OK, I have read the article and on both biblical and economic grounds I find it deeply disturbing.
First, let's address just a smattering of biblical problems. The argument that Jesus would have us believe
literal Old Testament legalisms should hold sway over the accomplishment of any obvious good, on the basis
that he said that neither "dot nor tittle" of the law would be swept away is, in the context of his ministry, bald
folly. When Jesus heals the sick on the sabbath he violates the dot and tittle. When Jesus picks up grain in
the field on the sabbath where is he? In his home where sabbath law legalisms would have him be? Is he
connected to his home by a line of personal effects, as was allowed by some interpretations of the law? Most
probably not. As to dot and tittle Jesus is frequently in violation of the law!
Why do I make such a point of this? Ian Hodges makes a point of taking John Calvin to the woodshed for
practicing a form of situational ethics.
Jesus, in the course of his ministry, continually lives the conviction that the sabbath (and, hence, the law) was
made for man and not man for the sabbath. Jesus continually interprets the law as an act of mercy and
grace directed at mankind on the part of God. He doubly emphasises this by his affirmative restatement of
Hillel's originally negative dictum "Do not unto others that which is hateful to yourself." Jesus makes no
bones about requiring us to "DO unto others as you would have them DO unto you." That does not include
having people starve because they "should" not harvest. It does not include having people suffer because
HE "should" not heal. It does not include having people lose the ox that provides their livelihood because it
slips into a ditch on a certain day of the week.
Where the law in dry writ contains no mercy Jesus becomes a situational ethicist and demands that the spirit
of mercy in which God gave us the law be reflected in man's relationships with man. Here another of the
parables is deeply instructive. A master forgives his slave a huge debt (an image of God's forgiveness of our
sins) only to find that this slave has then thrown a fellow servant into jail over a paltry sum (an image of our
unforgiveness of worldly or material debts). The master then condemns the ungrateful slave. Jesus clearly
considers our worldly debts ("...render to Ceasar...") trivial while he considers our debt to God ("...render to
God...") truly consequential. When Jesus talks about worldly things he draws a contrast between those
things and the really important stuff- our relationship with the Father.
In that light how should we see the parable of the ten talents? We should see it for what it is, a picture of
God's relationship with his servants. If we want to do something for which Jesus did not intend it we can fish
around for lessons on the charging of interest, but, and this is a big "but", one cannot divorce the final
servant from the context of the rest of the parable without being dishonest about the meaning of the whole.
What was the master's return on his "loan", if you will, to the first two servants? 100%! Is there any
indication whatsoever that they got to keep any of this? None. If one wishes to distort this parable into a
picture of Jesus's view of the charging of interest or the nature of commerce it appears he places steep
demands indeed on the working classes!
All that said, what of the matter of charging interest? What of Hodges's "biblical economy"? What would
Jesus do? You can bet he would at least do as well as Hillel and not do that which is hateful to us. Look
back to the last time we were on a silver and/or gold standard currency and "enjoyed" an extended period in
which the value of money continually grew and our eyes will be delivered to an eleven year period we now
know as the Great Depression.
There is a reason for this and it goes to the heart of why 2500 year old concepts of money should not be the
basis of even a Christian economy. Deflation, the expansion of the value of money in relation to the value of
goods and services, encourages people to invest in MONEY. Money, no matter what it is made of, whether
paper, silver, gold, or the feathers from angel's wings, is imaginary. One can't eat it, or wear it, or take
shelter in it during the storm. When, as was possible during the Great Depression, one can earn a return on
stuffing money in one's mattress there in an implicit invitation to inaction, the macroeconomic equivalent of
sloth. People with money can earn a return simply on having money, while people without money have no
economic leverage for getting their hands on it. The rich literally get richer and the poor starve!
Is the charging of interest a bad thing? Absolutely not! It represents a positive good for the whole of
mankind because it provides an incentive within an economy for two very important things to happen. First it
provides an incentive for the rich to distribute their wealth to those who have only the potential to produce
income. Modern loaning at interest makes a bilateral voluntary agreement between parties specifying that
the lender will receive a given return on his loan, but that loan is not made without risk of loss. In a
deflationary economy why would the rich risk the loss of their capital when they could see it grow simply by
sitting on it? History teaches us they didn't. Secondly interest places a pressure on the borrower to prosper.
This bracing little admonition means the borrower must borrow purposefully, in the assurance that he can be
profitable enough to make his living and also provide the lender some income for the consideration inherent
in allowing him to use the lender's capital.
The potential for an increase of capital as the result of its distribution into the working economy for the
promise of interest puts resources to work creating, by the hands of those who receive loans, goods and
services. This benefits everybody.
This leads me to another point. I have seen numerous attacks recently on the Federal Reserve and
especially on the policy of maintaining a mildly inflationary economy. Here, again, many are bowing to the
golden idol of a rock-solid dollar, as though a dollar was something real. When I said earlier that money is
imaginary I was not just saying something intended to shock. If we all, as a culture, decided tomorrow to
agree that sand-dollars were currency, however strange an idea that may seem to us today, then
sand-dollars as a representation (an image) of the value of real things would settle into a market-based
equilibrium with those things. An essentially useless thing (a remarkably necessary feature of money) would
become a repository for our conception of the value of things in our intercourse with other members of the
economy, freeing us from our need to be sure their promise was good before we could engage them in
The great danger in this brilliantly devised economic lubricant is that people will begin to contrive that the
money itself is a real thing rather than a form of marking by which we keep count of real things. This is the
rough equivalent of mistaking these marks I am making now for ideas rather than a code that, when you
interact with this page or computer screen and draw from your education and experience, permits you to
receive ideas from me without having to be plugged directly into my mind. The marks are not ideas. The
dollars are not hamburgers.
For hamburgers, houses, and hammocks to become reality someone has to produce them. Human nature
being what it is that means humans have to believe they will receive a return for producing these things, so
the presence of money flowing in the economy provides an incentive to create the real stuff people need to
conduct their lives. Where a deflationary economy historically created a direct disincentive to placing capital
at risk a mildly inflationary economy creates a situation in which the rich recognise that their capital is
diminished if it is not put to work. The REAL economy is the STUFF. It is the goods and services, not the
money. If there is more of the real stuff the people are less likely to be hungry, or naked, or unsheltered-
even if the value of their imaginary economic metric suffers in the bargain. Inflation makes capital find a job.
Would Jesus have approved of modern lending at interest? Even if it were against the express letter of
biblical law I have no doubt whatsoever that he would! Nor do I have any doubt that he would have
considered fights over the value of money to be trivial matters indeed when he saw our situation so clearly in
terms of those physical needs we have, to prevent human suffering and promote human survival, and those
far more important priorities for dealing with God's investment in our individual human souls.
Dr. Hodges states his case well. He's just wrong.
By Lee Jamison
I have known Roxanne Premont since the 1970s. not long ago she sent me an article
about monetary policy and Christian values with which i disagreed strongly. Because
so many people believe as she does I want to post this response to the article she
sent. It is pretty self-explanatory, But I will also later post the original article as well.