What does patience have to do with money? It's much more than timing the market just right. The economic factors of our market economy hold great sway over our relationship to the past, present, and future. Theologian Kathryn Tanner reflects on the ways finance-dominated capitalism controls our experience of time, and offers insights for a Christian approach to living in the present, informed by an economy of abundant grace. Part 2 of a 6-episode series on Patience hosted by Ryan McAnnally-Linz.
- Listen to Patience Part 1 on Time, Acceleration, and Waiting, with Andrew Root (July 24, 2021)
- What does patience have to do with money?
- Is time money?
- What is finance dominated capitalism?
- Viewing economy and our relationship to time through past, present, and future
- "Chained to the past”—debt is no longer designed to be paid off, and you can’t escape it
- “Urgent focus on the present”—emergencies, preoccupation, short-term outlook, and anxiety
- Workplace studies
- Poverty, Emergency, and a Lack of Resources (Time or Money)
- Lack of time and resources makes you fixated on the present
- A Christian sense of the urgency of the present
- Sufficient supply of God's grace
- The right way to focus on the present
- "Consideration of the present for all intents and purposes collapses into concern about the future."
- The future is already embedded and encased in the present value of things.
- Stock market and collapsing the present into future expectations
- Pulling the future into the present
- Gamestop and making the future present, and the present future
- Patience and "elongating the present"
- Fulsomeness, amplitude, expansiveness of God’s grace
- Race, savings, and dire circumstances
- Patience as a means to elongating the present
- Stability, volatility, and waiting
- “There’s no profit in waiting."
- God's steadfast love and commitment
- Kierkegaard's Works of Love
- Augustine’s unstable volatile world and the implication of investing only in God's love and stability
- "Something has to hold firm in order for you to take risks."
About Kathryn Tanner
Theologian Kathryn Tanner is the Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School. Her research relates the history of Christian thought to contemporary issues of theological concern using social, cultural, and feminist theory. She is the author of God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? ; The Politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice ; Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology ; Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology ; Economy of Grace ; Christ the Key; and most recently Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism.
- This podcast featured theologians Kathryn Tanner and Ryan McAnnally-Linz
- Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
- Hosted by Evan Rosa
- Production Assistance by Martin Chan & Nathan Jowers
- A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
- Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. Visit us online at faith.yale.edu.
Kathryn Tanner: There is an urgency to the present. You need to do what you should do as a Christian and make the appropriate Christian witness, and act in the ways that you should act if you're a Christian and you need to do that now. You shouldn't put that off. That shouldn't be deferred. But my point would be that this is very different from the kind of urgency that you feel under present day finance-dominated capitalism because you're being told that you have everything that you need in order to lead a different life. So that there's a sense of fulsomeness, amplitude, expansiveness that—and I'm talking about this in terms of God's grace—you have a sufficient supply to do what needs to be done. So, it's not so much that you're in circumstances of poverty. To the contrary, you're in a situation of resource abundance.
Evan Rosa: This is For the Life of the World, a podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of our humanity.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: I'm Ryan McAnnally-Linz with the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. What does patience have to do with money? If patience is a response to time and time is money. The connection is right there. Now, time is not in fact money. But the seeming omnipotence and omnipresence of finance tempt us to think that way; they tempt us to serve mammon to idolize wealth. This episode is the second in a six-part series on patience. Why it's so hard? What's good about it? And how we might cultivate it? Last time I introduced the series with Andy Root, a professor of youth ministry who helped us frame the predicament of patience for modern people, encouraging us to encounter the sacred weight of time, seeking resonance rather than business or efficiency.
Today, theologian, Kathryn Tanner, joins me to think about patience through the lens of economy. She's the Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School and author of numerous books, including Christ's The Key, Economy of Grace, Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity, and most recently, Christianity in the New Spirit of Capitalism.
From payday loans to hedge funds, finance is everywhere. Sometimes it's simple, sometimes terribly complex. Borrowing, lending, credit cards and credit ratings, stocks, bonds, mortgages, IPO, sovereign debt crises, and those convoluted workings of the global financial economy don't just matter for bank accounts and mortgage rates. They shape our experiences of time. Debt, like student loans, keeps our past insistently present. The threat of unemployment keeps us laser focused on performing today. We make our decisions now in the shadow of the future benefits or costs we expect them to yield. So many of these pressures push against patience. They can strain us and train us to be impatient, to focus on the present, to try to tame the future through prediction and hedging and risk mitigation, to try to realize future value today.
