Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written by Marcus J. Borg

Page: 7.  First-century Judaism was diverse. In the Jewish homeland, there were a number of groups with different ways of being Jewish within the context of Roman rule, which began in 63 BCE, about sixty years before Jesus was born. A group known as the Essenes advocated withdrawal from mainstream society and established monastic communities near the Dead Sea. Pharisees remained within society and advocated rigorous observance of laws that distinguished Jews from non-Jews as a way of maintaining Jewish identity.

Page: 7. Violent resistance movements opposed Roman rule through armed insurrection. There were three major Jewish revolts in the time around Jesus: in 4 BCE, 66–73 CE, and 132–135 CE. Sadducees (generally understood as a wealthy aristocratic group) took the opposite course and collaborated with Roman rule. A majority of Jews were not part of any of these groups, but lived their understanding of Judaism as they knew it. Many resigned themselves to Roman rule, even as they may also have resented it. But within this diversity, Jews shared in common a core of convictions, sometimes called “covenantal theology” or “common Judaism.”

Page: 7.  Promise and hope. In Genesis, God entered into a covenant with Abraham and Sarah and promised that they would have many descendants who would live in their own land—and land was the material basis of existence in the ancient and premodern world. God’s promises continued as the prophets proclaimed God’s dream of a world of justice and peace

Page: 7.  Except for a hundred-year period that ended in 63 BCE, the Jewish homeland had been ruled by foreign empires for roughly six centuries by the time of Jesus. Foreign rule created an urgent issue: When and how would God’s promises be fulfilled?


Covenantal theology included living in accord with its way, its laws. What this meant varied among Jewish groups

Page: 8.  Though Christians are generally aware that Christianity began within the Roman Empire, the importance of this fact is not as widely recognized. In a sentence, its importance was that Rome was a particularly powerful form of an ancient domination system legitimated by an imperial theology.

An Ancient Domination System.

“Domination system” is a semitechnical term for the most common form of structuring societies

Page: 8.  Premodern domination systems ranged in size from small kingdoms to large empires. Seeing their central features illuminates thousands of years of human history, from prebiblical through biblical times, to the Middle Ages, and the centuries that followed. Ancient domination systems were: Politically oppressive. Societies were ruled by a few—by monarchies and aristocracies, the powerful and economically exploitative. The ruling elites structured society in their own economic self-interest.

Page 8: About half to two-thirds of the annual production of wealth went to the top few percent of the population. The great gap between the wealthy and the rest (90 percent or more) had calamitous effects on the latter, including a life expectancy about half that of the elite class.  Wars were frequent, initiated by one group of elites against another for the sake of expanding their wealth and power by controlling more people and land.

Legitimated by religious claims.

Page: 8.  Elite religion proclaimed that kings ruled by divine right and that the social order, the way the world was put together, reflected the will of God. The world of the ancient domination system is the context not only of Jesus and early Christianity, but of the Bible as a whole.

Context for the prophetic protest against the re-creation of a domination system within Israel during the time of the monarchy.

Page: 9.  It is the context of Jewish voices, from the sixth century BCE on, crying out against oppression by a succession of foreign domination systems. Rome was an especially large domination system, controlling much of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Its military was both powerful and efficient. Its legions were highly trained professional…

Page: 9  It was even more economically exploitative than its predecessors. Not only were conquered provinces required to pay annual tribute to Rome (a form of taxation collected by local authorities), but Roman economic policy promoted the commercialization of agriculture. Small plots of land that had been farmed for centuries by families to produce food for their own use (were lost through debt)…

Page: 9.  Families lost their land, many in the rural class became tenant farmers, sharecroppers, or day laborers, producing not their own food, but commercial crops like grains, olives, and grapes. Outside the Jewish homeland, the commercialization of agriculture also resulted in large-scale migration to cities, where former agricultural laborers became part of the urban working poor—a situation that becomes important for understanding the urban context (of emerging Christianity)…

Page: 9.  Roman imperial theology began earlier, it was amplified during the reign of Caesar Augustus, emperor from 31 BCE to 14 CE. His birth name was Octavian, and he was about nineteen when Julius Caesar was assassinated, in 44 BCE. For the next thirteen years, Octavian and his rival, Mark Antony, carried on a devastating civil war—Roman legions fought each other on the battlefield—for the imperial throne.

Page: 9.  When the war ended, Octavian became “Augustus.” The word means “he who is to be worshipped and revered.” He was heralded not only as “Augustus,” but also as “Son of God” and “Lord.” He was called the “savior of the world” who had brought “peace on earth” by ending the civil war that was tearing the empire apart.

His birth was the beginning of the “gospel,” the “good news” (the Greek word used in the New Testament and translated into English

Page: 9.  From Augustus on, imperial theology imparted the message that Roman domination was divinely ordained. The gods had chosen Rome to rule the world. Roman imperial theology is the oppositional context for much of early Christian language about Jesus. The gospels, Paul’s letters, and the other New Testament writings use the language of imperial theology, but apply it to Jesus. Jesus is the “Son of God”—the emperor is not.

Page: 10.  The contrast is also about two different visions of how the world should be. The world of the domination system is a world of political oppression, economic exploitation, and chronic violence. The alternative is a world in which everyone has enough and no one needs to be afraid. The gospel phrase for this is the “reign of God”

Page: 11.  There is an obvious reason that Paul did not often refer to what Jesus said and did. He wrote to communities that he had taught in person, and so he would already have told them about Jesus. The one exception is his letter to Christians in Rome, but they also already knew about Jesus. The purpose of Paul’s letters was not to tell people about Jesus, but to stay in touch with his communities and to address issues that had arisen in his absence. They are about applications of Paul’s understanding of life “in Christ”—one of his most important phrases—to particular circumstances.

Page: 11.  Most people—probably 95 percent or more—did not have the literacy necessary to read biblical documents—whether from the Old Testament or the soon-to-be-born New Testament. Moreover, until the invention of the printing press in the 1400s, documents were expensive to produce. To say the obvious, copies had to be made by hand. So until relatively recently, most people knew their sacred stories and sacred teachings orally and aurally—by hearing them and holding them in memory.

Page: 12.  Letters—like the letters of Paul—were a way of communicating with a community that had somebody who could read the letter aloud to the rest. Gospels were a way of preserving an early Christian community’s traditions about Jesus. But putting traditions into written form was not the first thing that a new religious movement would put its energy into. Rather, doing so came later, as early Christian communities began the process of institutionalization, which included preserving their traditions for the future.

Page: 12.  In New Testament scholarship, “oral tradition” refers to both a time and a process. It refers to the time from Jesus’s death until the gospels were written. The process—how Jesus was remembered—involved memory, development, and testimony. It was a communal process. The traditions about Jesus—what he said, what he did, and what he was like—were remembered within communities of his followers.

