Devin Singh | Divine Currency
In this episode of The Catacombic Machine, Matt Baker and Preston Price speak with Devin Singh about his book Divine Currency: The Theological Power of Money in the West, among other things.
Devin Singh is a social theorist and scholar of religion and theology. He is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College. Previously, he was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities and Lecturer in Religious Studies at Yale University. He received his Ph.D. from Yale, where he was named a Whiting Fellow, Yale's highest recognition for research in the humanities. Singh was also trained in social scientific theory and methods at the University of Chicago (M.A.), theology and divinity at Trinity International University (M.Div.), and religious studies at Pomona College (B.A.).
There are multiple threads linking the modern world of economics with theological oikonomia, but perhaps the thickest among these, as well as the most urgent for our contemporary moment, is debt. We remain indebted to our masters just as we are indebted to our gods. As the image of enlightened white politicians circulates omnipresently throughout the global economy, denominating that world as belonging to them, so too does the imprint of the divine imago denote who belongs to the realm of god.
Under imperial rule, circulation of the sovereign image serves to territorialize undisciplined regions under a stable heavenly order, consolidating disparate zones into a single unified territory. On earth, as in heaven, it appears that a valorization of unity is necessary to justify and impose divine rule. What then might we say properly distinguishes these two realms? Whereas Caesar’s image marks the surface of coins, remaining external to the currency holder, God’s image is imprinted internally, deep into the flesh of the human, perhaps even deeper. As such, each of us are coins circulating in a divine economy that must ultimately return to their source by means of either living sacrifice or death. Here is perhaps where finitude marks something of a difference. It is only within an earthly economy that death makes possible liberation from one’s debts. Within a heavenly economy, there is no such reprieve, no release from bondage. We are delivered from captivity to captivity.
To be sure, this presents a bleak picture of man as eternal debtor, where an infinitely compounding interest is owed unto the divine. After all, there is no negotiating away one’s foundational relation, and no one can serve two masters, except perhaps when those masters are wedded in the glorious figure of a divine Caesar who simultaneously liberates and enslaves by means of divine conquest, economic or otherwise. But suppose the owner of these debt-obligations suddenly ceased to exist. Would this not then cancel any obligation that had at one time been impressed upon us? Would we not then bear the image of one who exists no more? With the lifting of this debt, we may discover a peculiar lightness of spirit, a sudden decrease in gravity, as we float freely, dislodged from the sovereign realm of the signifier. Are we not now decentralized coins that have lost their image, as well as their ultimate point of return?
Given the bewildering trauma of this loss, perhaps we should not be overly surprised at the multiplication of neuroses we witness as the frenetic quest for identity only accelerates. To that point, it may be of some help to understand, as Devin Singh suggests, the Ascension as abandonment and void, a means of coping with the traumatic absence of the savior’s body, but this is not the only possible response. For example, we might consider in a productive sense what is made possible by the absence of the Sovereign body. What remains to be formed are new worlds, connections, affinities, resonances, and conceptions of what bodies, even absent ones, can do.
Preston Price/Matt Baker