What He Said

A number of times, when I’ve been asked to talk about tradition and change in the church, I have adverted to the status of usury — the lending of money at interest. I was delighted, then, to see the Slacktivist take up the topic in three powerful entries in the context of his energetic interrogation of the particular forms that “conservative Christianity,” “evangelicalism,” and “traditionalism” take at the moment.

The people of Israel set distinct limits to the scope of interest (including the jubilee year, a sort of pre-market-economy form of bankruptcy protection), and Jesus explicitly repudiated the practice of lending at interest. The church institutionalized laws against lending at interest, and only relatively recently has the topic dropped away from the church’s social agenda. Fred surveys the history of usury, then turns his attention to the exploitation of greed bill bankruptcy bill weapon of mass expropriation of wealth that the Republican Congress and the Bush administration have deployed.

Fred’s nauseated by the spectacle of lawmakers who proclaim their allegiance to “family values” and “biblical morality” rolling over to strip away the small borrower’s protection. Me too — but I’m simultaneously intrigued by the ways that some forms of “tradition” become old-fashioned and mutable, whereas others reflect timeless morality and must be upheld at all costs. The phenomenon gets even more intriguing when — as so often happens — someone takes the pains to explain what I obviously haven’t yet understood: that there’s a perfectly transparent premise in the light of which these differences are revealed to be natural and necessary. Oh, right!

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