Page: 12.  Early Christian communities were small and intimate. According to a recent scholarly estimate, there were about two thousand followers of Jesus by the year 60. Perhaps half of these were in the Jewish homeland and the other half in other parts of the Roman Empire. Thus, with perhaps an exception or two, the size of a community would have been fifty or fewer. They were also committed and intentional: it took courage and passion to be part of an early Christian community.

Page: 13.  In these communities the traditions about Jesus were remembered and used in a number of ways. They were used in recruitment, to enlist “outsiders” into the movement Jesus had begun. They formed the core of instruction, or catechesis, to teach those who desired to become part of the movement about Jesus. And they were used in devotion. Early followers loved Jesus and commemorated him in their worship. No doubt they also enjoyed talking about him. These communities are the context in which Jesus was remembered.

Page: 13.  Jesus was an itinerant teacher whose most characteristic forms of speech were striking short sayings, called “aphorisms,” and short stories, called “parables.” The use of memorable aphorisms and parables is a brilliant and necessary strategy for a teacher in a preliterate and preprint culture. As a teacher on the move, he would have spoken his aphorisms and told his parables many times.

Page: 15.  Jesus does not proclaim an extraordinary status for himself. Mark, the earliest gospel, affirms that Jesus is the “Son of God” and “Messiah,” but, as Mark tells the story of Jesus, this extraordinary status was not part of Jesus’s own teaching. The two times Jesus seems to affirm an exalted status in Mark do not take place in public, but in private—once alone with his disciples and then in the story of his trial at the end of his life. The fact that it was not part of Jesus’s own public teaching in Mark has been called the “messianic secret.” Jesus’s identity as Son of God and Messiah was a secret, unknown by almost everybody while he was alive and only openly proclaimed after his death.

Page: 15.  John’s gospel is very different. Jesus frequently speaks of himself in the most extraordinary language. He is the Light of the World; the Bread of Life; the Good Shepherd; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and the True Vine; before Abraham was, he was. He identifies himself with God: “The Father and I are one”; “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (10.30; 14.9). John opens his gospel with a magnificent prologue that speaks of Jesus as the “Word of God,” who was with God at creation and who has now become flesh. Jesus is the incarnation of God, the embodiment of what can be seen of God in a human life.

Page: 15.  (The different gospels) are testimony to the significance of Jesus as it had developed within the community (perhaps communities) that John wrote from and for. They testify to what Jesus had become in their experience, thought, and conviction. But it is a stage of development within the oral tradition that occurred much later than what is in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Testimony about Jesus within early Christian communities developed for more than one reason. In addition to people’s memory of him as the extraordinary person he was, their understanding of his significance grew.

Page: 16.  Within modern biblical scholarship, there is a near consensus that the “titles” of Jesus—as the Son of God, Lord, Word of God, and so forth—are post-Easter developments; testimony, not memory. But they are testimony grounded in memory and experience. The process of development within the oral tradition produced earlier and later layers. The earliest layer is closest in time to Jesus and represents a period when memory was still dominant and relatively little development had occurred.

Page: 17.  At the center of Jesus’s message was the kingdom of God. His first words in Mark, our earliest gospel, are about the coming of the kingdom of God. They are Mark’s advance summary of what Jesus and his story are about. The kingdom of God was not about “heaven,” but about the transformation of this world, the earth, which is clear from the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come on earth.”

Page: 17.  Jesus spoke primarily to the peasant class (90 percent of the population), which was made up of agricultural and manual laborers who lived in rural areas: small towns, villages, hamlets, the countryside. He didn’t go to cities, except Jerusalem. As a teacher he consistently used arresting aphorisms and provocative parables to invite his hearers to image reality, life, and their lives differently.

Page: 17.  Jesus was a healer and an exorcist. More stories of healings and exorcisms are told about him than about any other figure in the Jewish tradition. He broke social boundaries. He was known and criticized for eating with marginalized people, including virtual outcasts and untouchables, and for his associations with women.

Page: 17.  His followers spoke of him as “anointed by the Spirit.” The Spirit of God was present in him and flowed through him. He went to Jerusalem at the season of Passover, most likely in the year 30. His last week was filled with confrontation and conflict, leading to arrest and execution by the imperial and religious authorities who ruled his world. Some of his followers experienced him after his death—not simply as a “ghost,” but as a divine reality with the qualities of “Lord” and “God.”

Page: 19.  Next to Jesus, Paul is the most important person in the New Testament. Thirteen of its twenty-seven documents are attributed to him. More than half of Acts is about him.

Paul’s significance for Christianity extends beyond the New Testament. Augustine (356–430), the most important Christian theologian in the first thousand years of Christianity, was converted by a verse in Romans, and Paul’s thought greatly influenced his theology for the rest of his life.  Paul’s letters were the biblical foundation of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. He has been especially important for Protestants ever since.  

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. –Romans 13: 13-14.  Later, reflecting on this experience, Augustine wrote his famous prayer: You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.    

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Page 19: Compared to Paul, we know very little about Peter, the other most important early follower of Jesus. But we know about Paul firsthand from what he says about himself in his letters and secondhand from Acts, where he is the central character. Acts is significantly later than Paul’s letters and, like the gospels, combines memory, development, and testimony a generation or two after Paul. Thus it is a secondary source for knowing about Paul.

Page: 20.  The seven letters universally accepted as coming from Paul in the 50s portray a Paul quite different from the Paul of the other six letters.

Page: 20.  Paul was perhaps ten years or so younger than Peter. He lived vigorously into the 60s of that century, even though he was plagued by a recurrent malady. He was executed in Rome in the early to mid 60s. He was born Jewish in the Diaspora, a term referring to Jews living outside of their ancestral homeland. Most did. Estimates of the number of Jews in the first century hover around six million, about one-tenth of the population of the Roman Empire. One to two million lived in the homeland. Two-thirds or more were in the Diaspora.

Page: 21.  According to Acts, Paul’s father was a Roman citizen, and thus Paul was a Roman citizen by birth. “Citizen” did not mean simply somebody who lived within the Roman Empire; it was an elevated status that belonged to a very small percentage of the population. If Paul’s father was a Roman citizen, the most likely reason is that he had been a slave of a Roman citizen, who then liberated him. But Paul in his letters never refers to himself as a Roman citizen, and so scholars are uncertain whether this detail from Acts is correct. Paul obviously had an excellent education.

Page: 21.  He knew both Judaism and the Gentile world firsthand and may even have had a Greek education as well as a Jewish one.

Page: 21.  According to Acts, he studied in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, one of the most renowned rabbis of the time. Paul himself does not mention this, and some scholars think this may be part of the “upgrading” of Paul’s stature by the author of Acts. But whether or not he studied in Jerusalem, he was a brilliant, passionate, committed Pharisaic Jew.

