De-coding Mammon: money in need of redemption

By Bernadette Meaden
2 Nov 2011

A review of a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Theology, submitted to the University of Exeter by Canon Peter John Dominy

On hearing people say ‘money is the root of all evil’ I have in the past been guilty of mentally correcting them, thinking ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’. Having read Peter Dominy’s thesis however, I have been forced to reconsider.

Christian theology has traditionally regarded money as something that is intrinsically neutral, that can be used for good or ill: it’s what we do with it that matters. But Peter Dominy, a Canon in the Church of England, persuasively argues here that money in itself is a malign power, inevitably corrupting and distorting human relationships, and the way we relate to the rest of Creation.

Showing great depth of scholarship, the author begins by giving a detailed history of money, and how our economic systems evolved, paying particular attention to the issues of debt and interest. He then explains how Christianity’s attitude to money developed in parallel.

Jesus, the author maintains, had a deep suspicion of money. ‘In general terms, it can be said that the whole New Testament affirms the core statement of Jesus that you cannot serve both God and money.’ Jesus certainly had a great deal to say on economic injustice and very little to say on sexuality, though the Church often seems to have become obsessed with the latter and very much neglected the former.

Whilst the early Church shared Jesus’ suspicion of money, the author believes that since the Enlightenment, when money came to be viewed as a neutral commodity, the Church has not had a satisfactory way of engaging with it. Whilst the Church has condemned poverty and injustice, and worked hard to alleviate the human suffering this causes, it has not addressed the root cause of these problems, money itself.

Many non-religious readers will no doubt have a problem with the Biblical and supernatural aspects of Canon Dominy’s thinking. His conclusion that money, ‘should ultimately be recognized as a cosmic power which works against the good purposes of God and the well-being of society’, that in fact money/Mammon is the great power opposing God, will not resonate with them. I believe very few, however, will disagree with his analysis of the malign influence money increasingly exercises in the world, or of the urgent need to somehow rein it in. Given our recent history, when exotic financial instruments meant that money finally lost all connection with anything real or concrete, but was still able to wreak havoc in the lives of millions, nobody can doubt that this is a power that needs to be controlled.

If we agree that money itself is the problem, what then is the solution? The author accepts that we cannot put the genie back in the bottle, we cannot uninvent money. But he asserts that there is an urgent need for us to ‘turn away from the doctrine of free markets which has ruled for too long, and to accept the necessity of much stronger and more extensive regulation of money in all aspects of the economy.’

I believe the author has performed an immensely valuable service to his fellow Christians, by providing them with the tools to engage with and challenge the all-pervasive power of money in our society. Christians should be warned however: if they read this thesis and are persuaded by its arguments, their comfortable seat on the economic fence will be lost for ever.

Canon Dominy may not have intended to do so, but he seems to me to have thrown down a large and undeniable gauntlet to the Churches. If they accept the author’s arguments, they will inevitably find themselves in staunch opposition to the most powerful institutions in our society. Instead of shying away from economic debate for fear of being seen as inappropriately political, they will be obliged, and one hopes eager, to challenge the power of money, and reject the prevailing economic orthodoxy. They will, in fact, become more like Jesus.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement.

The thesis is currently available on the University of Exeter’s website. This review first appeared in the journal the 'Social Crediter'

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