And the meek shall inherit the debt. Is there an ethical emphasis to economics?
Rick Salutin: So here are some Christmas presents from the Judeo-Christian tradition that I hope will find favour with deniers and those who just don’t care if there’s a God since it would make no practical difference. I’ll draw from the Judeo part, since it’s my background. You can call me Santa.
The early books of the Hebrew Bible contain some amazing laws from biblical times (packaged as divine commandments) that read like Christmas cards to people today who are drowning in debt or who’ve lost cherished homes. Take the law of the Sabbatical year: every seventh year, all debts are forgiven. (In addition the land must lie fallow — something under the tree, as it were, for environmentalists.)…
Then there’s the Jubilee year: every 50 years — after seven cycles of seven — all land reverts to its original owners. Under this rule, inequality couldn’t expand endlessly, so that — as in the U.S. — the top 20 per cent own 87.2 per cent of the wealth while the other 80 per cent have 12.8 per cent. Instead, the gap narrows periodically. We’re morally primitive by comparison. In Spain today people lose their homes yet must keep paying the damn mortgage….
There is a rub somewhere in this disconcerting invocation of morality in the face of social injustice. Does it relate to what Harold Bloom calls our American religion which is essentially a contrived normative form characterized by cultural pessimism and a search for personal transcendence, confronting the scope and risk of “having been thrown into this world.” The terrifying grandeur of the distant past in eternal recurrence, meaning the acceptance of evil is a necessary requirement, like other opposites such as day and night, male and female and that suffering is necessary condition, a consequence of our exile even if the punishment unjustly surpasses the crime.
…These laws used to be viewed as idealized, impractical versions of biblical realities. In my seminary days, I thought of them as evidence for their opposite: societies probably rife with oppressive debt, etc. But it turns out they weren’t unusual. Similar enlightened rules were common in the ancient Mideast. They’re part of a venerable tradition linking economics with morality that reigned until very recent times. In his book, Economics of Good and Evil, Tomas Sedlacek traces it from the Epic of Gilgamesh right to Adam Smith — who Sedlacek says has been misrepresented as trusting the economy to amoral market forces….
…Sedlacek is a Czech economist who’s both an academic and popularizer. He advised Vaclav Havel when he was president and he represents the best of the Havelian approach — which it’s nice to mention this Christmas, just after Havel’s death. That approach placed a moral sensibility at the heart of public policy — and not in merely rhetorical or chauvinistic ways: God on our side; My country right or wrong, etc. Sedlacek wants to restore this lost ethical emphasis to economics much as Margaret Atwood resuscitated it in her book, Payback, two years ago. It’s a nice little trend.
Jesus in the New Testament is even more focused on debt, equating it with sin: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. It goes so far there that God sacrifices his only son — to “redeem” the debt/sins of humanity. That’s a bit of a stretch for some of us but at least, Sedlacek says, a moral thread runs through economics until the modern era, based on a sense of mutual human responsibility. With that moral element now eliminated, you wind up bailing out (“forgiving”) the biggest, most powerful debtor/sinners, i.e. the banks, but doing nothing for the poor and destitute, who were supposed to inherit the Earth….
… let me mention one more directive from the Hebrew Bible. It’s in the Ten Commandments and may be the only biblical law to forbid an emotion: Thou shalt not covet. What a pointless injunction. We have no control over our emotions; they come to us unbidden. Yet nothing is as destructive to human sympathy and community as envyhttp://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1105995–salutin-the-bible-and-ethical-economics
To the extent that an “essential” Gnostic philosophy can be distilled from its many strains and off-shoots, it appears at heart to suggest a deep distrust of religious and political institutions and authority. Gnosticism preached that the God of Judeo-Christian tradition — the God of the Bible — was an imposter, an insane “demiurge” who sloppily created our false reality of flesh and sorrow, and who has no relation to the true Supreme Being whose existence is distant and removed from our corrupt world.
Bloom believes that the Gnostic paradigm offers the only cogent explanation for the existence of evil, which is described as stemming from the psychotic demiurge who created our world, rather than the real God, the estranged creator:
The transcendent stranger God or alien God of Gnosticism, being beyond our cosmos, is no longer an effective force; God exists, but is so hidden that he has become a nihilistic conception, in himself. He is not responsible for our world of death camps and schizophrenia, but he is so estranged and exiled that he is powerless. We are unsponsored, since the God of this world, worshipped (as Blake said) by the names of Jesus and Jehovah, is only a bungler, an archangel-artisan who botched the False Creation that we know as our Fall.
Gnosticism encouraged the idea that within each of us is a divine spark connected to this “alien” Supreme Being. The Gnostic mandate is thus to reveal and nourish the divine spark and manifest our true spiritual origins. The theme of “hidden truth” is common of course to innumerable varieties of mysticism, alchemy, and Kabbala, as well as “secular” enterprises such as Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis. New Age spirituality, too, promises its adherents a glimpse into deeper, more “authentic” realms. Read More:http://www.badgerinternet.com/~bobkat/bloom.html
Bloom’s Yahweh is the work of an author called the J writer by German 19th-century scholarship, but though Yahweh is a literary character, he is also, through a semi-mystical Bloomian maneuver, real. He is the “man-God” who appears to Joshua with a drawn sword, the jealous, zealous, hungry, hands-on deity who makes Adam out of a mud pie, picnics with the elders on Mount Sinai, chooses Moses and then, with irrational outrage, tries to kill him as he travels back to Egypt. This God made the redactors of the Hebrew Bible so uncomfortable that he was gradually papered over, displaced by priestly sources and the Deuteronomist, and then finally done in by the rabbis of the Talmud, whom Bloom clearly admires, and in some ways even resembles, though he finds their recasting of God as the merciful, covenant-keeping Lord of monotheism a betrayal of the rough, irrefutable reality that Yahweh represents.
None of this is to say that Bloom likes Yahweh, who he feels should be “convicted for desertion.” But present or absent, Yahweh is for Bloom inescapable, like death. “My Orthodox Judaic childhood,” Bloom writes, “lingers in me as an awe of Yahweh.” (Bloom may be our most confessional critic. Could anyone imagine Lionel Trilling telling us, as Bloom does, that his mother trusted in the covenant with the Jewish God, though he cannot?)Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/27/books/review/27rosen.html?pagewanted=all
…For Bloom, Jesus and Jesus Christ are two entirely unrelated figures, and Bloom spends the first half of the book exploring their incompatibility. Jesus is the Jew Yeshua about whom no verifiable facts are knowable. What we do know, aside from a few scraps from Josephus (“wonderful writer and non-stop liar”), is contained in unreliable works written “almost entirely by Jews in flight from themselves, and desperate to ingratiate themselves with their Roman overlords and exploiters.” By this Bloom means the New Testament, which he also refers to as “the Belated Testament.”
Jesus Christ, as opposed to Jesus, is a later theological construct that owes a great deal to Hellenic thought. Christ, for Bloom, is a betrayal of Jesus the man, Yeshua, who clearly lived inside a Jewish world, trusted in the covenant with Yahweh, did not think the Law was death, and would be appalled at, or at least entirely baffled by, the religion created in his name. Jesus belongs on one side of the Judeo-Christian divide, Christ on the other. Bloom is persuasively aware that the Judeo-Christian tradition is a convenient myth that joins two deeply incompatible religions. ( ibid.)