Page: 22.  He had an experience that caused a dramatic reversal of his life. It happened in or near Damascus, the capital of Syria, then and now, three to five years after the death of Jesus. Paul’s time as a persecutor was quite brief. So famous is it that the phrase “Damascus road experience” has become a common metaphor for a life-changing experience.

Page: 22.  Paul, Peter, etc. didn’t think of himself as having converted from one religion (Judaism) to another (Christianity). He regarded himself as Jewish all of his life, not as a member of a new and different religion. His conversion was not from Judaism to Christianity, but from Pharisaic Judaism to Christian Judaism. They were different ways of being Jewish. The division into two religions came later.

Page: 23.  What he saw and experienced convinced him that he was wrong, that the Jesus whom he had been persecuting was not only alive, but Lord. The obvious inference was that if Jesus still lives and is Lord, it can only be because God had vindicated him. God had said “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the powers that had killed him. They were wrong. Paul had been wrong. Now Paul had been called to be Jesus’s apostle to the Gentiles. So, not later than five years after the death of Jesus, in the mid-30s of the first century, Paul began his vocation as a follower and apostle of Jesus.

Page: 23.  Around the year 40, he went on his first mission to Asia Minor (Turkey) as an associate of Barnabas, an early Christian missionary to whom Paul was subordinate. Then Paul and Barnabas separated, and Paul traveled on his own to major cities in Asia Minor during most of the 40s. In the late 40s, he went to Greece, beginning in Macedonia in the north and continuing on to Athens and Corinth in the south…Sometimes he had to flee cities because his message and activity caused conflict. He was arrested several times, often beaten, and thrown in prison more than once, in danger of being executed. Plus we need to imagine the privations and danger involved in his extensive travel. He walked thousands of miles, including through mountain passes and across high arid plateaus. Despite paintings that depict his being knocked off his horse during his Damascus experience, he didn’t travel by horse.

Page: 23-24.  (He had) far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11.23–28) In the late 50s, he traveled to….

Page: 24,  In Jerusalem he was arrested by temple authorities and handed over to Roman authorities. Although the latter found him innocent, they did not release him. So Paul appealed to his right as a Roman citizen to have a hearing before the emperor himself, and he was transported to Rome as a prisoner. At the end of Acts, he has been living in Rome under house arrest.

Page: 24  Early Christian traditions, which report that he was executed in Rome around the year 64, during the reign of Nero, are generally accepted as historically factual. Like Jesus, Paul was killed by the powers that ruled his world.

The Urban Context of Paul’s Apostleship and Letters

Paul was a city person. Unlike Jesus, who grew up in a small village and whose activity was among the peasant class in small towns and rural areas of the Jewish homeland, Paul was urban. He grew up…

Cities in the Roman Empire shared a number of features. They were very densely populated. Because most were walled cities, population expansion occurred within the walls. For example, the walls of Antioch enclosed two square miles, within which lived two hundred thousand people. Its population density exceeded that of the most densely populated cities today, and without high-rise buildings. Most of the urban working class lived in four- or five-story tenements. Most families had only a room or two, used primarily for storage and sleeping.

Page: 25.  Contagious disease was rampant. Life expectancy was low, about thirty years for those who survived the high mortality rates of infancy and childhood. The urban working population could be sustained only by continuing migration from rural areas. Roman agricultural policy virtually compelled migration to cities. Small peasant farms that had provided basic sustenance to the families that had lived on them for centuries were being combined into large estates that now produced grains and other agricultural products for export.

Page: 25.  Many of the rural class, now without their own land, moved to cities to find work. Most did so out of desperation, not because they desired city life. Migration to cities destroyed the extended family and village relationships that marked traditional rural communities. Newcomers to cities, even if they arrived with their family, were severed from the familiarity and common concern of village life. They were, (without that community)

Page: 25.  Life was difficult for most of those who lived in cities. Earning enough money to pay for food and shelter was always an issue. Disease and death were constant threats. Community was no longer something that one (could count on in the same way).

Page: 25.  Paul consistently went to a synagogue to tell people about Jesus. Why? Was he trying to convert Jews, in spite of his commission to go to the Gentiles, a vocation and restriction that he and other early Christian leaders had apparently agreed upon? Almost certainly, the explanation is that synagogues in major cities were likely to have a number of Gentiles who were strongly attracted to Judaism, but not willing or ready to fully convert.

Page: 26.  Some became benefactors. No doubt they had Jewish friends. But the men did not get circumcised, and households may or may not have observed Jewish food and purity laws. That Gentile “God-lovers” were Paul’s primary audience not only is affirmed by Acts and implied in his letters, but makes great sense. The Gentiles to whom he had the most immediate access were the “God-lovers”…

Page: 26.  He sought to enlist them in communities of Christ-followers either by creating a new community in that city or by integrating them into an existing community. Christian groups existed in some cities before Paul got there, including Ephesus and Rome. In others, they were Paul’s creation. Other than synagogues, the other context in which Paul encountered Gentiles was in his work. Paul supported himself by “tent-making,” an umbrella term…

Page: 26.  Paul’s skill gave him great mobility and self-sufficiency. The basic tools could be carried in a waist bag. He could travel light and find a job in any significant city. No doubt Paul met some of his (colleagues, disciples that way)

Page: 27.  He would have talked about Jesus and testified to his meaning and significance. And he would have emphasized that in Jesus a new form of Judaism had been created in which Gentiles could be full participants. “In Christ,” as he wrote in one of his most famous verses, “there is no longer Jew or Greek” (Gal. 3.28). He would have invited her into a new community in which she could be both Gentile and Jew. Indeed, Paul’s purpose was to create communities of Christ-followers or to integrate converts into Christian communities that already existed.

Page: 27. The communities of Paul were not churches in this modern sense. The first church building dates from the mid-200s, and churches were not common until after Constantine legalized and became a patron of Christianity in the 300s. So also the communities of Paul were not primarily intended for the practice of “religion” as one dimension of life; rather, they were groups learning about and practicing a comprehensive way of seeing and living. The Greek word translated “church” is ekklesia (from which, for example, we get the word “ecclesiastical”). It means “assembly” and “those called out”—a community.

Page: 28.  We perhaps should imagine Paul’s communities as small as fifteen or twenty people and perhaps as large as a hundred or two (as in Corinth?). And even when there were that many Christ-followers in a given city, they most often probably met in smaller groups.

Page: 28.  Some of these tenement buildings and some homes of the wealthy on main streets had “shops” on the ground floor. These included retail shops and manufacturing and repair shops in which artisans like leatherworkers and others worked. These spaces were not large; they averaged about two hundred square feet. But, unlike residential space, they were unused some of the time. In them, small early Christian communities met. Thus some contemporary scholars speak of Paul’s communities of Christ-followers not as “house-churches,” but as “shop-churches.” “Shop-communities” would be even more accurate.

