What new music are you most anticipating this summer? The album at the top of my list released yesterday; I’ve got a couple of hours in the car today and will be enjoying Trouble Will Find Me by The National more than once.
The worldwide financial and economic crisis seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his needs alone, namely, consumption. Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have begun a throw away culture. This tendency is seen on the level of individuals and whole societies; and it is being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy. While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules. Moreover, indebtedness and credit distance countries from their real economy and citizens from their real buying power. Added to this, as if it were needed, is widespread corruption and selfish fiscal evasion which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The will to power and of possession has become limitless.
For a number of years Maggie and I lived in Chicago’s suburbs. On our evening walk from the parsonage we would pass beautiful old homes and newer McMansions that gobbled up most of their available lots. In contrast to our current city neighborhood those walks were notable for how few people we saw; life was lived at work, school, or deep within the recess of those beautiful homes. Suburbia was a new experience for me and endlessly perplexing. Not that I somehow existed above or outside of it – we experienced significant relationships and rhythms of life – but the strong appeal of the suburban life still remains a mystery to me.
Of course, there is no such thing as “the suburban life” and this became clear the longer we lived there. Suburbia’s cracks first became visible when we lived in an apartment across the railroad tracks from the Christian graduate school I was attending. Our neighbors in this as-cheap-as-it-gets complex didn’t fit the suburban profile: borderline homeless; single, working mother; drug addict. These were friendly people who occasionally came to church with us, but they understood their barely visible place within the suburban hierarchy. Life with our neighbors was interrupted by the occasional dramatic moment – a fist punched through a window, an ambulance summoned for an overdose - but most of the time we were all occupied with the mundane things of work and family. I came to see though, that many of our neighbors lived with the real possibility of falling from suburbia’s ledge.
Later Maggie would work with a social services agency whose building was located within a concentration of low-income apartment buildings. Though by then we’d lived in the area for five years, often passing within a stone’s throw of the apartments, I’d been ignorant of their presence. It was as if these buildings and their residents had been purposely hidden so as to not disrupt suburbia’s narrative of prosperity and comfort.
Even later a friend who knew the area far better than I ever would tell me stories of what went on in many of the perfectly-kept homes of our neighbors. Behind the imposing doors, in the beautifully finished basements- these were the scenes of excess, abuse, neglect.
When we think of the location for violence it isn’t the suburbs but the city that fills our imaginations. Yet suburbia is hardly immune from violence, whether the physical type that plagued our apartment neighbors, the violence done to family stability by hidden pockets of poverty that are isolated from necessary resources, or the violence covered over and made to seem harmless by an excess of money.
It remains fascinating that in the age of televangelism and the megachurch movement, the Catholic church has ceded ground to the prosperity preachers who offer wealth health, success and instant miracles for cash fist and last. Religious indulgences have staged a comeback, apparently, only this time not in the Catholic church. Religion as a market franchise. will take on cargo of any and all dimensions – other than that of the crown of thorns.
-Lamin Sanneh, Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an African (2012).
Don’t expect any breadth or grandeur from the Empire’s Christian divines. Across the board, the imperial chaplains exhibit the most obsequious deference to the Plutocracy, providing imprimaturs and singing hallelujahs for the civil religion of Chrapitalism: the lucrative merger of Christianity and capitalism, America’s most enduring covenant theology. It’s the core of “American exceptionalism,” the sanctimonious and blood-spattered myth of providential anointment for global dominion. In the Chrapitalist gospel, the rich young man goes away richer, for God and Mammon have pooled their capital, formed a bi-theistic investment group, and laundered the money in baptismal fonts before parking it in offshore accounts. Chrapitalism has been America’s distinctive and gilded contribution to religion and theology, a delusion that beloved community can be built on the foundations of capitalist property. As the American Empire wanes, so will its established religion; the erosion of Chrapitalism will generate a moral and spiritual maelstrom.
What will American Christians do as their fraudulent Mandate from Heaven expires? They might break with the imperial cult so completely that it would feel like atheism and treason. With a little help from anarchists, they might be monotheists, even Christians again. Who better to instruct them in blasphemy than sworn enemies of both God and the state? Christians might discover that unbelievers can be the most incisive and demanding theologians.
Another example of why Books and Culture continues to be my most anticipated mail. You’re a subscriber, right?