Monday, February 5, 2007

More Than Casual Interest

I was watching the news on CNN last week while, simultaneously, trying to read the newspaper. One of the items reported was something about interest rates holding steady around 5% or so. Because my attention was divided, I didn't really catch all the details.

Later that night -- for some unknown reason -- this news item got me to thinking about the concept of interest or usury, as it used to be called. Our economic world is built upon the edifice of interest and, if interest were miraculously to disappear one day, our markets and way of life would come crashing down around us.

I live in a nation built upon Judeo-Christian beliefs. One of the malevolent forces in the United States today is the fundamentalist Christian right. Most of the all powerful leaders of industry (i.e., Corporate America) are fiscal conservatives and strongly support the concept of earning interest on money loaned.

So it's rather surprising that the very book -- the Bible -- that serves as the guiding force in their lives strongly condemns the act of usury. Not only does the Bible frown upon it, but so too does the Qur'an (Islam).

Here are some examples:
If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. ~Exodus 22:25~

Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase. ~Leviticus 25:37~

If he has exacted usury Or taken increase -- Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him. ~Ezekial 18:13~

Those who charge usury are in the same position as those controlled by the devil's influence. This is because they claim that usury is the same as commerce. However, God permits commerce, and prohibits usury. Thus, whoever heeds this commandment from his Lord, and refrains from usury, he may keep his past earnings, and his judgment rests with God. As for those who persist in usury, they incur Hell, wherein they abide forever. ~Al-Baqarah 2:275~
Despite these straightforward admonishments, Jews, Christians and Muslims living in the US (and most of the rest of the world) accept the practice of usury as a given.

[Since I'm not as familiar with the Qur'an as the Bible, my central criticism is upon the use or misuse of the latter.]

Conservative Christians like to use their holy book as a mighty brick to smash practices they believe are not in keeping with their God's plan. One that quickly comes to mind is the issue of homosexuality.

According to these fundamentalists, homosexuality is a sin against God because they can quote several passages in the Bible that they interpret to mean it is a really bad thing. If you try to reason with them, it's fruitless because they say you can't go against the word of God.

This book very clearly states that usury is a really bad thing and yet these same people seem to have no problem whatsoever in violating this prohibition. If anything, it leads the non-Christian observer to discern that the so-called word of God is conditioned on each person's own prejudices and biases.

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