Monday, May 25, 2009

The TARP is Jesus

Margaret Atwood, in her recent book "Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth," notes that in Aramaic the words for "debt" and "sin" are the same. When we ask for forgiveness from our trespasses or call Christ the Redeemer, we are employing, as she put it, "the language of debt and pawning or pledging." She goes on, "The whole theology of Christianity rests on the notion of spiritual debts and what must be done to repay them, and how you might get out of paying by having someone else pay instead." (By this standard, America really is a Christian nation.) She adds, "It rests, too, on a long pre-Christian history of scapegoat figures - including human sacrifices-who take your sins away from you." For the repayment of our debts, we look to the government, the TARP, you might say, is Jesus.
As for expiation, we endeavor to find the worst offenders, whose transgressions can stand in for everyone's. Atwood discusses a medieval character called a Sin Eater, an outcast who took on the sins of the dying and bore them until another Sin Eater-the greater fool-came along to take them off his hands. (If Sin Eaters existed now, someone would securitize them.)

Nick Paumgarten, New Yorker Magazine, May 18, 2009


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