King of King and Lord of Lords, Donald Trump?

Wondering how we got to a point where Donald Trump can say “I am the chosen one” and Christians don’t go bananas? You know–the folks looking for the Anti-Christ in every pope, a New World Order in every meeting of the UN, the mark of the beast in every new piece of technology, and the devil in every game of Dungeons and Dragons?

Well, these folks have been building this story for awhile now.

The morning of his self-coronation as the Messiah last week, Trump retweeted the words of conservative wackadoodle Wayne Allyn Root, who said that Israeli Jews love him like he is “the second coming of God.” Granted, that makes no sense, since Jews don’t believe that there was a first coming, but theological accuracy or respect for Judaism aren’t what Root is known for.

Second Coming of God

That’s just one high profile example. Head over to the internet to find zillions of websites and YouTube videos explaining why Trump is heaven-sent.

Or, if you dare, hit a Trumpian church one Sunday morning to hear people praying for–though sometimes it feels like to–the president.

WND, the far right (“wingnut” would not be too far, I think) website reported in 2016 that at least one far right rabbi sees Trump as messiah but not the messiah.

And last month, Miriam Adelson, wife of megadonor Sheldon Adelson, said that she thought that a Book of Trump should be added to the Bible. In a newspaper which she oversees, Adelson wonders why American Jews aren’t as enthusiastic about Trump as they ought to be–something he griped about a few weeks later himself when he invoked the anti-Semitic trope of Jews being “disloyal.” Adelson tries to insert him into the Bible as a prophet rejected by the very people he is saving:

Scholars of the Bible will no doubt note the heroes, sages, and prophets of antiquity who were similarly spurned by the very people they came to raise up.

Christians will hear a comparison to Jesus: a prophet has no honor in his hometown.

But Adelson wants more for Trump–an actual place in written Scripture:

Would it be too much to pray for a day when the Bible gets a “Book of Trump,” much like it has a “Book of Esther” celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from ancient Persia?

This should have made American Christians, many of whom were at least open to the idea that Obama might be the anti-Christ (though I have some concerns about this polling company), recall Revelation 22:18.

But they didn’t.

I’ve done some work examining how pro-Trump Christians have worked to insert him into the Biblical narrative. Was he a David–a sinner but, ultimately, a man after God’s own heart? An Esther (as Adelson invokes), called to a time such as this? King Cyrus seemed to settle them down: a non-believer whose politics restored power to the Jews taken into captivity. That works well, because, in this metaphor, since Trump is a non-Christian, he can’t be held to Christian standards, but he can still hand off power to believers. Other parts of Cyrus’ story, told in the apocryphal passages in Daniel, are ignored.

This image made the rounds online in the first few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

But an election is coming up, and King Cyrus isn’t cutting it any  more. So it’s time to ramp up the pressure. Can voters dare vote against a (the?) messiah?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by Trumpian Christians’ foolishness. Here is Jesus, in Luke 12:54-56, expressing his own frustration with a crowd of people who don’t seem to be able to face reality:

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Rebecca

Should you buy into Dave Ramsey’s ideas? Part II: Faith

I wrote last week about my criticisms of Dave Ramsey’s approach to finances from a financial point of view. Today, I want to share my concerns about his program from a faith perspective.

As a self-help guru, Ramsey needs you to feel guilty and ashamed but also empowered. After all, you have to believe that you are too stupid to handle your own money (because it couldn’t be economic forces that are shaping your financial situation) but also that you can be responsible for changing them. To do that, he stresses that you are responsible. You, you, you, you. If you just do things differently (“Tell your money where to go!”), then you will see different results.

But he also doesn’t ask you to be responsible for anything beyond your own financial situation. For example, he is pretty condescending about and dismissive of socially responsible investing (the idea that your investments should align with your values). About tracking how your  money engages with the world, he says: “You can’t possibly track it all. It’s impossible.” And perhaps it is impossible to track it all, but certainly, you can track some of it. The fact that boycotts often work tells you that you can make your money change the world if you track how you use it. And some of us track a lot of it–both in our socially conscious investing practices and in how we choose to spend our money on services and consumer goods.

