Go big or go home, they say. Some might say Joe Biden hasn’t quite gone big enough. He has this week announced that he will be canceling $10,000 in federal student loan debt (or $20,000 for Pell grant recipients, applying to those in greatest financial need) for people who earn under $125,000 a year. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, wanted $50,000.
The plan will also cap undergraduate loan repayment at 5% of a person’s discretionary income, meaning that interest payments that exceed the cap won’t be added to future debt loads. Student debt also disproportionately affects black students more.
There is no doubt that this will play well with younger voters, and it will go some way to breaking down the debt mountain that has scarred the educational landscape. It is presently the second-largest type of household debt and freeing up this debt will allow those people to spend that money, and in doing so, the economy will be stimulated.
Whatever Biden announced, the Republicans would have jumped down his throat. And many of those Republicans who decry Biden’s move are dyed-in-the-wool Christians. As The Guardian reported:
Within a day, mainstream Republican pundits and politicians called the policy an executive “coup”, “an abuse of the law”, “utterly revolting”, and a “fuck you to every financially responsible person”. Republicans in Congress screeched that it would cause wild and uncontrolled borrowing, and Mitch McConnell, predictably, called it “socialism”.
Republicans and thus many Christians are incensed, with many bizarrely claiming that this policy is too regressive. The irony is rather
delicious distasteful. A further example of rank hypocrisy concerns PPP—the Paycheck Protection Program—loans forgiven during the COVID pandemic. Republican lawmakers, such as Reps. Vern Buchanan of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, and Markwayne Mullin and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, have been called out publicly on Twitter by the White House and others after their hypocritical criticisms.
A sample White House mic drop, after Rep. Greene said, “For our government just to say, ‘OK, well, your debt is completely forgiven’… it’s completely unfair”:
But yet another example of such lack of self-awareness concerns Christian critics (and those previously mentioned lawmakers would qualify here).
Let me remind readers of the central tenet of Christianity: the atonement. For those uninitiated, atonement is the main reason Jesus Christ was incarnated on Earth as a human only to be sentenced to death and crucified. Atonement is the central point of Jesus’ existence (as essentially incoherent as it most certainly is). It entails, in various theories depending on which theologian you listen to, Jesus’ death vicariously forgiving the sin debt accrued by humanity.
In other words, the entire belief system of Christians is built around the notion of forgiving the debts of others, and often people who one might think do not deserve it. The theology either involves Jesus paying our debt or God forgiving that debt. As Christian Keith Giles at Patheos explains:
We sometimes talk about being redeemed from our sins, or say that Christ paid our debt on the cross. But sometimes we also say that God has forgiven our sins and erased our debts….
To forgive someone means to release them from their debt. If they are released from their debt, then there is no longer any need for payment to be made. Alternatively, if payment is made, then there is no longer any need for forgiveness. You can either have payment or you can have forgiveness…
Both of these approaches amount to the same thing, as far as the Biden administration’s policy is concerned. And yet, for these young people shackled with huge debts, there is little room for forgiveness.
Of course, you can trust right-wing sources like The Federalist to deny the connection. It’s not a forgiveness of debts, they claim, it’s a redistribution. Even wealth redistribution could be argued to be in line with Jesus’ teachings (Matt. 25: 34–35; 19:24; 14:13–21; 15:32–39; Luke 14:13; 18:18–25; 19:2-10; etc.). But if you see these as more individual and less statist, then perhaps look at the Levitican jubilee law in the Old Testament.
The Federalist also argues that the Biden plan is a false analogy because atonement in the Bible is penal substitutionary atonement. Well, this would be an outrageous case of theological cherry-picking since theologians still do not agree on how the atonement works, and which theory prevails!
Of course, those on the Christian right wing tend to laud the lovely forgiving nature of Jesus but fail to show any hint of such behavior in their own lives unless the perpetrator is someone like Donald Trump. In that case, it’s all arms outstretched, and a big forgiving embrace.
Students? Rot in hell.