Religion and Our Economic Times

There are two articles about religion and the financialization of regular life in the latest Atlantic Monthly, and both are worth your time. The first to check out is about financial guru Dave Ramsey by Megan Mcardle:

How, searching for help in his hour of need, he turned to the Bible and discovered Proverbs 22:7: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender.” At that moment, he told an audience so hushed that we could hear the ice squeak, Ramsey decided to never borrow another dollar again….

Ramsey offers some investment advice (much of which would have struck horror in my business-school professors), but for most of his followers, the main attraction is a simple program: give 10 percent of your income to charity, save 15 percent for retirement, build up a sizable emergency stash and a college fund for your kids, and above all, stop borrowing money. Ramsey devotees pay cash for everything they can. They are allowed only one exception to the no-more-debt rule: a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. He is so serious about shunning debt that his Web site takes only debit cards; try to pay with a Capital One Visa, and the system rejects the card, then tut-tuts at you. These simple, austere, unbreakable rules are, as Ramsey likes to say, “the advice that God and Grandma gave you.”

The second is about the Prosperity Gospel by Hanna Rosin:

That Sunday, Garay was preaching a variation on his usual theme, about how prosperity and abundance unerringly find true believers. “It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, what degree you have, or what money you have in the bank,” Garay said. “You don’t have to say, ‘God, bless my business. Bless my bank account.’ The blessings will come! The blessings are looking for you! God will take care of you. God will not let you be without a house!”

Pastor Garay, 48, is short and stocky, with thick black hair combed back. In his off hours, he looks like a contented tourist, in his printed Hawaiian shirts or bright guayaberas. But he preaches with a ferocity that taps into his youth as a cocaine dealer with a knife in his back pocket. “Fight the attack of the devil on my finances! Fight him! We declare financial blessings! Financial miracles this week, NOW NOW NOW!” he preached that Sunday. “More work! Better work! The best finances!” Gonzales shook and paced as the pastor spoke, eventually leaving his wife and three kids in the family section to join the single men toward the front, many of whom were jumping, raising their Bibles, and weeping. On the altar sat some anointing oils, alongside the keys to the Mercedes Benz.

I would have like to see a little bit more as to how these are similar but inverted reactions to the same phenomenon; a messianic evangelicalism, composed of equal parts ecstasy and terror, that helps navigate and construe a new world of economic instability, risk transfers, and the financial narcotic of winner-take-all inequality capitalism.

Place plays a crucial role in the Rosin piece. She focuses on hispanic immigrants in Virginia, and the implication is that coming to America has opened the door to a type of success they could never have dreamt of before, but it’s a highly leveraged, highly risky type of American Dream. She mentions that the prosperity gospel takes a center role in the subdivisions of the exurbs as well. Connecting the two, and noting that the idea that success in the exurbs also involves thriving in a Brave New World of financialized capitalism, alien to their senses inherited from the generation before them, isn’t approached – we never look inside the exurban Prosperity Church. It’s worrisome that the techniques most available to citizens navigating this world seem to be either shunning or whole-heartedly embracing the capitalism of the 00s, especially worrisome for those who try to think through what it would mean to rebuild a social contract under these new conditions that can salvage the good parts from the wreckage.

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One Response to Religion and Our Economic Times

  1. Pingback: Hot Links: Too Fat To Graduate « The Reformed Broker

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