Michael Hudson: He Died for Our Debt, Not Our Sins

Interview with Michael Hudson, a research professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. His latest book is J is for Junk Economics. Cross-posted from Hudson’s site.

As many people turn towards their Christian and Jewish faiths this Christmas and Hanukkah in an attempt to make sense of the year that was, at least one economist says we have been reading the bible in an anachronistic way.

In fact he has written an entire book on the topic. In And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption (available this spring on Amazon), Professor Michael Hudson makes the argument that far from being about sex, the bible is actually about economics, and debt in particular.

”The Christianity we know today is not the Christianity of Jesus,” says Professor Hudson.

Indeed the Judaism that we know today is not the Judaism of Jesus either.

The economist told Renegade Inc the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our sins even as we forgive all who are indebted to us’, refers specifically to debt.

“Most religious leaders say that Christianity is all about sin, not debt,” he says. “But actually, the word for sin and debt is the same in almost every language.”

”‘Schuld’, in German, means ‘debt’ as well as ‘offense’ or, ‘sin’. It’s ‘devoir’ in French. It had the same duality in meaning in the Babylonian language of Akkadian.”

The idea harks back to the concept of ‘wergeld’, which existed in parts of Europe and Babylonia, and set the value of a human life based on their rank, paid as compensation to the family of someone who has been injured or killed.

”The payment – the Schuld or obligation – expiates you of the injury caused by the offense,” Dr Hudson said.

The Ten Commandments Were About Debt

People tend to think of the Commandment ‘do not covet your neighbour’s wife’ in purely sexual terms but actually, the economist says it refers specifically to creditors who would force the wives and daughters of debtors into sex slavery as collateral for unpaid debt.

“This goes all the way back to Sumer in the third millennium,” he said.

Similarly, the Commandment ‘thou shalt not steal’ refers to usury and exploitation by threat for debts owing.

The economist says Jesus was crucified for his views on debt. Crucifixion being a punishment reserved especially for political dissidents.

”To understand the crucifixion of Jesus is to understand it was his punishment for his economic views,” says Professor Hudson. “He was a threat to the creditors.”

Jesus Christ was a socialist activist for the continuity of regular debt jubilees that were considered essential to the wellbeing of ancient economies.

Governments Can Forgive Debt. The Bible Says So.

In Sumer and Babylonia, whenever a new ruler would come to power, the first thing they would do was proclaim a “clean slate”, forgiving the population’s personal debt in what was known as a ‘debt jubilee’.

The alternative would have been for those who couldn’t pay to fall into bondage to their creditors. Governments would have lost thee availability of such debtors to fight in its armies.

But the rulers of classical antiquity who cancelled their subjects’ debts tended to be overthrown with disturbing frequency – from the Greek ‘tyrants’ of the 7th century BC who overthrew the aristocracies of Sparta and Corinth, to Sparta’s Kings Agis and Cleomenes in the 3rd century BC who sought to cancel Spartan debts, to Roman politicians advocating debt relief and land redistribution, Julius Caesar among them.

Jesus’ first reported sermon in Luke 4 documents his announcement that he had come to revive the enforcement of the Jubilee Year. The term “gospel” (or ‘good news’) was used specifically to refer to debt cancellation which became the major political fight of the imperial Roman epoch, pitting Jesus against the pro-creditor Pharisees, (a political party and social movement that became the foundation for Rabbinic Judaism around 167 BC).

Jesus Died for Our Debt

Professor Hudson says Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price for his activism.

The Pharisees, Hillel (the founder of Rabbinical Judaism) and the creditors who backed them decided that Jesus’ growing popularity was a threat to their authority and wealth.

“They said ‘we’ve got to get rid of this guy and rewrite Judaism and make it about sex instead of a class war’, which is really what the whole Old Testament is about,” Professor Hudson said.

”That was that was where Christianity got perverted. Christianity turned so anti-Jesus, it was the equivalent of the American Tea Party, applauding wealth and even greed, Ayn-Rand style.”

The economist says that Christianity was reshaped by Saint Paul, followed by the “African” school of Cyril of Alexandria and St Augustine.

”Over the last 1000 years the Catholic Church has been saying it’s noble to be poor. But Jesus never said it was good to be poor. What he said was that rich people are greedy and corrupt. That’s what Socrates was saying, as well as Aristotle and the Stoic Roman philosophers, the biblical prophets in Isaiah.”

Neither did Jesus say that it was good to be poor because it made you noble.

What Jesus did say is that say if you have money, you should share it with other people.

”But that’s not what Evangelical Christianity is all about today,” says Professor Hudson. 

”American Fundamentalist Christians say don’t share a penny. King Jesus is going to make you rich. Don’t tax millionaires. Jesus may help me win the lottery. Tax poor people whom the Lord has left behind – no doubt for their sins. There’s nothing about the Jubilee Year here.”

What Would Jesus Do?

To understand how to fix today’s economy, Hudson says that the Bible’s answers were practical for their time.

”When you have a massive build up of debt that can’t be paid, either you wipe out the debt and start-over like Germany did during ‘the 1947 Miracle’ when the Allies forgave all its debts except for minimum balances, or you let the creditors foreclose as Obama did in America after the 2008 crisis and 10 million American families lost their homes to foreclosure,” he said.

”If you leave this wealth in place then it’s going to stifle society with debt deflation.

”Today’s world believes in the sanctity of debt. But from Sumer and Babylonia through the Bible, it was debt cancellations that were sacred.”

The economist recommends replacing income tax with land, monopoly and natural resource tax, banning absentee ownership, and empowering the government to distribute land to the population.

”If you want to be like Jesus then you become political and you realise that this is the same fight that has been going on for thousands of years, across civilisation – the attempt of society to cope with the fact that debts grow faster than the ability to pay,” he says.

And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption will be available for purchase just in time for Easter on Amazon.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Patrick Donnelly

    Reckless lending is a valid concept and has been put into law by Judges and almost unbelievably, lawmakers as well, in some jurisdictions.

    The debt is void.

    Tricking a borrower into overcommittment is worse and that is what happened in Ireland during the 80s onwards. The Prime ministers of different parties over that time had unlimited overdrafts with several banks, most notably the AIB. A conspiracy that meant only a very few were fully aware of the final result: bondholders would be reimbursed, with the scam being paid for by those who made money and also those who lost money in the asset Ponzi that was always the end.

    Emigration was also the intended end, which worked quite well.

    1. Steven

      With you right up to that last sentence. Why couldn’t the simple banker theft, the ‘free lunch’, have been “the intended end”? Critics of the status quo IMHO often attribute way too much intelligence and foresight to the powers that be. There is such a thing as intelligent self-interest (greed). Germany’s Bismark and Hudson’s ancient rulers understood it. The West’s ruling class apparently doesn’t.

      1. AbateMagicThinking but Not money

        No more IMHOs please! It starts to read like Uriah Heap. No more humility. Just state your case.

        Pip Pip

        1. flora

          an aside: It’s important to distinguish sentences of opinion from sentences of claimed fact, imo. ;) Opinion is just that, and can’t be called out for malice or falsity. Incorrect statements of fact can be so called out. This is an important distinction in written comments. It’s important for the reputation of the publication itself, and why LTEs insist on this distinction being made in the letters.

