Document Type


Publication Date



In Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, Margaret Atwood examines different forms of debt and their various interrelations. Her work invites, but does not provide, an account or philosophy of debt or its deep implication in Christian beliefs such as sin, satisfaction, and atonement. This paper aims to bring to light insights into the link between debt and some aspects of Christian belief, especially the ideas of sin and satisfaction. It draws upon another unlikely source-the Ethics and political treatises of Spinoza. Spinoza’s view at least implies that the idea that sin (understood as the voluntary actions of a free agent) creates a ‘debt’ that is ‘paid’ by punishment is a potentially dangerous ‘fiction.' Spinoza intuits that the subsumption of the idea of debt into notions of retribution, vengeance, satisfaction, or atonement, are driven by ‘superstition,' envy, and hatred, and through imitating others’ hateful ideas of oneself. The idea of ‘debt’ is an artefact of civil authority that can only assume affective, normative purchase through internalizing fear of the implicit threat of punishment inherent in law. I will seek, finally, to suggest an implicit critique in Spinoza of the imaginative subsumption of debt into the space of religio.

Copyright Statement

© 2019 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.