The Wages of Sin… And Student Debt

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”

Who is responsible for the fall of man?

If you want to have a fun discussion in Sunday school (or anywhere where people know the fundamental creation stories of Abrahamic faiths), pose this question, and see where the debate goes.

Very obviously, Adam and Eve are both responsible for the sin they committed by eating the forbidden fruit. Otherwise, they would not have been cast from the Garden of Eden and incurred the debt of sin which is fulfilled in death. But the snake is also present and were it not for his interference in convincing Eve to sin by tempting her with godhood, the fall would not have occurred.

In focusing on Eve’s responsibility, people often forget that the devil is at work in the sins of the world.

This story has real-world implications. Causing someone to sin is a sin itself.

Consider student debt. It sits at a trillion and a half dollars as of this writing and is only growing. Most of it can never be paid down.

The first argument that gets tossed around whenever somebody discusses possible fixes for this crisis is that, “They were adults when they took out the loan. Nobody forced them.” Besides leaning on a legal argument (age of majority), rather than a moral one, it ignores the culpability of the loan shark that is higher education in the whole affair.

If you want a deeper dive into the specifics of the conservative blindness to this, check out Brian Neimeier’s article here.

Returning to the bigger idea here, not only are the universities partially responsible for loans they proctored, they are primarily responsible, and the defrauded students have far less culpability. Unlike Adam and Eve, who were specifically instructed by God not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the last two generations of students were never told not to take out student loans. In fact, every person with eldership and authority specifically told them that they needed to go to college no matter what.

The only alternative to college most kids were ever presented with was joining the military, with a strong emphasis being that they would pay for your college in exchange for 4-6 years’ worth of service. I find it hard to call the men killed on the battlefield in distant lands for no discernable reason “wise” for avoiding debt in this manner. Though this is obviously not the only reason that people join the military, it goes to show just how massive the costs of “education” are that some people are willing to risk death in order to avoid debt.

Consider this analogy.

A young, naïve 18-year-old girl is conned into making porn videos by older experienced industry men who know just how little they are paying her, and just what social consequences she will experience for the rest of her life for trying earn what seems like a large amount of money when she is 18. Maybe they lure her in with false pretenses, maybe they offer her drugs, or maybe they threaten her with a debt to them if she doesn’t do what she’s told.

Would you excuse the actions of the porn producer simply because the girl is 18, or would you recognize that she is a victim of sex trafficking and fraud? Would you defend the smut peddler’s business and deny the victim any mode for recompense?

In fact, there is an actual legal case that involves just this and the producers of “Girls do Porn,” who did all these things.

But for the student conned into taking out a six-figure loan at the age of eighteen that legally can NEVER be discharged by anything other than payment in full (including bankruptcy), is 100% responsible for all of the debt he incurred under false pretenses and must pay it back with interest unless he dies? It really doesn’t follow.

But perhaps you don’t really understand how universities work these days. I’ve taught at universities, and 15 years ago this was a problem, and has only gotten worse since. Many state universities have a graduation rate in reasonable time of 50% or lower, which means half of people at the most accessible universities aren’t even getting the product they are “paying” for.

I do believe the institutions know this. The lowering of admissions standards is intentional to generate revenue, which means raising salaries for administration and tenured faculty, I believe.

The university enrolls massive amounts of freshmen who can’t read or write past an 8th-grade level (which is probably enough to do fine in most non-clerical jobs). These students get enrolled in entry-level (zero or 100 level) classes that have 50 to more than 100 students per class and enrolled in remedial math and English classes taught by graduate students and adjunct professors. These new students aren’t prepared for university-level study, even “soft” majors like the arts since they cannot complete general education classes.

They quickly end up on academic probation, but the process often takes three semesters to work out, which means they are enrolled in the university for up to two years, paying full tuition (since few of this cohort who aren’t athletes will receive a scholarship), and will leave with nothing to show for it. The university will have a massive bureaucracy (often staffed with other students who need work) dedicated to proctoring student loans. My experience is that they will push students to take out the maximum amount, often far exceeding their tuition.