          Uriah Heep’s “umbleness” was a mask covering his scheming; a very different thing from making a simple written distinction between opinion and fact.

        2. St Jacques

          I only ever make true statements, OK !!!

          Trouble is that the next day I have a headache and everything looks yellow.

        3. Alejandro

          >”It starts to read like Uriah Heap.”

          This reads like arrogant opinion, IMHO. Some prefer humility over arrogance…I know I do.

          IIRC, “Uriah” was a soldier whose “leader” had him killed because he wanted his wife…arrogance and/or abuse of power?

    2. Robert McGregor

      > “Reckless lending is a valid concept and has been put into law by Judges and almost unbelievably, lawmakers as well, in some jurisdictions.

      The debt is void.

      Tricking a borrower into overcommittment . . .”

      Take your average 21 year-old today or 40 years ago! Put him in the US and . . .

      1) Expose him through the MSM to relentless advertising and propaganda that he should spend, spend, spend!
      2) Don’t teach him in school about personal finance and debt.
      3) Give him a credit card.

      What do you expect will happen? Through trickery the bankers have rigged a very profitable system for themselves. It is not a good system where a young person has to have way-above-knowledge-and-discipline in order to protect themselves from credit racketeers. That’s why there is the ancient wisdom of the “Debt Jubilee”

      1. Kurtismayfield

        I blame credit card debt on the banks themselves.. they should know when to cut someone off, they are tracking your every move these days.

        1. nilavar

          Right on!

          if only, all the LENDERS and the Banks (Banksters!) had followed the the cardinal rules(of Finance) of FIDUCIARY DUTY & DUE DILIGENCE, we wouldn’t have 2008 crisis.

          Banksters were bailed out and the ‘DEBT’ became the new money, world wise!

          Now we have 2008 x10 (Mother of all Bubbles!) crisis at our door step!

          Happy Holidays!

        2. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          The article doesn’t distinguish “whose debts?”

          When Citi takes too much debt they get Jubilee, when John Q. Public does, they get bankruptcy.

          So let’s not say “we should bring back Jubliee”, we already have it, to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars. Jubliee for billionaires and bankers, just not for you and me.

          It’s similar to the debate over “Socialism”, Bernie gets trashed for even daring to mention the word. But if “socialism” is loosely defined as direct transfers of assets from the State, we have massive socialism in this country already. For Big Wall St, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Military, Big Incarceration, Big Surveillance. But propose it for Big Citizen and you will get shouted down and shamed as some kind of pinko.

      2. Alopex

        At a major bank in the late 80s, I heard the Controller describe the ideal credit card customer: the one with account just below the credit limit who makes the minimum monthly payment a few days late.

  2. Kathleen Smith

    I agree with all that Michael Hudson has to say — only problem is that the bankers have been so effective in dividing and conquering the genernal public that they can’t see who the real enemy is. We have middle class people hating those that have been set up and abused by a corrupt banking establishment that many in this country actually blame the victims. Question is how is this all going to end? and what can we do to stop the world take over by a corrupt banking elite?

    1. JEHR

      I have come to believe (from my reading) that the bankers have successfully used algorithms to speed up computing in order to make a profit no matter what the markets are doing. The AI of their machines does not have an ethical basis or empathy for those who lose money. The financialization of the economy is part of the role that AI performs in the profiteering of the bankers and other financial institutions. That I suppose is the first step to using AI algorithms to achieve the goal of the banker: to always and forever make a profit. Watch AI move into other areas for the same profitable purpose.

        1. norm de plume

          Reminiscent of the idea Robert Harris used in The Fear Index, that a AI form of finance will become sentient and destroy us because we stand in the way of its optimal operation.

          The article was very good in Overton window kind of way, in limning the outer edge of potentiality by way of exaggerating capital’s ability to act as a unified intelligence, almost sci-fi really. What bothers me about this sort of analysis is how it tends to erase, indeed almost absolve human agency and action.

  3. Arizona Slim

    How is this all going to end? Well, it’s going to end because of people like us. We’re questioning the current way of the world, and that’s the first step in changing it.

    1. nilavar

      Any DEBT which cannot be paid, will NEVER get paid (Hello Greece!) will be resolved by default and or Bankptcy as shown in history!

      2008 was just a walk in the park!

  4. Sam Adams

    I love the irony: “And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption will be available for purchase just in time for Easter on Amazon.”

    1. Temporarily Sane

      A small group of staggeringly wealthy individuals control a handful of companies that own and control our communication platforms and sell us the devices we use to access them.

      Amazon has moved beyond communication technology and gutted the publishing industry and wiped out almost all independent book sellers. All these companies are actively working to make us even more dependent on their products.

      Boycotting big tech entitely would make maintaining a social life, a career or job and being a functioning member of society almost impossible. It’s a vicious state of affairs. Not sure why Hudson is publishing on Amazon this time but as an author he doesn’t have a lot of choices if he wants his books to reach the reading public.

  5. Henry Moon Pie

    It’s best to be cautious when making any kind of assertion about “the Bible says …” or “Jesus believed….” The Hebrew bible is an amalgam of many different, often conflicting theological and moral points of view. The Gospels reflect that diversity of thought with some non-Semitic strains added as well.

    The Ten Commandments provide a good example of this. The reason given for honoring the Sabbath in Exodus 20:

    for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day

    but in Deuteronomy (i.e. the “Second Law” in Deuteronomy 5), it’s

    You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm


    The Exodus version’s rationale is drawn completely from awe for YHWH and his creation, but the Deuteronomist asks the Sabbath observers to think empathetically by remembering their ancestors’ (mythical) enslavement.

    Another example is the Deuteronomist’s amendment of the law of debt slavery. The Exodus version did limit debt slavery to 7 years (Exodus 21:2), but D goes further:

    And when you send a male slave[b] out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today.

    Prophets like Micah and Amos took the D point of view even further, issuing prophecies of condemnation for the rich and compassion for the poor, but the compiler of Proverbs, while extolling moderation, offers a perspective respectful toward the rich and powerful as long as they behave decently.

    These differences persist into the time when the Gospels were written. Luke-Acts clearly reflects the D/Prophetic strain. While Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) contains only blessings, Luke 6 includes curses:

    But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.

    25 “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.

    “Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

    26 “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

    Where did the historical Jesus line up in this millennia-old debate? There’s not that much firm evidence either way. Dominic Crossan, relying on gospels outside the canon, tries to make a case for a revolutionary Jesus, but a strong argument can also be made that Jesus didn’t care much about earthly politics and socio-economic issues because he believed the end of the world was near.

  6. Jim Haygood

    After the next recession (which I have penciled in for 2019-2020), US fiscal deficits will rise to the $1.5 to 2 trillion level and stay there. Should Trump serve two terms, federal debt will reach $30 trillion, and by then will constitute 130 to 150% of GDP.

    At this point Amerisclerosis sets in, growth being impossible as debt service paralyzes any former dynamism in the corrupt and petrified imperial empire.

    The Washington DC regime has two ways of defaulting: outright (hard) default, or soft default via inflating away the principal. Naturally politicians will prefer the latter, as it may permit milking a few more years out of their hollowed-out Potemkin economy.

