National Commentary

The Murderous Sin of Usury

With all the attention to the “social values” issues in the Republican presidential primaries and in backwater places like the newly-GOP controlled Virginia state legislature, one wonders why the most onerous sin of all is not even mentioned.

Maybe it’s because it’s not linked to sex, to power trips against women or gays or persons with darker-colored skin than those born with red necks.

More likely it’s because there’s such a relentless, daily, hourly campaign to divert attention from it, to use the power of suasion through advertising and a myriad means of shaping the collective consciousness to present a rip-off as a gift.

Yes, among the most ancient and storied sins, one that plants its perpetrators deep in the inner ring of the seventh circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno and is assailed in six places in the Old Testament, three more places in the Torah, three places in the New Testament and four places in the Qur’an. That’s a lot more than the miniscule, debatable references to gay behavior, for example.

It is the grave sin of usury, of exploiting the need of people to borrow money in order to make money, too much money. That’s right, banking, mega-banking in particular.

One of the most dramatic images from the New Testament Bible is that of Christ driving the money changers (usurers) from the Temple, one of the few times when he demonstrated real anger.

Based on the long-standing lip service given by the Catholic Church about usury as a sin, the priest in Maryland who denied communion to a lesbian mourning at her own mother’s funeral should, to be consistent, deny communion to any banker, as well.

In fact, in the eyes of a long theological tradition, usury is equivalent to the most heinous of sins, including murder. Whereas official slavery is banned in most of the world by now, “debt slavery” stripping people of their possessions and holding them in bondage, is not. On the contrary, we know very well that such are the consequences of bankruptcies and foreclosures in our own country.

Usury destroys lives and leads indirectly, if not directly, to death, too often the death of helpless children. Charles Dickens is famous for calling out its impact in his “A Christmas Carol,” and identifies it as the cause of what sent Nicholas Nickelby into destitute servitude as a child.

Frank Capra’s classic 1947 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was a powerful testament to the evils of unscrupulous usury, the banking style of the character Henry Potter. Under Potter’s usurious influence, the fictitious town of Bedford Falls gets turned into Potterville, with ordinary citizens driven to desperation, including prostitution, through poverty and porn theaters and other trappings of an economy feeding off the destruction of human souls and dignity.

Seldom has such a mass medium presented such a stark characterization of the influence of usury. Coming right after World War II, it reflected the ethos of a nation reborn after decades of depression and war with a refreshed commitment to democratic values and a generosity of spirit that soon spawned the civil rights movement.

But the nation went from holding Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech of 1962 as exemplary to one that cheered when in the 1987 film, “Wall Street,” banker Gordon Gecco delivered his speech on the virtues of greed. What happened?

Even more monstrous than his unprovoked invasion of Iraq was President George W. Bush’s removal of all regulatory restraints on the practice of usury, permitting an escalation of leveraging of financial instruments that precipitated what threatened to become the greatest financial meltdown in the history of the planet and creating a minefield of problems we’ve still not yet survived.

Now, we have an economy of the super-rich one percent, or tenth of one percent, and the all the rest of us. Most of those at the very top got there through usury, including Mitt Romney.

These people have built nothing, but have collectively figured out how to lend money for excess profit at the expense of others.

The U.S. will never truly recover until we figure this out, and purge our nation of such egregious sin.