Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review: Sex, Gender, and Christian Ethics by Lisa Sowle Cahill

Lisa Sowle Cahill earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School, completing her dissertation under James Gustafson. She holds an endowed Professorship of Christian Ethics at Boston College, where she has taught since 1976, and she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Cahill is a prominent Catholic feminist theologian and ethicist, having published over two hundred articles and worked on fifteen books that cover a variety of topics: just war and pacifism, sex and gender, marriage and family, bioethics, adoption, and even christology. Sex, Gender, & Christian Ethics was published in 1996.

Cahill is known for being a scholar of the middle ground. A January 2011 column about her in Commonweal is titled: “No Labels, Please: Lisa Sowle Cahill’s middle way.” As such, her work lacks polarizing language and dogmatic stances, preferring instead to highlight the ambiguity of social and political judgment, working for understanding and cooperation between opposite poles. This makes her typically moderate work unsatisfactory for those looking for ideological tools with which to beat the opposition into submission. As a bridge builder, Cahill is often shot at from both sides. This stance is clear in Sex, Gender, & Christian Ethics as Cahill both critiques and extends some feminist and postmodern arguments, while criticizing liberalism and retrieving resources from (and remaining within) the Christian tradition.

While Cahill’s methodology in Sex, Gender, & Christian Ethics is critical of modern liberalism and postmodernism, radical deconstructionism especially comes under critique for leading to a cultural relativism that undermines “real moral communication, intercultural critique, and cooperation in defining and building just conditions of life for men and women.” Ultimately, it seems, Cahill is arguing with feminists, whose deconstruction of moral foundations she sees as hindering political critique. Even though she asserts the importance of modern values, such as freedom and autonomy, she believes these values must be reintegrated with “human embodiedness.” She proposes a “critical realist” approach to moral knowledge that draws primarily on the Aristotelian-Thomistic ethical tradition to argue for the possibility of shared moral values. For Cahill, these shared moral values appear at the level of “broad areas of agreement about human needs, goods, and fulfillments which can be reached inductively and dialogically through human experience” (2).

The main claims of the book can be found in “An Interlude and a Proposal,” where Cahill outlines a particular view of sex and Christian sexual ethics. First, she offers that human flourishing as sexually embodied depends on the realization of the equality of the sexes, male and female. In their sexual union, male and female have, at least potentially, three main aspects: reproduction, pleasure, and intimacy. Although she admits that there are forms of sexual life in which one or more of these aspects are missing, Cahill argues that we should not look to those forms to for a full picture of what sex is. Ultimately, she concludes that the “the institutions of gender, marriage, and family should ethically and normatively be responsive to and should enhance these values” (110).

Although focusing primarily on what she calls the “cross-cultural sexual ‘center’: heterosexual, reproductive, and patriarchal marriage,” she is careful to say that she is not thereby condemning or “casting into the shadows” possible “non-conformists” (116). Rather, she emphasizes that the sexual subordination of women to men in marriage and parenthood is unjust and asserts that women’s equality needs a substantive, intercultural defense. Also, she observes that sex has been given a moral meaning in the West that is individualist and narcissist, disassociating sex from parental fulfillment and social responsibility, often allowing sexual privacy and free choice to serve as a front for “continuing oppressions of violence toward women (whose choices are in reality not always so free)” (116-117). In the end, she is not interested in demarcating “specific offenses against sexual virtue” (i.e., condemning homosexual sex as beyond the pale). Cahill says she is, instead, hoping to make a better “apologia for a humane and Christian approach to sex and gender” (117). When she does mark off sexual behavior as unacceptable, she wants to do so within the “center” institutions of Christianity (Catholicism?): marriage and religiously vowed celibacy.