    WWJD — what would Jesus do? Long gold, short bitcoin ought to be a pretty good “set and forget” trade whilst awaiting the Second Coming, though it may be a bit early yet.

    1. nilavar

      Japan’s DEBT to GDP ratio is over 300% but it is still here!

      ‘Japanification’ to the rescue!

      DEBT and QEs to infinity! There are over 8-9 Trillions of Global Sovereign bonds with NRP!

    2. The Rev Kev

      What would Jesus do? We know exactly what Jesus would do! Remember him clearing out the money-lenders from the temple? There is your answer right there. Today he would go into the central banks, kick a** and take names after clearing them out. The big banks would then find themselves under the gun without federal backup which mean that they could be shrunk small enough to drown in a bath tub.

    3. djrichard

      You know what the banks, wealthy and China do with the interest on US treasuries don’t you? They buy more US treasuries with it. If they had something better to do with the money, they wouldn’t be buying US treasuries in the first place.

      So in the end, it’s the same swap as usual: US Fed Gov issues treasuries in exchange for surplus currency that’s been hoovered up by the winners.
      – Except where the winners are usually hoovering up their surplus currency from the little (and not so little) people, in this case the winners are hoovering up the surplus currency directly from the Fed Gov.
      – And except where the Fed Gov usually uses the currency (that it got in exchange for treasury issuance) for fiscal spending on the little (and not so little) people, in this case the Fed Gov uses the currency to close the books on the interest it just paid out.

      Seems like a virtuous cycle to me, a perpetual motion machine that results in a win/win for all players involved. Why would the Fed Gov find that it can’t keep issuing treasuries to swap for currency hoovered up by the winners? Because the winners don’t want to play this game anymore? Would it be a bout of ennui, that being the winner isn’t sufficient anymore, it’s more fun to bring the system down, the system that made them perpetual winners?

  7. ChiGal in Carolina

    I seem to recall in one of the mainstream Protestant churches I went to as a child, when we recited the Lord’s prayer we DID say “…and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

    In another, we said, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespassed against us”. That might’ve been the Winnetka Congregational Church–oh, that property owning legacy of our founding fathers!

    Not really up on my biblical exegesis this morning (it’s B.C. here: Before Coffee), but don’t we “sin” against God? As opposed to our fellow mortals, I mean.

    1. marieann

      Yes, I remember it was said that way also, not in the catholic church I went to but Protestant ones.
      I just googled it and there are versions that speak about debt.

      I find this article very interesting.
      Being non religious now I could get behind a Socialist religious figure

      1. Anarcissie

        In the Greek version of the Lord’s Prayer, the word translated as ‘debt’ or trespass’ means ‘debt’ or ‘obligation’ (according to my dictionary, anyway). I suppose a trespass could be considered as creating an obligation (to rectify the wrong done) but it’s not the same thing.

  8. Dan Lynch

    I like Hudson and agree with much of his philosophy, but I don’t think his book will change many minds because religion has nothing to do with logic.
    If you want to make a moral or economic case for debt forgiveness, fine, but if you start talking about what Jesus really believed then you’re wading into religion and most religious people’s minds are already made up on that subject, so I don’t think this tactic is a useful approach.
    As one of my right wing friends said in response to Hudson’s article, “liberation theology has already been debunked.” Well, in my friend’s mind it has been debunked so that’s all that matters.
    In my mind all religion is bunk so I am not going to defend Hudson’s theology.
    Ditto with the recent debate over Steve Keen’s “theses.” Just leave religion out of economics, OK?

    1. jsn

      We are all born in ignorance, religion is what we call earlier concatenations of human perception and memory that sustained societies across generations. The current religion, the one we call science, has exploded the human population to a mass the ecosphere cannot long support. Science, for all its knowledge has failed to provide anything remotely approaching a sustainable society or the politics that might create one. Science provides no wisdom, only knowledge.

      It’s a long game: minds that are are made up; minds yet to be will form around the ideas presented them.

      An argument can be made we no longer have enough time.

      1. mpalomar

        Interesting points. Yet if science provides knowledge how can it be possible that it does not lead to wisdom. Philosophy, wisdom, religion and science are all bundled or linked, science being the latest iteration. Is it possible that there is such a clear, distinct division between wisdom and knowledge? Wisdom must be a product of knowledge as it is hard to imagine wisdom that does not conform to knowledge.

        It is a long game but our individual lives are played out on a different time reference. Keynes of course famously acknowledged this, regarding the useless task of economists if they do not recognize the human time frame in their theories and calculations.

        Civilization’s tragic but expedient go-to-move is the ever prevalent dismissive shrug of complicity elite consensus employs to excuse the generational destruction visited by poverty and war because the march of history must proceed at a desultory stroll in relation to the span of a human life.

        It does appear we no longer have time and probably never have.

        1. jsn

          For some time I’ve wondered if life itself isn’t just an exhilarating acceleration of entropy with consciousness being a kind of waste heat.

          It denies us free will, but when you look at how we treat one another at scale and the curves for population and energy use it’s hard to avoid the comparison to bacteria in a petri dish.

          But I still cling to free will understanding it might be an illusion!

          1. Vidunas

            I am a fan of Hudson’s viewpoint. But lately I started to appraise financial hierarchies defined by debt as functioning well as population checks on the grand scale. Whenever a crisis hits, as much of the bottom falls off as ‘needed’… Progressive views have a blind spot in really addressing resource limitations. These are good times to learn better.

            More hints in this direction can be found in this article:
            (though you would sooner notice parallels with Geoff Mulgan’s article here today).

        2. Temporarily Sane

          Science has become a secular religion, call it Scientism. Its proponents really believe that materialism is Objective Truth that will unlock all the secrets of the universe and there will be nothing humans cannot reverse engineer and “learn”. The kind of people who champion STEM as “objective” and denigrate the humanities as “subjective” and therefore useless are big fans of the Science delusion.

          Science can’t explain consciousness or even how the brain works. Science can’t explain human power relationships nor can it provide moral and ethical guidance and help resolve conflicts between nations or cultures. Science is not a panacea…not even close. It is very useful as a method of inquiry but it makes a terrible and dangerous ideology or pseudo-religion.

          Instead of an omniscient deity, Scientism offers up Western “man” as God in training for delusional secularists who can’t handle ambiguity or accept the fact that we humans know far FAR less about the universe and our place in it than we think.

        3. Son of Ingvar

          To understand “wisdom” I guess one must develop a “terms of reference”.

          From a wise mentor I gained my understanding that in order to be “wisdom” the concept must be “universally applicable” and “ageless”. Anything less does not qualify as “wisdom”. So in modernistic terminology we might understand “wisdom” as:

          “A good idea that applies to all and doesn’t have a use by date”

      2. Jamie

        Who is the “we” you refer to? Religion is simply codified superstition. It is a parasitic excrescence of stable societies, not the cause of their stability. Without the science you deplore you would not be able to criticize science for not achieving the sustainability you claim to value. Sustainability was not a thing until the science of ecology made it so. If you think you can make an argument that we don’t have enough time to be rational, go ahead and make it. But “hurry up and abandon science because we only have time for superstition before the world ends” does not sound like a promising argument to me. By the way, if you attempt the argument I suggest you start by distinguishing science from technology and the ability and knowledge to do something from the political decisions to do (or not do) what science tells us is in our power. The same science that gave us the green revolution and the ability to support a huge global population has also given us birth control and the ability to adjust the size of our population to any value we choose. It is not science’s fault if we make poor choices.

