Letters to the Editor: September 1983
Usury & Morality
Several letters to the editor have appeared in your pages recently about the relation of Calvinism and Roman Catholicism to capitalism. I would like to comment:
The paradox in the Western World of poverty and want — in the midst of plenty — is caused by the scandal of Christian toleration of usury.
The picturesque and deceptively innocent-appearing state of Switzerland is where Christian toleration of usury originated.
John Calvin freed Swiss entrepreneurs from the counselings, warnings, and threats of the Confessional, and soon normal human greed asserted itself.
The Calvinist business communities, surfeited with assets from shaved wages and overcharging, soon found themselves with resources far in excess of personal and business needs. It did not take them long to persuade the local theologians to declare the extortion of interest to be legal and Christian.
By engaging in usury-extortion, the Swiss entered a field condemned by the Undivided Church. The Swiss Reformers, despite their curious preoccupation with the Old Testament, conveniently chose to ignore the admonitions of Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:36, 37, and Deuteronomy 23:20.
The wage earner, confronted with unrestricted usury, found it difficult to amass the capital necessary to start his own business. (Unrestricted usury-extortion proved to be a clever way to limit competition — a hypocritical device to restrict trade.) Swiss usury-capitalism has the same relationship to free enterprise as the boll weevil to the cotton plant.
Moreover, by ending a restrictions on usury, the Calvinists tilted the Christianized world from God-centered to Money-centered. The Calvinist error arrested the evangelization of the world. Western usury, Western self-love, with its mindless acquisitiveness, prevented the abundance of the West — in Christian solicitude — from flowing to the scarcity of the East.
And in the end, a Christianity soiled, burdened, and encumbered by usury was unable to complete the conversion of the world.
Modern Switzerland is the harlot nation of the world. Embezzled money, pimped money, extorted money, graft money, blood money — from all continents — finds its way to the banks of Geneva, Berne, Zurich. The Swiss bankers assign these funds secret numbers and then put such funds out on usury — often to the poverty-stricken nations of the Third World.
Every weekday morning, all over America at 7 A.M., American mothers can be seen dropping preschool children off at day nurseries — not because of the existence of a national labor shortage — but in order for the mother to work at wages to pay the extortion to the usurer.
The wages of American fathers are usually sufficient to pay all expenses except interest. The wages of the mothers are needed to pay the usury on the house, the two transportation vehicles, and the household necessities. Such usury can easily reach $1,000 a month. The pay of the working wife is seldom higher. The American mother is out working — for the usurer.
The separation of the mother from the children causes delinquency in the children, and delinquency in the mother. The divorce rate soars and the deterioration of the American family continues unabated.
The terrifying words of the Final Judgment have to do with charity. Almighty God is infuriated by human greed.
What greater manifestation of greed can there be than unrestricted usury — of the extortion of interest, on a loan granted to a neighbor, for shelter, for clothing — for any other basic human need?
The important thing is that the Undivided Church looked upon usury for any basic human need as an abomination — as a sin equal in gravity to abortion — as an excommunicable offense.
Within recent years, the Apostolic Church has restated the traditional verities concerning contraception. It now has no alternative but to restate the traditional verities concerning usury.
It is scandalous for the contemporary (but still Apostolic) Church to allow the Catholic usurer to receive Communion with tranquility while most married Catholics — as a result of the greed of the usurer — receive Communion under a cloud of doubt and trepidation. When the Catholic usurer becomes a penitent in the rear of the church, married Catholics will more easily attain the heroic standards of Humanae Vitae.
Unlike Calvinism, Catholicism is not married to usury-capitalism, but for long years has carried on a torrid affair with that system.
The Apostolic Church can’t have it both ways. It cannot run with the hounds and the hare. And its condemnations of materialism will continue to contain the odor of hypocrisy, as long as it remains in bed with the source of the disorder.
If the Apostolic Church does not condemn unrestricted usury and place it in the same category as artificial contraception — forbidden to Catholics — the wage classes of the West may join the destitute, in a march toward Marxism — not because of any belief in that demonic religion — but in blind fury against a Christianity contaminated by usury-capitalism.
