The convention in this world is to see money as “the bottom line”, a tangible reality as firm as the ground beneath our feet. Given that we have given money such a determinative quality, we are often told to accept the evaluation of a venture solely by reference to the venture’s cash-flow.
In attributing such qualities to money, many often forget another attribution of money, that of a fundamentally “tainted thing” (Luke 16:11). It is not a passing reference by Jesus (as if anything by Jesus merely “passes”), but mentioned twice in the same discourse. Indeed, in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus lays out the blueprint of a new covenant, Jesus goes as far as to call money a Master that vies with that of God Himself (Matt 6:24)
This status of money as a “tainted thing”, and the ability of money to taint things, can be seen in two important respects. In the first place, it can be seen as the embodiment of not just a flexible form of exchange, but also as a form of social organisation bound by a common theology, such that when including it in any social organisation fundamentally transforms and even dissolves the ties within that organisation. Remember the changes to the ties within the Apostles in the Gospels, when money becomes the foundation for an act of betrayal by one of those Apostles, and setting in chain the abandonment of Jesus by the rest. For more contemporary examples, we do not need to look too far beyond the television series Breaking Bad to see the effect that money has on the family ties in Walter White’s household (it must be remembered that Walter’s involvement in the drug trade was secondary to his household’s desire for money).
Indeed, money’s flexibility and the ability to reshape social structures stems from the fact that, as Philip Goodchild observed in his Theology of Money, the heart of money is a metaphysics of pure abstraction (yes, in gazing upon the power of money, we often forget its embodiment of a metaphysics), what John Milbank has called the priority of potentiality over actuality (and an inversion of the Thomist priority of actuality over potency). A world organised by money is a world that cannot stand things as they are, standing in the way of what things can be. Because of this, a world organised by money is a world that wants to sacrifice actual things in this, eviscerating them and tearing them apart to release purer strains of potential, ever advancing and never resting on any one thing, whether these things are persons, unborn persons (remember that abortion is justified not on the basis of actuality but on the basis of risk), families into which persons are born, the sex that makes those families possible, the economies that is supposed to sustain those families or the polis that is the foundation of the economy (rather than the other way round).
This metaphysical point brings us back a theological point, which revolves around the not-too-subtle caution by Jesus in letting money be treated as a god. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a God which Thomas Aquinas described as “pure actuality”, paradoxically negated sacrifice through the single sacrifice of His own actuality in the form of His son. Conversely, the god of money, of pure abstraction, will never stop sacrificing, will never be satisfied with any one sacrifice or even a whole score of sacrifices of actual things or people in the name of “progress” or “potential”. In other words, a person that ends up serving God and money will end up sacrificing God in the service of money.