In “Sex, Gender, and Early Christianity,” Cahill considers what bearing the faith and practice of early Christianity had on sex and gender. Here, Cahill keeps front-and-center the thesis that Jesus’ preaching of the reign of God represents a new experience of the divine presence in history, “an experience which transforms human relationships by reordering relations of dominance and violence toward greater compassion, mercy, and peace, expressed in active solidarity with ‘the poor’” (121). She rejects the notion that the New Testament presents a comprehensive “sexual ethic,” as such, and warns against the assumption that the NT patterns of moral relationships can be equated with modern, liberal values.

In summary, she notes that in the NT heterosexual marriage is assumed as the proper context for sexual behavior, but the NT doesn’t particularly value procreation. The NT upholds the equal reciprocity of men and women in marriage; it forbids divorce, except in the interest of keeping Christian “peace”; and, above all, it offers an alternative to marriage: vocational celibacy (163). Cahill shows that NT has a tendency to loosen personal identification with the family, marriage, and parenthood, in order to better resist standard (oppressive) institutions of their day. But, what she sees as the contemporary challenge is to transform marriage and the family as institutions, so that they no longer represent structures of domination (165).

In “Sex, Marriage, and Family in Christian Tradition,” Cahill makes a quick survey of the development in Christian thought about sex, in reference to four topics: celibacy, indissolubility, contraception (including the matter of population control), and family as domestic church. Overall, she emphasizes the significance of Christian virginity, celibacy, and marriage as ways to combat social divisions and entrenched interests. Specifically, she criticizes what she sees as the Catholic Church’s limited focus on abortion and contraception with little regard for the Christian social message of reciprocity and inclusion, which calls for the transformation of the family, along with women’s sexual roles as mothers and wives (214). In other words, Cahill sees any contemporary change in the matters of abortion and contraception as hinging on the intercultural, Christian pursuit of the transformation of the family in ways that promote women’s equality (215).

The final chapter, “Birth Technologies and Moral Public Argument,” is the most forceful and pointed of the book. Here, Cahill takes on dominant notions of individualism and autonomy in modernist liberalism, in reference to donor insemination, in vitro fertilization (with donor gametes), and surrogacy. Her most fundamental critique is that public discourse on these issues is entirely focused on the primacy of choice, with no attention given to the social ramifications of new technologies or attention to the values of kinship and community (218). She presents adoption as a viable (albeit not uncomplicated) alternative to such technologies, with personal testimony from the adoption of three of her five children from Thailand. In the end, Cahill does not seek to condemn or control individual couples “desperate” for a child, but to “open public discussion to values of parenthood which extend beyond freedom to embodiment, and to see use of reproductive technologies in a larger context of technical reason operating toward unexamined ends, of gender hierarchy, and of economic inequality” (254).

In her conclusion, Cahill reasserts her aim to present what she thinks a Christian perspective on sex and gender can contribute to cultural debates about women’s equality and sexual meaning, all the while fortifying the kind of ethical foundations which best allow for moral criticism and consensus-building across moral and cultural traditions. In short, she is offering a Christian approach to sex and gender that can speak publicly and inter-culturally. Although some parts are more persuasive than others, I think Cahill’s work is commendable for its balance, restraint, and thoughtful nuance.

That said, I have two concerns about Sex, Gender, & Christian Ethics. First, Cahill assumes from the beginning that Christianity is “fundamentally egalitarian,” though always liable to perversion. This is something she doesn’t attempt to defend, even though many would quickly disagree with this assumption. If she intends her writing to contribute to public and inter-cultural conversations about sex and gender, I think this is a premise that needs bolstering. Also, Cahill’s treatment of homosexuality is disappointingly thin. I support her choice to focus on the “cross-cultural center” (heterosexual, procreative marriage), but I think that her American context demands a more thorough engagement with what has become a very contentious and challenging issue for most Christians.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Remix: Meditation on the Crucified Messiah

I know it is Advent, but for a variety of reasons, what I wrote in this meditation during last year's Lent is coming back to me today. I thought I would publish it again. Maybe it is meant for someone else besides me.
--
We follow a crucified Messiah. We follow a crucified Messiah. I know we know this intellectually. I know we know and preach and teach this. Its basic Sunday School stuff, right? "Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again on the third day and if you believe in him, you'll have eternal life." But, do we really know this--is it a defining, framing, all-encompassing reality for the way we view life?