Why? Because they have to buy books (their own racket we need not get into here, but it’s a rigged game where publishers get to charge a 500% markup on new books containing very old knowledge), they have to pay for housing, and they have to pay for food, and of course, with all the studying you are doing for your four classes (typical freshman enrollment of 12 units, the minimum for full-time) you won’t be able to work. The modest tuition cost of say, 12,000 dollars per year, quickly balloons into 40,000 dollars or more.

It’s quite possible that a student, having been told by literally every authority figure in his life – his parents, his teachers, his guidance counselors, and celebrities – that he needs to go to college, that it’s a foregone conclusion, loses two years of his life and gains six figures of debt. Meanwhile, the administrators pay themselves and their friends multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary and refuse to hire full-time faculty to replace retiring teachers, instead hiring inexperienced graduate students and adjunct teachers.

They get all the money now; the banks get to collect interest forever on a loan that is, by definition, based on nothing (and therefore can’t NOT be usury).

The student in this circumstance is under no moral obligation to repay a debt incurred via fraud, by an industry built on fraud (I can go on, trust me), yet the same “conservatives” who would say that an 18-year-old girl who got duped into porn is a trafficking victim insist that defrauded students pay their debts in full. They can’t help but refer to Mamon.

They are also blind to their own debts, mainly the debt of sin which they ask the Lord to forgive while refusing to even acknowledge that the debts of others which, like their own debt of sin, cannot be repaid and might require some relief.

Perhaps worse is politicizing this crisis by viewing the young and indebted as belonging to the other political tribe, and therefore not deserving of relief. Besides being petty, this is also inaccurate. Plenty of right-wing youngsters are carrying this burden, but they will have to suffer because conservatives imagine debt-addled blue-haired arts majors that vote democrat rather than doctors, lawyers, and engineers.

Another non-argument is “I already paid my debt. I’ll be damned if I pay for someone else who wasn’t responsible enough to pay down his.”

You’re right; you will be damned:

Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?

Matthew 20:13

Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother [c]his trespasses.”

Matthew 18:32-35

And to be transparent, I incurred no student debt, but my wife is a well-paid professional and we are still paying hers down almost 20 years later. I know the experience of both sides.

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6 Comments

  1. That’s an…unusual reading of the parable of the laborers. In the very passage that you quoted, the vineyard owner points out that he’s spending his own money as he sees fit. Forgiving student loans, on the other hand, requires raising taxes on people who didn’t incur the debt. It would be like the vineyard owner demanding that the workers he hired at dawn return a portion of the denarius he paid them, so that he could give it to the workers he hired at the end of the day.

    • There is no way the debt is going away without being written down by the government via jubilee (or inflated away).
      The parable is a response to people who complain that they were able to pay off their student loans, therefore those who can’t should service the interest of their own debts forever.
      In other words, being resentful of those who receive a benefit and have done less to deserve it than they have.

      • Which would be a valid point, if the government actually had any intention of forgiving debt. What they really want is to hike taxes on “the rich” (i.e., anyone making more than entry level wages) to pay off the creditors (i.e., themselves). Show me a plan where the federal government agrees to eat multiple trillions of dollars in student debt, and I’ll get behind that in a nanosecond.

        • I think your a few steps gone on some tangent. Saying you don’t support debt erasure because government misspends money or taxes for political reasons is like saying you are opposed to the existence of roads because the government wastes money building them.
          I realize now that Mammon has been successful in convincing people that forgiving debt (which exists on a ledger) means raising taxes. The government doesn’t manage its expenses based on liabilities or assets, that should be obvious by now.

    • As I’m the one who tweeted the above, I would like to respond.

      My original thought on the matter: I never had student loans, and I worked hard to not require them. Should I not benefit as well?

      I was eventually convicted because I was being envious, and came to the conclusion that forgiveness is a biblically mandated thing that is good, and so no matter what I thought of fairness, I needed to bring my thoughts, and so my feelings, into line with scripture.

      Hence, I quoted the verse that had the most impact on me. Specifically: “Or are you envious because I am generous?”

      I was, and I need to make sure I am not.

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