(See an update on this, 25th April 2008.)
In the Q&A after his famous 'Shari'ah' speech, RW was asked about the practice of usury. His answer was very similar to the things I've been saying about the subject (also search Debt Disaster on this blog for other posts in the same vein).
LP: Thank you. Another, another fairly down to earth. "Our existing world order is based upon usury with control by manipulation of rates of interest. In Islam this is not just illegal but sinful. How can this be reconciled with Christianity? And this Christianity also condemns the existing order as the law of Mammon."
RW: I've often been rather surprised by the ease with which the Christian church changed its mind about usury in the sixteenth century, without any very great public fuss. Martin Luther strongly disapproved of it; he was a good medieval Catholic in ail sorts of ways, and he disapproved of it like his medieval predecessors on the basis of the Bible, tradition and the authority of Aristotle. But within about fifty years of the beginning of the Reformation, virtually everybody had mysteriously and imperceptibly decided that there wasn't a problem.
Now, without going into details of the history of that fascinating issue, I think that in all seriousness what theologians and moralists have said about lending at interest in the modern economy, is simply to raise the question "Is this what is prohibited in Jewish scripture?" And they've answered on the whole, "No". And yet I have to say there remains, or should remain for the Christian moralist, a level of discomfort around this. Taking absolutely for granted the manipulation of rates of interest as the engine of an economy, ought to leave us with some unfinished moral business, let's say, and I believe that rather than, so to speak, address that head on, we need to look - and this has been said by many people - at what are the alternative protocols and ethical frameworks for banking that are around. And that is one reason why ! am personally go very interested in the ethics and practice of micro-credit as a way of addressing serious poverty.
Read the rest of the Q&A here.
Thanks to Peter Kirk for the tip.
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