A crucified Messiah is well and good when we want our sins forgiven, but not so nice when we want our life to proceed comfortably... predictably... safely. A crucified Messiah is a wonderful thing when we want to escape eternal hellfire, but not so fabulous when our we're called to follow... take up our cross... obey... even when our present life is in shambles. Do you know what I mean?

Over the past couple years I have been gradually awakening to the fact that the crucified Messiah I trust in for salvation is the same one I follow in discipleship. That is to say, I don't simply affirm the reality of the death of Jesus as a fact of my salvation, but I embrace it as both a window into understanding God and a practical way of life--a path to follow after. Here's what I mean.

The reality of our crucified Messiah tells us that God is mysterious, unfathomable, and eternally dense. Who or what is this God who would unite with human flesh, walk the earth, suffer at the hands of sinful men, and experience a tortuous death? Who or what is this God who embraces his enemies and accepts humiliation? Surely not a God that I can understand.

And, this lack of understanding, this confusion about the workings of God, is a major aspect of the real Christian life, is it not? The truth is, things don't always happen for a reason. Not everything works out in the end. And, sometimes horrible things happen and nothing necessarily "good" comes from it. Mothers get pancreatic cancer. Children die. Jobs are lost (along with houses and families and hope). Good pastors suffer at the hands of carnivorous churches. What are we to do with the truth that the Christian life is not a life that's safe and easy and comfortable?

As I have dealt with this issue, I have often felt like Moses standing before Mount Sinai. The ground quakes beneath me as God descends and acrid smoke fills the air. Everyone on the ground below me cowers in terror. This God is fearsome, radically free, and furious with love and justice. What would it feel like to draw near to a God like this? I've also felt like the disciples traveling with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Slowly, it dawns on me that he really believes what he says about suffering and dying and that he actually intends to go through with it. This God is frightening, unpredictable, and dangerous. What does it mean for me to follow the way of a God like this?

It is contrary to everything in my comfortable, safe, Christian American upbringing to draw near to a God who is so intimidating and hazardous. I like to think that my God, my Jesus, is "safe and fun for the whole family." But, whatever this God is that I imagine--this God who guarantees a job, a house, a complacent way of life--it is not the God of Jesus Christ. It is not the crucified God.

And so, I'm back where I started. We follow a crucified Messiah. And, he requires us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Sometimes, the following leads us to mountaintops; often, the following leads us through valleys. In either case, my response is the same. I must follow. Through the fear, the confusion, the sadness, the struggle, the desperation, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the angst--I must follow. I have sold everything to buy the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in a field. I have nothing left to lose. There's simply no other choice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review: God For Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life by Catherine Mowry LaCugna

Here is another book review I wrote for a seminar this semester. The book is rather dated, but it is an important work for contemporary theology, especially theologies of the Trinity.

Catherine Mowry LaCugna (1952-1997) was a Catholic feminist theologian who taught systematic theology at the University of Notre Dame from 1981 until her death in 1997. She earned her Masters and Doctorate degrees at Fordham University. LaCugna’s only book-length works are God for Us (1991) (winner of the Catholic Press Association’s First Place Award for Theology) and Freeing Theology (1993), the latter being an edited collection of essays on feminist approaches to systematic theology. For those familiar with the landscape of contemporary theology, LaCugna’s God for Us will be somewhat dated. A number of the points she makes are taken for granted in today’s theological discourse. Moreover, God for Us is interesting in that it is not an explicitly feminist work (though she engages with feminist theology at points). Perhaps the fact that she is a feminist accounts for LaCugna’s concern for a Trinitarian theology “from below,” her willingness to embrace a theology of God’s passibility, and the apparent ease with which she calls into question much of Trinitarian theology since the Council of Nicaea.

