McMorality: In his new book Branded Nation, James Twitchell (author of Lead Us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism) takes on branded spaces, and in an excellent excerpt he zeroes in on the megachurch phenomenon--"church as gated community"--one-stop spiritual shopping where you can hole up with like-minded individuals, meet your consumption and relational needs, and never have to rub elbows (that is, have your faith tested in the cauldron of community) with the "wrong kind of people." One church he mentions hosts a McDonalds, while others have ATM machines, a climbing wall, a planned trout pond where Dad and Junior can bond, and food courts, coffeeshops and video arcades galore. Such luxury almost makes one forget exactly who's supposed to inherit the earth. (Hint: rhymes with "eek!"). He describes one church: "So at Southeast Christian in Louisville, Kentucky, churchgoers speak of a 22,000-person family, and visitors are regaled with often loopy statistics such as the automated coffeepot that serves five thousand cups an hour. Southeast's size has spawned the invention of the Greenlee Communion Dispensing Machine, which can fill forty communion cups in two seconds." What's next? Outsourcing confession to India?

"If people are shopping for faith, the megachurch fills up the shelves," writes Twitchell. "And since you can't generate brand loyalty on the basis of faith, you essentially do it on the basis of add-ons, on the basis of value added to affiliation, on the basis of providing convenient community." Following up that theme, Rob Walker describes Aurelio Barreto's conversion experience. "[H]e found Jesus; he shared the news about Christ with anyone who would listen. Eventually, however, he found another way to spread the word, which he says will be far more effective: retail."

The Sin the Republicans Forgot: While most rightwing Republicans can spot immorality a mile away--especially that of the sexual variety--one bona fide sin that doesn't seem to enter their collective consciousness is usury, charging a fee for lending money. Republicans in the Senate are working eagerly to ensure that credit card companies can expand profits and debt-strapped citizens have a harder time declaring bankruptcy. The measure before Congress--which would cut out protections for families and the elderly--operates under the presumption that bankruptcies have skyrocketed in recent years not because of a turbulent economy but because of chronic overspenders. How, then, to account for the 16,000 US soldiers who filed for court protection from their creditors? Or the fact that half of all personal bankruptcies are blamed on overwhelming medical expenditures and debilitating illness? The bill before Congress has been pushed by the credit card industry for eight years, and if it were not for Bill Clinton refusing to sign a version passed by the House and Senate on grounds it was unfair, it would be on the books now. But the momentum seems to be in the rightwingers favor this time around (you know Bush won't weigh in on the injustice of the proposal). Paul Krugman sums it up nicely:
Warren Buffett recently made headlines by saying America is more likely to turn into a 'sharecroppers' society' than an 'ownership society.' But I think the right term is a 'debt peonage' society - after the system, prevalent in the post-Civil War South, in which debtors were forced to work for their creditors. The bankruptcy bill won't get us back to those bad old days all by itself, but it's a significant step in that direction.

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