Theology of Money – Response from Philip Goodchild

Philip Goodchild, Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, has been kind enough to write a short response to the book event which you will find below. In the coming days I’ll put together an index of all the posts for future use and perhaps more discussion is to follow. – APS

I want to express my gratitude to all those who have committed so much time to reading, thinking through, and writing about Theology of Money on this blog. I was especially impressed by the work of those who did the chapter summaries. The standard of explication and understanding has uniformly been truly outstanding. One rarely deserves such attentive readers.

Such efforts demand something by way of response, but I felt it important not to comment on the discussion while it was underway, lest my presence should entirely skew the discussion. Even so, I suspect that some of you have felt my presence looking over your shoulder.

The questions and objections raised have been thoughtful, and I now have much to reflect on, but sadly I do not have time to address them all. As for the mischievous pseudonyms, I shall confine myself to one remark: “That’s the disingenuous thing about Goodchild – his pluralism. He wants others’ evaluations to count.” That comment, in and of itself, is truly disingenuous. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The book is, of course, about money, and the way in which it structures thought, desire, action, environment and trust. It is not about the authorial subject Philip Goodchild, who is himself perhaps something of a pseudonym. After all, those of you who know me will know that I do not normally declaim in a stentorian voice (except when I’m reading from Deuteronomy). The writing of an author is simply a sedimentation of those thoughts that achieve a certain metastable equilibrium, and so become for a while necessary and resilient to questioning. The person who writes, by contrast, has to be continually questioning, looking over one’s shoulder, listening out for what has not yet properly been thought. It is a task that never ends.

Perhaps the most significant matter that my work can pass on to others is not a fresh worldview, but the capacity to pose problems, to hear the voice of alternative perspectives. Perhaps those closest to me are those who will question the most, both myself and themselves. I am grateful for all those who have been attentive to other possibilities of thinking in this discussion. And I do believe that the Conclusion is lacking a parable . . .

Have you not heard of that madman who took a bar of gold into an electronic exchange, ran onto the trading floor, and cried incessantly, “I seek Mammon! I seek Mammon!” – As many of those who did not believe in Mammon were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. “Has he been sold?” asked one. “Has he gone bankrupt?” asked another. Is he in the bar? Is he in the gentleman’s club? Has he gone to China? An offshore tax haven? – Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into his midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is Mammon?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the great sea of wealth? Who gave us the sponge to wipe clean all the ledgers? What were we doing when we unchained these liabilities from their assets? Whither are we seeking now? Away from all assets? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any profit and loss? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of poverty? Have we not become poorer? Is not depression continually closing in on us? Do we not need to trade with gold? Do we hear nothing as yet of the gravediggers who are burying Mammon? Do we smell nothing as yet of the decomposition of money? Money, too, decomposes. Mammon is dead. Mammon remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was wealthiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has perished under our knives: who will pay this debt for us? What wealth is there for us to balance our books? What new accounting, what new desires shall we have to invent? Is not the cost of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become banks simply to appear to have the credit to guarantee it? There has never been a richer deed; and whoever is born after us – for the sake of this deed he will belong to a richer economy than any economy hitherto.

Here the madman feel silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw the bar of gold at the screen, and it broke into pieces and he went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Evaluation of assets requires time; the payment of debts requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most extended futures contract – and yet they have done it themselves.”

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several banks and there made a plea for bankruptcy. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these banks now if they are not the receivers and bankruptcy administrators of Mammon?”

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