In the Foreword, LaCugna says that her goal for the book is twofold: (1) that people will pause to think about the doctrine of the Trinity again, and (2) that they will think about it in a new way. Ultimately, she wants the reader to see that the doctrine of the Trinity is not simply an esoteric theory about the “internal self-relatedness” of God, but “an effort to articulate the basic faith of Christians.” Moreover, her contention is that the doctrine of the Trinity is infinitely practical for the Christian life. As she will say multiple times and in various ways throughout the book: “the divine life is our life.” The doctrine of the Trinity is “a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other” (1).

Undergirding LaCugna’s entire project is the theological principle (now something of an axiom in contemporary theology) that the “immanent Trinity” cannot be separated from the “economic Trinity.” LaCugna is following in the footsteps of Karl Rahner, who famously asserted that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity (and vice versa). Although LaCugna nuances Rahner’s position and moves beyond it in some respects, this is the fundamental assumption of the book and LaCugna’s “norming norm,” for evaluating the relative strengths and weaknesses of classical Trinitarian theology. God as God (immanent Trinity) is God for us (economic Trinity). Thus, any ontological distinction between God in se and God pro nobis is deemed to be inconsistent with biblical revelation, early Christian creeds, and Christian prayer and worship. In opposition to the countless theologians who have considered the Trinity “from above” (majoring on metaphysical and ontological discussions of divine persons, processions, etc), LaCugna is proposing a Trinitarian theology done “from below,” focused on the economy of salvation as the arena of God’s revelation as Triune.

To this end, God for Us is divided into two parts. Part One is titled, “The Emergence and Defeat of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” and Part Two is titled, “Re-Conceiving the Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Mystery of Salvation.” Despite these two parts, in terms of methodology, LaCugna’s project proceeds in three movements. First, she deconstructs a variety of ways the doctrine of the Trinity has been articulated in the past, arguing that all of them (post-Nicaea) sever the theology of God (theologia) from the economy of salvation in Christ (oikonomia). Second, she retrieves aspects of the ancient tradition and considers it in relation to the works of some contemporary theologians. Third, she reconstructs the theology of the Trinity, revealing the implications of the thesis that God’s being is inseparable from God’s action. In this way, Part One is the deconstruction of classical Trinitarian theology and Part Two is LaCugna’s retrieval and reconstruction of the same.

In Part One, LaCugna provides substantial engagement with the Trinitarian theology of a variety of figures and texts including the Cappadocians, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Gregory Palamas. In each discussion, she attempts to show how their theological projects ultimately fail to maintain the relationship between theologia and oikonomia--hence, they unwittingly represent the “defeat” of the doctrine of the Trinity. Central to Part One is the initial claim that when the Council of Nicaea opposed Arianism by theorizing about the being of Christ (as homoousios with the Father’s being) they were unwittingly dividing theology (considerations of God as God) from salvation history (God’s work in time and space). Before the challenge of Arius, the economy of salvation was central to Christian speculation about God; after Arius, speculation on God “in God’s self” was not only deemed possible but also distinct from reflection on God’s revelation in Christ. In her discussion of Nicene christology, LaCugna specifically indicates the question of God’s suffering as the turning point among the anti-Arian theologians. Because they would not allow that Christ’s real experience of suffering also applies to the Logos (and thereby to the being of the Godhead), they separated theologia from oikonomia.

Issues of space prevent me from detailing the specific ways in which LaCugna engages and evalutates the theologians in Part One. Needless to say, however, LaCugna’s narrative is ultimately a declension, digressing to the point that the theology of God has little to do with the economy of Christ and the Spirit, the themes of Incarnation and grace, let alone the daily Christian life. It is this theology gone awry that LaCugna blames for a contemporary situation in which most Christians are practical monotheists (quoting Rahner; 213). In response to this situation, in the first chapter of Part 2, LaCugna recalls the contributions of Karl Rahner to contemporary Trinitarian theology. She considers anew his assertion of the inseparability of the doctrine of Trinity and the doctrine of salvation and reaffirms his work with some qualifications. At this point, Rahner’s work serves as the fulcrum at which her project pivots away from deconstruction and into retrieval and reconstruction.

