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McCarraher on Love & Debt

Commonweal contributor Eugene McCarraher has a great piece in the most recent issue of Books and Culture. Here's a taste:

In his magnificent sermon, "Poverty and God," the late Father Herbert McCabe reminds us that God is our Creator, not our creditor, nor some demanding investor in our earthly pursuits. "God makes without becoming richer it is only creation that gains by God's act." (As Henry Miller once put it, "God doesn't make a dime on the deal.") Thus, God is literally poor because he "has no possessions nothing is or acts for the benefit of God." We can't "give back" to God, or win his love with an impeccable credit history. His delight is to be with, not hound his children, like a rude collection agent; what parent thinks of a child's life as a loan to be repaid or a debt to be squared?Come to think of it, the God of Jesus Christ has no business sense at all, and violates every canon of the Protestant Ethic. He pays the same wage for one hour of work as for ten, and recommends that we lend without thought of return. (Finance capital could not survive a day with this logic, which is one excellent reason to recommend it.) He's an appallingly lavish and undiscriminating spendthrift, sending his sunshine on the good and the evil. He has a soft spot for moochers and the undeserving poor: his Son was always inviting himself into people's homes, and never asking if the blind man deserved to be cured. How can you run a decent economy this way?He calls us his friends, and friends share all things; as Thomas Merton knew, "to be a Christian is to be a communist." And divine friendship is to live without debts by "throwing ourselves away"giving (not charging) according to our ability, and receiving according to our need. "To aim at poverty," McCabe said, "to grow up by living in friendship, is to imitate the life-giving poverty of God, to be godlike." By comparison, the American Dream is a shabby hallucination. As the American Empire totters and slides into history's graveyard of hubris, the glorious poverty of friendship will be our only hope of moral renewal. It's a model of another, very different empire, one innocent of creditors and debtors: the people's republic of heaven, the realm of divine love's utterly unearned, unarmed, and penniless dominion.

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This reminds me of a fine homily I once heard preached by David Donovan, SJ, (now gone home to God) making a similar point. David was preaching on the parable of the prodigal son. He commented that the story is misnamed for several reasons, but one of them is that it's really more about the father's prodigality -- he "spent" his mercy recklessly, extravagantly, "wastefully" -- than about the son's reckless spending of money. It's the parable of the prodigal father!

Eric,thanks for posting this. Eugene McCarraher is always a bracing read, a rhetorician withreal theological sense. One small observation regarding this point:"It's not just that we desired to be independent of God; it's that we didn't trust God, didn't desire his friendship. So when Critchley writes that Christian love rests on a conviction of "the absolute difference between the human and the divine," he forgets the Incarnation, where the divine entered into the human, and the human was raised to the level of divinity. (Following Paul, the Church Fathers would elaborate the Incarnation in the doctrine of theosis, or the deification of humanity.)"Sounds very much like Charles Taylor to me. Is "Chrapitalism" another form of "excarnation?"

Fr. Imbelli: Thanks for the comment. Based on what McCarraher says about Taylor earlier in the piece, I would imagine that insofar as "excarnation" seems to belong to a theory of "secularization," whereby the contents of "religion" are translated into an "immanent frame" by some sociological process within history, I think he would want to resist using that category. I take it that he is saying that the question is not about getting the genealogy of modernity right, but it is about getting one's doctrine of God right, which is why Critchley's problem is Feuerbach and not Marx. Though, I agree that the passage you quote does sound a lot like "excarnation."

McCarraher often seems to quote Herbert McCabe OP, who I like a lot. There is a past series of interviews with him - Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: An Interview with Eugene McCarraher, part 1 - and he says this about McCabe and prayer in part 3 ..."McCabes defense of petitionary prayer, for instance, is a model of straightforward, no-nonsense pastoral care. People often think that when they pray, they either shouldnt pray for thingsthats grubby and selfish; you should be communing with God or something like thator the things they pray for should be noble and selfless: world peace, social justice, et cetera. McCabe deflates all of that high-mindedness by noting that when people say theyre distracted during prayer, what theyre really saying is that their real wants are breaking through their high-minded palaver. He observes wryly that people in foxholes or on sinking ships arent troubled by distractions to their prayers. McCabes advice is to just go ahead and ask for what you really wanta good grade, money for the mortgage, Grandmom getting better, not drowning. Youre not fooling God by praying for things you dont really desire but rather think you should desire. Maybe you should pray for those thingsthe Holy Spirit will lead you there eventuallybut if you cant even pray for the things you do want, how are you ever going to pray for the things you should want? Moreover, McCabe contends that there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. God gives us either what we ask for or more than what we asked for, which we often experience as his saying no. Our not receiving what we want is a way for God to get us to reflect on what we really desire; its a way of getting us to realize what we should be praying for, which, in the end, is communion with him."

What a complete joy to read. Thank you!

Crystal: Thanks for the link to the interview. I'm a big McCabe fan as well, which is one of the reasons I like McCarraher so much. I think it's pretty hard to go wrong with McCabe. McCarraher wrote a great profile of McCabe in Commonweal a couple of years ago. You can find it here: http://commonwealmagazine.org/radical-op

Thanks, Eric.

Could someone provide a link to Fr McCabe's sermon, "Poverty & God" referenced in the McCarrher piece. I have been unable to locate? Or, direct me to the collection it might appear in?Thanks.Tom

Tom: The McCabe sermon is collected in the volume of McCabe's writings entitled "God, Christ and Us." You can pick it up here: http://www.amazon.com/God-Christ-Us-Continuum-Icons/dp/0826480411/ref=wl...

Eric: Thanks for supplying the reference. This was an excellent post.

Yes, thanks for this one. A breath, no a gust, of fresh air!