I hear Ramsey attempting to shift responsibility away from his own role in keeping evil companies alive in this explanation to a radio listener who asked about morally responsible investing:

It’s like I bought an old Chevrolet car the other day. When I bought that car, the guy who owned the car got the money. Chevrolet didn’t get the money. I’m not supporting Chevrolet by buying that car. You can’t say that by buying into a mutual fund that owns stock that somehow you’re supporting that company. You are profiting from that company making a profit while they do bad things. That part is bad. But the idea that somehow you’re giving this company money … You’re really not because Chevy didn’t get any of that check I gave that guy the other day. I got a Chevy car, but Chevy really wasn’t involved in the transaction.

But Ramsey is supporting Chevrolet by buying a used car. If a car doesn’t have decent resale value, people are less likely to buy it in the first place. This isn’t a tenuous relationship–most of us check the resale value of a car before we buy it.

So I see Ramsey preaching personal responsibility when it comes to how your financial decisions impact your life but not when it comes to how your financial decisions impact the larger world. I think Christians should have a broader vision.

Ramsey also supports the status quo. He likes what money does for him and is well-known for his massive house and car collection. He isn’t a critic of having too much. For a perspective on how to live with joy with what you have, I recommend More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of Excess(For Joanna Harader’s great review of the book, click here.)

Ramsey also relies on some select Bible verses to preach a message of saving money that doesn’t always align with how I think Christians should engage the world. One of his favorite slogans is “Live like no one else so later you can live like no one else.” This seems to me to be a paraphrase of Luke 12:13-21, in which a man saves us his riches and then is able to relax and “eat, drink, and be merry.” For a Christian, I think, the purpose of money shouldn’t be to store it up now for later; it should be to use it now for what you value and use it later for what you value. For Christians, this should be to care for others and creation.

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I also find him very insensitive to poor people. Ramsey encourages people to pare down their expenses, even if it means “beans and rice, beans and rice”–that is, even if they have to eat the food of the world’s poor. Simple, low-cost meals are considered to be a punishment for your past financial sins or a sacrifice for your future wealth. They are what you do until you don’t have to do them any more, not how most of the world lives, in part because of massive international inequality.

These things might not bother evangelical Christians, but I think they should.

Rebecca

PS. If you are looking for a book about finances that offers clear, practical advice, I recommend The Index Card.

 

 

 

Deal or No Deal, the Greenland Offer is an Admission of Climate Change

I’m fairly sure that Donald Trump couldn’t find Kansas or Nebraska on a map, but I bet he could find Greenland.

Why? Because it’s one of the places most likely to survive climate change–and even profit from it. Rising temperatures mean longer growing seasons for cold places, even as they mean desertification in others. Our Dear Leader cozies up to Russia, asks for more immigrants from Sweden, and tries to make a move on Greenland not merely because they are full of white people (and, in the case of Russia, kleptocratic leaders) but because he is a disaster capitalist. In the US, while progressives are chanting that the future is female and of color, Trump and his cohort understand that the future is hot.

The underlying admission here, of course, is that climate change is real and closing in on us. The ultrarich know this, but they don’t care, because they plan to be elsewhere while the rest of us drown or desiccate. 

Image from the Corporate Watch workers’ coop.

Call me paranoid, but I don’t think the American Fuhrur’s offer to buy Greenland was a flight of fancy or the gassy result of a late-night cheeseburger. I think it was a warning shot. We can cheer on Denmark’s prime minister for rebuffing Trump’s offer, but women who rebuff offers of narcissists like Trump often find themselves the victims of revenge.

Saying “no” to Trump is dangerous, and the American electorate has given him more power to be dangerous on a world stage.