In Part Two, “Re-Conceiving the Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Mystery of Salvation,” LaCugna’s provides a theology of the Trinity that retrieves the union between the theology of God and the economy of salvation, so that soteriology becomes the starting point of theology. She explicitly denies reducing the Trinity to something that only exists in our experience, but instead wants to revise Trinitarian theology such that there is neither an economic nor an immanent Trinity, but only “the oikonomia that is the concrete realization of the mystery of theologia in time, space, history, and personality” (223). For LaCugna, this is not new, but a return to the biblical and pre-Nicene pattern of thought. She sums up her approach in Chapter 7, “The Self-Communication of God,” as follows: "Oikonomia is not the Trinity ad extra but the comprehensive plan of God reaching from creation to consummation, in which God and all creatures are destined to exist together in the mystery of love and communion. Similarly, theologia is not the Trinity in se, but, much more modestly and simply, the mystery of God. As we know from the experience of being redeemed by God through Jesus Christ, the mystery of God is the mystery of God with us (224).

Elaborating upon her own theological proposal, in Chapter 8, “Persons in Communion,” LaCugna then develops a thorough and detailed ontology of relation, explaining what it means to be a person and to exist as persons in communion. To this end, she engages with a host of theologians, philosophers, and ethicists, including the Cappadocians, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, John MacMurray (a personalist philosopher), John Zizioulas, Patricia Wilson-Kastner (a feminist theologian), Leonardo Boff, Margaret Farley (Catholic moral theologian), and Stanley Harakas (Eastern Orthodox ethicist). LaCugna concludes from engagement with these thinkers what she calls five “notes” of personhood (288-292) and then measures the merits of these notes against “the revelation of divine personhood in the face of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit” (293).

From this engagement with contemporary reflections on personhood, LaCugna concludes, “When we affirm that the ‘economic’ Trinity is the ‘immanent’ Trinity and vice versa, or that God’s energies express the divine essence, we are saying that God’s way of being in relationship with us—which is God’s personhood--is a perfect expression of God’s being as God...God for us is who God is as God” (305). She qualifies this by saying that, in the end, the term “person” applied to God is not a description of God’s essence as it is in itself, but using a term that points beyond itself to God’s ineffability. The proper focus of theology is upon God’s personal reality revealed in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. What matters, ultimately, is holding onto the truth that God is personal and, as a result, “the proper subject matter of the doctrine of the Trinity is the encounter between divine and human persons in the economy of redemption” (305).

The final two chapters in Part Two consist of the practical outworking of her proposed reconstruction of the doctrine of the Trinity. (Doubtless, her emphasis upon the infinitely practical nature of the doctrine of the Trinity would mean her dissatisfaction that I am giving these final chapters such short shrift!) Chapter 9, “Trinity, Theology, and Doxology,” argues that the form of language that best serves and illumines God’s economy is “theology in the mode of doxology” (320). Here, she emphasizes the unity of a life of worship with a life of ethical practice, the entire creation as the fruit of divine love and freedom (she juxtaposes creation ex nihilo with creation ex amore or ex condilectione; 355), and the liturgy of the Church as the “originating context of theology” (such that systematic theology is second order reflection on the worship of the Church; 357). Chapter 10, “Living Trinitarian Faith,” expounds on the human life that enters into the life of God by entering into the life of Jesus Christ, the life of the Holy Spirit, and the life of others. She makes suggestions for “Trinitarian politics” (denouncing patriarchy and proposing “communion among equals”), as well as the ways the doctrine of the Trinity can be envisioned applying in ecclesial life, Christian ethics, sexual ethics, and the spiritual life. Above all, the last chapter advocates the union of orthodoxy and orthopraxis: “The doctrine of the Trinity is orthodoxy, right perception of the glory of God, and it calls for orthopraxis, right response to the glory of God” (410).