        1. jsn

          What did you know when you were born? There are embedded assumptions about me in almost every line you wrote.

          I don’t deplore science, I’m just humble about what it can achieve. It has no agency, only people do. People made science so science can hardly be better than people, which gets us back to the problem of how to get people to sustain the ecology necessary for the species.

          Why are you proposing to abandon science? I didn’t. I simply said that it will not cause us to change our collective agency, it can’t, it only has agency through us.

          Additionally, there is decent science on cognitive bias that suggests, as the reader I was responding to did, that rational arguments don’t change minds. I accept that science. Ipso facto, as you finished “It’s not science’s fault we make poor choices”, with which I completely agree. It won’t be science’s success on the outside chance we make some good ones. That is my point: it is a political issue not a scientific one.

          The religions you call superstition, while incorporating a great deal about the material world that science has proven (within a certain tolerance) false, also include a great deal about human psychology integrated into time scales significantly longer than any individual human life.

          I chose a poor metaphor in “the current religion, the one we call science” that sidetracked my intent, but science can no more solve our problems for us than god.

          1. jsn

            Second to last para should have read:

            The religions you call superstition, while incorporating a great deal about the material world that science has proven (within a certain tolerance) false, also include a great deal about human psychology integrated into time scales and societies significantly larger than any individual human life that are both true and wise.

          2. Jamie

            Well, I appreciate your response. But I am not making any assumptions about you. I know nothing about you. I am merely responding to your text.

            Science, for all its knowledge has failed to provide anything remotely approaching a sustainable society or the politics that might create one.

            From this I gathered that you see the political dimension, as you state in your reply, but here you are claiming that science has “failed” at a job that was never science’s job in the first place. This is a type of non sequitur. It is from your claim that “science… has failed” that I inferred the abandonment of science. If you say that inference is wrong, then I’m sorry I misunderstood you.

            Perhaps you meant ‘failed’ in the sense that, “I failed to take an algebra class last month” when I had no intention of taking an algebra class last month, or any other month. But it was not unreasonable of me to read the text as a complaint against science. Because you certainly could have said, “science can’t solve problems outside it’s domain” or something to that effect.. but instead chose to use the term ‘failure’ (why?), which I, quite reasonably took to be a judgement and criticism, because that is how it is most often used.

            I simply said that it will not cause us to change our collective agency, it can’t, it only has agency through us.

            No, if that were what you simply said, I would never have posted a response. However, if that is what you meant to say, then fine. Again, I am sorry that I misunderstood you. I am happy to admit there are multiple possible interpretations of your text (I don’t mean that as an insult, but it is not particularly a good thing).

            People made science so science can hardly be better than people

            Science is an historical, collective process. It can indeed be better than any one or any given set of people. I would never argue that science is inerrant. But it is also “integrated into time scales significantly longer than any individual human life”. As for the claim that religion knows (“includes”) something about human psychology, what specifically does it know? I think that is an empty claim. Please name one true psychological insight that belongs to religion that can help us in any way to solve our political problem of deciding what to do given the knowledge we have.

            Finally, your conclusion, that science cannot solve our problems, is both true and not true. Ultimately, we will collectively solve our problems or we will collectively suffer the consequences. Sam Harris notwithstanding, science cannot tell us what we collectively “ought” to do or force us to do the right thing (knowledge of “the right thing” is outside the domain of science). Need I add that neither can religion?

            But attempting to make policy without the benefit of science will most certainly doom us (at least some of us, perhaps all of us) to great suffering. So while science is not sufficient to solve our problems, it is necessary, but religion (and its claimed, but not in evidence, psychological insights) is neither sufficient nor necessary. In pointing this out, I am making no assumptions about your own views on religion. I am, again, merely responding to your text and the claims embedded in it.

            On the core issue, that we need a political solution, not more science (or more religion) to solve our current environmental problems, I believe we are in complete agreement.

        2. mpalomar

          Perhaps scientific hypothesis is codified superstition. An indefatigable and self perfecting method for discerning the universe, here on earth employed by a cognitively limited and imperfect biological organism.

          As an atheist of sorts, the definition that religion, “is a parasitic excrescence of stable societies” strikes me more a definition of economics, particularly the capitalist incantation and that science operating without parameters of elements of religion and philosophy, would be useless, impossible or possibly fatally employed, without the admittedly meager ethical constraints applied currently.

          1. jsn

            It has for a long time seemed to me that only “true believers” could have the confidence to throw out the entire body of something as ancient, vast and polyvalent as “religion”.

      3. jrs

        Maybe socialism really truly was the best shot at an belief system for how humans should live in the modern world.

        While science is part of our knowledge of the world and it is necessary for this level of biosphere destruction, and certainly it’s technologies are part of our life, I don’t think it really informs the current VALUE system that much. I think the current value system is informed almost entirely by brutal capitalism, the ideology of mammon and wealth makes right period.

      4. makedoanmend

        Science and religion are not equivalent, and I have yet to come across a scientist who claimed it to be so.

        Religion is a belief system and has been useful system of inquiry to many people in present and past history. There may be some scientists who promote some sort of technophilia future but they are in the company with many non-scientists.

        Many people often conflate those who hype Technological fixes for all social ills with strictly scientific enquiry. Technological fantasies and science are not equivalent.

        Science is, at its basis, a method of inquiry based upon continual observations, collection of data and the experimental method. Scientific inquiry does not rest upon predicated truths but rather that ultimate truths are not known. Every law or theory, after rigorous testing, becomes the basic dogma for future hypotheses and new experimental endeavours. The scientific method is itself tested by using laws and theories to predict future events; Newtonian physics being a case in point. When theories lose their ability to predict future events with accuracy they are either modified or discarded. Sometimes, we just have to live with seeming contradictory conditions as between differences in Newtonian and quantum physics; yet Newtonian physics theories and practices are still valid at the scales in which we Homo sapiens operate. They are not based upon belief but upon practice.

        Nor does science try and engineer social structures – such as controlling populations. That is not the role of science or scientists. Science merely records the data and tries to predict the consequences of changing weather patterns, farming practices or population dynamics. However, these models are very complex. The job of scientist is to try and convey the information but scientists, like all the rest of us, operate in a political world.

        And for those who are believers in a religion, I wish you a most happy holiday and success in your spiritual endeavours.

        1. Thuto

          “And for those who are believers in a religion…” Thank you for this statement, it’s representative of true humility at work. While you do not state your religious belief system (or if indeed you have any), you’re not dismissive of beliefs that others might hold as “codified superstition” (as one commentor does above). Deriding those who may believe that there’s some intelligent consciousness that underpins life in the universe as superstitious is to suffer from a type of hubris. Live and let live, and this applies as well to religious fundamentalists of all stripes who’ve made it their mission in life to “save” others. In matters of faith (or lack thereof), one must always keep their own counsel in my view.

          1. makedoanmend

            Thanks for the reply.

