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Gift Economy vs. Money Economy

Arnold says, "The primary difference between indigenous religions and the Great/Global Religions is their investment in competing exchange networks....Money is the "total fact" of modern existence....Money determines power balances, health, morality life and death. People worry about money, whether they have it or not, because it is the basis upon which all meaningful human life is based in the modern world. Money accounts for most of the violent crime in the world; it creates fractures in families, between neighbors, etc.; it is the basis of individual and corporate empowerment."

Arnold points out how deeply the profit economy affects our religious understanding. He adds, "Operating within the monetary economy implies a theology -- an articulation of a relationship with the sacred -- that is distinctive from the gift economy of indigenous religions....Money is based on a complete system of faith.... People regularly lie, cheat, steal, and kill one another over money, and yet money has no 'intrinsic' worth. In spite of the fact that one cannot eat it, or clothe oneself with it, or have a relationship with it....people will do everything they can to acquire money. Money articulates the cosmology of Modernity."

The book explains that money shrinks the Westerner worldview. It points out, "Money is a reductionist symbolic system that must be total to function. It is completely human-centered -- anthro-centric -- because it compares the relative value of material life to a human need or desire....The theology of money moves from an understanding of the sacred that is otiosus (obscured or removed from our immediate experience) to the primacy of human beings over and above all other living beings."

Arnold shows that the monetary economy makes the Self the center of the world. "The singular human being, the Self, is the central focus of exchange activity. The Self is a closed system toward which flow the goods of the world. The self is the 'axis-mundi' (axis around which the world revolves) of Modernity.... Monetary economies assume human...beings are at the center of the world. For consumers, money is in the service of the Self. The Self is not ideologically contingent on the world....but exists outside of, or above the world. Everyting in the world is there to serve the Self".

The Gift of Sports: Indigenous Ceremonial Dimensions of the Games We Love by Philip P. Arnold shows that traditional Native American cultures are founded on the concept of the "gift economy" rather than the "profit/monetary economy" on which the Western world runs. Arnold says, "The values promoted by these two exchange systems move in diametrically opposite directions".


Arnold points out, "Gift and monetary economies value the world fundamentally differently. The gift requires that there be continuous and close relationships between living beings. Money requires that human beings be understood to be the clear overlord of the world. In a monetary economy, human beings are the only living beings that matter. Other 'things' in the world, whether they are regarded as living or dead, are valuable only insofar that they can be used by human beings."

In the "gift economy", all of creation is seen as a gift for which it is our responsibility to give thanks, show respect, and maintain. "Everyone is seen in a reciprocal relationship with the world around us....Attempts to acknowledge and make good on our debt to life is the religious response most evident in all indigenous cultures." These are features of the ceremonies that return the gift of life to beings responsible for human life.

Industrialized nations, however, use another economic system of exchange -- the monetary or profit economy. Arnold shows that the conflict between the two worldviews is a "clash of economies".

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