These patterns of thought and behavior leak out of the strictly economic aspects of our lives and permeate the whole. If we're going to cultivate patience, if we're going to have any chance of being in the words of Hebrew 6, "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises," then we're going to have to understand and wrestle with the ways of relating to time that our economic system promotes.
Kathy, thanks for taking a few minutes to talk with us here today. It's great to have you.
Kathryn Tanner: Yeah, sure, Ryan. Pleased to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: I'm thinking these days a lot about patience and the problem that it presents in my life personally, and, I think, in contemporary cultural settings that are pretty common. And I found your thinking in Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism to be really helpful. Where you start that book is laying out a cultural context marked by what you called finance-dominated capitalism. Could you tell us what you mean by that?
Kathryn Tanner: Yeah, I'm assuming that this is a new form of capitalism or a new kind of organizational shape that capitalism is taking so that you could contrast it to industrial capitalism. But the present form of capitalism I'm trying to suggest is one in which finance is dominant, meaning by that a lot of money is thrown in that direction. Rather than building factories to produce things, you put your money in derivatives, which are very profitable, but in ways that bypass the production of goods and ordinary services. So yeah, finance has a very large place in the present organization of capitalism, but I'm also suggesting, that this is a finance dominated form of capitalism and that finance is setting the terms for all kinds of other economic activities. So businesses, companies are run in ways that finance dictates in that, for example, when the companies are concerned about their share prices and they need to take steps to make sure that their share price is going up. So that's what I mean generally by finance-dominated capitalism.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: This form of capitalism has certain effects on how people living in this ambit experience time. Could you introduce us in broad strokes to what those effects are? And then we can talk a little more specifically later on.
Kathryn Tanner: Yeah. I'm thinking about this form of capitalism generally as something that shapes persons. It helps to constitute the character of persons. And one way that I'm arguing the present form of capitalism does that is by shaping people's sense of time, so how they relate to the past, how they relate to the present, how they relate to the future that's being shaped by finance-dominated capitalism.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Maybe we can take past, present, future in quick succession and just say what's the short summation of the relation to the past that is common in this form of capitalism.
Kathryn Tanner: I'm trying to suggest that people are chain to the past often in virtue of debt, that you assume debt and it's very difficult to pay debt off for a variety of reasons, that contemporary debt isn't exactly made to be paid off. It's made to indebt you and to get payments from you that service that debt over unending periods of time. Like student debt would be a good example of that. You can't get rid of your student debt. You're ready to retire, and you still have student debt so that you're chained to the past, and that this decision you made in the past to take out a loan to pay for your education then organizes the rest of your life because you have to gain enough money. You have to be gainfully employed to pay that debt off.
But there are other ways that you can be chained to the past. Within a corporate context, decision is being made about a set of targets or goals. And then you're chained to that past decision in that all your present decisions are oriented around this past decision, which is inexorable. You can't get rid of it. There's no leeway. You can't escape it.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Yeah. And what about the present?
Kathryn Tanner: I was suggesting that the present takes on a peculiar kind of urgency in virtue of it being that present circumstances are a kind of emergency that you have to throw everything at. So you're completely preoccupied by the present emergency in ways that keep you from thinking about what's going to happen next. But also there's a well-documented kind of short-termism of finance and financial products and the way companies are run to keep their stock values high, that you're just concerned about the present profit of your company, and you're not looking into the future as to whether what you're doing now is going to bankrupt you, bankrupt the company going forward.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: So that's at the level of corporations and their financial instruments and mechanisms that have a similar sort of “presentizing” effect. How does the urgent focus on the present seep into the lives of those of us who aren't directly tied to trading and financial markets, or aren't running a corporation and having to keep an eye on the stock price every day?