            I’m in the Pascal’s wager category. I take some solace and meaning from my extensive forays into the natural world, including my contacts with such beasts as yeasts and bacteria met in the Lab.

            happy hols

          2. Jamie

            I am sorry you felt that I was deriding you, but that was never my intention. OK, so I claim that religion is codified superstition. Now, if you could get past feeling insulted by that and tell me exactly why religion is not codified superstition, perhaps we would both feel better about the whole thing. If you would like to support jsn in his argument that religion creates stability in society as opposed to my view that stable society appends religion onto itself, I would love to hear your argument. You have all of history to draw upon to make your case. And you needn’t reveal any personal details of your own belief or lack thereof in order to do so.

            But don’t imply that I am being impolite while you comment on my hubris as if I am not in the room.

            1. Thuto

              Thanks for your generosity in providing a “how-to guidebook” with a medley of building blocks I might feel interested in using to build up an “argument” that would live up to your exacting standards. Please don’t confuse being taken aback by your rather authoritative declaration that religion is codified superstition with being insulted. May I suggest, judging from the tone of your comment above, that you’re the one feeling insulted. Look at it how you will but superstition is a pejorative term, and unless you’re using it in some other context that i’m not privy to, pejorative terms aren’t normally used to impart messages with politeness as a guiding principle. I myself am above feeling insulted by any of it because in my near 40 years on this planet, and having a firm grasp of science from prolonged study, i’ve witnessed the hubris (yes that word again) from both sides (I.e. from those who worship at the opposing altars of both religion and science).

              I said nothing in my comment about supporting jsn’s argument for religion being a stabilizing force in society, nor did I take up issue with your opposing argument, I merely pointed out that using pejorative terms to dismiss beliefs that others might hold as sacred, on such a public platform no less, is hardly a stabilizing social trait in itself (I hasten to add that this applies to the religious and non-religious). In light of the above, I will not be taking you up on your invitation to advance my case on the merits or demerits of religion as a stabilizing force in society. It’s too polarizing and emotive an issue and as such, I prefer to follow my own advice and keep my own counsel on such matters. Happy holidays.

              1. Jamie

                My own standards of politeness warn me off from making further reply. You have indicated a desire to disengage and I should respect that, and I will, perhaps, regret this post. But sometimes being polite is not the most important thing. In particular, though I know it will have no effect on you, just in case some young impressionable mind should stumble on this post, I cannot leave off without remarking that the notion that ‘superstition’ is pejorative and not descriptive is one point of view of a quite controversial matter. As evidence of the truth of this I offer you the talk page of the Wikipedia article on the term.

                In my view, and I am not alone, the term denotes a certain psychological state and attendant, irrational beliefs, and does not make any value judgement or assumption about the intelligence, ignorance or education of the superstitious person. I do not “dismiss” religion by calling it superstitious. It is a perfectly good descriptive term. But I am quite willing to acknowledge that not everyone thinks as I do.

                I sincerely hope that you find joy and refreshment in your holiday season.

            2. Thuto

              Thanks for the generosity in providing a “how-to guidebook” with a medley of building blocks I might feel interested in using to build up an “argument” that meets your exacting standards. Please don’t confuse being taken aback by your rather authoritative declaration that religion is a codified superstition with feeling insulted. May I suggest, judging by your tone above, that you’re the one feeling insulted.

              Look at it how you will but superstition is a pejorative term, and unless you’re using it in some other context that i’m not privy to, pejorative terms aren’t normally used to impart messages with politeness as a guiding principle. I myself am above feeling insulted by any of it because in my near 40 years on this planet, and with a firm grasp on science from prolonged study, i’ve witnessed the hubris from both sides (I.e. from those worshipping at the opposing alters of both science and religion).

              I said nothing in my comment about supporting jsn’s argument for religion being a stabilizing force in society, nor did I take up issue with your opposing argument. I merely pointed out that using pejorative terms to dismiss beliefs that others might hold as sacred, on such a public platform no less, is hardly a stabilizing social trait in itself (i hasten to add that this applies to the religious and non-religious alike). In light of the above, I will not be taking you up on the invitation to advance my case on the merits or demerits of religion as a stabilizing force in society. As such, I prefer to follow my own advice and keep my own counsel on all matters relating to religion. Happy holidays.

              PS: if this comment appears twice it’s because the first one had simply disappeared and I had to rewrite it in its entirety.

    2. jrs

      I don’t know if it’s going to convince anyone, but it’s not just a religious question but a historical one, only people spend their whole lives studying this stuff (how to interpret the Bible based on the culture and language of the time etc.), so while I like Hudson I think he may be out of his depth here.

      1. nilavar

        What about DEBT in far Easter religions – Hinduism. Buddhism, Janism, Shinto etc?

        Hinduism (1. 3Billions+) is at least 4-5 thousand years old!

    3. Norb

      What is the nature of Political Power? In order to rule society, public sentiment must be controlled and directed in a certain trajectory. Political and Spiritual power are dependent and cannot be separated. When they are, failure ensues.

      The contemporary world is in the midst of a spiritual/religious crisis. The human mind and soul need an anchor in order to deal with the chaos inherent in the universe. What is human history other than one long chain of events illustrating humanities efforts to deal with this predicament.

      Belief in a righteous cause, rooted in actual experience of daily life is what all religions are based on. Humanity is characterized by being builders and myth makers. When the myths fail to provide plausible explanations for life’s struggles, societal collapse or new possibilities- new myths- must be undertaken. At the very least, a reinterpretation. Building cannot occur without a viable supporting myth.

      It seems to me that humanity needs to reexamine spirituality more than ever- not abandon it. The world cannot be left to fools and charlatans.

    4. witters

      Huh? “As one of my right wing friends said in response to Hudson’s article, “liberation theology has already been debunked.” Well, in my friend’s mind it has been debunked so that’s all that matters.”

      Because only your friends apparently improversished mind counts? And Hudson should have known that and changed his views accordingly?

      Problem here is not Hudson.

  9. Karen

    I credit the Catholic church with developing my social conscience–back in the 1970s, when most pastors were old white men. It was a message delivered clearly and repeatedly.

    Despite all of the other disappointments and hypocrisies we have seen in the years since, I do think that the church leaders I knew were sincere in this regard. In fact, I have always viewed this as the important contrast vis a vis Protestantism.

    Though I am no theologian, so probably don’t know what I’m talking about…

    1. diptherio

      My mother attends a United Methodist church whose minister is an ex-Catholic nun, who decided she wanted to deliver sermons rather than receive them. While not real big on organized religion myself, I have been impressed by how much work they put into actually helping people. They built a whole facility in their basement for homeless people to come in a couple times a week, take a shower, shave, and get re-upped on toothpaste and whatnot. They definitely seem to take the “whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do to me” line much more seriously than the congregations and leadership of other United Methodist churches Mom’s attended, so maybe there is something to your thoughts on Catholic/Protestant differences in this area…although, I have a feeling that things might be way different in, for instance, AME churches down South.

  10. cnchal

    . . . the attempt of society to cope with the fact that debts grow faster than the ability to pay,” . . .

    Debt is the ultimate self licking ice cream cone. To pay off a debt and the interest implies that society as a whole is required to take on ever greater debt. From the ephor’s (thank you knowbuddhau) perspective a perfect system.

    1. knowbuddhau

      You’re welcome. Still a bit mindblown by that.

