Debt, Value and Economic Theology
Economic theologies are systems of religiously legitimated beliefs and practices that align value (in Marx’s sense) with values (in broad anthropological usage). This article outlines the place of debt and the credit system in the economic theologies of four ideal-typical variants of capitalism: CatholicismAnglicanism, Calvinism-Puritanism, Pietism-Quakerism, and Free-Grace Evangelism. At the threshold of capitalist modernity, the economic theology of Catholicism-Anglicanism interwove debts into prevailing systems of status honor that maintained aristocratic boundaries for elites while forcing contenders into displays of sacrificial virtue. Calvinism-Puritanism sanctioned profit-seeking through rational assumption of risk in the credit system as a necessary ethicalduty to prove salvation. Pietism-Quakerism warranted a rational credit system as a communitarian means to foster pious enterprise and to ease the worldly burdens of believers. Free-Grace Evangelism encouraged the assumption of debt for get-rich-quick-ventures and speculative trading in the frothy credit markets of charismatic capitalism. Contemporary (global) capital has breached the geographic boundaries and moral vacuums that separated these economic theologies, engendering a monstrous accumulation of debt in hybridized form. Critical theories of economic theology reveal how debt and other forms of fictitious capital are supported by a complex, contradictory social imaginary whose dynamics generate openings for progressive change.
This article is published as Krier, Daniel. 2017. “Debt, Value and Economic Theology.” Continental Thought & Theory, Vol.1(2): 252-268. Posted with permission.