Kathryn Tanner: Part of this has to do with workplace practices, but I'm also generalizing from poverty studies, mostly by sociologists who are just showing that a lack of time and resources makes you fixated on the present. That again goes back to this sense of everything being an emergency. It's an emergency because you don't have any reserves. You don't have any savings, if you want. There's nothing that you can bank on to help you out in life's difficulties. So that's, I think, something that everybody has an experience of, but probably primarily people who have a lack of time resources because they're working like two jobs just to feed themselves. But I think most people, even if they're not in dire economic circumstances, have this sense of there's never enough time and that if anything bad happens, you have to throw everything at it because you don't have any other choices.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: It just struck me hearing that there might be a relationship between that and the stuff you were saying about being chained to the past because if any particular present emergency can become that definitive pass to what you're chained, then at each time there's a life altering crisis that's looming, anytime something crops up.
Kathryn Tanner: Yeah. Being in debt has the effect of putting more pressure on every moment because debt has to be serviced. And that means you have that much less money, resources to direct in any other form.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Falling behind has the threat of an exponential increase in behindness whenever there's compounding interest going on. This is not a great place to be with respect to one's relation to the present. You suggest in your book that certain Christian ways of seeing things might help get some leverage in a different kind of formation. Can you contrast what you see as a Christian sense of the urgency of the present with these ways that contemporary economic systems wash out the past and the future and leave nothing but this urgent present?
Kathryn Tanner: Yeah. A lot of what I was trying to do in the book is just go through a number of different Christian ways of looking at things, trying to find ways of looking at, say, the past, present, and future, that would give you some kind of maximum contrast from what you're presently being subjected to. Just so that your Christian commitment is going to distance you from what's happening to you under these economic conditions so that it gives you a kind of critical leverage with respect to them.
Like the present, I was trying to suggest the ways in which Christianity can also focus you on the present, but with very different implications for the way you live your life. And you might be focused on the present because there is an urgency to the present. You need to do what you should do as a Christian, make the appropriate Christian witness and act in the ways that you should act if you're a Christian, and you need to do that now. You shouldn't put that off. It shouldn't be deferred. But my point would be that this is very different from the kind of urgency that you feel under present day finance-dominated capitalism because you're being told that you have everything that you need in order to lead a different life so that there's a sense of fulsomeness, amplitude, expansiveness that—and I'm talking about this in terms of God's grace—you have a sufficient supply to do what needs to be done. So it's not so much that you're in circumstances of poverty. To the contrary, you're in a situation of resource abundance, if you want. I'm talking about grace here, not actually living in circumstances of resource abundance because that's clearly false. So that's the kind of thing that I'm suggesting.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: I find myself asking the question: would you imagine those two worlds bleeding into each other at all, or affecting each other?
Kathryn Tanner: Part of what I'm trying to suggest is that the contemporary economic circumstance is turning you towards the present. It's telling you to look, look, look, look at the present moment. So rather than saying from a Christian point of view, "you shouldn't pay attention to any of that," instead saying, "yeah, let's look at the present; let's focus on the presence; let's make the present everything, but let's just do that in a different way."
This is something that I do in my theological work generally is let's take something that already has cultural currency, and let's just do something unusual with that rather than rejecting it all together and saying, "oh no, we can't be" as if we're not really a part of this world or we're not really shaped by current economic trends or whatever. Let's work with them, those trends, but do something unusual with them. I push them in different directions. I think about them differently.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: How would that different stance towards focusing on your present, how would that change things for somebody who focuses on the present very intensely? The sense that in grace, you have everything that you need for this moment, from a Christian perspective, what difference does that make?
Kathryn Tanner: That's a really good point. I'd be suggesting that you should try to enact that same way of looking at the present that you find from a Christian point of view in the present economic circumstance, and that means changing the economic structures of things. So if the problem here is that you don't have any slack, this is something that these poverty theorists talk about, give people some slack. There's plenty of evidence that suggest that one of the things that economically disadvantages African-Americans is that they don't have any savings. And there's a reason why they don't have any saving. They've been systematically expropriated for centuries. So if that's the case, then something needs to be done so that they can actually have money in the bank to trade on, so to speak, when there's an emergency so that they won't be forced into these dire circumstances when they get a flat tire on their car, or whatever. They'll be able to deal with that in ways that won't be seriously life altering.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: To cut off the cascading effects of being chained to something that just happened. So we've talked about the past and the present a little bit. You say that the way that markets and pricing mechanisms are structured nowadays means that "consideration of the present for all intents and purposes collapses into concern about the future." How does that happen?
