Usury Snake Bite. In a recent book titled Usury in Christendom: The Mortal Sin that Was and Now is Not, author Michael Hoffman exposes how the reinterpretation of one word, “usury,” has led to the financial and economic enslavement of the Western World to a set of international bankers. Before 1515 the lending of money charging interest, or usury, was officially condemned by the Christian church.
Usury Snake Bite
According to Mr. Hoffman, the Hebrew word for “usury” is “neshek,” meaning literally “a bite,” because of its painfulness to the debtor. And “usury” was “interest”—not “excessive” or “exorbitant interest,” but all interest, even if it is just one percent. If you were a Christian and found guilty of practicing usury, you were not only excommunicated from the church, but not even allowed to be given a “Christian” burial, and your body was thrown in an open pit with dead animals.
The Church’s injunction against usury went on for 1,500 years after the death of Jesus, and Muslims kept Europe bottled in from the rest of the world for almost 1,000 years until Europeans found America in 1492 and the Church authorized the African slave trade. Now the Church wanted to be a part of financing the exploration and exploitation of a New World, so Pope Leo X issued a Papal bull in 1515 declaring that the “moderate rate of interest” charged by the Church’s “Charity Banks” was not sinful but meritorious and anyone calling it sinful would be excommunicated. Since that time, “usury” was only “excessive or exorbitant interest” if it was an interest rate above that established by “civil authorities.”
Interest is described by the ancient writers of the Bible as a “snake bite,” because at first the bite may seem as a small inconvenience but as time goes on its poison can prove both painful and even deadly. In her new book Occupying Money, Professor Margrit Kennedy writes that a stunning 35 percent to 40 percent of everything we buy goes to interest. This interest goes to bankers, financiers and bondholders. This helps explain how wealth is systematically transferred from Main Street to Wall Street. Tradesmen, suppliers, wholesalers and retailers all along the chain of production rely on credit to pay their bills. Each supplier in the chain adds interest to his production costs, which are passed on to the ultimate consumer, the working class.
Is it not amazing that a Muslim will never eat pork because it is haram (unlawful); never marry his mother or sister because it is also haram, yet that same person has no problem devouring riba (e.g. interest, usury)? Did you know that engaging in riba is a major sin which could lead you to Hell?
“…but whoever returns (to dealing in riba), such are the dwellers of the Fire — they will abide therein.” Qur’an 2:275
If dealing in riba is so punishable, why do many Muslims fall into this sin and take the issue so lightly?
There are many proofs showing that riba is haram and one of the most serious sins in Islam!
For those with true faith in Allah and the Qur’an, this clear verse prohibiting riba is sufficient:
“…Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden riba.”Qur’an 2:275
The first and foremost reason riba is haram is because Allah declared it so. The scholars of Islam have suggested the following reasons as to why riba is haram:
-Whole nations, dozens of them, large and small, have foreign debts so large that their riba payments on these debts are a crushing burden on the entire country. Debt kills. Some 11 million children die each year around the world due to conditions of poverty and debt.
-Riba conflicts with the spirit of brotherhood and sympathy, and is based on greed, selfishness and hard heartedness.
-Riba is one of the major contributors towards inflation.
-Riba causes trauma and depression due to mounting debts.
-Riba is a sure gain without any possibility of loss, hence all the risk is taken by the borrower, rather than sharing the risk and the profits with both parties.
-Riba creates a monopoly in society, where the rich are rewarded for being wealthy, while those who are not are forced to pay extra!
Merchant of Venice
If we were suddenly to find ourselves in a public market square in any major European city in the sixteenth century, we would notice, without too much surprise, how contemporary the merchants of that period were.
Of the many testimonials of the time, no one has been more successful than Shakespeare, with his works, at creating an accurate picture of the new merchant society, which was not yet completely free from the cultural contradictions of the past.
This is how the Merchant of Venice (1598) was able to express, among other things, the anxiety and fears with regard to complex issues, first and foremost that of the credit system in the post-medieval age.
Suffice it to say that usury was widely practiced in England in 1571. As E.C. Pettet states in his work “The merchant of Venice and the problem of usury”, the feudal aristocracy, finding it hard to compete with the new rich, began to engage in the loan, even usury, of capital: an activity that basically brought good returns and made the circulation of capital possible.
Keeping a similar background in mind, it is obvious that law on the other side of the Channel and for that matter also that of continental Europe, could not remain indifferent to this unprecedented economic situation that was emerging or to its main requirement: respectively global trade and the problem of its financing.
However, although it was functional, this was an unhappy combination and always represented a source of heated doctrinaire debate.
This was due to the fact that making a loan in the sixteenth century, as is clear in the relationship of conflict between Shylock and Antonio, meant making two values compete against each other: those of money and faith. This age-old issue had already been addressed as early as the fourteenth century by Italian jurist Baldo degli Ubaldi who, although he knew that “pecunia est vita hominis”, he was also aware of the difficulty, on this subject, of making religious precepts coincide with the system of the ius civile.
In fact, according to the Gospel of Luke (6:35), the mutuum, was supposed to be free and go to the needy: “mutuum date, nihil inde sperantes”. For this reason, Antonio, a good Christian, would never have lent or received money with interest, unlike Shylock who, by referring to an example of a biblical episode, underlines the importance of providing an interest rate that can only bring benefits: “This was a way to thrive, and he was blest” (Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3).
With unquestionable ability, Shakespeare thus avoids being clear about whether Shylock asks for any interest or not, allowing the modern jurist to “attempt” an alternative interpretation of the story, the protagonists of which were undoubtedly two forerunners of the global economy.