      ISTM a SLICC is a perpetual motion machine. Creditors can turn people into them with debt + interest. It’s like some kind of special purpose vessel you can get in, but can’t disembark, and it never gets you to the yonder shore like they promised. All you can do is row yourself to death.

      I kinda think Jesus was working on more than one level. I think he had an insight that threatened the PTB of his time with disintermediation from between people and the divine.

      The way I see it, the Gospel as I’ve understood it never got out. The most threatening idea was safely encapsulated in the personage and later cult of Jesus the Superfreak. I’ve always understood it to be the breaking of this taboo that made him such a threat to the PTB.

      If we’re all related to divinity as offspring to parent, then we all share in divinity. No one is any more divine than anyone else. A lot hinges on the article in a specific phrase.

      Did he say, “I am *a* son of god,” or did he say “I am THE son of god?” According to Alan Watts, the Greek article is indefinite. The whole idea of a special lineage exceptionally favored by the cosmic PTB (and of course innocently promulgated by its beneficiaries) obviously comes straight outta our primate past. As applied to modern human affairs, it’s absurd.

      No, I think he said, we’re all worthy.

      Before this, the only way I thought of Jesus in relation to money was, of course, overturning the tables in the temples. I am in all ya’ll’s virtual debt. ;-)

  11. Help Me

    End games, potential outcomes, so many possibilities.
    Questions many would like to see answered:
    What do the accumulators do with all that wealth?
    When they acquire more than they can possibly spend, why acquire?
    How much acquisition is to seek power over others?
    What has happened in the past to acquirors and other power-seekers?
    Will this current phantasm end in a Jubilee?

    1. jrs

      I believe at a certain point wealth acquisition is all about power over others, if only more people clearly saw it that way.

      One wants money to meet: basic needs, then a few consumer toys and a tiny bit of security, a little more security (get a 401k), then leisure and autonomy (win the lottery and quit your job!). Normal non-rich people can relate to these impulses, as they are basic human drives from survival to self-actualization. Though normal non-rich people’s best collective shot at them would be socialism where there would be more economic security, and more autonomy, and more leisure FOR ALL.

      But beyond a certain point money is ultimately about a sadistic drive for power over others. People need to see rich people for the sadistic f’s they are and their hoarding of money proves it. They won’t give it up because they have a sadistic drive to rule over others.

      1. norm de plume

        There are, and have always been (at least since we left hunter-gathering behind for surplus-producing agriculture) – the Rogerers and the Rogered.

        While, for many if not most of them, being a Rogerer by itself provides ample motivation for being a Rogerer, fear of becoming one (or their offspring becoming part) of the Rogered is surely also at work.

        When you get to the bottom of it, all accumulation is primitive.

      2. WheresOurTeddy

        I am reminded of an anecdote given by a comedian about trickle-down economics. Paraphrasing:

        Greed is a drug. Giving tax cuts to already rich people and expecting the money to “trickle down” is like saying to a cokehead “Here’s a mountain of cocaine. Distribute it among the people as you see fit.”

  12. Carolinian

    Great stuff. We lapsed Baptists remember one Biblical precept–apparently not mistranslated–from our Sunday school lessons: “money is the root of all evil.” Per Hudson it might be interesting to speculate how many other of the world’s historic sins boil down to money–slavery, racism (competition between underclass groups), antisemitism. In A Distant Mirror Barbara Tuchman wrote that the French medieval kings would declare a personal debt jubilee from war debts by encouraging the masses to launch a pogrom. No more creditors meant no more debt. During the pre WW 2 Nazi period Hitler said that the Jews were free to leave as long as they left their possessions behind.

    Of course in current times autocrats no longer have to reconcile their behavior with traditional religion since it is widely in decline. Instead they invent new religious beliefs, based on failed economic theories.

      1. Carolinian

        Yes, I know. In fact that’s the standard comebacker for defenders of the Prosperity Gospel….they don’t love money. Rather they, like Lucy in Peanuts, just want what’s coming to them.

        I’d say the short form versus the long form is a distinction without a difference. See Michael Hudson above.

    1. WheresOurTeddy

      always heard it as “the LOVE OF money is the root of all evil”, but I was raised by Christian Reaganites, so could have just been self-absolution at work.

  13. lyman alpha blob

    Never much enjoyed going to church as a kid but I did have to go frequently and absorbed a lot whether I liked it or not. Every so often we would go to a service out of town and they would recite the lord’s prayer with ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. It always sounded off to me and didn’t exactly roll of the tongue. Our church used ‘debt’ and ‘debtors’ which in retrospect I’m quite grateful for.

    1. diptherio

      We always used the “trespass” version, growing up, so I thought for a long time that this was all to do with how to handle people in your front yard, or hunting on your acreage without permission.

      1. EyeRound

        Yes, indeed. This made me think:

        If the (older) European cultures confounded “debt” with some notion of “sin” as with the German word “Schuld,” then the newer American version is to confound “debt” with “real estate.”

        Hudson also has plenty of insights regarding the reciprocity between banks and land ownership.

        So here’s another question, the upshot of these 2 thoughts: could it be that Americans know, subliminally, that owning land is sinful?

        1. jrs

          perhaps it is, or perhaps merely owning land more than meets one’s own needs is sinful (being a landlord – ie a rentier), but certainly humans lived most of their time on earth without land ownership at all.

    2. Darius

      Debts is the King James Version Lord’s Prayer. We say “debts” in my church.

      Hudson’s approach is appealing. It would be more useful if he cited chapter and verse. Perhaps the book does.

      1. Synoia

        Debts is most certainly NOT in the King James version of the Lord’s prayer.

        It is “trespass.” We recited the Laord’s prayer at school once a day from age 5 to 18. It sort of sticks after a few recitations.

        I can also go to a Church of England service, and automatically say the refrains after the Vicar start them.

        The programming is both interesting and a little frightening.

    3. Jobs

      The Catholic church I attended as a kid also used “schuld” (Dutch for “debt”) in this particular prayer.

    1. WheresOurTeddy

      how about independence? What kind of “republic” has protectorates and territories from a 100+ year old war?

  14. flora

    Great post. Thank you.

    To file in the category of “the more things change…”:

    Last year’s prez primaries were very much about the current neoliberal economic system enriching the .01% and the growing indebtedness and despair of the 99%, imo. And now we see the Dem estab pushing, imo, a sex hysteria as the greatest destructive force that needs to be addressed, while ignoring the destructive force of neoliberal economics and debt and deaths from despair. The notion of sin is again transferred from economics to sex.

    1. Robert McGregor

      > @flora “And now we see the Dem estab pushing, imo, a sex hysteria as the greatest destructive force that needs to be addressed, while ignoring the destructive force of neoliberal economics . . . ”

      Amazing the Dems are now doing the age-old distraction of diverting the discussion to sex rather than economics. I thought just the political right does that! Ancient creditors changed the discussion from “economic unfairness” to “sexual sins.” Modern US Republicans changed it from “economic unfairness” to social issues like abortion, and sexuality. So why are the Dems doing the same? Yves Smith has talked about the #METOO hysteria being a rich women’s movement. The news is about movie star women being wronged. Maybe it’s just a “Maslow hierarchy” sort of thing. When you are a millionaire movie star–or an affluent pundit–then you can worry about being sexually harassed in your past. If you’re a waitress, your economic survival is foremost in your thinking. Economic class determines taste and worry.

