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The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology
The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology
Simon Critchley
Verso, 2012
302 pp., $24.95

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Eugene McCarraher


Love Is Stronger than Debt

Against Chrapitalism.

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Don't expect any breadth or grandeur from the Empire's Christian divines. Across the board, the imperial chaplains exhibit the most obsequious deference to the Plutocracy, providing imprimaturs and singing hallelujahs for the civil religion of Chrapitalism: the lucrative merger of Christianity and capitalism, America's most enduring covenant theology. It's the core of "American exceptionalism," the sanctimonious and blood-spattered myth of providential anointment for global dominion. In the Chrapitalist gospel, the rich young man goes away richer, for God and Mammon have pooled their capital, formed a bi-theistic investment group, and laundered the money in baptismal fonts before parking it in offshore accounts. Chrapitalism has been America's distinctive and gilded contribution to religion and theology, a delusion that beloved community can be built on the foundations of capitalist property. As the American Empire wanes, so will its established religion; the erosion of Chrapitalism will generate a moral and spiritual maelstrom.

What will American Christians do as their fraudulent Mandate from Heaven expires? They might break with the imperial cult so completely that it would feel like atheism and treason. With a little help from anarchists, they might be monotheists, even Christians again. Who better to instruct them in blasphemy than sworn enemies of both God and the state? Christians might discover that unbelievers can be the most incisive and demanding theologians. As Critchley asserts, " 'God' is the first anarchist, calling us into struggle with the mythic violence of law, the state, and politics by allowing us to glimpse the possibility of something that stands apart." By inciting us to curse and renounce the homespun idolatry of Chrapitalism, Critchley and Graeber can point Christians back to a terrible but glorious moment in their history: when the avant-garde of the eschaton were maligned as godless traitors. We'll need that dangerous memory in our frightful if doubtless very different time.

An anti-globalist firebrand and renowned anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, Graeber has been touted as a guru for Occupy, writing portentously in the Guardian that it represents "the opening salvo in a wave of negotiations over the dissolution of the American Empire." Debt should be read as a scholarly barrage in that colloquy on imperial decay. Indeed, Graeber himself tells us that his is an Important Book. "For a very long time, the intellectual consensus has been that we can no longer ask Great Questions." Graeber's Great Answer is a tour de force of interdisciplinary erudition, a sprawling, disheveled, and fascinating mess of a book. After 200 pages of anthropology, economics, sociology, and philosophy—even a bit of religion and theology—the history of debt unfolds as a magpie collection of anecdotes: stories from around the globe about coinage, slavery, markets, trade, and law. The last two centuries get jammed into the last 40 pages; the last 40 years into the final thirty. It's a rambling, ill-focused account, and it's not at all clear by the end of the volume exactly what the Great Answer is.

Graeber's history is less engrossing than his vigorous diatribe against the sado-science of economics—the ethical nexus of Chrapitalism—and his sustained assault on this phony discipline will endure in the annals of schadenfreude. There's been a Himalayan rise in the inflation rate of arrogance among economists since the 1970s, and having failed to see the current turmoil coming, practitioners of the dismal science should be required to eat a daily helping of humble pie. Their account of history (where they pretend to know any) has been discredited for over a century; drawing on an ample anthropological and historical literature, Graeber shows that money and markets emerged, not from Adam Smith's "natural liberty," but from the need of ancient states to provision their expanding temple-military complexes. From its "myth of barter" to its truncated, utility-maximizing humanism, economics, Graeber contends, has "little to do with anything we observe when we examine how economic life is actually conducted." Historically illiterate and morally cretinous, economics—not theology—is the most successful confidence game in the history of intellectual life, a testament to the power of avarice to induce and embellish human credulity.

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