The demonic torture of a mortgage adjuster provided one of the few pleasures of the recent Sam Raimi horror movie, Drag Me To Hell. As the banking and mortgage industry has teetered and spilled, taking jobs, homes, and ideas down with it, it’s tempting to enjoy watching the torture of a banking official whose selfish desire for promotion forced an old woman out of her home. Last year, in the United States, thousands of people lost their homes, while thousands of others, around the world, were thrown out of work as at least the partial result of practices of banking and lending institutions.1 The financial crisis revealed very clearly the faith and belief that the economy requires, exposing the theological basis of a system that often appears to function as an inescapable truth of society.
Earning money and wealth can easily become the main focus of life; whereas the lack of money can justify throwing people from their homes, allowing them to starve, and allowing them to die. Money is an overwhelming, if surprisingly neglected, political structure. It has great power over life and death, and yet, money is nothing more than empty markers of value, whether gold, paper, or digital signals. It takes a powerful political theology to obscure the fact that money is an almost-nothing that means almost everything. It is easy to imagine a position of judgment against our world for the power over life and death that we allot to the simple possession of pieces of paper; perhaps even more surprising than the power that horror movies often give to ancient amulets which now mean nothing to us. Fantasies of revenge, resentment, and eternal punishment threaten to simply re-inscribe the theology that has done so much to support the speculative money system. Against the powerful political theology of money, more is needed than Christian conceptions of responsibility and fear of punishment.
Philip Goodchild’s Theology of Money provides much more, even as Christian theological concepts play an important role in the work. Goodchild’s many insights help us address the dangers and to search for the possibilities in a collapsing speculative economy. He insists that money is the key material artifact of a system of representation that puts into play an almost endless series of desires and drives for universal forms. The money system, Goodchild explains, is the ultimate abstraction, the theological structure of our drive to universal rules and universal truths. Money derives its structural logic from Christianity’s monotheistic and universalistic demands; while subverting Christianity’s claim (or at least Jesus’s) that a person should not spend their time in service to money. Goodchild makes a great bid to exploit the reliance of speculative capitalism on theological conceptions to enliven new forms of value in the world.
Goodchild has produced a highly original and invigorating approach to contemporary economic issues; his book is a major accomplishment. He works within a diverse constellation of authors, particularly Deleuze, Schmitt, Smith, Marx, and Weber to explore the power of money to create, direct, and facilitate our desires. Pushing hard on elements of faith, belief, and hope that maintain our participation in money systems, Goodchild accomplishes a remarkably significant shift in perspective on questions of economy and finance. By thinking through the workings of money in the subjective construction of desires, he opens up new approaches to one of the most powerful systems of belief life has ever known: the belief in money.
Theology of Money utilizes, subtly, a Deleuzian approach. This book thinks with and through Deleuze, but not about him; that work Goodchild has done elsewhere, in his books Gilles Deleuze and the Question of Philosophy and Deleuze and Guattari: Introduction to the Politics of Desire. By conceptualizing the flow and capture of capital, Goodchild shifts the reader’s attention away from money as a representation of value to the more general question of the relationship between value and representation. Following Deleuze, Goodchild also moves the assumptions of agency to nonhuman actors, such as animals, plants, and...