal spirit (Geist). A willingness with regard to communalism. An attitude of communalism. Why? - because families are communal - not only in the Ancient World, but today and even here in America.
In the same way, those in the church in Jerusalem saw the need of their brothers and sisters in the Lord, and love motivated them to sell all that they had in order to help. What love! What compassion! This giving was not forced upon them by an unfeeling bureaucracy and the force of institutional power, but instead FLOWED OUT OF LOVE. It had nothing to do with an institutions compulsion, and everything to do with the love of one family member for another. This is what "belonging to" is all about. Its a family "belonging to," not an institutional "belonging to." This is what Christ meant when He said,
"For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward." (Mark 9:41)
And that's what we need to exhibit to the world today! - that's what will get us through the hard times to come - and they are coming. It's this kind of unselfish caring for one another that the world is longing to see. The "church-life" - that's what's needed today.
More next time!
God bless you all!
S. R. Shearer