Kathryn Tanner: There I'm specifically looking at stock markets or other secondary markets for financial products. So I'm not sure whether this holds the across the board for other kinds of economic activity besides something like the stock market. But I was looking at theorists of these kinds of markets who are looking at the way in which the future is already embedded in present prices. So that there's some judgment about the future that's encased, if you want, in the present value of things. And what I was interested about that generally is just the way the present and the future kind of collapse. So that becomes very difficult. Even though you're very worried about the future being different from the present, because you don't want to lose your shirt in the stock market or whatever, you're also trying to control it in ways that in effect collapse it into present expectations. And that prevents I'm suggesting the imagining of a radically different future from the life that we're presently living.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: So there are incentives to try to make the future as continuous and smooth with the present as possible, such that unforeseen deviations don't leave you...
Kathryn Tanner: There's the recognition that there could be lots of discontinuous jumps in, say, market prices, but you're trying to find financial products like derivatives that will smooth over those jumps so that you won't suffer adversely financially from them. So you're trying to maintain control, if you want, over a very unpredictable future. But in order to maintain that control, you have to assume forms of continuity between the present and the future. So even if the future is going to be nothing like the present, you have a very good sense, you think, of the way in which the future is not going to be like the present. And then you'll use that for predictive purposes.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: That's interesting because there's an intense focus on the future, like you were saying, but the focus on the future is almost in the form of pulling it into the present and trying to make it governable from the present, which interestingly pulls it more into line with that focus on the "nothing but the present" sort of thing that we were talking about before.
Kathryn Tanner: Yeah. So present expectation really, you think, determines what's going to happen in the future. And in great part it does because a lot of what's happening here is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if everybody expects the price to go up in future, that's what we'll have.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: There are actually mechanisms in place to make the future-present line up with the present-future
Kathryn Tanner: The GameStop thing—that's what was going on there. They were quite well aware that everybody's betting on this would have this effect. It would make the stock go up and we'd have some other consequences as well.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Interesting. So do you have any thoughts on how all of these dynamics and the ways that they impinge on our lives might affect the practical possibility of something like patience in our world today?
Kathryn Tanner: Patience is a form that relate you to the present in this kind of ample way, a way of elongating the present in some ways that doesn't require immediate action. So yeah, I think that might be an interesting case, if you want, of what I was saying about the possibility of Christian commitments being an antidote to what you're being pushed into by present economic circumstance. Because a lot of what I was describing is a form of impatience. I need to profit now. I need the value of the stock to go up right now. I can't wait for it.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Similarly, I need to get the future under control now. It's harder to treat the future as something that's going to arrive of its own accord.
Kathryn Tanner: And arrive gradually in a way that can't be forced. So there's no waiting. That's the other part of it. So the GameStop thing—that's not a patient process. People are doing what they're doing in order to see an immediate rise in the stock that then is going to have a negative effect on hedge funds that are shorting GameStop. Yeah, you're always expecting something to happen rapidly, immediately. And if it doesn't, you're not going to profit in the way that you otherwise would. There's no profit in waiting.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: There's no profit in waiting. Yeah. That's very different from a sort of idea where even just thinking in terms of investing money, this sort of view where you invest in a sound business that over the course of several decades is going to grow and come into its fullness, create some sort of economic value for you. Or there are ways where you could imagine investing is precisely a matter of waiting and requiring patience. And this example seems to be quite different from that.
Kathryn Tanner: Some of it has to do with questions of stability and volatility. So if you're facing a situation that's extremely volatile, like the stock market, that's what pushes you to react immediately and not to wait. If you were in a much steadier kind of circumstance and things weren't going up and down in unpredictable ways, you valued stability; you valued that about the environment. That would mean you can wait. You should wait. So it has something to do with the value of stability and instability. And are you trying to create a more stable environment so that you can count on things being the same, or more or less the same, over some length of time?
