Friday, July 13, 2012

Debt and Religion

"In today's excerpt - in ancient times, taking out loans for land or dowries was often necessary for people to eat or have families, but not repaying those loans could bring the risk of their children or themselves being sold into slavery. All of the world's great religions emerged amid the anguish of this burden of debt and debates about the role of the market in life. The language of these religions is permeated with the language of debt - with words such as redemption being borrowed directly from debt transactions:

"Even the very earliest Vedic poems, composed sometime between 1500 and 1200 BC, evince a constant concern with debt - which is treated as synonymous with guilt and sin. ... In all Indo-European languages (such as English and French), words for 'debt' are synony­mous with those for 'sin' or 'guilt', illustrating the links be­tween religion, payment and the mediation of the sacred and profane realms by 'money.' For example, there is a connection between money (German Geld), indemnity or sacrifice (Old English Geild), tax (Gothic Gild) and, of course, guilt. ...

"Why ... do we refer to Christ as the 'redeemer'? The primary meaning of 'redemption' is to buy something back, or to recover something that had been given up in security for a loan; to ac­quire something by paying off a debt. It is rather striking to think that the very core of the Christian message, salvation itself, the sacrifice of God's own son to rescue humanity from eternal damnation, should be framed in the language of a financial transaction. ... "

Read the rest here.

From 'Debt: The First 5,000 Years', by David Graeber

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