Money, Mammon and Market Society
At the height of the financial crisis two years ago, Gordon Brown declared that “markets need morals”. Of course, our former Prime Minister will understand his own words as paradoxical. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” is amoral; how could it be anything else? It was not, for instance, the market that generated financial meltdown, it was people - profiteering players in the banking sector; lax overlords at the FSA and Bank of England; and reckless borrowers like you and me. We together shaped a money mélange which has still to settle into some sort of economic order. It is people that need morals. Markets have no morality of their own. Or do they?
2000 years ago, Jesus personifies money in a strangely similar way, describing it as Mammon. Money can become a focus for belief, a substitute for God, and a distraction to the Kingdom in which Christ invites his disciples to invest themselves. Indeed, money is so dangerously a credible alternative to God, that Jesus elevates wealth to the status of a deity in whom people may mistakenly place their trust – “you cannot serve both God and Mammon” he warns his disciples in Luke 16:13.
In spite of Jesus’ warning, it is easy to forget how easily money slips into the place more rightfully occupied by God. Far from being a simple unit of exchange in the present, money also promises hope for the future, just like God does, if people are prepared to dedicate themselves to its pursuit. Far from being a disinterested bystander to political life, money offers freedom, just like God does, giving people power over the purchase of goods or control over the labour of others. Far from seeing values as a peripheral issue, money becomes the centre of value, like God is, allowing people to judge what has worth and what does not.
Money habitually breaks its promises, however. In the absence of money, or the presence of debt, freedom to spend gives way to slavery as we become obliged to secure cash into the future for our salvation. For every person judged a success by virtue of the wealth they have accumulated, a multitude are judged to have failed by virtue of their poverty. In a “market society”, money sets the rules by which we play out life. Mammon governs hearts and minds as people pursue money as wealth for all its worth.
Imagine a different world, Jesus invites his disciples, where the poor are included rather than cast to one side, where the hungry are filled, and where those who weep discover happiness and joy. The Kingdom of God is like this.
Philip Bee, 25/11/2011
|Click here for the full list