Friday, March 01, 2013

Devangelical and Debt - Newish Books at Eliot Bay Book Store

Browsing a good book store is one of the great pleasures in life.   A giant bazaar of ideas and adventure beckoning for one's attention.  It's the chance to climb into other people's brains and find out what the world looks like to them.  So when I was the designated driver on a doctor's visit in Seattle, I got to go to the Eliot Bay Book Company, a very good bookstore on Capitol Hill, for an hour of adventure.

So here are a few of the books that caught my attention.

Devangelical by Erika Rae

From an online interview at The Rumpus with another former Evangelical: 

"Not wanting to understand the Evangelical culture in our current political climate is a bit like not wanting to understand, say, the Mexican-American community in the middle of the immigration debates. But also, I believe that a lot of the issues I deal with in the book are a bit more universal to other religion—or religious culture—defectors. I have heard recovering Catholics, Jews, or even former members of the L.D.S. Church who say they can relate."

Rumpus also asks her about her somewhat provocative pose on the cover of the book.  The video below is about the photo shoot.

The discussion of the Rapture helps explain a lot of (to me) perplexing behavior:
"Rumpus: We both grew up waiting on the world to come to an end, and you make the point in Devangelical that Evangelical culture welcomes the end of the world. How do you think this paradigm express itself in today’s political climate?
Rae: The debate over global warming is a good example. This is because the general church has been approaching the issue from the angle that only God will destroy the earth, and not humans. This isn’t too different from the distrust of recycling back in the 1980s. Again, only God could destroy the earth, so we had better focus our time on saving souls rather than the Redwoods. Plus, it didn’t help that people who were into “saving the earth” were “a bunch of pagans who worshipped the earth as mother.” Luckily, a growing number within the church has realized that they can still take care of the “creation” without slapping the “creator” in the face.
It is also critical to understand that most Evangelicals (like other Christian branches) may be citizens in the world, but they do not consider themselves citizens “of” the world. For many, this essentially means that they do not feel this is their true home. Heaven is their true home. Therefore, they don’t really belong here, and they long for the day when they will be taken away to a place where they will be cherished and understood by a loving God. When they disagree with “the world” on certain issues, it really doesn’t matter since their citizenship is in Heaven. It is more important that their perception of God’s laws be enforced via legislation. It seems to me that this does not always open the door for peace or tolerance, which again, is not the goal. This may help to explain the current state of polarization our country finds itself in."

Now, onto  Debt by David Graeber.  This one probably has the most audacious and exciting ideas to contribute.  It questions our modern notions of debt as something that must be repaid.  It contrasts ideas like the biblical jubilee and the modern bankruptcy as two methods of forgiving debt.

It's a big book. 

 From Benjamin Kunkel in the London Review of Books:
"Graeber’s first proposition is that debt can’t be considered apart from the history of money, when it is money that distinguishes a debt from a mere obligation or promise. Obligations are immemorial and incalculable, but until the advent of money such relations of mutual obligation evade mathematical specification. Only through money do nebulous obligations condense into numerically precise debts, which can and – according to ‘our accustomed morality’ – must one day be paid off." [emphasis added]
Think about this - the distinction between a debt and an obligation.

Then he talks about three  types of human economic relationships.  Again from Kunkel's London Review of Books review (I'm using his words, but reformatting them a little differently on the page so these concepts don't get lost):
"The theoretical core of Debt is a loose schema of three types of human economic relationship.
  • Communism (Graeber admits his use of the word ‘is a bit provocative’), 
  • exchange and 
  • hierarchy 
don’t describe distinct types of society but different ‘modalities’ of behaviour that operate to a greater or lesser degree in all societies, monetised or not.

Graeber’s communism, which bears a resemblance to Kropotkin’s ‘mutual aid’, covers relationships answering to Marx’s dictum: to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities. People act as communists not only towards friends and family but often towards guests, neighbours and strangers: ‘What is equal on both sides is the knowledge that the other person would do the same for you, not that they necessarily will.’

Relationships of exchange, by contrast, entail that each party gets from the other a more or less exact equivalent to whatever it’s given. Because exchange ‘gives us a way to call it even: hence, to end the relationship’, it takes place mostly among strangers.

Hierarchy is, like communism, a mode of ongoing relationship, but between unequals. Enforced by custom, hierarchy requires that social inferiors make repeated material tribute to their betters in caste or status.
And about the author, Kunkel writes:
". . . the American press, content to ignore Debt when it first appeared (published as it was by a small press and animated by a radical politics), has hailed Graeber as the most intellectually imposing voice of Occupy. In person Graeber is brilliant, if somewhat hectic, plain-spoken, erudite, quick to indignation as to well as to laughter, and – minus the laugh – he offers much the same heady experience on the page. Debt is probably best considered as a long, written-out lecture, informal in style, not as a conventional work of history, economics or anthropology."
Here's Graeber with Charlie Rose:

I'm afraid I got carried away here.

There are ten more books I was going to share, but these two should give you more than enough to think about.

But I'll add two more titles that caught my attention and are relevant to the first book particularly - given the importance of religion in the US today, its divisive role, and Rae's warning that Americans should understand what drives Evangelicals (assuming people can be grouped like that.)  Clearly, religion serves important needs for people.

And it appears that religion plays a role in  Debt, as well. Judging from Kunkel's review, it alludes not only to Christianity, but also to Islam. 

Note on spelling:  When I pasted the quote on Devangelical that included the word 'worshipped,' Blogger's spellchecker flagged it and said it should only have one "p".  So I looked it up at Future Perfect:

Verbs ending in ‘p’

Most verbs ending in ‘p’, after an unstressed vowel, have no doubling of that final consonant in standard received British English or American English.
Here are some which follow the ‘most verbs’ rule: ‘develop’, ‘gossip’, ‘gallop’ – these become just ‘developing/developed’, ‘gossiping/gossiped’, ‘galloping/galloped’.
Even here, there are pesky exceptions: ‘worship’, ‘handicap’ and ‘kidnap’ become ‘worshipping/worshipped’, ‘handicapping/handicapped’ and ‘kidnapping/kidnapped’ in standard received British English.
The spellchecker doesn't mind handicapping or kidnapping, but it doesn't like worshipping. Obviously Blogspot and its owner Google are anti-religious.  :)

And finally, here's a shot as we leave Seattle on the 5:25 pm ferry for Bainbridge Island. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post.
    Years ago when Andrew Sulllivan thought that the "Christianists" (his term and an excellent way to equate the extremes of all "isms") would see through Sarah Palin and were rational. I told him HE was a rational, educated man applying his world-view. Wouldn't work. This book looks like it would shows that Christianists feel THEY are the rational ones.
    The epistolic closure of the "other side" is not one of stubbornness not to see facts, but a belief their faith is the only fact required. It is a sad, sad time in America -- it's like a divorce that I fear will not end amicably. Enter guns and Houston, we have a problem...


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