Page: 28.  Paul’s communities were not only small, but deeply committed and intentional. To become part of one was a serious undertaking. Jesus had been condemned and executed by Rome. Joining this movement meant risk—to call Jesus “Lord” and “Son of God” meant that the emperor was neither of these things. It meant becoming countercultural, rejecting the values of dominant culture and living in accord with another vision of how things should be. Paul referred to them as communities whose identity was “in Christ” and as “the body of Christ. They were “a new creation” in the midst of “this world” that subverted “this world.”

Page: 28.  They were intimate. Their members knew and were committed to taking care of each other. Paul’s frequent use of the language of “brothers and sisters” is not just affectionate; it is “new family” imagery. People who became part of one of his communities took on the same responsibilities for each other that blood brothers and sisters had. In the first-century urban context in which many had lost their blood families because of migration and high mortality rates, this was a powerful image of community. It also meant that these were “share” communities.

Page: 29:  Letters are not meant “for the world.” They are meant for the person(s) to whom they are sent. They presuppose a relationship, a connection. And the context for understanding them is what we can know about that relationship. Thus what we have in Paul’s letters is not what he would have said to “outsiders,” but what he wrote to Christian communities that already existed.  What we have is his very personal response to what he had learned was going on in these communities. With the mix depending on circumstances, his letters combine thanksgiving, tenderness, encouragement, teaching, affection, correction, conflict, and anger.

Page: 30.  The seven letters from Paul in the 50s begin not with Romans, but 1 Thessalonians. Indeed, Romans is the last of the seven. In between are Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, and Philippians.

Page: 35.  From the letter itself, we learn that while in Athens Paul sent his companion Timothy back to Thessalonica (about three hundred miles away) to find out how the community was doing (2.17–3.6). By foot, the journey took fifteen to twenty days each way; by boat, around a week each way. Timothy returned to Paul, who was possibly still in Athens but more likely in Corinth, with news of the community. First Thessalonians is Paul’s response to what he heard from Timothy. It follows the standard form of a Greek letter

Page: 36.  “New Family” Imagery Paul fills this affectionate letter with family imagery. Fourteen times Paul calls the community “brothers and sisters.

Page: 36.  In this metaphor of the Christian community as a “new family,” the relationship of the members to one another is not based solely on intimacy or sentiment, but also on mutual support, including material responsibility for each other. This was a “share” community, just as a family is a sharing community. Sharing in Paul’s communities did not mean absolute equality of financial resources. But it did mean that the community would make sure that everybody was taken care of with regard to the material basis of life. Put simply, “You will eat, and you will be taken care of.”

Page: 37:  Rapture theology is almost always accompanied by the claim that the second coming of Jesus will be soon. Polls suggest that around 40 percent of American Christians believe that it will happen in the next fifty years. Most do so because they belong to churches that teach this. The text is also important for mainstream biblical scholars. It is one of the reasons for the conclusion that Paul (and many early followers of Jesus) expected the second coming of Jesus soon relative to their point in time. The expectation was obviously wrong.

Page: 38.  …the Lord himself descending from heaven, the raising of the dead, gathering them together with those still alive, meeting the Lord in the air, and being with the Lord forever. Rapture theology and other future second-coming-of-Jesus scenarios begin with the premise that all of this will someday happen, for the obvious reason that it hasn’t happened yet.

Page: 38.  The Thessalonians’ question (referred to in 4.13) was: What happens to those who have died before the second coming? Note how 4.13–18 addresses their concern. When the second coming happens, the dead in Christ and the living will all be reunited and be with the Lord forever. In short, “Don’t worry.” As 4.18 says, “Encourage one another with these words.” The purpose of the passage is primarily pastoral (not theological).

Page: 38.  …rapture theology—the notion that true Christians will be taken up into heaven seven years before the second coming and final judgment—is neither ancient nor traditional Christianity. It is thoroughly modern. It was conceived in the 1800s by John Nelson Darby (1800–1882), an Anglo-Irish clergyman active in Britain and North America. He not only originated the rapture, but is also the theological ancestor of the widely known “Scofield Bible,” with its divisions of history into dispensations. Before him, no Christian had spoken of the “rapture.”

Page: 39.  Rather, using imagery from his time, he (Paul) assured his community in Thessalonica of one thing—we shall all be together. Whether he meant any of the details in the text to be understood literally is impossible to know and seems unlikely.

Page: 39.  Nevertheless, the conclusion of most modern mainstream scholars is that Paul and many early Christians thought Jesus would return soon to complete what he had begun. The conviction is a tribute to Jesus. Through him his followers had experienced a new world being born: the old had passed away and a new creation was beginning. Surely its culmination was near.Within this framework, the conviction is the product of enthusiasm and confidence. It is not inerrant divine information to be integrated into a theological system, but expresses their understanding, conviction, and testimony.

Page: 41.  …you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7

Page: 42.  May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13

Page: 44.  Encourage one another and build up each other,

Page: 44.  Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved, [25] to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, [26] 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound [27] and

Page: 47.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek [Gentile], there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (3.26–28) Note that Paul is not speaking about the ideal disappearance of these distinctions in “the world,” but of their actual elimination within Christian community.

Page: 48.  “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5.1). And finally: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (5.13–14). The law of freedom is love.

Page: 51.  If justification [13] comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Page: 53.  …so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our [26] hearts, crying, “Abba! [27] Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. [28]

Page: 54.  You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Page: 54.  The only thing that counts is faith working [35] through love.

Page: 55.  For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; [37]…For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Page: 55.  Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill [41] the law of Christ. 3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4

Page: 56.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all,

Page: 58.  (1.12). Paul responds by contrasting the “wisdom of this world” with the “wisdom of God” (which he also calls “God’s foolishness”—foolish in the eyes of this world). He proclaims that the heart of the gospel is “Christ crucified” (1.23). Paul is referring not merely to the fact that Jesus died, but that he was crucified—executed by the powers and authorities that ruled his world, by the wisdom of “this world.” The gospel is “Christ crucified”—not loyalty to a particular teacher or humanly constructed system of thought. Page: 58

tongues of mortals and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal,” and ends with, “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (13.1–13). In the context of Paul’s addressing the conflict about spiritual gifts, this text affirms that the greatest spiritual gifts are faith, hope, and love, and love is the most important one. Paul is telling the community in Corinth that there is no hierarchy, no superiority, Page: 58

gifts. The most central gifts of the Spirit are faith, hope, and love. They are the signs of Christian maturity. Third, we learn that there were divisions within the community between “the rich” and “the rest.” The letter tells us that few were wealthy: “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1.26). But obviously some were. Page: 58

