Thursday, January 07, 2010

Did Christianity "Cause" The Crash?

Short answer: no.

Slightly longer answer: what the fu..!?! Um, no.

Even longer answer:

Sigh. I had some reward points for filling out polls Online, and without much in the way of prizes I wanted, I accepted a free subscription for one year to The Atlantic. Every now and then I've heard snippets from amongst friends that in an age where press journalism is hit hard that The Atlantic was a more substantial, more thoughtful example of journalism that was more in depth than say USA Today, Time or Newsweek.

Unfortunately the first issue I received did not impress me much. The letters to the editor actually struck me as more interesting and thoughtful than any of the articles, which included some lengthy explication on why Julie and Julia was more than just a "chick flick."

The cover article, by Hannah Rosin, was entitled, "Did Christianity Cause the Crash?" Rosin has just found out, it seems, about the so called "prosperity gospel," and the bulk of the article is actually a series of descriptions of churches or people who sit under the teaching of pastors or advocates of fiscal irresponsibility passing under the guise of faith.

I certainly don't want to jump to the defense of proponents of the prosperity gospel, but by the same token I struggle with the fact that the lead article in a prestige magazine is something which, were it handed in for a grade in my Freshman Composition class, might earn a C+ (clear, well edited writing with an identifiable and consistent thesis, but huge gaps in logic and poor use of examples for support). Maybe this is because my institution is on the "Critical Thinking" warpath, but I don't think so. I mean, surely it is not only in University English departments where things like hasty generalizations and non-sequiturs are viewed as poor argumentation? Or have we officially reached the Fox News age where argumentation doesn't even pretend to be about logos or ethos and is only about pathos? The shock headline may attract readers and if the argument itself leaves people nonplussed, well it sold the advertising space for a month and that's all that matters, right?

Maybe. Though (and now I'm gonna start sounding like Fox News rather than lambasting them, but...) I wonder if the article were dealing with some other religion or social group than Christianity or evangelical Christians if such broad stereotyping and generalizations would not be called out as based on and inflaming prejudices? Think about the headline for a second and then think of the article. Certainly we have a core problem of taking a subset of a larger group (proponents of the prosperity gospel) and identifying them as the larger thing (Christianity), I won't even bother to expound upon the apparently too subtle but important distinction between the generalization the article intentionally makes (prosperity gospel proponents = all Christians) and the even greater, more egregious rhetorical generalization the article unthinkingly promulgates (the actions of some Christians="Christianity" in its true form). Add to that the fact that I would hope it wouldn't take an offended Christian reader or a Ph.D. in Economics (hey, I majored in literature) to take issue with the underlying assumption that the "crash" did not have multiple proximate and remote causes, and I think you begin to the see the foundational problems at the core of this article. Leaving aside the generalizations about Christianity, surely the crash had so many causes that I would think laying the blame for it (or even the lion's share of the blame for it) at the feet of one subsection of (consumer!) society influenced by one way of thinking is, well, facile.

Here's a chain of causal influences for you. The World Trade Center buildings were destroyed by Islamic extremists who wanted to cause terror in the United States. One reason why the Muslim world has had it in for the United States is because of its support of Israel. Israel is composed of Jewish people, many of whom believe, for religious reasons, that they are entitled to land on the West Bank. If I were to then write an article in which I interviewed several Jews who held that belief and gave it a title "Did Judaism Cause 9/11?" I don't know exactly what would happen, but I expect I know one thing that wouldn't happen. I wouldn't get a cover story in The Atlantic.

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