God/Money Equation

In Religion Simmel states clearly that 'God conceived of as the unity of existence can be nothing other than the agent of ... interaction between things' (Simmel 1997: 201). This brings us to the third important equation of Simmel's theory, which logically follows from both formulas of homology introduced above (money=society and society=God): that of God with money. To demonstrate the homology of the idea of God and the idea of money Simmel employs two formulations, rooted in the classical theological reflexion. The first one - the term 'unmoved mover' (akineton kinoun) - is an Aristotelian notion of the first cause, adopted later by Thomas Aquinas; the second - 'the unity of contradictions' ( coincidentia oppositorum) is a famous metaphor for God, coined by Nicholas Cusanus.

The first trace of the God-money homology is to be found already in the essay On the Psychology of Money, wherein money was described as the 'unmoved mover', which raises itself 'above everything individual' (Simmel 1997b: 243). This ability allowed Simmel to draw a parallel between the idea of God and money: 'just as God in the form of faith, so money in the form of the concrete object is the highest abstraction to which practical reason has risen' (Simmel 1997b: 243). But Simmel stressed also the similarity of psychological effect exerted by the idea of God and the idea of money. He found the tertium comparationis in the feeling of peace and security, the trust in omnipotence of the highest principle which is provided by the possession of money and which corresponds psychologically to the emotional state of the pious person who places his or her faith in God. Simmel thus described the idea of God as a tranquilizing force (Simmel 1997: 168). He then elaborated this metaphor in Philosophy of Money, wherein he noticed that money produces its powerful effects not simply through its material value, but through the hope and fear, the desire and anxiety that are associated with it: 'it radiates economically important sentiments, as heaven and hell radiate them: as pure ideas ... In this instance, money can truly be described as the "unmoved mover"' (Simmel 2004: 171; translation amended by D.M.). Furthermore, the essence of the idea of God lies in the fact that, as an absolute object, God unifies all the divergent elements of reality, which found its perfect articulation in the theological formulation of Nicholas Cusanus: 'the unity of contradictions'. In Philosophy of Money Simmel added that exactly from the idea that all conflicts of existence find their unity and equalization in God 'there arises the feeling of peace and security', and continues:

Money evokes similar feelings. As money becomes an absolutely adequate expression and equivalent of all values, it rises to abstract heights above the whole diversity of objects. It becomes the centre in which the most opposed, the most estranged and most distant things find their common denominator and come into contact with one another. Thus, money provides a confidence in its omnipotence. (Simmel 2004: 236)

This description of identical psychological effects of the idea of God and that of money closely resembles Luther's comment on the First Commandment from his Large Catechism of 1529: the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol ... Many a one thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions . such a man also has a god, Mammon by name, on which he sets all his heart, and which is also the most common idol on earth. He who has money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. (Luther 1529)

Luther is unambiguously critical towards money, which is presented as a rival deity. Of course, Luther deploys an old trope here. The identification of money (or Mammon) as the (false) God regularly returns - in many versions - in Western history, starting at least with the New Testament (we read in Luke and Matthew: 'No one can serve two masters; you cannot serve both God and Mammon'). Critique of money - although not equally devastating - is also present in Simmel's Psychology of Money. Money is 'common, because it is the equivalent for everything and anything; and that which is equivalent to many things is equivalent to the least among them and therefore pulls even the highest thing down to the level of the lowest'. Money is 'seductive - St Francis allowed his order to beg for food and clothing, but never for money' - because 'it can be transformed into everything possible at any time' (Simmel 1997b: 240).

Simmel's characteristics of money as common and seductive bear an uncanny resemblance to Shakespeare's description of money (from Timon of Athens) as 'common whore of mankind' and a 'visible God'. This Shakespearian phrase served also Karl Marx as an illustration of his argument. In one of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of1844, entitled The Power of Money, he stated that money has divine power: it possesses 'the property of buying everything', therefore it is 'regarded as an omnipotent being' and 'the supreme good' (Marx 1959). This last statement might constitute a bridge which allowed Simmel to develop his money/God analogy from a notion of an abstract absolute to a notion of supreme being who has at least some qualities of an animated being. A decade later, in Philosophy of Money, Simmel compared money to the bloodstream and stated: 'money is the symbol of the unity of being, out of which the world flows. And this being however empty and abstract its pure notion may be, appears as the warm stream of life . Of all practical things money comes closest to this power of being' (Simmel 2004: 498).

 
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