It was mostly made up of urban workers, many of them God-fearers from the merchant and artisan classes. Some were prosperous enough to have become Paul’s patrons and benefactors. Although not from the super-wealthy class, they may have been what we might call “well-to-do.” This conflict surfaces in chapter 11 and is the context for what Paul writes about the meaning of the common meal that he calls the “Lord’s supper.” Page: 58

the earliest Christian text about the sacramental meal at the center of Christian worship, also known as the “Eucharist,” “Mass,” and “Communion.” In first-century Christianity, the Lord’s supper was a real meal. It was not just a pinch of bread and a sip of wine, but a full meal shared in common by the community, during which bread and wine would be celebrated as the body and blood of Christ. What we call the Eucharist was part of the common meal. We do not know how often Paul’s communities shared this meal, but they probably did so at least weekly, Page: 59

In Corinth, the meal had ceased to be a common meal. According to chapter 11, the wealthy (who didn’t have to work) would gather early for the meal. By the time the people who worked (most of the community) got to the meal, the wealthy had already eaten, and some were tipsy. They may also have served the best wine and best food to themselves before the others arrived. Such was common among the wealthy in that world. For Paul, this violated the “one body” understanding of life “in Christ.” It meant bringing the hierarchical distinctions of “this world” into the body of Christ. Page: 59

these differences were not to be replicated in the community that Paul called “a new creation.” Paul describes the situation: For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! (11.21–22) Page: 59

(11.27). In this context, eating and drinking the bread and wine “in an unworthy manner” refers to the behavior of the wealthy in perpetuating the divisions of “this world.” In Christian communities, those divisions were abolished. Page: 60

In the urban Gentile world, most meat was from animals that had been sacrificed to various deities—idols from a Jewish and Christian point of view. So could Christ-followers eat it? Paul’s answer: yes. Page: 61

It is like the difference between a seed and a full-grown plant: What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. (15.42–44) Page: 63

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? Page: 63

God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: [7] not many of you were wise by human standards, [8] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one [9] might boast in the presence of God. 30 Page: 64

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, Page: 64

8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Page: 64

12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. [14] Page: 64

Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. Page: 64

as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? Page: 65

The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—13 the work of each builder will become visible, Page: 65

the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. Page: 65

If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with Page: 65

you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. 1 Corinthians 4 THE MINISTRY OF THE APOSTLES 1 Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Page: 66

do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God. Page: 66

we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, 12 and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. Page: 66

I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power. 21 What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?Loc: 686

The capitalist labor market wouldn’t work without legally free and independent contractors. This is true even if at the same time those ideals are corrupted exactly in and through the labor market. Which brings us to the fact Marx pointed out so vividly: labor in capitalism is free in a double sense.2 The workers are free to work but also “free to starve” if they do not enter the labor contract. Fraser: Exactly. Those conceived as “workers” are free, first, in the sense of legal status. They are not enslaved, enserfed, entailed, or otherwise bound to a given place or particular master. They are mobile and able to enter into a labor contract. Loc: 693

they are free, as we just said, from access to means of subsistence and means of production, including from customary use rights in land and tools. In other words, they are unencumbered by the sort of resources and entitlements that could permit them to abstain from the labor market. Their freedom in the first sense goes along with their vulnerability to compulsion inherent in the second sense. That said, I want to underline your point that the view of the worker as a free individual is not the whole story. As you said, capitalism has always coexisted with – I would say, relied on – a great deal of unfree and dependent labor. Loc: 703

These notions are ideological in the deep sense that Adorno invoked, when he said that ideologies are true and false at the same time.3 The point is that freedom and equality are actually realized in capitalism and in fact must be realized in order for the system to work. And yet at the same time they are not realized: the reality of capitalist work relations seems to undermine and contradict these norms – and not accidentally so. Fraser: I would say that capitalism realizes thin, liberal interpretations of freedom and equality, while systematically denying the social prerequisites for realizing deeper, more adequate interpretations Loc: 713

Capitalism is peculiar in having an objective systemic thrust or directionality: the accumulation of capital. Everything the owners do is and must be aimed at expanding their capital. Not to expand is to die, to fall prey to competitors. So this is not a form of society in which the owners are simply enjoying themselves and having a grand old time. Like the producers, they too stand under a peculiar compulsion. And everyone’s efforts to satisfy their needs are indirect, harnessed to something else that assumes priority – an overriding imperative inscribed in an impersonal system, capital’s own drive to unending self-expansion. Marx is brilliant on this point. In a capitalist society, he says, Capital itself becomes the Subject. Human beings are its pawns, reduced to figuring out how they can get what they need in the interstices by feeding the beast. Loc: 720

From Weber, we have the famous remarks according to which the capitalist “Erwerbsstreben” [“pursuit of wealth”] has become an end in itself, one that is precisely not directed toward the fulfillment of needs, wishes, not to mention happiness.4 And, despite its nostalgic and pre-modern tenor, Sombart’s book on modern capitalism is especially interesting on that matter because it’s filled with vignettes about how difficult it is to keep the capitalist dynamic going, to keep it alive. For example, in France quite a few successful capitalist entrepreneurs at a certain point sold their factories to buy huge villas and enjoy their lives – to get off the treadmill and out of the rat race. Loc: 733

some more fine-grained prerequisites, including the social attitudes that sustain the perpetuation of profit-seeking. Economic practices are always already embedded in forms of life, and taking this into account complicates the effort to define capitalism as a system that could be specified independently of them – especially if we want to avoid the stark division, which you yourself have criticized, between an innocent “lifeworld” and a free-wheeling “system” of economic dynamics.7 That division treats capitalism as a self-perpetuating “machine” that feeds on people but is in no way driven by them. Loc: 754

That at least is how I read Marx, as wanting to replace bourgeois political economy’s focus on market exchange with a deeper, more critical focus on production. It’s there at the deeper level that we discover a dirty secret: that accumulation proceeds via exploitation. Capital expands, in other words, not via the exchange of equivalents but precisely through its opposite: via the non-compensation of a portion of the workers’ labor time. This already tells us that market exchange per se is not the heart of the matter. Jaeggi: But don’t you think that a marketizing tendency is already built into the first three core features of capitalism that we just identified? Loc: 773

markets and capitalism? Could we have markets without capitalism? For example, societies with markets but without private ownership of the means of production, as market socialists have advocated? And what about the converse: is it still a capitalist society if its economy features such a huge degree of monopolization that a certain amount of goods are not exchanged via the market? In short, can we have capitalism without markets and markets without capitalism? Loc: 785

