This week I am back at Douai Abbey finishing off my PhD. Today I am reading Philip Goodchild’s Theology of Money. In it he argues that money is more powerful than God. This is because money, through credit, naturally multiplies, endlessly and exponentially, in order to keep repaying the debts it incurs en route, like restless air seeking a vacuum. The implication is that God, or religion, is not programmed for growth in the same way. I like Goodchild’s use of money as a metaphor and his recognition that money is essentially an article of faith. However, he does not develop his argument far enough.
For a start, money is probably the wrong target. Increasingly superseded by information about comparative values and net positions, the system has become so proxified that it is only sustained through faith and through the information flows that are its lifeblood. The complexity of modern securitization had made such communication itself an article of faith, until the banks lost faith in each other’s ability to communicate their exposure accurately, triggering the chain reaction that made the market shudder to a halt. Goodchild argues that money ‘wins’ against God because it delivers jam today, albeit by mortgaging the future, whereas religion only promises jam tomorrow, and we are all now too impatient to wait. Credit ‘takes the waiting out of wanting.’ But as Selby and Tanner have argued, in the Christian tradition there is a parallel ‘economy of grace’ where, instead of ‘promises to pay,’ Christ has already paid all debts in advance. Lest this seem whimsical, let us return to the matter of the credit ratchet in the ‘real’ economy. For Goodchild, it is unending credit that nourishes the financial markets, and this credit is based on faith.
As I argued in a previous post, it is religion that schools us in faith, and it is the institutions of faith that maintain it as a practice. In the UK, the Bank of England acts as lender of last resort, copper-bottomed by the state’s ability to tax its citizens. So taxes at one level become the citizenry’s shoring up of the financial system, to keep it in balance – a gesture of solidarity that not only finances the welfare state and public goods, but guarantees the economy. The payment of tax is required by law. But what requires obedience to law? World Values Survey data shows that atheists are less likely to obey laws than are believers in religion. For an atheist, it is a calculation of immediate risk. For a believer it is a calculation of eternal risk, and the commentators reckon that the habits of belief generated in the community of faith naturally spill over into faithful behaviour in other walks of life. In this way, it is religion that supplies the necessary teleology and acts as a warrant and backing for exactly the sort of faithful behaviour a modern market economy requires for its functioning, and is thus the necessary precondition for any credit, rapacious or not.