Friday, July 21, 2017

Usury and theology

At Aeon, Alex Mayyasi writes about the work of banker turned theologian David Miller:

Of money and morals
Moneylending has been taboo for most of human history. So how did usury stop being a sin and become respectable finance?

"Vedic law in Ancient India condemned usury, and rulers routinely capped interest rates from Ancient Mesopotamia to Ancient Greece. In Politics, Aristotle described usury as ‘the birth of money from money’, and claimed it was unnatural because money was sterile and should not ‘breed’.
"In the 4th century CE, Christian councils denounced the practice, and by 800, the emperor Charlemagne made the prohibition into law. Accounts of merchants and bankers in the Middle Ages frequently include expressions of anguish over their profits. In his Divine Comedy of the 14th century, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri put the usurers in the seventh circle of Hell..."

"The stigma against moneylending continued well into the 1500s. To understand it, think about your reaction to the idea of a bank making a loan to a business at a 5 per cent interest rate. No problem, right? Now compare that to how you’d feel if your mother lent you money on the same terms. In Biblical times, the typical loan was more like the second case – it wasn’t an arms-length transaction, but a charitable loan from a wealthy man to a neighbour who’d experienced misfortune or had nowhere else to turn. "

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