“consumer capitalism” of the twentieth century, which built an entire accumulation strategy around the sale of consumer goods to the working classes of the capitalist core. On the other hand, many people in the periphery were not (and are still not) fully included in this sort of consumerism, for reasons that are not accidental but in fact structural. And even for those who did become consumers, the process can be at least partially reversed, as we know from the present-day experience of neoliberal crisis, when, even in the capitalist heartland, many people find it necessary to engage in in-kind transactions of various types, including barter, non-formalized reciprocity, and mutual aid – just think of Athens or Detroit today.10 Loc: 794

Fraser: There’s nothing precapitalist about this, in my view. Immanuel Wallerstein has often stressed that capitalism has generally operated on the basis of “semi-proletarianized” households.11 Under these arrangements, which allow owners to pay workers less, many households derive a significant portion of their sustenance from sources other than cash wages, including self-provisioning (the garden plot, sewing, etc.), informal reciprocity (mutual aid, in-kind transactions), and state transfers (welfare benefits, social services, public goods). Such arrangements leave a significant portion of activities and goods outside the purview of the market. Loc: 881

Whatever else socialism might mean, it must entail collective democratic determination of the allocation of social surplus! Loc: 2,400

a counterintuitive convergence of forces prevailed: on the one hand, movements descended from the global New Left, which mobilized youth, women, people of color, peripheral subjects, and immigrants, all seeking emancipation – not only from racism, imperialism, and sexism, but also from consumerism, familialism, and bureaucratic paternalism; on the other hand, an ascending “neoliberal” party of free-marketeers, intent on unshackling market forces from government “red tape,” liberating entrepreneurial creativity, and globalizing the capitalist economy. Loc: 2,677

Rural struggles against colonial predation were also “environmentalisms of the poor,” struggles for “environmental justice” avant la lettre.36 Loc: 3,341

Yet she is nevertheless missing one essential ingredient of a critical theory: namely, an interest in and a way of approaching the standpoint of situated agents who are potential participants in social struggle aimed at transforming the system. In place of such an account, which is crucial for clarifying the prospects for social transformation, she offers policy prescriptions, from a position outside of and above the terrain of social struggle.

Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution

Beth Gardiner

Last accessed on Saturday July 6, 2019

25 Highlight(s) | 0 Note(s)Loc: 59

regulated. Just above the point where the spine meets the skull, tiny receptors detect rising levels of carbon dioxide, then stimulate nearby clumps of neurons. Between 12 and 20 times a minute, perhaps 20,000 times a day, millions of times a year, over and over and over again from the first cry of birth until the very last moment of life, those neurons fire signals ordering the muscles of the diaphragm and rib cage to contract. Loc: 2,751

The lead then added to gasoline to help engines run more smoothly was gumming up the inside of Houdry’s converter after just a few thousand miles, making it all but useless. Back in the 1920s, when car companies were struggling to resolve a knotty set of technical problems known as engine knocking, a team of General Motors researchers had hit on an additive that did the trick: tetraethyl lead. GM, partly owned at the time by the chemical company DuPont, joined with Standard Oil to create the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation, securing a lucrative patent on the leaded fuel that Ethyl would soon begin to sell. A Yale physiologist named Yandell Henderson had tested tetraethyl lead as a potential nerve agent during World War I, and when GM asked his thoughts on putting it into gasoline, he replied with alarm. “Widespread lead poisoning was almost certain to result,” he warned. Later, he deemed it the “single greatest question in the field of public health that has ever faced the American public.”3 The science was clear: Lead is a powerful neurotoxin. The threat was vividly demonstrated at a New Jersey refinery whose tetraethyl lead operation was known as “the loony gas building” because of its workers’ bizarre behavior—stumbling, memory loss, explosions of rage. After an accident, dozens collapsed, suffering seizures and hallucinations; more than 30 were hospitalized Loc: 2,761

5 died. The companies—writing a playbook polluters Loc: 2,761

for decades—attacked the science, and paid for some of their own, to argue lead’s dangers were exaggerated. A Standard Oil executive even called tetraethyl lead “a gift of God.” The surgeon general brushed aside concerns, too, approving Ethyl’s plans, and even taking the trouble to reassure foreign governments the additive was safe, so it could be marketed overseas.4 Ethyl, GM, and the others eschewed alternative engine knocking solutions in favor of the one that would soon earn GM $43 million in patent royalties, and Ethyl nearly twice as much in profits. Before long, more than 90 percent of gas sold in the United States contained lead. Thanks to its patent, GM, one industry expert said, “made money on almost every gallon.”5 By the 1970s, lead was being added to nearly all the gasoline in the world.6 As a result, it permeated the air,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,771

as Eugene Houdry tinkered with his catalytic converter, it became clear that lead was also an obstacle to the adoption of his potentially revolutionary technology. Its promise could be realized only if the toxic additive was removed from fuel. But industry didn’t want to give it up, and in the 1950s, with automobiles free to spew just about anything into the air, no one was ready to force them. It was the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 that would turn Houdry’s idea from a pipe dream into a practical necessity, the most promising answer to a problem that the law now ordered car companies to solve. The act had given them five years to reduce by 90 percent their vehicles’ emissions of both hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, and one more to do the same for a pollutant that was tougher to manage, nitrogen dioxide. Carmakers were furious. Some of the new requirements “could prevent continued production of automobiles,” warned Lee Iacocca, then Ford’s vice president. “They could lead to huge increases in the price of cars. They could have tremendous impact on all of American industry and could do irreparable damage to the American economy.”7 The goals were ambitious, to be sure. They had to be.… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,812

within GM, there was disquiet, but Ed Cole commanded the respect to push this change through. One by one, he invited executives from all the big oil companies to come see him, as well as the two main suppliers of lead. GM had sold its stake in Ethyl, but it still wielded influence. The meetings, one GM engineer tells me, were exciting, because “forgive me—the oil companies, and especially Ethyl and DuPont, were pissed. ‘Oh! What are you going to do? You’re going to put us out of business. This isn’t going to work.’ He made it work.”9 It was a strange position to be in, since GM had been so central to the decision to add lead to gasoline in the first place. But Ed Cole helped put the additive that was damaging children’s minds on a slow march to extinction. His arm-twisting succeeded in getting the oil companies to start selling unleaded fuel, and in 1972, the EPA, using power granted by the Clean Air Act, ordered it be made widely available. Later, it required lead levels in gas to be gradually lowered, then outlawed it entirely (Ethyl fought every step). As concentrations in fuel and the air fell, scientists measured an invisible change occurring inside Americans’ bodies: Average lead levels in children’s blood fell from 0.16 to 0.03 parts per million. That’s a big enough drop to spare a child the loss of two to four IQ points.10 Loc: 2,838

The catalytic converter worked well on two of the pollutants Congress had targeted, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. But eliminating the third, nitrogen dioxide, was harder, partly because it required the opposite chemical reaction. Adding oxygen gets rid of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, but it must be removed to reduce NOx. Loc: 2,851

