Blessings of Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan!
When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.
As the Dark Ages dragged on, commerce began to expand once more. In part, this was due to the Crusades, which opened the door to cultures and wealth unknown since the days of Rome. Like their ancestors in Mesopotamia, the European kings soon discovered that armies marching into foreign lands need money, not actual grain and goods, for their supplies along the way. And tribute was re-discovered to be better managed with coin, rather than the literal materials of those conquered.
Once again, money was on the march. World commerce exploded, particularly thanks to the contact with the highly evolved Muslim culture. A merchant class was born, and with it, guilds, hierarchies and structures that formed around trade and wealth.
Although usury and charging interest were still considered sinful, money lending began to emerge in order to support the risks entailed in long, often dangerous travel to exotic places for the spices, foods, and other goods that were increasingly in demand. So while the Church forbade Christians to lend money at interest, the expanding European economy required capital for investment.
Since Christians couldn’t fill this growing need, and with few other professions open to them, logically enough, European Jews took the leading role in money lending. But the Christians who borrowed from them, sometimes at times of great personal need, often resented having to pay interest for loans.
For many hundreds of years, this love-hate relationship grew increasingly complex and distorted, and sadly, the bigotry of Christians towards Jews, particularly those with wealth, continues to this day. Often, the Christian aristocracy repaid their debts by simply seizing the property of the successful Jews in their cities, driving them into exile, and much worse.
Still, even as late as the Renaissance, money maintained some connection to the sacred. The Church, while no longer quite as keen to condemn the pleasures of wealth, continued to demand tithing – requiring its members to give a percentage of their wealth to support its holy work. (Never mind that this also happened to create and support a class of religious aristocracy the wealth and power of which the world had never seen).
But money’s use was increasingly secular and conflicted. Its growth and flow were increasingly tied to war, colonialism, and conquest. And by the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the fractures within the Church, as well as social and political upheaval across Europe had again changed our relationship with money. Author Barbara Wilder writes that finally, “it lost its link to the spiritual realm altogether and came to reside, as it does today, completely in the material realm.
“At the turn of the millennium,” she writes, “we once again find ourselves in a world not unlike Rome of 2,000 years ago, in which money has lost all its connectedness to the Divine.”
The results of this may prove to be as malevolent for us as they were for Rome.