      1. Mark P.

        … the Dems are now doing the age-old distraction of diverting the discussion to sex rather than economics. I thought just the political right does that

        The Dems are the political right. The Reps are the far right.

    2. djrichard

      The notion of sin is again transferred from economics to sex.

      If you get to define what’s a sin, then that puts you in the driver’s seat. It doesn’t really matter what the sin-du-jour is, the idea is to keep the population fixated on that rather than other things:
      – the idea is to confer authority upon you as being the arbiter of what constitutes sin
      – it keeps the rest of the population living in fear of being cast out by you (like a leper)
      – and you as the authority on what is sinful will be beyond reproach for any other actions you get up to (unless some rude missionary calls you out of course).

      This is the real radical element to Jesus and Christianity in my mind: foreclosing on this fear and authority business. In particular foreclosing on the cottage players who otherwise want to be in the business of being our redeemers, our path to salvation. He crowded them out as it were. To the point even the court of public opinion (which is where game theory to discover who is most popular in capturing the moral high ground comes into play) is crowded out – it means nothing compared to the court of judgement day where Jesus is the advocate for each of us. Per Romans, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”.

      Of course, the grifters are still going to grift. You might remember that the sin-du-jour before all this focus on sexual predation was/is the sin of racism / sexism / homophobism / hate / etc, per Hillary (a pretender to the throne of
      being our Redeemer):

      “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

  15. Rates

    I don’t think the rich has any objection to debt forgiveness. They already own almost everything anyway. Heck, once debt forgiveness happens, they’ll take more debt and then ask for another round of forgiveness. A couple of rounds like that and they’ll really own everything. Hurrah!!!

    Foreclosure though for everyone will I think wipe out the rich as well since they sure have debts up the wazoo.

    1. jrs

      well it might not be sufficient, probably also need wealth re-distribution from a tiny minority to the great majority.

  16. lyle

    BTW what is the reading in the oldest greek gospels, and for comparison if avaiable the Syriac gospels of the Nestorian churches (Syriac was a much closer language to Aramaic than greek)
    Likewise the reading in the Hebrew language version versus the Septuigant? I maintain that even if you belive god inspired the original texts sinful humans translated it and in the old days copied it. So the version we have today may or may not be close to the original.

  17. DJG

    I realize that this is an excerpt from the book, but the idea that sin and debt are equated in the Bible is off. There is no mention here of hamartia, a Greek term that was used for sin.

    To quote Wikipedia:
    “Hamartia is also used in Christian theology because of its use in the Septuagint and New Testament. The Hebrew (chatá) and its Greek equivalent (àµaρtίa/hamartia) both mean “missing the mark” or “off the mark”.[9][10][11]”

    So rather than sin as a kind of status, the Bible defines sin as not hitting standards of good behavior. This is a long way from debt, and the word hamartia isn’t uncommon in the Bible.

    Also, the article brushes up against the idea of poverty in Catholicism, which leads inevitably to il Poverello, Saint Francis, the “Poor Guy” from Assisi. In Catholicism, poverty doesn’t ennoble. Poverty clarifies, because it removes possessions as a distraction. There is a famous legend of the “conversion” of Saint Francis, which was a long time coming. He took off his clothes in church and gave them away. That isn’t nobility. It’s a clarification. In return for being un-distracted, Saint Francis claimed a whole enchanted / sacred cosmos, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the famous birds, Brother Wolf of Gubbio.

    The central issue that Hudson mentions here (and likely much more so in his book) is the deterioriation of religion in the U S of A into “American Religion,” which brays about being saved, is uncharitable, doesn’t know the bible or church history, has no environmental ethic (unlike the Franciscans), and is now being degraded further by U.S. free-market fundamentalism. As a bad Catholic and a bad Buddhist, I am highly skeptical of the tune Amazing Grace and its many claims on the godhead.

    1. Mark P.

      I am highly skeptical of the tune Amazing Grace

      But are you aware that the song’s author, John Newton (1725-1807), was originally a slave ship captain, then experienced spiritual conversion and eventually renounced the trade, finally becoming an abolitionist and an Anglican priest? Earlier, he’d been press-ganged in the Royal Navy, during which time he received eight dozen lashes and then later was marooned in Sierra Leone, and was himself made a slave of a slaving tribe there.


      Make of all that what you will, but there was probably something real there originally.

  18. Rick

    “banning absentee ownership” – this would be a great idea for intellectual property. The creator gets protection for some set period (like patents), but it is non-transferrable. Creators get compensated, and society benefits after the set period expires.

    I’m not holding my breath….

  19. Jfree

    I’ve always read the Bible in economic terms too so there’s stuff to chew on here. But I’ve interpreted the Jesus story more narrowly. It is about the Tyrian shekel (the temple tax). Not legal tender at the time for anything but the temple tax – so the Sadducees basically had monopoly ownership. Distributed out to people to pay their temple tax via a raucous appearance of showy but fake competition (the moneychangers) – but the terms (exchange rate basically) are really controlled by the monopolists behind the curtain. And like any Monopoly101, they presumably screw people over time (but need to know more about prices of stuff then – were currencies being debased?). All justified/rationalized intellectually by the Pharisees then.

    The problem is – the Tyrian shekel has the image of Baal on it. When Jesus overturns the money tables and then gets shown a coin – the coin he is actually commenting on is the shekel (render unto Baal what is Baals and unto God what is Gods) not the denarius (render unto Caesar what is Caesars and unto God what is Gods)

    Read it that way – and he is cleverly accusing the entire establishment of serious blasphemy and exploitation of the Jewish people and directly threatening their business model. Easy to understand why it later gets written down as ‘denarius’ after the temple is destroyed and the message is no longer in Judaea (or even within Jewish community in diaspora) – but the real message also gets lost with that

    1. Juliania

      Not true unless you discount the text and archeological facts completely, which I guess you do. The common coinage of the time would be of the empire, which was of Rome.

      1. Jfree

        Sorry. But the FACT is that the Tyrian shekel was the temple tax. Even wiki admits that. Which was the only reason the moneychangers existed. If people could have paid their temple tax in common Roman coinage, they would have reached into their pocket and paid it to the priests directly. If he was theologically opposed to the temple tax, he would have attacked the priests not the moneychangers – and Paul’s ministry would have been VERY different.

        And in the Jewish texts, the argument about the shekel and Baal is quite heated – and presumably also existed because 30 years later during the revolt, new coins without Baal were minted to pay the temple tax – archaeologically now called Masada coins. And that all occurred when the only extant gospel is Q and (maybe) Mark. Matthew/Luke/John as we know them are all after that revolt.

        My comment is completely in line with everything – texts of each religion and the archaeology. With the single question of the word that is used in the very first written ‘Christian’ texts for the ‘Caesar’/’coin’ parable – is it shekel? is it coin? is it denarius/etc? and whatever that choice is – is it intended to be verbatim or is it intended to be meaningful (to a mostly non-Jewish non-Judaean audience of whoever could read it)?

        Obviously my reading is not orthodox/canonical. But the orthodox/canonical interpretation is meaningless for nearly 1500 years until Protestantism comes along and makes ‘text’ important (and the ‘meaning’ then turns into separation of church/God/state/secular).