It seems that this book review is already exceeding reasonable bounds, so I will attempt to bring it to a close. In Part One, LaCugna shows herself a careful and capable interpreter of the classical Trinitarian tradition. Certainly, I imagine specialists will quibble with the ways she interprets this or that point. Still, I find her account of the post-Nicene division between theology and soteriology (theologia and oikonomia) convincing. Furthermore, I find her constructive work in Part Two to be both intelligent and compelling. Perhaps the fact that her ideas resonate in familiar ways suggests the influence of LaCugna’s work: twenty years later, perhaps many theologians are taking her conclusions for granted. As can be seen from the difficulty I have had condensing the material for this review, God for Us is a very dense and deep work. Yet, I think LaCugna shines in it as an exemplar of feminist theology that is deeply rooted in and engaged with the Christian tradition. Her early death robbed feminist theology, in particular, and Christian theology, in general, of a gifted and winsome scholar.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Review: To Serve God and Wal-Mart by Bethany Moreton

I have been absent from the blogosphere for quite some time, consumed as I am with reading and writing for my doctoral seminars, preparation and teaching for my undergraduate classes (I'm teaching two section of Intro to Religion: Catholic Option this semester), and the frantic, frazzled life of caring for two toddlers with my ever-loving and long-suffering husband. Still, I thought I would pop in briefly to post this somewhat informal book review of one of my favorite books of the semester, by far: Bethany Moreton's To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise. I read it for my American Studies seminar a couple weeks about and lead the class discussion of the work. I highly recommend it to anyone with interests in evangelicalism, particularly evangelicalism and economics, politics, and/or gender.

About the Author
Bethany Moreton is a native of Mississippi and Assistant Professor of History and Women's Studies at the University of Georgia. She received her doctorate in history from Yale University in 2006 and was named the 2009 Emerging Scholar in the Humanities by the University of Michigan. To Serve God and Wal-Mart was her first book and it won the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in U.S. history and the John Hope Franklin Award for the best book in American Studies.

Methodology
Even though Moreton weaves a narrative that spans a variety of topics and issues (from populism to gender to free enterprise to Christian service), Moreton’s work is fairly straightforward as a history. She draws from a dizzying number of sources: numerous libraries and special archives, including those of the colleges and universities she discusses, as well as Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) and Food and Allied Services Trades, along with numerous personal interviews with Wal-Mart employees.

Thesis
To Serve God and Wal-Mart tells the story of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company, and the ideological system that it cultivated. Her narrative shows that conservative evangelicalism fueled the ascendancy of neoliberal (free enterprise) economics in the late twentieth century. Far from an historical inevitability, Moreton’s narrative proves that this turn of events came to pass through the efforts of real historical actors and the implementation of significant corporate resources.

To be more specific, I think Moreton is, in a sense, answering the question that has plagued Leftists for some time: “What’s the matter with Kansas?” Or, why do so many middle class Americans prioritize social issues over government policies that are in their economic best interest? Moreton shows that “family values” voters (“Wal-Mart moms” and dads) forgo (and even denounce) economic gains like unionization out of commitment to a very different notion of moral market priorities. Their deep-rooted ideals about the centrality of the (nuclear) family, the virtue of self-sufficiency, and the faith in free enterprise undergird the willingness of “Kansas” to, in the end, submit the well-being of the individual to that of the multi-national corporation.

Chapter Summaries
Chapters 1-3
Moreton’s story begins in the Ozarks, historically one of the whitest regions of the country (95% white as late as 1996), where Wal-Mart’s success can be traced back to nineteenth-century Populism and the Populist critique of the new industrial economy. Populist activists sought the protection of the federal government against the rise of corporations, which threatened the financial independence of the small family farm (and the enduring myth of the yeoman farmer). Though the Populists ultimately lost, in many ways their broad economic and political legacy remained, allowing for the employment of federal intervention so that the yeoman farmer might come to compete with industrial corporations.

