Nearly one hundred years ago, Walter Benjamin wrote a note entitled “Capitalism as a religion”: capitalism functions religiously because it is presented as “experience of the whole”. But it is a religion only of worship: without dogmas or morals. This cult is carried out through consumption, connecting with the Marxian thesis of the commodity turned into a fetish while the worker becomes a commodity. It is also a religion of continuous worship in which every day is “precept.” And of a blaming cult (Schuld in German means both debt and guilt: that is why, according to Benjamin, living with a debt is equivalent to living with guilt.) Interestingly, something similar happened in the Aramaic of Jesus: the word schabq means the once the forgiveness of sins and the remission of debts).
Two. Every religion has a god. By 1936, Keynes, in his general theory of employment, interest and money, spoke of money as a god: all the functions that God used to perform today are performed by money. Keynes stresses that he does not speak simply of wealth but of hard money (liquidity), which allows immediate availability and speculation. That money: a) gives security and guarantees the future: those words of the psalmist are worth it: “I love you, Lord, you are my rock, my strength”. b) It gives security because it is all-powerful and omnipresent: there is nothing that can not be achieved without it. Finally, c) money is fertile: in financial capitalism, money is no longer used as a means to create wealth, but it produces more money: “Speculating is more lucrative than investing” (this is why banks no longer give credits) . To all this we could add d) that today money is also invisible, like God, despite its power and its omnipresence. In short: if money is the last point of reference, one can speak of it as “the necessary being” (a classic metaphysical term to designate God).
Three. All this highlights the non-neutrality of money that is no longer a mere instrument of exchange, as neoliberal theorists claim. It also poses a very serious question about the legitimacy of interest loans, whose history has three stages: a) Both in the Bible and in the Greco-Roman world it was considered immoral: for Aristotle, usury was the lowest of vices, comparing it to procuring that takes advantage of the other’s need for self-enrichment. If I borrow a kilo of potatoes it is not lawful that they force me to return a kilo and a half. Why should it be lawful if I ask for money instead of potatoes?
b) At the dawn of capitalism, money becomes an opportunity to create wealth: if I lend you a money, I avoid buying with it a field that I could grow, or set up a small industry. The loan deprives me of a benefit and it seems legitimate that, upon returning it, I should be given some compensation for that lost profit.
c) With the speculative financial economy, things change again: money is no longer an opportunity for me to create wealth, but it is fertile, with fewer risks and with higher profit percentages. That will be a big lie, but it works until the crisis breaks out. Well, just as, at the beginning of the first capitalism, it was not seen that the loan at interest changed in meaning and they continued to prohibit, so now it is not seen that, in financial capitalism, interest changes its meaning again, and keep allowing. According to Benjamin’s thesis of capitalism as the religion of guilt, now the interest comes to be with respect to the loan what is the penance for guilt.
Let’s leave that problem for the future and go back to Keynes. From the foregoing, he deduces that our system has two major defects: it is incapable of creating employment and unfairly distributes wealth and income. Two defects or two total disavowals?
Four. All of the above was perceived by no one as clearly as Luther, when capitalism was already dawning. To believe in God is to trust him, but we have substituted trust for the cult: we entrust our future to money, and to God we make processions and temples that “do not reach heaven”. Therefore, in his Great Catechism, Luther deals with money by commenting not on the seventh commandment but on the first: because money is “the most common idol on earth.” According to Luther, the Christian community should be an area where the laws of the monetary economy do not apply. Christians should manifest the true God with their conduct in economic matters. That is why he adds: “I have always said that we Christians are rare people on earth.” But this rarity allows us to understand that Jesus’ phrase “you can not serve God and money” has a clear, clear translation: you can not serve man and money.