Notes on Cooper’s “The Unborn, Born Again,” Ch. 6

In this chapter, Cooper proposes new ways to understand the relationship between the new Christian right’s agenda of a “culture of life,” the neoconservative position on biotech, and the current form of US imperialism.  Far from being marginal or irrelevant, Cooper argues that the philosophy and theology of the Christian right is tightly bound with US economic and imperial philosophies.

Cooper begins the chapter with George W. Bush’s seemingly paradoxical stance on stem-cell research, announced in August of 2001: proclaiming the sanctity of life, particularly that of the unborn while simultaneously allowing for “the most liberal of interpretations of patent law, allowing the patenting of unmodified embryonic stem cell lines.” (153)  Through the provision of universal healthcare to the unborn, fetuses are legally given rights in the US at the same time as embryonic stem cells are becoming property, becoming patented and commodified in unprecedented ways.

P 159 – Modern capitalism, in other words, is a social form in which the law no longer figures as a source of creation, but rather as an institution charged with the power of sustaining the faith a posteriori, through the threat of violence. In stark contrast to the economic theology of the medieval church, capitalism is a mode of abstraction that generalizes the logic of usury and constantly revolutionizes all institutional limits to its self-reproduction.

p 160-161 – Moreover, the uniquely American evangelical experience was reflected in an enthusiasm for wealth creation far surpassing its counterparts in the European tradition. Here, suggests Noll (ibid., 174), the anti-authoritarianism of the American evangelicals expresses itself as an aversion to all foundational value, a belief in the powers of money that separates promise from all institutional guarantee and regulating authority, figuring the market itself as a process of radical self-organization and alchemy. In this way the doctrine of the new birth merges imperceptibly with a theology of the free market, one that situates the locus of wealth creation in the pure debt form-the regeneration of money from money and life from life, without final redemption. This is a culture of life-as-surplus that is wholly alien to the Catholic doctrine of the Gift and its attendant political theologies of sovereign power. Pushed to its extreme conclusions, evangelicalism seems to suggest that the instantaneous conversion of the self-which is held to render an ecstatic surplus of emotion-is the emotive equivalent of a financial transmutation of values, the delirious process through which capital seeks to recreate itself as surplus.

P 161-162 – I argue that U.S. imperialism today is founded on the precarious basis of a perpetually renewed debt-and thus seems to take the evangelical doctrine of wealth creation to its extreme conclusions.

P 164 – As a nation, the United States no longer rests on any minimal reserve or substance but, in synergy with the turnover of debt, exists in a time warp where the future morphs into the past and the past into the future without ever touching down in the present. In economic terms, then, the very idea of the American nation has become purely promissory or fiduciary-it demands faith and promises redemption but refuses to be held to final account. Its growing debt is already renewed just as it comes close to redemption, already born again before it can come to term. America is the unborn born again.

P 165 – U.S. imperialism, in other words, needs to be understood as the extreme, “cultish” form of capital, one that not only sustains itself in a precarious state of perpetually renewed and rolled-over nationhood, but that also, of necessity, seeks to engulf the whole world in its cycle of debt creation. The economic doctrine corresponding to U.S. debt imperialism can be found in several varieties of neoliberalism, in particular the supply-side theories of the Reagan era. Its theological expression can be found in neo-evangelicalism, the various revived and militant forms of Christian evangelical faith that sprang up in the early 1970s.

P 168-169 – What distinguished this movement from both mainline Protestantism and earlier evangelical revivals was its intense focus on the arena of sexual politics and family values. Faced with a rising tide of new left political demands, from feminism to gay rights, the evangelical movement of the I970s gave voice to a newfound nostalgia-one that obsessed over the perceived decline of the heterosexual, male-headed, reproductive white family.

P 171 – Herein lies the novelty of (neo-)fundamentalism, of fundamentalism for the neoliberal era: in the face of a politics that operates in the speculative mode, fundamentalism becomes the struggle to reimpose the property form in and over the uncertain future. This property form, as the right to- life movement makes clear, is inextricably economic and sexual. Productive and reproductive. It is ultimately a claim over the bodies of women. Except here the name of the dead father is replaced by the image of the unborn child as sign and guarantor of women’s essential indebtedness.


Questions –

What exactly is the relationship between the neo-evangelical Christian right and US economic policy and imperialism?

What do people think of the proposed importance of the philosophy of the new Christian right?

Does the idea of debt imperialism make sense to other people?  Can anyone explain this particular economic idea, and its relationship to supply side economics?

What is the idea of time and temporality that is part of the philosophy and theology of the new Christian right?  How does this relate to debt and financial and economic policy?

How does this match up to people’s own experiences / encounters with the Christian right?


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