Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Faith and Money

Some people choose to dismiss faith, especially faith in the invisible, because they regard it as unreal. “Give me the facts,” they say. “Show me something real. How do we know that God exists, anyway? What proof is there? Man made God in his own image,” and so on. Richard Dawkins assumes that statements about God are meant literally, and concludes that because he can refute the literal meaning of such statements (as if God were just another bit of science, to be proved or disproved) he can therefore ignore the whole domain of faith.

Likewise, some people dismiss the concept of marriage, on the grounds that a marriage certificate is only a piece of paper. Well, so is a cheque for a million pounds only a piece of paper. Each of these pieces of paper is worth how much importance is invested in it. If you believe in marriage and value your own marriage, then you can have a marriage that is believable and valuable. If not . . .

In case anyone should think that it is money, not love, that makes the world go round, let me say that the whole monetary system entirely depends on faith and trust. There was a time when money was coinage, and coins were standard sized pieces of gold or silver, metals regarded as valuable because they had a use in jewellery. Now, people accept as valuable a chunk of brass or a piece of paper, which is useless in practical terms (you could use a £50 note to light the fire, if you had nothing else) or a string of numbers on a screen. Or a string of cowry shells. Money is whatever people believe is money, treat as money and use as money.

The system works as long as the next person also accepts that these things are valuable and treats them as if they were. Money works, as long as people believe in it. When people cease to believe in money, it becomes worthless. This happened in Germany, between the two World Wars. They tell the story of the man who took a wheelbarrow-load of notes to the bakery, to see if he could buy a loaf of bread. He made the mistake of leaving the wheelbarrow outside the shop while he went in and enquired. When he came out, the money was on the ground, but someone had stolen the wheelbarrow.

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