Friday, February 11, 2011

God and the Business World

Interesting article here about the Church's relationship to those involved in business.

I find it interesting that the author assumes that many people presume that the Church has historically frowned upon commerce and business or the corporate world in general. Certainly with the ascendancy of leftover hippies to many positions of power in many mainline American churches, I think that is ironically true of American mainline Protestant churches.

That wasn't the case centuries ago when the "Protestant work ethic" largely fueled much of the industrial and capitalist revolutions beginning with mercantilism and the like. Certainly, a strand of Calvinism emphasized the necessity of hard work as a component of a person's calling and worldly success as a sign of Divine Providence. Martin Luther also posited that worldly work was an individual's duty to benefit the common good.

The Catholic tradition likewise has threads that value labor. Benedictine philosophy very much values daily work as a virtue. Work is a way of worshiping God, just as much as prayer or worship. The "work of prayer" is a theme in most monastic traditions in the West.

I would think going back all the way to Judaism where debates on the proper observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest from labor would seem to belie the argument that the Church somehow frowns on business.

I will grant that the Church has a dubious relationship with money (aka 'mammon' in the old King James English.) I think the Church as an institution likes money, but then feels guilty about it, as if money is inherently evil in itself.

While there are threads in Christianity that crop up from time to time that are so fixated on the end times or other theological things of secondary importance that they abhor work and the flesh entirely so as to focus on the 'sweet by and by,' the breakdown in understanding that the article above seems to dance around is this relationship with money, not so much with business, particularly 'for profit' business.

Somehow people think that the Church says that 'profit=bad, no exceptions.' As that article references though, that is not the case. Profit or money is not bad in themselves. If you get them by illegal or unethical means, then, yes, they are bad. If you hoard your wealth and don't help other people with what you have been blessed with, then, yes, your money really profits you nothing. If its what you worship, then it becomes a serious problem that the Church does not smile upon.

We are called to be stewards of what we have been blessed with. We have been called to work for social justice (I know that's a loaded term, but I mean it in the truest meaning of the term) and care for the poor. People in senior management in business are in a unique position to guide a corporation to be philanthropic. Certainly, many a social service or non-profit organization would have to shut their doors if not for corporate donations.

I believe it was Pope John Paul II in an encyclical some years back who said that economies, like the Sabbath, should serve the people, not the other way around. There is nothing wrong with business if you use your business to help the greater good. Its when greed comes in and the business or economy stop being the servant and becomes the master that they become morally and ethically wrong.

1 comment:

Wesley 'Whitey Lawful' Mcgranor said...

Did such an economy not dawn on man until the King of Rome suggested it?