The Ethyl Corporation had pushed lead overseas after American regulators banned it at home. So, late in his career, Mooney helped Asian and African nations remove it from gasoline so they could use catalytic converters too. Today, the scourge of leaded gas is gone nearly everywhere. Globally, its disappearance saves more than 1.2 million lives, and $2.4 trillion, every single year. Incredibly, researchers found it has also prevented nearly 60 million crimes—a result of the toxin’s link to aggressive behavior.15 It’s just one-half of an extraordinary dual achievement: the elimination of a brain-altering poison, and the use, all around the world now, of the device mechanics call a “cat,” delivering cleaner air to billions of people. Loc: 2,861

adult, rising to run one of GM’s big research departments. When I call him at his home in Ohio, he tells me Ed Cole was one of his heroes. In the 1980s, long after Cole’s lead decision, Colucci would be part of another big change, pushing the oil companies to make gasoline cleaner still, reducing sulfur and other pollutants. He knew such progress didn’t come on its own. At GM, “it was taken for granted that we have met the enemy and he is the EPA,” Colucci says. “It was instilled in us, it was just the ethic. Because they’re going to force us to spend more money.” When the laws and rules came through, the company mostly did what it had to, but the remarkable improvements in America’s air wouldn’t have happened had the industry been left to its own devices. “I can’t think of where this country would be now if we didn’t have the state of California and the EPA beating us over the head to get these things done,” he tells me. Indeed, California has long played a crucial role in America’s pollution struggles, dragging the nation along behind it. Loc: 3,866

She and her husband sold their car a few years ago, when they moved a bit closer to the city center and their son no longer needed to be driven to school. These days, she gets most places by bike. She belongs to several car-sharing services, so if she has packages to carry, or if her son, now a teenager, pleads desperately enough for a ride, she can pull out her phone and be behind the wheel, sometimes of an electric vehicle, almost immediately. Cars can be rented here for as little as a few minutes, then parked nearly anywhere to await the next smartphone-wielding customer. Uppenbrink’s also planning to sign up for electric moped sharing, so she can take a spin on one of the sleek Vespa-style machines that have begun to appear around town. They look like fun, she says. “Why not use one of these instead of a car?” And of course there’s always Berlin’s superb public transit system—the electric trams rattling through the streets, the U-Bahn beneath them, the longer-distance S-Bahn trains, and the buses. It takes her son about 15 minutes to get to school on the train. It’s a bit far, but “they’re fast, the trains.” Uppenbrink and her family are not unusual. Car ownership rates are low here compared with most other German cities. That is, in part, a legacy of Berlin’s divided past, when easterners couldn’t afford cars, and westerners—their home a tiny island surrounded by East Germany—didn’t tend to buy them because they had nowhere to Loc: 3,888

the sidewalks are crowded with people late into the night—they’re eating and drinking at outdoor restaurants and bars, strolling with their families, relaxing on benches beside a playground. Far outnumbered by bicycles, cars trundle past at about the same rate as in Mitte. The air is fresh and pleasant Loc: 3,892

Air quality is not the only benefit I can feel. Cars take up space, create noise, make it difficult, even dangerous, for pedestrians and cyclists to move around. And of course the traffic they create saps time, productivity, and pleasure in cities and suburbs around the world. Their relative scarcity here—and it is only relative—brings the presence of something different. Not tranquility, exactly, for Berlin is vibrant and brimming with energy. But the space for a different kind of life to emerge, life on a human scale, not drowned out by the rumble of engines or choked by their fumes. Loc: 3,899

In Berlin, public transport is quick and comfortable, even at rush hour. The rule of thumb seems to be more like 20 minutes. And that’s before I hop on a bike, and the city really opens up to me. Now I can return to my rental apartment between interviews, pedal past locals drinking beer on a canal’s grassy bank, and zip over to a market whose weekly street-food evening catches my eye. Cycling, of course, is gaining popularity in many developed-world cities. But it’s part of ordinary life here in a way that feels different from London, New York, and many of the other places embracing two-wheeled transportation. Bikes are everywhere in Berlin—propped against benches while hungry locals pick up dinner, parked outside office buildings, and toted by parents riding trains with helmet-wearing toddlers. I rent mine from a convenience store around the corner from where I’m staying. Loc: 3,933

I ask whether she misses owning a car, and her answer is clear. “I hated it. It’s stress.” Parking was always a hassle, the search for a spot sometimes taking longer than the drive. “It’s so much easier with car sharing.” Then, after we say goodbye, she gets up, hops on the powder-blue bike that’s been sitting a few feet away from us, and—high-heeled red leather clogs notwithstanding—zooms off. Loc: 3,963

The livability that comes from Berlin’s green spaces, its progress on pollution and noise, he believes, can lure the talent that helps a city thrive: “If you have a family, do you go to a dirty city?” Friedrich tells me there are concrete steps cities can take to clean up. He credits much of Berlin’s success to a plan devised at the start of the century. Its biggest strength, he says, lay in combining three sorts of goals—economic, social, and environmental—to create a long-term vision for the future. The question at its heart is one facing urban areas around the world: “To whom belongs the city?” is how he sums it up. “Cars have taken over our cities. And we are trying now to recover the space for humans.” Cities need trucks and vans, of course, to bring in goods and remove waste. Taxis add a useful link to transport networks. But it makes no sense, in his view, for individuals in private cars to get so much of a commodity—space—that’s in such high demand. In addition to the pollution and noise they create, those cars also chop up neighborhoods, endanger pedestrians, and create obstacles to walking. “All the things which we as humans need are destroyed.” Loc: 3,975

the most important lesson Berlin can offer, in his view, is the importance of big-picture thinking, of setting out a vision, making a plan, and then carrying it out. In 2000, Berlin was thinking hard about what kind of place it wanted to be decades hence. Without that vision, smaller changes just amount to tinkering around the edges. “If you have no goals, where do you walk to?” he asks. “You need directions.” Loc: 4,024

Feldkamp tells me he envies the protective curbs that have turned Manhattan into a place where even young children can ride their bikes. In Berlin, he regularly attends memorials for cyclists killed in accidents; their fellow riders block the road where it happened and sit on the ground in silent tribute. Just a few weeks ago, he says, he went to one for a man named Michael, killed in his mid-forties when a driver opened a car door in his path. “It really is about life and death. If there would have been good infrastructure, Michael would still be alive.” Plenty of others, Peter Feldkamp tells me, share his frustration at their city’s failure to do more to encourage a form of transportation with the potential to bring big reductions in both traffic and pollution. A few years ago, he and a group of fellow activists began pressing for a referendum on a raft of measures to make Berlin safer for cycling. As the first step toward getting it on the ballot, they had to gather 20,000 signatures in six months. “It took us three and a half weeks. We collected 107,000.” Standing on corners asking passersby for support, he laughs, was like giving away free beer. Loc: 4,036