I don’t think we should be laughing. Instead, we should be looking out for the argument that Greenland (or similarly positioned places) would be better off in US hands. Trump’s first effort to frame this as a business deal suits his fantasy that he’s a powerful businessman, but he has all the resources of the US military, economic system, and political system to put even more pressure on the nations that will stay above sea level in the next 15 years.

I can imagine concern trolling (We only want what is best for the Greenlandic people!), calls for a land exchange for some kind of payment (Don’t they owe us money for protecting them from something in the past?), or pressure to trade access to agricultural production in exchange for not invading them outright. “America First” doesn’t mean we have to stay on American soil, after all.

Rebecca

On how your childhood interpretation of the Bible can affect you well into middle age

 

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Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

I’m a critic.

Well, I’m an opinion journalist. Which means my job is to give opinions. And that job can often mean telling people what’s wrong — and who is wrong — with the world. Donald Trump has been an unending inspiration for criticism for me, which probably won’t surprise you. This week, though, I narrowed my critique of him to a single facet of his personality — but one I think is particularly salient.

The man is an utter fool.

Here is what I wrote:

Forget impeachment. Forget the 25th Amendment. Is there no way the United States can rid itself of Donald Trump simply because he’s so unrelentingly foolish?

Trump’s puerile behavior over Greenland is particularly worth highlighting, if only because it throws into sharp relief the whole “emperor has no clothes” extremes of his presidency. The president’s actions, his fit of personal pique, do nothing to advance the interests of the United States. They do not make Americans safer or more prosperous. There is no rationale for them, beyond the president’s own thin skin. America’s foreign policy — and thus our security, and thus the security of the world itself —is being held hostage by a short-sighted, incurious narcissist.

This is not reasonable.

It was actually a big step for me to write “foolish.” I originally wrote that he’s simply a fool, but hesitated. Why? Scripture.

In the King James Version of the Bible, Matthew 5:22 reads:

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his
brother without a cause shall be in danger of the
judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca,
shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall
say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

I took that very literally as a child. I was as capable of insulting another kid as any other kid. But I never used the word “fool.” I feared going to hell.

This week, I realized I’d spent a lifetime operating under that idea. Of course, the verse doesn’t condemn anger, really, but anger without a cause. It is warning us not to let anger control us. In that context, the warning against calling somebody a “fool” takes on a different meaning.

With Donald Trump, I have cause.

The funny thing is, even though I’ve rectified my understanding, it’s probably still the case that I’ll avoid using the “f” word too easily. It’s like finding out that the lyrics to Purple Haze are not “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” You can find out the real lyrics, but you’ll never unhear what you spent a lifetime hearing.

Should you buy into Dave Ramsey’s ideas? Part I: Finances

A few years ago, I completed some research on Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey and his approach to money management. This included his books, radio program, website, and Financial Peace University (FPU), an 9-week series of lessons with two additional online lessons (Previous versions were 13-weeks.) taught by local leaders in churches. FPU enrollment currently costs $129 and includes a variety of auxiliary goods and services, like a workbook, planners, an app, and access to livestream events. Once you enroll in FPU, you can renew your membership for $99/year or $9.99/month. My own work included ethnographic participation in FPU through a local megachurch, taught by a couple in their late 30s from the church.

Image result for dave ramsey on stage

Because of that experience, I sometimes field questions about the Ramsey enterprise. His ideas circulate outside of Christian circles, in part because a secular version of his program is taught in prisons. And because the theology isn’t explicitly evangelical (though the showmanship will be familiar to those reared in evangelical megachurches), it is also taught in Catholic and mainstream church settings, as well as promoted by therapists working with people who are addressing their finances. In particular, I get questions from progressive Christians about whether FPU and other Ramsey products are a good fit for them.

While I cheer anyone on who has had success achieving “financial peace,” I can’t recommend, from a faith-based perspective or a financial perspective, Ramsey’s products. (I say this with the admission that my stronger knowledge base is in the religious end of things, but I did the program as part of my ethnographic work and did a lot of research to compare it to other faith-based programs as well as other secular programs, and, from a financial perspective, I found it troubling as well.)

