A Historical Perspective of Money
By Andrew Martin
'Money is the root cause of all evil' is often associated as a typical statement against most fleshly desires in Christian terms. But with careful examination, we may do well to observe that the statement is rather counter intuitive to the Christian thinking. Of course the statement is derived from 1 Timothy 6:10 which says, 'The love of money is the root of all evil', but notice the difference between the 'love of money' being the culprit rather than ‘money’ itself. I hope that through the end of this blog I would be able to bring out that contrast in a deeper intuitive level.
Since Money through its institutions of trade and commerce not only stands the test of time but also shapes our Global culture including our day to day perceptions and lifestyle, it raises existential questions to the Christian who is brought up to think that money is a social evil. How are Banks able to engender trust (a virtue) with their customers? How are people able to find meaning in their work culture where money is the ultimate goal? Global trade market has enabled people to come closer while setting aside their national & cultural differences all because of money. How? As we may all be aware, all thriving human ideas or systems, would have at least some basis of truth. Truth stands the test of time, any deviation from it, would not stand the test of time. Any deviation from the truth behind money i.e. the abuse of the ethic of money as we would soon understand, needs to be rightly identified to even proceed to the next step of condemning the area where money fails. For this, the Christian should not be caught off-guard in not knowing the truth by which the system of money is undergirded.
To capture the reality of the role money plays, we need to travel back in time and understand its arrival to human history. Before gold, silver and coins had inherent value, we know the existence of the Barter system. In a Barter system, two people could exchange things according to their requirements. To understand the Barter system in a deeper sense, imagine you owned an apple orchard in the hill country that produces the crispiest, sweetest apples in the entire area. You work so hard in your orchard that your shoes wears out. So you head to the market town down the river. Your neighbor told you that a shoemaker on the south end of the marketplace made him a really sturdy pair of boots that's lasted him through five seasons. You find the shoemaker's shop and offer to barter some of your apples in exchange for the shoes you needed. If the shoemaker is also in need of apples, both parties have their needs met through mutual agreement. So from the Judeo-Christian perspective, a barter system formed a collaborative platform where two people could care for each other's needs based on their respective resources and skills. Not everyone could grow orchards and not everyone has the right skill to make shoes. So it was necessary for people to share their resources through collaborative means.
But the barter system had its limitations. Now suppose the shoemaker hesitates to exchange shoes for apples. How many apples should he ask for in payment? Every day he encounters dozens of customers, a few of whom bring along sacks of apples, while others carry wheat, goats or cloth – all of varying quality. It gets worse. Even if you manage to calculate how many apples equal one pair of shoes, barter is not always possible. After all, a trade requires that each side want what the other has to offer. What happens if the shoemaker doesn’t like apples and, if at the moment in question, what he really wants is education for his child? Some societies tried to solve the problem by establishing a central barter system that collected products from specialist growers and manufacturers and distributed them to those who needed them. The largest and most famous such experiment was conducted in the Soviet Union, and it failed miserably. ‘Everyone would work according to their abilities, and receive according to their needs’ turned out in practice into ‘everyone would work as little as they can get away with, and receive as much as they could grab’. Most societies found a more easy way to connect large numbers of experts – they developed money.
Money is not coins and banknotes. Money is anything that people are willing to use in order to represent systematically the value of other things for the purpose of exchanging goods and services. Money in this sense formed a system of mutual trust, and not just any system of mutual trust: money is the most universal and efficient system of mutual trust today. That is the power of money. There is no inherent value in a 100 rupees note, after all we may take the note in our hands and wonder that it's just paper. But since humans were able to transcend mere materialism towards higher truths of trust and care, they were able to give value to something that had no value otherwise. This in essence was what God did when he gave value to our physical bodies that were formed out of dust. The physical bodies in themselves had no worth, but because the bodies when integrated with the mind, heart and soul reflecting the image of God, our bodies transcended materialism to have inherent worth. Thus, money rather than being a root cause of evil, reflects our quality to transcend materialism to seek much higher truths embodied in our Creator.
From this perspective, it would be easier for us to identify the abuse of money. The moment we let go of the transcending attribute to care for other people, to build mutual trust through money, the moment we reduce money to again a mere materialistic entity, we do away with the truth on which money was built upon. And so when we cease to love others, but only choose to care for ourselves through selfish ambition and accumulation of wealth, humans are surprisingly appalled to find that money in itself produces an empty feeling. The emptiness that made some conclude that money is a social evil. Yes it’s true, money all by itself has no intrinsic worth, but that’s only a half truth. Money in the light of complex societies has stitched many groups of people into one unit.
And so when Jesus was challenged against the cultural authority of money by the Pharisees who asked whether taxes needed to be payed to Caesar or not, his thought process would have been very much different from the narrow minded perspective that we commonly have. His answer could be paraphrased as ' Render to Caesar what belongs to him so that you could honor the transcendental quality of respecting Caesar's authority and the unification of his kingdom through one currency, just as you should render to God what belongs to him, the very transcendental mind, body & spirit out of which higher truths of love and trust would flow '. The rendering of the former is followed by the rendering of the latter. And here the Christian's responsibility comes, when we submit our lives to God and walk in his ways, the money that we earn and the money that we spend will be used for his glory, the higher transcendental truths of love and trust which flows from him.
In a short summary: Love God, Love People, Use Money. In that order.
Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (p. 175-178). Random House. Kindle Edition.