Wal-Mart was one of many corporations that benefited greatly from the federal redistribution of funds into the Sun Belt following World War II. Wal-Mart was able to take root in the Ozarks—a region formerly inhospitable to major corporations—because Sam Walton put to work for him a number of Ozark emphases: the value of “old-stock American whites,” the importance of independent proprietorship, and fierce Ozark localism. Moreover, in terms of business model, he blended the independent, small-scale family business with that of the cooperative-style voluntary chain, and issued stock for public sale to his own employees. In this way, “the white periphery could make its peace with joint-stock companies and banks as long as they were local stockholders, hometown financiers” (29).

Along with the Wal-Mart company’s innovations in finance and organization, they also consciously crafted a populist corporate image from the Ozarks and the person of Sam Walton. As Wal-Mart expanded from the 1970s and 80s, the company located stores in smaller cities, which benefited from heavy public support (i.e., universities, military installations, hospitals), anti-labor laws, and landlocked “small town” life. Wal-Mart nurtured an image as corporate protector of the “imagined homogenous yesterday” (40), adopting the old-stock folk heroes of the farmer, cowboy, pioneer, and hillbilly, while joining them to country-western music and a preference for rural people (over urban). Sam Walton’s personal story underwent a makeover, as well, rendering his tale one of meritorious hard work and thrift, making him into a “billionaire everyone can love” (45).

Chapters 4-7
The service industry that grew up in the Sun Belt in the midst of deindustrialization imperiled the masculine vision of the independent yeoman farmer. To grapple with the shift to more “feminized” work, Wal-Mart drew on rural Protestant family ideals to stabilize the masculinity of its (mostly male) management staff, reinscribing the sexual hierarchy of the family onto the work place. Conflating the family and the store helped to prevent the largely female waged labor force from viewing themselves as “workers” with skills meriting just compensation. With “work” conceived of as a family affair at home (women accepting wage labor as a means to contribute to the household and provide access to insurance, SS, and investment) and work imagined in family terms at the store, Wal-Mart ensured the loyalty and humble (non-unionized) service of both management and service staff.

This reconceived vision of work blended easily with the new popularity of “service leadership” in both evangelical and business publications. Within the ethic of servant leadership, formerly humble, feminine “reproductive” labor is elevated in ideological significance, with men called to serve both in the home (i.e., Promise Keepers) and at work (i.e., Lead Like Jesus). Meanwhile, in exchange for the emphasis on the value of their labor and the loyalty of men to the domestic sphere, women acknowledge “male headship,” even if only in a symbolic way. These “soft patriarchs” were a compromise of sorts, so that service leadership made patriarchy safe for the postindustrial service economy.

Chapters 8-11
In the 1970s and 80s, increasing numbers of Americans abandoned Keynesian economics and transferred their loyalty to privatization, deregulation, tax cuts, and proliferating financial speculation. Wal-Mart rode this wave of conversion to “free-market fundamentalism,” actively helping to shape both corporate and public opinion in such a way that it has become, in many parts of the country, simply “common sense.” First, they created symbiotic relationships with Christian colleges to recruit management from new business programs grounded in (faith) commitment to free enterprise. Then, they used independent student organizations (with sizeable corporate sponsors) to promote capitalism, the most important of which was Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE).

SIFE started at a Christian college in the Ozarks and spread to 1,500 campuses in 40 countries. They travelled the country and won converts to free-market capitalism through education, from the oldest to the youngest (including economics lessons for kindergarteners). The following banner sums up their message: “FREE ENTERPRISE WORKS, ALL IT TAKES IS GUTS” (173). Moreton argues that the Christian roots of SIFE allowed for a wedding of self-interest with the “loving” notion of the greatest good for the greatest number. Today, Wal-Mart management and its suppliers are filled with the former students of this major investment in free-market education.