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In terms of finances, I have several problems with Ramsey’s approach.

First, his program is not for people who do not earn enough money to pay their bills. Ramsey rarely recognizes that structural inequality–not individual spending choices–is the source of much of our suffering around money. He does offer a lot of criticism against payday lenders, who he sees as exploitative, but he doesn’t ask questions about how low wages, health care or child care costs, or racism and sexism affect our ability to achieve “financial peace.” Like many self-help gurus, his first job is to sell you on the idea that you can change your situation, but that’s not realistic for all people in all situations. And, as the price of his goods suggests, he isn’t a critic of capitalism. So while his financial advice might be helpful to people who have a lot of money but just aren’t in control of it, it’s hurtful to poor people–who, trust me, know how to find every penny, because they will starve without it–to be told, yet again, that they are just too weak-willed to get their financial house in order.

Second, his snowball method is not always the most money-saving way to pay off debt. The snowball method–probably his best-known tactic–involves ordering your debts from smallest to largest and then paying the smallest off aggressively; once it has been paid off, you take the money you were paying toward it and add it to your payment to your now-smallest debt. The idea is that quick wins are important in the battle against debt, and this gives them to you the fastest. I don’t disagree with it, and Ramsey, when called on the math problem of this method (That is, mathematically, this method may not save you the most money in the long run or result in the fastest end to debt since it doesn’t account for interest rates–a small debt with a lower interest rate should perhaps be paid off after a larger debt with a higher interest rate.) confesses that this is more about psychology than about finances. But, from my perspective, the goal of a financial plan should be to get you into the best financial shape possible, and the snowball method may not do it (though it may).

Third, this program is pricey, and the profit goes to Ramsey. Churches do the work, provide the space, pay the electric bill, but Ramsey’s company keeps the profit. Ramsey explains that you need to put some money into the program to stick with it, which I get (kinda), but this is quite expensive, and the fact that churches subsidize it bugs me. Why should local leaders do the work while Dave Ramsey keeps the profits? Is this a ministry–appropriate for a tax-exempt organization to support–or a business? It seems to be a business when Ramsey gets the revenue from the sale of books and goods but a ministry when churches pony up the space and leadership.

Fourth, Ramsey gives a lot of bad advice. In particular, he claims that steady investment in the mutual funds will yield a 12% return. He gets this number by averaging the returns since 1923. He also breaks it down by decade and finds that 12% is still a good estimate. His dismisses the “lost decade” (2000-2009) as an anomaly–after all, we had a terrorist attack and a recession. And if you combine the ’90s and first decade of the 2000s, you still get a 8% return.

Ramsey assures us that the stock market is safe because, on average, it works out. But the problem is that no one is average. We don’t retire over a decade; we retire at a specific period in time. Even if we look at our retirement account and think, “Well, the stock market took a turn for the worse last year, so I can’t afford to retire this year,” we don’t have a decade to delay retirement until the stock market “averages out” again. And this “average” doesn’t tell us about the people who came out “below average.” Ramsey’s 12% is based on his analysis of the S&P 500–the largest 500 companies in the NY Stock Exchange. But there is variation in that 500, and the “average” he uses doesn’t address the many different ways that people could invest in those companies.

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His defense of the stock market isn’t a surprise–he’s a conservative preaching a message of self-reliance, which is part of the larger conservative attack on unions, defined-benefit pensions, and social security. He’s not going to state those things plainly, but he is going to imply, repeatedly, that you can mange your own money well by investing in mutual funds. Social security isn’t giving you a 12% return, is it? (This appeal relies on the myth that social security is out of money or that today’s retirees put in more than they are getting out. Lots of people–old white ladies, who live longer than other people, in particular–take out far more in social security than they put in.)

And once you are in the world of Dave Ramsey, you’ll get lots of ads for services from his sponsored partners, who may or may not be a good fit for your needs. Again, this is a reminder that Ramsey is in a profit-making business, not a ministry.