Arthur J. Sleight
I generally am enjoying Dale Vree’s recent series of articles. While in agreement with much of what he is saying, I am puzzled by one thing. Vree identifies with those who are oppressed, poor, and relatively powerless, yet when speaking about one of the largest groups of oppressed persons — women — he seems wholly unsympathetic to their plight. He consistently portrays feminism as merely one negative aspect of a decadent society. I would suggest that the issue deserves a deeper look.
The fact is that women have traditionally been excellent examples of the virtues Vree espouses: authentic love, self-discipline, self-denial, devotion to family. Men, I am afraid, have more often been self-indulgent, sexually promiscuous, and power hungry. Prostitution and pornography have, after all, traditionally been tailored for male consumption. Men have most often been guilty of treating women, and other people around them, as objects to be used. Men have preached virtue; women, while barred from the pulpit, have lived it day to day. And yet men, while often ridiculing women, and even more often turning a deaf ear to the needs of their wives and families, have insisted on the male’s sovereignty over family, state, and church.
I would suggest that one important reason for the collapse of the traditional family is that women have tired of carrying three-quarters, instead of one-half, of the responsibility for keeping their families together. Abortion, I am afraid, however horrible it may be, flourishes and has been legalized in part for the same reason: Men have abused their rule over women for so long, and in so many ways, that women no longer want them or trust them to make rules about anything intimately affecting them. For why should women continually give their all to their marriage and family, while their gallant husbands give so very little?
If the case seems overstated, let me give two brief bits of evidence. One is the incidence of infidelity in marriage. I recently read a survey that estimated that over 70 percent of American men have a sexual relationship with another woman sometime during their marriage. The figure reported for women was substantially lower. Secondly, many, many women have entered the work force through economic necessity, rather than by choice. In view of the large number of married women working part — and full-time, to what extent have men volunteered to, and actually followed through on, doing their half of the household and child care duties? I suspect that all over America, working women are still coming home to a husband who is willing to do little more than take out the trash.
I would therefore suggest that on a scale of traditional Christian virtues, women as a whole score higher than men. Is it not then a source of wonder, and something rather queer, that we have put the weaker sex (spiritually) in command of the stronger sex?
I close by suggesting that the issue of feminism, and male/female issues generally, be given less disdainful treatment in the NOR. It is an issue needing serious and sustained thought, of the type Dale Vree has successfully applied to other aspects of our society.
David M. Smolin
DALE VREE REPLIES:
My identification with “those who are oppressed, poor, and relatively powerless” comes, not from a secular, knee-jerk sympathy for any and every putative underdog, but from the Bible and Catholic tradition.
That same Bible and tradition mandate “the male’s sovereignty” (as you put it) over family and church (whether over the state as well, is a different, though not entirely unrelated, issue).
St. Paul, for one, teaches that wives are to “submit” themselves to their husbands, and husbands are to “love” their wives (Eph. 5:22-31). If husbands have failed — as they often have — the Christian solution is not for women to go out and get abortions and/or divorces, but for men to change their ways.
The Christian scheme of things may seem “rather queer” (as you put it), but the Gospel is irreducibly a “scandal” to the world, for the wisdom of men is foolishness unto God.
A Father’s Wisdom
Although I’ve long known that women’s lib was upper-middle-class, I hadn’t appreciated that the whole cultural revolution — including legalized abortion — was as much an upper-middle class-phenomenon as Dale Vree shows it to be in his article “Cultural Imperialism & Women’s Lib” (June). My father, although a country gentleman, was a Jeffersonian and told me to trust the instincts of the common people — farmers and workers. Although I have sometimes veered from that guidance, Vree’s article is an enormously powerful reinforcement of my father’s wisdom.
Affirmative Action: Tragedy Compounded
The tragedy of Affirmative Action is not that “working-class white ethnics” and blacks have been divided, or that the “little people” (ghastly term) have been forgotten, but that people like Joseph Varacalli (in his June article) believe that all will be well if people like him can become the ones to benefit. Varacalli wants a person’s “socio-economic background” to determine what “preferential treatment ought to be conferred on the individual.” Why should a group identity give an individual preferential treatment? What we need is true color/ethnic/class blindness: assurance that a person will be treated as a person, not as a rejected or favored group member.
Eggertsville, New York
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