Monday, December 06, 2004

Funds and Fundamentalists 

Digby has a thought-provoking (if perhaps a tad overblown) post up on a possible left response to the Christian Right. After reviewing an evolutionary-historical unified theory of fundamentalism (which has the usual "just-so story" quality of the genre), Digby suggests that those on the left side of the political spectrum should also be playing in-group/out-group games, using the word "fundamentalist" to link Bin Laden and Falwell.

In a related vein, I've been thinking more about ways to drive wedges between the Christian Right and the Economic Right. The more Republican Wall Streeters I talk to, the more achievable I think this goal is. I just don't know exactly how it can be done.

One germ of an idea that occurred to me over the weekend was the question of usury. Let me explain. My extremely limited knowledge of the subject's history has the following elements:

The Hebrew Bible, like many religious scriptures, condemns usury under specific circumstances.

This scriptural fact at one point led the Catholic Church to forbid all forms of money-lending at interest.

At some point these rules were relaxed.

Here's my question: do any contemporary Christian groups or leaders talk about usury? To the extent that scripture directly condemns the practice, I'd think that it should be very easy for left-leaning economic populists to get Christianity-driven voters to side with them against mean-and-scary banks. I'd also think one could craft a Christianity/scripture-driven message with lots of personal anecdotes ("They took the farm, they took my car, they took my small paper-supply corporation.") really easily here.

Obviously, Creflo Dollar and other "prosperity theologians" must have some stock response allowing them to swat away the issue, but it may well be possible to out-argue them here. I'd love to know more about the subject. If any Bonassus readers can point me in the general direction of a good article,I'd be much obliged.

A final note: much care is needed on this issue. Not only are there historical links to anti-semitism in the usury question, but left-leaning populism doesn't necessarily lead to good public policy (to put it mildly). I'm thinking here in terms of electoral politics, not policymaking.

UPDATE: Links to some good source material (and another wedge issue idea) in the comments, courtesy of jds.

UPDATE 2: So, after some communication with a faculty member from a Baptist University (the author of a book on the history of the usury prohibition in Protestant thought), I've come to a conclusion: this wasn't actually a good idea. Apparently, usury is just a dead issue except at the fringe. As I'll explain in my next post, simply finding a juicy quote in the Bible isn't sufficient for appealing to Christians who might be willing to vote with Democrats against other members of the GOP coalition.

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