Chapters 12-13
In the Reagan era, the spread of free enterprise went global, powered by Sun Belt Christian organizations like Wal-Mart and pre-existing conditions established by post-WWII Christian missionaries. Central America was of early concern to Reagan and Walton, but Walton met the threat of communism with four-year scholarships for Central American college students to study business and marketing at Christian colleges in Arkansas. The ideological training received in the Ozarks equipped these students with free market, free trade visions for the entire hemisphere. The result was very good for Wal-Mart: grateful graduates of their program working in Christian ministries, multinational corporations, government, and technology industries, providing a grass-roots network for the progress of globalization (one that runs parallel to the work of nation-states in globalization). In the pursuit of U.S.-led free trade worldwide, Wal-Mart capitalized on Christian missionary zeal and faith in free markets: “figuring free trade as service to humble Third World consumers,” with the Mexico City Wal-Mart serving as the most powerful symbol in the ideological fight (251). The biggest victory in Wal-Mart’s expansionist mission was the turnaround in public opinion on NAFTA, allowing for its passage in November of 1993.

Interesting Issues Raised by the Book
“Family Values” and Free Market Capitalism
I find very compelling the way Moreton draws together the rise of “family values,” focused on sexuality and reproduction, and the rise of the service economy, with a shift from production industries to “reproductive” ones. More specifically, I find intuitively valid the connection she makes between family-centered movements within evangelicalism, like Promise Keepers and “soft patriarchy,” and the intentional utilization of the family ethos in Wal-Mart culture. At the same time that Wal-Mart was capitalizing (literally) on the consensus that women’s work (=serving others) isn’t really work and women aren’t really workers, they were also utilizing the Christian service ideology of wives and mothers to cultivate employee loyalty and a family-friendly image.

I can’t help but see an ideological parallel between the “soft patriarchy” family ideals described above and those of free enterprise economics, both of which grow up together in Moreton’s narrative. Both “soft patriarchy” and free market capitalism entail a faith commitment of sorts. In the first, women and men accept on faith that their particular version of submission or service will result in honor and exaltation (whether in the home, the workplace, or even in the afterlife). In the second, women and men accept on faith that self-interested, deregulated business practices will result in prosperity and justice for all (or, at least most). The logic of both ideologies seems to require a “leap of faith” for adherents.

Frugality as a Common Sense Christian Virtue
Moreton’s narrative reveals how frugality became an unquestioned Christian virtue in “Wal-Mart Country” and beyond. Although conspicuous consumption is frowned upon by most evangelicals, penny-pinching consumption for the sake of serving the good of the family is encouraged. Wal-Mart is infinitely appealing, therefore, because their unpretentious, unornamented stores, with an emphasis on “rolled back” prices, welcome shoppers as sites of family-focused frugality. There is even a sense of gratitude to Wal-Mart among customers (featured in a number of their more recent TV commercials), that their low prices allow money to be spent on other things for the family. In this way, Wal-Mart has helped to solidify finding the “best deal” at the cheapest price as a Christian virtue: evidence of wisdom, self-control, and even love. Moreover, Moreton shows that it is no coincidence that the champions of frugality are champions of free enterprise capitalism--both of which put the good of the individual and his/her nuclear family at the center of concern.

It’s Religion, Stupid
Moreton’s book also raises for me a larger point about historical and cultural studies. Many historians and cultural scholars are wont to say of the human situation in any age that, in the end, “It’s the economy, stupid”--it is the ongoing battle between proletariats and capitalists that occupy the central narrative of history. But, in light of Moreton’s book (along with a number of others we have read), it seems that ground needs to be ceded to religion. Perhaps, we can say, “It’s religion, stupid.” This is a good sign for historians and theologians in training, for whom religion is central. There seems a great opportunity in the historical and cultural fields, and in American studies in particular, to highlight, explain, contest, and debate the role of religion in the outworking of history. Moreover, the reverse is also the case. In the work of the theologian, attention must be paid to the ways in which cultural institutions, even one as apparently banal as Wal-Mart, serve to shape and inform theology. Indeed, theology must always be engaged with the "lived" aspect of the Christian religion and it doesn't get more "lived" than the places where Christian families shop.