Finally, Ramsey relies on shame to motivate you. While all self-help begins with recognizing that you want something to be different (which assumes that how you’ve been doing things isn’t working for where you are now in life), I found it really distressing. He throws around words like stupid pretty regularly. My experience with people is that most of us respond better to encouragement than to shame.

For those reasons, I far prefer Your Money or Your Life‘s (Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez) approach, which is warm, encouraging, and uplifting. It focuses on helping you determine your actual wage (What you earn – all that costs that earning it requires) and helps you internalize that value when making a decision about spending money. It stresses that you should make financial choices that align with your values and makes space for people to value different lifestyles differently.

And I also strongly recommend The Index Card by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack. (Full disclosure: Helaine and I have become friends because of our common interest in Dave Ramsey. She is also one of the best political commentators out there, and you should subscribe to the Washington Post just to read her work.) The Index Card provides accurate, simple advice without shame and at a much lower cost than Ramsey’s work.

Olen has done some excellent work evaluating a variety of financial gurus in her book Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry.

More soon on why I think that Christians, in particular, should be cautious about Ramsey’s work.

Rebecca

 

 

 

We’ve always known that Ronald Reagan was a racist. That’s why white people voted for him.

Have you ever been in the home of someone who has a photo of Ronald Reagan hanging above the mantel, as if he were Jesus Christ or Abraham Lincoln? Heard him described by a Republican as “our greatest president”? Or as “Saint Ronald?”

The veneration of Reagan is a favorite pastime of Republicans, especially those who like to pretend that the current president is an aberration, not a predictable outcome, of Republican politics. Reagan, they argue, was principled and refined, the kind of person who looked and acted like a leader.

Recently released recordings of Reagan saying overtly racist things about African diplomats–I won’t repeat them here word-for-word, but he compares them to animals and calls them uncivilized–are evidence, in his own voice, that he was racist.

Image result for reagan racist

Turns out that people who make racist policies are also often racist in their personal lives.

But that’s not new information.

Here are just a few of the racist things that Reagan did that were no secret then. In fact, they were tactics he used to rally white voters:

  1. He announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair with a call to support states’ rights. States’ rights, if you recall, is what racist liars say the Civil War was about when they really mean it was about white supremacy and black oppression. Reagan saw this message as foundational to his run for president, and he went to where he thought it would play best–just miles away from one of the Civil Rights Era’s most notorious murders. (Now, granted, it’s hard to give a public talk in Mississippi and NOT be within a stone’s throw of racial terrorism. But he could certainly have not included an appeal to states’ rights if he didn’t want to be accused of riling up the racists.)
  2. He repeated the disproven racialized stereotype of the “welfare queen.” The US’s welfare system is fairly hard to manipulate; food stamp, for example, have a very low rate of misuse, fraud, or and waste. Far, far less than, say, the Pentagon.
  3.  He supported Bob Jones University’s argument that its segregationist policies should not make it ineligible for federal educational funding–a case the school lost in court.
  4. He argued in favor of the right of white property owners to maintain segregated neighborhoods.
  5. He opposed the Voting Rights Act and described it as “humiliating” to the South–by which he meant to white, racist Southerners. Like his decision to invoke “states’ rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi, such language signaled to voters that Reagan did not consider African Americans to be citizens worth considering–he would be a president for white people only.
  6. In continuing Nixon’s War on Drugs, he continued policies that aimed to imprison men of color.
  7.  He opposed the creation of Martin Luther King Jr Day as a federal holiday.
  8.  He opposed economic sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime and supported labeling Nelson Mandela as a terrorist.

In an effort to be polite, we often try to pretend that there is no link between personal racism and support for racist policies and structural racism. Reagan’s racism toward African diplomats–people he needed to have a good working relationship with for the sake of the world–is one more piece of evidence that the racism we see in policies is generally the same racism people have in their hearts.

Rebecca