Summer Project, Part 5: In Which One Feels Slightly Cheated

Today’s find in the ongoing collection management project deserves a slow reveal.

When first I removed the book from the shelf to consider whether or not it deserved to stick around, I noticed something…curious.


Why, whatever do we have here? It looks curiously like someone used currency as a bookmark (and apparently did so the last time the book was checked out, sometime in the late 1970s, judging by the dust and the yellowing of the paper). Jackpot!

But wait…what’s this, now?


Whuuuuuuut? Why, that’s not money! It’s a message from a kind person who cares for the reader’s soul and salvation so much that they were willing to leave a lovely bit of fake money in the book! Good one, unknown Christian person! You sure got me! [rueful headshake]


Look! There’s even a helpful message on the other side! SO thoughtful! Why, who would ever expect such a generous gift of the spirit in the bit of the library filled with books on ethics and religion? Wow!

More seriously, now — three things:

The fake money tract is an odd sort of passive-aggressive witness tool. When it’s used (marginally) well, it can at least generate conversation. When it’s used badly, however, it’s a pretty douchetastic move (as in those cases in which someone leaves one as a tip in a restaurant without also leaving a real tip — not cool). Apparently, the money tract is available in several different denominations, although $20 is more common now than $5, and there are even million dollar bills floating around — you can buy them in packs of 20!  Go forth and make it rain tracts!

The book in which this particular example of the LucreTract* lurked was an interesting choice: Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics: The New Morality from 1966, a text that occasioned some controversy in the study of Christian ethics and theology at the time of its publication. The reviews at the Amazon link in the previous sentence suggest that the terms of that controversy have not changed much since 1966. Fletcher’s little book is a lightweight staple of general collections in religion and religious ethics (the 1966 hardcover edition alone is held by 1,821 libraries worldwide, according to the book’s WorldCat entry). According to the cover copy, Situation Ethics is

[a] manifesto of individual freedom and individual responsibility, elaborated within an ethic of love, which extricates modern man from rigid, archaic rules and codes. Proclaiming that any moral system is too shallow and petty to provide answers, the author outlines a methodology for decision-making which presupposes individual responsibility and declares that every man must decide for himself what is right…Rising above any creed, this renewed morality of loving concern is based on agape, the love of which only God is capable, but which every man must endeavor to emulate.

On the one hand, it can be read as a book advocating love as the primary spiritual and ethical principle, superseding or informing any other rules or systems. On the other hand, it can also be read as blasphemous nonsense that encourages licentiousness in language that subverts properly Christian morality.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which view would have prompted some past visitor to the text to leave a LucreTract behind.

Fake money isn’t the only money left behind for religious purposes. I once found a dollar in a Gideon Bible (marking a rather slow-going bit of Chronicles) in a motel room. While I can’t recommend doing this as an informal circulation checking tool, it does yield some small profit (so to speak) to the user. One wonders if it would improve student citation practices if they occasionally ran across a dollar or two by reading more than just the first few pages of any given book…



* My own coinage. Catchy, eh?


About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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