Posts Tagged ‘ Calvinism ’

Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates

I feel that I ought to get two things off my chest before I launch into this review. First, I’ve had a crush on Sarah Vowell since I heard her This American Life piece about training to be Goth.  Second, my major area of research in college was the 17th century Anglophone Atlantic world, which means I have a passing knowledge of, and abiding fascination with, Puritans. So, my objectivity in this may be less than perfect.

Having said all that, you ought to read this book. We owe – for weal and for woe – so much to the Puritans, but the only time we bother to talk about them is at Thanksgiving, and even then we’re either inaccurate or slighting. Vowell wants to correct that. She has an obvious affection for the Puritans, especially John Winthop, whose diary is quoted extensively, but realizes that lionizing them is not helpful, and that Puritan ideas of the Elect and their proper relation to the state have been absolutely toxic to us as a country. She is correct, however, that it would be a shame to forget them.

I think Vowell’s background as a Pentecostal Christian from Oklahoma helped her write this. While she goes, in fairly substantial detail, into the substantial differences between the Calvinism of the Puritans and modern evangelical/fundamentalist/pentecostal Christianity,  I think that understanding the kind of worldview where literally everything is touched by God, is vitally important, not just to understanding history, but to understanding why so many of our fellow citizens make the choices that they do.  There are several portions of the book where Vowell talks about the importance of history, and specifically about the continuing relevance of history in our own lives. They are the most moving. Aside from my personal feelings about understanding the deep connections between our time and the 17th century and between the Us and the broader Atlantic world, Vowell’s moving plea to meet history with no axe in our hand deserves reading.

Capitalism ≠ Society

I really should’ve finished reading the article I referenced in my last post, because I would’ve had a lot more to say. Also from Dr. Rand Paul:

Capitalism is freedom, it means the freedom to voluntarily exchange goods, and retain the fruits of your labor.

Really? I can understand that as an economic system; but as a means for social cohesion, welllll …

This implies that some forms of labor are inherently more valuable (from a monetary sense) than others. You did your personal job, so why should anyone else get to share in the rewards? Working the McDonald’s line provides less of an economic boost than stock trading, so you therefore deserve to make one-tenth of what he’s making. And forget redistribution – you are where you are for a reason, and you’re just going to have to live with it.

Hmmm, anybody remember Calvinism?

These are not new, revolutionary ideas. And they will not solve our problems. Given the regressive nature of the Tea Party ideals currently being lauded, I expect that they will, in the long run, do far more harm than good.