        1. Jfree

          Oh – and the Tyrian shekel was not just for the annual temple tax. It was also for the redemption of the first-born son (the pidyon haben). Going way back to the Passover story (God slays all the first-born sons of Egypt – and passes over the houses of Israel) – and the first-born of all herds being sacrificed. By Second Temple, the need for that physical sacrifice is redeemed by a payment of 5 shekels (not a mark on a door).

          It is probably THAT usage of the shekel that is even more significant in the original story since he’s talking now about redeeming the people’s own children to Baal/Beelzebub (while the establishments own children are ‘exempt’ from the redemption because they are born into priestly caste). And it also makes Jesus’ own physical sacrifice/redemption more meaningful (as the first-born not only of Mary but of, theologically, God)

          1. Juliania

            Thanks, and i do apologize for not understanding the ways of the temple – it makes more sense to me of why the moneychsngers were there in the first place. In my little Orthodox church, which sadly is no more, we never interrupted the liturgy to pass around a collection plate, which is now done even in Orthodox churches as well as other ones. We had a small box in a corner by the door where folk could unobtrusively give if so inclined.

            I do take exception to your final paragraph in the first comment. Eastern Christianity, while falling short in other respects, was deeply concerned both to translate Scripture into the common tongue as,soon as possible, and to place that text into the hearts and minds of the ordinary people, and it still is.

            I love the Protestant ethic, was a child in it, and certainy Protestantism was a needed correction to Catholic ills, but the fullness of traditional Orthodox worship, as I found in my former little church many years ago is simply the best. To my mind, and heart, it cannot be beat.

            [Apologies, for misspellings – hard to edit on phone!]

            Merry Christmas to all, everywhere!

            1. Juliania

              Just to add, we also excluded prayers for president and armed forces as those were the additions of empire – so I take your point on that score! Orthodoxy can indeed learn from Protestantism, and we did. Separation of Church and state is fundamentally important, and our good priest knew that.

            2. Jfree

              I agree that Eastern churches were generally more diligent in translating. It’s just a difficult challenge. eg Eloi Eloi Lama Shabakhthani are the only direct, seemingly literal words of Jesus.

              In most languages, that gets translated as My God My God Why has thou forsaken me. Prob cuz the transliteration looks/sounds similar to the Hebrew of Psalms 22. But this is Aramaic not Hebrew – and the translation just seems a bit – well – whiny. Like why would onlookers remember these words decades later and deem them important enough to insert the literal?

              In the Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic), it gets translated My God My God For this I/man am redeemed/kept A bit more purposeful and it also ties together his entire ministry (and Saul’s/Paul’s) if you get into the weeds of redemption payments (and soon after the fiscus Judaicus – which may also be when the coin gets turned from shekel to denarius) and the existing conflicts within Judaism between the Hellenistai and the Judaeans.

  20. Juliania

    I love Michael Hudson, but he is not quite correct here about Jesus, at least as far as this article presents his argument. We know Jesus best through the writings of his followers, mainly the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke John.

    The two who give us an explanation of what we call the Lord’s prayer are Matthew and Luke, and the earliest texts are written in koine greek, not hebrew. Indeed, Matthew first uses “debt” but follows his account of the prayer immediately with an explanation that doesn’t use that term, thusly:

    “…for if you forgive men the tresspasses (paraptomata) of them, your heavenly father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men, neither will your father forgive your trespasses ( paraptomata)…”

    My big dictionary translates the above greek word as “false step” or “falling from the right way.”

    Professor Hudson has an economist’s point of view, as does this forum, and that’s perfectly fine – Matthew was a tax collector after all. But Jesus was not. The term “debt” in this instance can be likened to the use of the word “seed” in the parables. The prayer uses a narrow focus that ought to be understood in a larger sense.

    Luke’s version of the prayer makes this expanded meaning very clear, and that is why I prefer the word “trespasses”. ( Also it sounds better and can be dwelled upon longer when one prays or sings it.)

    1. Foppe

      I think the more important point is that many people have been taught to view debts/sins as interchangeable with ‘faults’ or ‘missteps’, even though the former is much more laden as a concept (because it necessarily entails ‘guilt’) than the latter, which encourages analysis of what one actually did, to learn from it (if only because it doesn’t encourage (self-)hatred).

  21. Keynesian

    I appreciate Dr. Hudson referencing the Christian Old and New Testament about money and debt. Christianity has become so perverted in our modern times that it now represents the opposite of its original principles. And Dr. Hudson is in good company as an economist alluding to the New Testament about economic issues.

    In the second chapter, sixth paragraph, of Capital Vol. I, Karl Marx’s very first introduction of the concept of money is followed by a quote from the New Testament book of Revelations.

    The social action therefore of all other commodities, sets apart the particular commodity in which they all represent their values. Thereby the bodily form of this commodity becomes the form of the socially recognised universal equivalent. To be the universal equivalent, becomes, by this social process, the specific function of the commodity thus excluded by the rest. Thus it becomes –money. ―Illi unum consilium habent et virtutem et potestatem suam bestiae tradunt. Et ne quis possit emere aut vendere, nisi qui habet characterem aut nomen bestiae aut numerum nominis ejus.‖ [―These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.‖ Revelations, 17:13; And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.‖ Revelations, 13:17.](Apocalypse.)

    Marx is suggesting that money is analogous to the Christian belief in Revelation’s “Mark of the Beast.” Of all the criticisms of Marx, one would never believe that he would sometimes point to the New Testament while discussing economics. This is because hardly anyone reads Marx, or the Bible for that matter. Ironically, modern American Right-wing Christianity is corrupted by the “Prosperity Gospel” cult and views money as the ultimate good, or at least its possession a sign of godliness, when everything in its own dogma says something else. Could a Christian today proclaim with conviction, “Money is the Mark of the Beast!”?

    1. Synoia

      “Right Wing Christianity” is surely an oxymoron?

      I refer to the “eye of the needle” and “rich men” quote in the Gospels.”

      Quoting Revelations to prove any point about Christ’s teachings is specious at best. The Revelations of St John the Device appear as the stick of the Church to be used when the Carrot of Christ’s teaching is unsuccessful.

      “If you don’t do what we tell you you will burn in Hell!!!”

      I’d also point out that Christianity as practiced appears mostly as a peasant suppression system:

      Priest: (beholden to the local Lord) “You will get you reward after you die”

      Unruly peasant: “How do I know that?”

      Priest “We’ve never had a complaint!”

    2. financial matters

      A powerful statement by Marx. He recognizes the importance of a ‘money of account’ to give ‘value’ to items but at the same time questions the validity of this value.

      We have definitely gotten to the point of too much monetization and lost the social values of collaboration and compassion.

  22. clarky90

    Wonderful wonderful post. “The Gospel!” I will be celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas day at a random church I have never been to before. No food, no boozing, no presents. Just an unmediated appreciation of a lovely man’s birth. I was invited to church by a former Mongrel Mob (a notorious Maori Biker gang) leader (full facial tattoo, Te Moko) who has had his life turned around. He is now a healer and councilor

  23. OEB

    Sometimes I look at the shape of the T accounts in double-entry bookkeeping, and then think of the crucifix, and wonder if there is a connection somewhere.

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