Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Capitalism, Immigration, and the Prosperity Gospel

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Capitalism, Immigration, and the Prosperity Gospel

Article excerpt

In her presentation about capitalism, Professor Kathryn Tanner tells us how certain realities found in a capitalist market can be seen as positive, such as the way capitalist markets are intertwined so that the interests of any one group depend on whether or not other people can further their own interests. Or that capitalist markets create a need for people we do not love and they force us to interact with people who are outside of our own groups, thereby breaking social prejudices. Seen in this light it would seem that the self-interest promoted by capitalism could indeed be channeled, as Professor Tanner suggests, "away from its socially destructive potentials." However, Professor Tanner also makes this observation: Humans "deceive themselves about what is in the best interest of others out of simple ignorance or an arrogant overestimation of their capacities to figure this out on their own."1 It is here that I respond by using the words from Psalm 19:12, "Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults" (TNIV). It is this very inability to perceive our faults and honestly to define what is the good, as well as our inability as a nation and a people to live this "good fife" witliin and outside our borders, that continues to serve the kind of neoliberal ideology that undergirds our current economic system. In reality, capitalism in the United States is a deeply entrenched ideology (belief system) that has survived and benefited from slavery, immigrant labor, and other forms of exploitation. Social scientists have also shown that there is a relationship between a belief system and how people make decisions. Because systems of belief help us to interpret the world around us, they shape our perceptions as well as the decisions we as individuals and as nations make.

As an historian of Christianities in the United States I am very familiar with what is often referred to as the historical imagination. All of us have encountered this historical imaginary in a variety of ways, such as in the textbooks we read in grade school and high school, in the speeches given by presidents and other politicians, in the rhetoric used to justify overseas military interventions by our government, in our national conversation around terrorism, in the analysis of our economic policies, and even in the discourse about citizenship and immigration. The vocabulary used both for the written page and the spoken word in speeches or opinions helps to create an image of the United States as a nation above all nations, a nation that believes in its right to be a world leader, a nation that, to use the theological language of the nation's early English settlers, was called by God to be a light to the nations, "a city on the hill," a nation chosen to be divinely blessed so it could be a blessing to other nations. This selfunderstanding is called "exceptionalism," and like capitalism it is deeply embedded in the nations DNA. Therefore one cannot talk about capitalism in the United States without also talking about this historical exceptionalism and how each has fed the other, and has not only created the economic policies of this country but has also shaped this nation's ideas about race, citizenship, and immigration, all of which are very important issues we face today. Historically, this same exceptionalism combined with capitalism helped to support slavery from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, and in the twentyfirst century continues to undergird the exploitation of immigrants even while it also fuels our fear of immigrants, especially those who cross our southern border.

One very clear and recent example of how this exceptionalism has been linked with existing neoliberal economic policies can be seen in the formulation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, 1994) and more recently in the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA, 2004). Both of these trade agreements promote deregulation, open borders for goods and products (but not for people), push job outsourcing, and have supported privatization of the most basic of services (water, electricity) in all of Mexico, Central America, and the Dominican Republic. …

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