Gurdjieff International Review
Religion and Money
By John Pentland
To reflect on the relationship of religion to money, there is no better starting-point than “to go beyond time.” In returning to the origin of the question, we may find a grain of truth and thus turn towards the remedy for an otherwise intractable problem. Countless volumes have appeared about the Church’s attitude to war and sex but very little has been written about money.
William Desmonde shows1 that in some ancient cultures money was used as a symbol to replace food in sacrificial communion rituals. Participation in the meal implied a bond of loyalty with other members of the group and signified also entering into a covenant with the deity. Each communicant received a particular portion of the sacrificial flesh corresponding to his standing in the community. When money of different denominations began to be used in place of the portions of food, the establishment of a contractual relationship between two individuals at first retained traces of the original bond of religious loyalty among participants in the same communion, with impersonal bargaining replacing the patriarchal redistribution of foods among the brotherhood.
In any case, there is good reason to suppose that money was originally a sacred device created by religious authority to facilitate the exchange of necessities in an expanding society. It was intended to be a means of recognizing that human beings have individual property rights and at the same time that no human being or family is self-sufficient. In support of this theory, René Guénon states2 that coins of the ancient Celts are covered with symbols taken from Druid doctrine, implying direct intervention of the Druid priests in the monetary system.
With the huge increase in world population and international trading, this original purpose of money for the individual—as so often the real significance of religion itself—has been eroded until today it is completely forgotten. From the economic point of view which prevails in the modern world, money has value almost exclusively on a material level. Both the smallest transactions and the largest, which are now carried out by bookkeepers without anything of intrinsic value “changing hands,” are more often done in a mood of impatience, irritation and negativity than as an expression of loyalty in individual human relationships. No longer a reminder of higher values, money has become such a social convenience that it is even a social necessity.
[The complete text is available in the printed copy of this issue.]
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Featured: Fall 2005 Issue, Vol. IX (1)
Revision: December 1, 2005