But what do you do if you can't do anything about the environment and it is just unpredictably volatile? How do you react to that? And Christians might have something to say as well that you shouldn't just mirror it. You shouldn't just mirror the volatility. And the usual economic strategy, the business model is just to mirror the volatility. So you mirror the market and you hire and fire people depending on what the market is doing. Is that a good idea? And I think even on just simple business calculations, that's often not a really good idea if you are hiring firing people as the market goes up and down because you're going to have to rehire people, and you're going to have a very unstable corporate environment. The morale is going to be terrible and etc. A good way of looking at things just to reevaluate stability or patience is something like that: that you stick with it, even if it seems like it might not be the best idea in the short term to stick with it.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Here, Kathy's point about stability and instability, about the economically normal strategy of mirroring the volatility of a market for the sake of profit should make us wonder what is the appropriate Christian response to volatility? What does patience look like in modern capitalism? What kind of resistance does it apply to the otherwise intuitive response of leveraging volatility and instability? To this point, Kathy moves into God's stable and steadfast love as a model for Christian response to instability and volatility.
Kathryn Tanner: Typically, Christians understand their commitments and I think most religious people understand their commitments as longstanding ones and ones that shouldn't be given up when the going gets rough. And there's plenty accounts of God's own commitment to us and how that is steadfast love. That's talked about so much in the Psalms that even when the recipients of God's love are doing all kinds of things that shouldn't be done or up and down or whatever, God's own commitment remains steadfast. But, again, not in cases of harm. God cannot be harmed, which is one of the good things about being God, not being at risk in these ways. But anyway, yeah, you should be imitating this kind of commitment in your own Christian lives. Really good example of that is— Kierkegaard is maybe taking to the extreme— Kierkegaard's works of love that you should love the person even when they're dead exactly as if they were not dead. You should just continue. So yeah, I think there's a difference in values here and a different sense of what it means to be committed to something.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: So I want to come back to—you were talking about the stability and then you brought up the steadfastness of God's care and love. So that reminded me of the long Augustinian tradition of thinking that all other goods are unstable. The whole world is basically, from an Augustinian perspective, like a volatile financial market that is going to crash on you at some point. And so you should really invest only in that one good that is stable because eternal and is not going to change and is not going to let you down. And I take it that you would want to ward off certain practical inferences from that line of thinking without necessarily totally tossing it out the windows. I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about what it's like to remain, in some sense, invested in a world of instability with that horizon of divine stability as somehow orienting you.
Kathryn Tanner: Sociologists and political theorists talk about that something has to hold firm in order for you to take risks, and that means risks with unreliable people and blah, blah, blah. So that is not an either or. You direct all your attention to something that is risk-free or that is completely stable or eternal or whatever, but they're connected to one another that in virtue of being committed to a God who doesn't change and who's stable, that enables you to throw yourself into an unpredictable, volatile, and fallen world and not feel that you're going to be destroyed by that.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Is the analogy something like the firmness of the ground beneath your feet is absolutely necessary in order for you to move things around with your muscles? You need a place to stand.
Kathryn Tanner: Yeah. If you have some security, in other words, you're able to take more risks and be more entrepreneurial, if you want. Whereas if you're just thrown into a very economically challenging circumstance and you can sink or swim and there's no telling, then people tend to draw back and protect themselves and not take chances. So this is an analog of that kind of religious security that you're secure in God, and therefore you can go out and engage other people in ways that are risky. People are going to let you down. Things might not turn out so hot, but you're willing to do that because you have some source of security, which isn't just one more item in an unpredictable, insecure world.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Kathy, thanks again.
Kathryn Tanner: Yeah, we should continue these conversations.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Definitely. I'll look forward to the next time.
Kathryn Tanner: Okay. Take care.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Living in light of God's economy of grace and abundant life offers us an imaginative and prophetic counter to the economy of zero-sum profits, urgency and time as a commodity. It's easy to think that the choice of allegiance to God or mammon is the same as a choice between abundance or scarcity, stability or volatility, love or fear. In reality, it's more difficult than that. Abundant life in a broken world sometimes looks like bearing scarcity, costly sharing, giving resources, giving time. Sometime it feels like we don't have to give. Next up in our series on patience, we'll consider more deeply the difference that God's steadfast patience with us makes for a society facing these difficult choices. Thanks for listening.
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured theologians, Kathryn Tanner and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. Production assistance by Martin Chan and Nathan Jowers. I'm Evan Rosa and I edited and produced the show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu. New episodes drop every Saturday with the occasional midweek. If you're new to the show, so glad that you found us. Remember to hit subscribe, so you don't miss any episodes. And if you've been listening for a while, thank you, friends. If you're liking what you're hearing, I've got a request. Would you support us? It's pretty simple, really, and won't take much time. Here are some ideas:
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