Sunday, July 31, 2011

The sin of usury

Prophets of Baal
And at noon Eli'jah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.
 – 1 Kings 18:27
I'm not going to research this article, because if I started to do that I would never even begin to be able to write about a very important topic. So this is just off the top of my head and I may get some of my facts wrong. I'll also engage in "sweeping generalities" but again I'm trying to get across the big picture and I'm not inclined to spend the time researching this right now.

In other words, this article is strictly my opinion. You may say that isn't any different from my other articles, but I usually spend a lot of time finding online references to back up my opinion. So don't expect to find any links in this article, not that most people follow links anyway.

I'm going to start off by giving my definition of usury. Again, this is just off the top of my head. If I were to look up an exact definition, that would just get me started down a giant rabbit hole of how to exactly define the word and how different people have defined it different ways at different times. I'm not interested in that right now.

I define usury as lending money at interest. And of course if someone is lending the money, then someone else is borrowing it.

Some may say that what is important is the interest rate. And that it only becomes usury when it involves high interest rates. I'm not going to make that distinction. I'm also not going to distinguish between simple interest and compound interest. Although obviously, compound interest only compounds the sin.

My understanding is that usury was a sin as defined by the Catholic Church throughout history. I don't know about the pre-Christian Jewish definitions so I won't get into that. I also won't get into whether or not Jewish merchants in medieval times were the source of usurious lending. I'm not interested in that, and it is another black-hole that I don't want to explore at this time.

The big change as I understand it happened with the Protestant Reformation. And the key figure was Calvin. He was the one that decided that usury should no longer be a sin. His followers became the Calvinists.

I don't know which Protestant denominations are considered the most Calvinist, but it doesn't really matter. As far as usury goes, virtually all Protestants have full adopted the Calvinist position that usury is not a sin.

Catholicism I believe still considers this to be a sin -- although you wouldn't know it in practice. The Church probably nuances it with some statement about very high interest rates, but that is like trying to distinguish between different forms of contraception and labeling some a sin while others OK.

Usury was what allowed capitalism to flourish. Capitalism is not just about a free economy, it is also about "capital" -- that is, money. And it is about banks. It is about an abstraction of money, which is no longer something tangible. It is just a line in a balance sheet. It is a number. It doesn't necessarily reflect a physical reality like so many cattle, or acres of land, or barrels of wine.

Money takes on a life of its own. It becomes a god.

All this is possible because of usury. Because without the lending of money, then once a transaction is completed it is over. You exchange your two pieces of silver for two rabbits and the deal is done. There is no need to maintain a record of the transaction.

But if you borrow the money to buy the rabbits then the transaction is not over. A record must be kept. And as money is borrowed to repay another lender, the web of debt gets ever more thick and complicated.

This begins to quickly affect prices. If people had to save up money to buy a home, and then pay in cash then undoubtedly home prices would be lower.

And it would also be true that people would purchase smaller and more modest homes because they wouldn't be able to save up enough money to purchase a larger and more luxurious home. And maybe that would be a good thing.

Like all false gods, this one is eventually exposed when the drought comes. No longer do the sacrifices to the false idols bring the rain. They never did, it was all just an illusion; a hoax perpetrated by the priests of the religion.

When the magic fails, the people who placed their belief in false gods become disillusioned. The faithful that trust in the LORD have no reason to lose their faith. In fact their faith will be increased.

Trust in the LORD!


