Economics/Class Relations

So how did usury stop being a sin and become respectable finance?

It’s interesting how modernity has been able to not only normalize but elevate to superior status what virtually all traditional religious, ethical, and philosophical systems considered to be sinful or shameful.

By Alex Mayyasi


‘A banker and a theologian’ sounds like the start of a bad joke. But for David Miller it’s merely a job description. After working in finance and business for 16 years, Miller turned to theology, and received his PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2003. Now he’s a professor of business ethics and the director of Princeton University’s Faith and Work Initiative, where his research focuses on Christianity, Judaism and Islam. ‘How to Succeed without Selling Your Soul’ is the students’ popular nickname for his signature course.

In 2014, Citigroup called. The bank had been battered by successive scandals and a wave of public mistrust after the financial crisis, so they wanted to hire Miller as an on-call ethicist. He agreed. Rather than admonish bankers to follow the law – an approach that Miller thinks is inadequate – he talks to them about philosophy. Surprisingly, he hasn’t found bankers and business leaders to be a tough crowd. Many confess a desire to do good. ‘Often I have lunch with an executive, and they say: “You do this God stuff?”’ Miller told me. ‘And then we spend next hour talking about ethics, purpose, meaning. So I know there’s interest.’ Miller wants people in finance to talk about ‘wisdom, whatever its source’. To ignore these traditions and thinkers, as the bulk of the industry tends to do, is equivalent to ‘putting on intellectual blinders’, he says.


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