For all the cyclists I’ve seen on Berlin’s roads, Feldkamp thinks there are many more who want to join them but don’t feel comfortable doing so. Even he is unnerved when an impatient bus driver starts creeping up behind him. “Imagine my 60-year-old mother cycling there. She would be very scared, for a reason. And that’s the group we have in mind,” he says. “My mother, maybe your kids, people who are not so experienced.” The campaign’s demand was for wide, safe lanes not just on major thoroughfares within the city, but also on the roads that lead from the outskirts to the center. That, Feldkamp says, is how you make it possible for people who now drive to cycle instead. To hammer home their point, “to show we need to protect,” the campaigners used a photo of a girl riding in a painted bike lane, stuffed animals lined up along its edge. In another image, kids on bikes, trailing yellow balloons, pedaled along a street empty of cars. Viewers, he said, were thrown off balance by a scene that should feel normal but doesn’t. “Parents do not send their kids out to play in the street. Everyone understands why,” he says. “We lock our kids in our homes so the cars can play outside.” The campaigners also wanted more parking for bikes, the redesign of dozens of dangerous intersections, and police officers patrolling on two wheels, so they’re attuned to riders’ needs. Loc: 4,056

the government-backed agency for which he is a spokesman works differently than I’d imagined. Rather than simply promoting electric vehicle use in Berlin, it tries to spur the growth of local companies whose ideas may help to revolutionize transportation all around the world. And although it’s called the Agency for Electromobility, its vision is broader than just electrification. Berlin’s leaders believe technology is ready to revolutionize transportation, and they want their city to be a hub for the industry that makes it happen. In the years to come, Welke believes, mobility will increasingly be sold as a service, not a product. Loc: 4,071

it’s just one piece of a mix-and-match approach to getting around, a style he believes will grow increasingly common. “I just take the form of mobility that I need.” Often, that’s his e-bike, but this morning he came into work on a shared electric scooter, one of the Vespa-like models Katharina Uppenbrink is getting ready to try. They’re free-floating rentals, meaning they have no set parking spots; riders can pick them up and drop them off anywhere, paying with their phones. This afternoon, Welke will take a bus to pick his son up from a guitar lesson, then go by scooter to meet the rest of his family at the theater. After the show, they may take what he calls a “clever shuttle,” a new electric taxi service that pools passengers’ journeys with those of others going the same way. Welke rattles off some of the projects under way in companies his agency has supported. One firm shifted from making electric motors for car windows to motors for electric bikes, and now exports them as far as China. Another developed an app—he shows me on his phone—that combines data from various companies to show all the cars and scooters available right now to rent nearby, saving a user the trouble of checking each one individually. Another app displays car-charging spots around the city, with a green pointer indicating availability. Instead of running buses on predetermined routes with set schedules, he goes on, technology can enable customized shuttle services that run when and where riders need them. Traditional bus routes work well in big cities because there are generally plenty of passengers. But for less densely populated places, a smarter service might bring new options. Loc: 4,124

Leading utterly different lives on opposite sides of the globe, people fighting the same fight have invited me in to watch it unfold. Doing what they can to ensure their families and their neighbors and perfect strangers can fulfill that most basic human need—the need to breathe, and to breathe air that isn’t poisoned. Of course, individuals can’t solve this problem alone. Only our governments have the power to stop polluters who’ve shown, again and again through the years, that they’ll put profit over human lives unless we force them to change. In a sunny office in upstate New York, Tom Jorling handed me a copy of a law that did just that, the one he helped draft with his old friend Leon Billings in the months just before I was born. A law that, for all its technical language, is, at bottom, a statement of values, a declaration of what we are prepared to accept and what we will not. The Clean Air Act of 1970 Loc: 4,136

And the ever-present truth that what’s been won can also be lost, that the gains of the past offer no guarantees for the future. While clean air feels like a birthright, it can disappear in a puff of smoke if the rules created to protect it, and the enforcement that gives those rules teeth, are unraveled. Loc: 4,145

The benefits of cleaner air almost always dwarf its costs. When we’re contemplating change, the price tag tends to loom larger, and those who will have to pay often exaggerate it, hoping we’ll shy away from action. But when polluters are forced to clean up, they buckle down and find the cheapest way to do it. That determination often brings innovations that make change quicker and easier than predicted. And while the cost is less than we’d feared, the benefits are often much larger, multiplying in a cascade of well-being and rising productivity. Spread among millions of people, they can be hard to see, but that doesn’t make them any less real. After all my travels, I can see now what I couldn’t when I started. In the suffering pollution brings, there is also the glimmer of a different future, its outlines visible through the haze. Because as we come to grasp dirty air’s dangers, there is something else we should understand: This is not an insoluble puzzle, a problem to which we must resign ourselves. We know how to fix it. If we do, we’ll reap the rewards, in lives saved and health improved, almost immediately. That’s what scientists like Ed Avol and Jim Gauderman have shown us, Loc: 4,154

measured, year after year, in school gyms and lunchrooms. With every new study, they and others like them remind us why we must move forward, not back. Yes, there are small-scale fixes, simple and necessary. Like the filters ready to snap onto smokestacks of ships moored in a Californian harbor, or the dockside electricity that lets them still idling engines. Like New York City’s push to rid itself of the dirtiest heating oil when it saw that outdated furnaces in just 1 percent of buildings were creating more soot than all its traffic. And bigger solutions, too, like the rejection Britain, and all of Europe, must finally deal to diesel. Such changes will bring meaningful improvement: fewer heart attacks, less cancer and asthma and dementia. But the real answer, the one with the power to bring truly healthy air—along with another, even greater prize—lies in a more fundamental change. A shift, at long last, away from fuels that, while they poison our bodies, are also wrecking our planet. Loc: 4,171

The change we need now is more dramatic, more radical, than the steps we’ve taken in the past. The price of not making the leap is greater than before, but the rewards will be too. Ending millions of lives every year and blighting many more, air pollution is cause enough for action. But the imperative of confronting climate change means something even bigger is at stake: our very survival, on a planet capable of supporting us, one where floods don’t drown our biggest cities and drought doesn’t parch the fields that feed us. While it can be difficult to imagine a world different from the one we know, it is within our reach. The unconscious mind controls breathing and so many of the body’s other vital functions, but the decisions that determine the parameters of all our lives ought to be made consciously. We have a choice: We don’t have to give our cities over to the cars crowding their roads, don’t have to let the ships that underpin our global economy poison the bodies of those who live along coasts, don’t have to accept that simply stepping outside can sap our strength. I believe we have it in us to rise to the challenge, to create something better than what we were given. In the end, it’s up to us. We hold the power to build a cleaner, healthier future.