  1. Thank you for all of your latest emails about homosexuality and New York. So Right On, Brilliant. This is a great one too. You need to look down the rabbit hole, don't be afraid, I did, and you will see the evil truth. You know, Islam also calls usury a sin and it is forbidden. In Gaddafi's Libya, anyone could borrow money, for a house, whatever, with no interest. I think the Byzantine Empire ruled for 1800 years, with no ususry, no interest! This does not work with the global banking network, which has made us all serfs to the banks who own us now. This is also why Christianity is under attack, as is the entire middle east (genocide) and now Africa, by the United States, and the EU, which are both owned by the world banking cartels (who owns the banks.... name the names). The Catholic Church is under attack, Christ is our only salvation, and your emails and site are so very important in these times. Lots of people are waking up to these age old truths, overcoming our conditioning by the "media" over the last 60 or so years. I hate how it shoves the homosexuality in our faces, constantly, confusing our young people even more. read the comments

  2. MJ. The views of Muslims and Jews on usury are not really what I want to talk about with this post. And we have to be careful not to stereotype.

    The important thing I wanted to highlight is how Protestants changed the teachings of the Church on usury. This had a fundamental impact on Christian culture.

    I didn't emphasize this in the article, but there is an important comparison to how Protestant teaching on contraception changed. It took decades, but we are seeing now the huge impact on society. Many people who have explored the issue of "homosexual marriage" are discovering the link to contraception.

    De-classifying usury as a sin had a similar corrupting influence. Back then it took centuries for the changes to take effect, because tradition didn't change as quickly.

    At first no change is seen, because Christian moral traditions keep the impact on the culture to a minimum. But eventually the traditions erode over a period of generations. Then the impact to Christian morality of the new teachings can be seen clearly.

    Subversive influences take advantage of these weaknesses in Christian morality. With usury it was the Marxists attacking Christianity and promoting Communism. With contraception it is the secular humanists promoting sexual promiscuity. These are chinks in the armor that are exploited by the enemies of Christianity.

    We can see how the Catholic Church gave into the culture on usury. The same is happening now with contraception. It is the old story of the lemmings. Or in the words of Jesus, "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?" (Luke 6:39)

    The lesson that history teaches us is that we should be careful about "reforming" the Church in response to pressures from society.

  3. NOTE: I did a little bit of online research to see if I had my facts and chronology straight in this article regarding usury. The answer is that yes I have correctly given a broad overview of how Christians abandoned the notion that lending money (usury) was a sin. Actually, it's surprising how accurate I was given that I was writing off the top of my head.

    Another surprise was that the idea that the Church had changed its teachings on usury in the past has been used extensively to argue that the Church should now change its teachings on contraception. I take the opposite argument, which is that any changes in the Church's teachings on usury were a mistake. And it would be simply repeating a mistake to do the same thing with respect to contraception.

    I found a whole lengthy paper on this subject which goes into great detail about the history of usury. And also talks about the implications with regards to the Church's teachings on contraception:
    "The Church and Usury: Error, Change or Development?" by By Father Gary L Coulter (1999)

    The article seems to be saying that the Church's teachings on usury have not changed, but that the nature of money has changed. In some ways this is similar to the issues we are faced with today in terms of contraception as the technology changes. But I think it is a mistake to allow changes in technology to outstrip moral teachings.

  4. Impeccably true; great comparison between the two and how the church actually compromises. The pressures of society reforming the church, and we suffer even more. Yes a huge impact. Yes, you can see how usury played out, and now contraception. Thank you so much for this great post.

  5. MJ. I was just thinking that usury really became the enormous problem it is today when computer technology was introduced into the world of finances. This created a whole new monstrous ability to speculate by creating artificial financial instruments. We saw the way that this created "weapons of mass financial destruction" which exploded and wreaked so much damage on society.

    We all recognize how bio-technology created the Pill and how that increased the temptation of contraception which quickly led to legalized murder of unborn children through abortion on demand. This has also led to "homosexual marriage" since procreation and marriage are viewed as unrelated because of contraception. The next wave of bio-technology is already upon us with genetic manipulation of humans.

    The Church must address these changes in technology or else its teachings become swamped by societal pressures. We have to adapt the technology to our morality and not the other way around. But the popular conception of "progress" is that technology leads the way and we blindly follow. We need to place moral bounds on technology as was always done in the past. The Church must "not be afraid" to lead the way on these moral-technological issues.