Credit! Credit relates to the word “credo,” to believe. In recent years I have many times said that a central creed of American civil religion has come to be “In debt we trust.” That is not to cast aspersions on those who borrow to go to college, to make it through a health crisis, to buy a home. But the poor suffer most in a society that relies on credit, that believes in debt. And now we know that!
The intricate web of our false god has let everyone down. The poor suffer the most, and would take the least amount of money to help. The wealthy require the most money to bale out, and suffer the least.
Increasingly over the past few years I had begun to wonder if we ought to talk about “American Corporate Religion” instead of American civil religion, for there were those whose aim it seemed was decrease government’s power and replace it with dependence on the free market. And our civil life together was tearing apart. Now, I do think capitalism can serve people well, but when it no longer serves, when it has lost moral grounding, it has tremendous power to increase the gap between rich and poor.
So in what do people believe? I think the central creeds of American civil religion are in doubt, up for grabs. What are they? What were they? What were they not? And what might they be? And what actions must we take to lead us into a new way of believing? (Sometimes faith leads to action and sometimes actions lead us to ways of believing.)
We must start with reshaping some of the systems: inclusive health care; fair, honest and trustworthy lending for home ownership; ways of living--and teaching our youth--that are not credit-card dependent. “In debt we trust” was such a central tenet of the creed of ACR that “Pay Day Loan” establishments dot the corners of neighborhoods where people marginally employed live. And many can never climb out of debt. “In debt we trust” was taught in college corridors by credit card companies taking advantage of youth just learning to manage money on their own. “In debt we trust” corrupted executives who convinced themselves that “good debt” helps people, institutions, and global corporations.
Now, borrowing and lending will not go away and are as necessary are any historic forms of currency and monetary exchange. But what do we believe? In what do we trust? How will the current realities change our creeds? How might they?