Wednesday, July 10, 2013

4) An Eastern Christian Perspective on Usury

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Metropolitan Hierotheos
(Vlachos) of Nafpaktos
Contemporary Eastern Christian commentators on usury are few. One important Eastern Christian thinker on this subject, however, is Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios, who is probably most famous for his book Orthodox Psychotherapy. In his essay, “Interest, Usury, Capitalism,” Vlachos provides a nuanced perspective on usury that is substantially in harmony with the contemporary Catholic understandings of the subject discussed in the last post. Concerned to demonstrate continuity with the Hellenic fathers on this subject, he condemns usury in the strongest possible language. However, he also provides an understanding of usury that does not include every instance of interest taking. He acknowledges some exceptions.

For example, he writes, “In certain cases like acquiring a house, one can say that loans are beneficial.” Housing is a legitimate need and if a loan provides for this need without harming anyone, then it is worthwhile. He continues, “In these cases, a fair society can be of help to those in need – without of course causing damage to those who aren't.” Should the lender violate that principle by charging usurious rates of interest, the loan would be impermissible. If the rates are not usurious, however, and “if this is put into effect in a legal and fair manner, then it can function along the principle of brotherly love.” Even balanced and measured benefits for the banks are legitimate, he writes, so long as they do not impede the freedom of the borrower.

A second exception he brings up is the use of savings accounts. He writes,
According to contemporary reality, the hoarding of money in Banks is considered a necessity and interest is something fair and legitimate. No one can deny such a logical possibility, especially for householders.
However, people can use something as seemingly innocuous as a savings account immorally, Vlachos maintains. What principally matters is the intention. If the account exists to provide for need, then it is a good. If, however, it exists to provide for the passions, then it is an evil. Vlachos writes,
The crucial matter is that when bank savings are seen in the context of the passion of acquisition and avarice, and more so when charity and philanthropy are withheld and Man’s hopes now hinge on money and his faith in God’s Providence is cast out, then this cannot be justified by ecclesiastic morality.
As noted above, Vlachos condemns usury with the strongest possible language: “We must stigmatize and cauterize usurers who exploit the anguish of their fellow-man and who remain unemotional in the presence of their misfortune.” Vlachos does not understand usury to be avoided simply by mutual agreement or mutual benefit. Rather, taking interest may only be justified as a means of providing for legitimate needs – not as a way of providing for unnecessary pleasures or comforts. For, in the service of these ends, it deprives one of opportunities for charity and philanthropy. He writes, “When lending is linked to hedonism, easy living, bliss, the quest for wealth etc., then it cannot be acceptable.” There is a tendency, particularly in American society with its highly inflated luxurious standards of living, to regard pleasures as needs and comforts as requirements. Condemning this capitalist attitude, Vlachos writes, “We should not increase our “needs.” We should not strive to live opulently; that way, we will not be forced to borrow money, because that is the way we will lose our freedom.”

As a means of avoiding the subjugation consequent to the multiplication of perceived “needs,” Vlachos recommends two things. Firstly, he recommends frugality and “the ascetic lifestyle, which also involves avoiding luxury and bliss.” Secondly, he recommends generosity and a reasonable detachment from our possessions. He writes, “Those who have money should practice philanthropy and provide interest-free loans to those who are in need of money for coping with the hardships of their life.” Therefore, while lending with interest is at times morally permissible, this does not absolve the wealthy from the moral obligation to lend without interest in ways that will benefit the poor, which Jesus commands (Luke 6:35). 

As with the Catholic understanding, Vlachos sees need or poverty as the barometer of determining whether an instance of lending with interest is usurious. If a particular loan results in providing for genuine needs all around and avoids the stain of avarice then it may indeed be justifiable. A principle for the rich to keep in mind when they lend to the poor is to offer the loan not for their own profit or gain primarily, but for the good of the poor to whom they lend. Should the wealthy loan with subjugating interest – as still happens today – it remains a moral crime.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One major problem is the banks and lenders believe in talmudic justice over the gospel and church of Jesus Christ.The Talmud & the Gospel are like iron & clay.As long as this paradigm exists,nothing will change for better or for worse.

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