Christmas Reflection: Can Good Christians Make Good Businessmen And Women?

Dec 23 2013, 4:47pm CST | by

Christmas Reflection: Can Good Christians Make Good Businessmen And Women?
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

“… [T]he chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life.” –Calvin Coolidge, 1925 

We all know the reason for the season: It’s to put America back to work, by boosting the economy through shopping sprees and travel plans.

And we increasingly know about the thick and thorny tangle of related issues:

  • While economic development has been solid (and at times breathtaking) in recent decades, the divide between the haves and the have-nots has been growing even faster. President Obama spoke earlier this month about the problem of growing inequality, whereby “a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.”
  • Even The Economist, one of our great champions of the free market, has brooded increasingly over whether enough may finally be enough.
  • Some scholars have argued that trust—the glue that binds a democratic society—breaks down as the distance between the rich and the poor grows, and that this trust even breaks down at a chemical level within human bodies, resulting in a breakdown of measures of social good.  (See the famous TED talk by epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson).
  • And economic development itself may not be environmentally sustainable and may turn future generations into have-nots. As The Economist noted a few years ago, our concept of economic development may make the planet implode once it houses 9.3 billion by the year 2050.

Against this backdrop, there’s the matter of clashing values that have historically guided most Americans. These values are often frighteningly contradictory when it comes to business and money.

Stewart Davenport, a history professor at Pepperdine University, bravely addressed the elephant in the room a few years ago in Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon: Northern Christians and Market Capitalism 1815-1860: 

Americans are and always have been some of the most voluntarily religious people in the world as well as some of the most grossly materialistic. In other words, Americans simultaneously and paradoxically subscribe to both the Christian ethic of humility and selflessness, and the American liberal-capitalist ethic of competition, success, and self-promotion.

It is almost as if many Americans have gone about trying to understand themselves and their world with the Bible in one hand and John Locke in the other. Reconciling the two, however, has never been an easy task. One told them that ‘ye cannot serve God and mammon,’ while the other unabashedly encouraged them to pursue lives of material happiness.”

In Unrighteous Mammon, Davenport observed three different groups in America’s past wrestling with what economic development meant:

  • One group of religious leaders simply welded capitalism onto Christianity, without embarrassment or apology.
  • Another group was reactionary, arguing that society should resist the evils of no-holds-barred capitalism.
  • And a third group attempted to find a middle position, in which new economic realities would arise without dismantling the entirety of the Christian ethic.

I find the first group to be at times morally tone-deaf. I admire the second group’s moral resolve, but I suspect it’s too hopelessly naïve to affect how people live.

The third group, in the time of Adam Smith and today, may be the one that has something meaningful to bring to the discussion of how morality and prosperity intersect.

Principled … But Pragmatic

These people are principled but pragmatic.  They know they’re living in a complicated world. They try to make peace with that complicated world, and they try to make that complicated world a little better, knowing that a perfect world is beyond their reach.

Unlike the first group, they don’t pretend that the structure of this complicated world is ideal. Unlike the second group, they don’t keep closing their eyes and imagining utopian fantasy realms in which there are no winners or losers.

In that sense, good Christians (and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Wiccans and, yes, secular humanists) can be good businessmen and women, combining a sober sense of humility and duty with the “moving impulses” that Calvin Coolidge ascribed to Americans. In fact, all of them may need to be both “good” and “good at business,” if our current concept of an American lifestyle is to remain a viable model in the coming years.
/>

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

New crew aboard Russian spaceship reach ISS
Washington, Nov 24 (IANS) Three new crew members from the US, Russia and Italy arrived Monday at the International Space Station (ISS) on board a Russian spaceship.
 
 
First Italian female astronaut ready for spaceflight
Rome, Nov 24 (IANS) History will be made Monday with the first ever Italian female astronaut set to go into space for a mission on board the International Space Station (ISS).
 
 
Mummy wearing jewellery unearthed in Egypt
London, Nov 23 (IANS) Spanish archaeologists have discovered about 4,000 years old female mummy wearing rare jewellery in Egypt.
 
 
Exercise and fasting could boost brain's functions
Washington, Nov 23 (IANS) Exercise along with occasional fasting is good for boosting the brain's neurons, shows a new research.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Hamilton admits hardly sleeping the night before
Abu Dhabi, Nov 24 (IANS/CMC) Newly crowned Formula 1 World champion Lewis Hamilton has revealed he hardly slept the night before the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which he eventually won to clinch his second...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Real Madrid to play in Australian tournament
Melbourne, Nov 24 (IANS) Real Madrid, which boasts the most expensive squad in world football, have been announced as one of three teams to compete in the International Champions Cup in Melbourne in July. The...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Cruzeiro win Brazil Serie A title
Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Nov 24 (IANS) Cruzeiro have clinched their second consecutive Brazilian Serie A title with a 2-1 victory over Goias. Everton Ribeiro struck the winner at the Mineirao stadium Sunday after...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Honours shared in Milan derby
Rome, Nov 24 (IANS) Inter Milan have played out a 1-1 draw against crosstown rivals AC Milan in a sellout Serie A game. Jeremy Menez gave AC Milan a lead at halftime but Joel Obi equalised for Inter shortly after the...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
IOC chief condemns Afghan bombing
Lausanne, Nov 24 (IANS) International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach condemned the suicide bombing at a volleyball tournament in Afghanistan. The lone bomber detonated explosives Sunday during a local...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Marseille tops French league
Paris, Nov 24 (IANS) Marseille have climbed to the top of the French league after rallying to beat Bordeaux 3-1. With the victory, they now enjoy a one-point lead over Paris Saint-Germain. Bordeaux striker Thomas...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
New crew aboard Russian spaceship reach ISS
Washington, Nov 24 (IANS) Three new crew members from the US, Russia and Italy arrived Monday at the International Space Station (ISS) on board a Russian spaceship. Terry Virts of NASA, Soyuz Commander Anton...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Sears plans for big Black Friday 2014
Sears is looking foward to cashing in big time for the upcoming Black Friday 2014 shopping holiday on Novermber 28th. Members of Sears have seen their Black Friday specials start one week early and the company has...
Read more on Black Friday Countdown
 
Apple gears up for Black Friday
Black Friday is fast approaching and one company that plans on seeing a sales increase is Apple. Apple has announced that they will have discounted prices for the upcoming buying holiday and one product they plan on...
Read more on Black Friday Countdown
 
Thousands protest in Chile in favour of new constitution
Santiago, Nov 24 (IANS/EFE) Several thousand people took to the streets of Santiago and other Chilean cities to demand a Constitutional Assembly as a means to provide the country with a new constitution, as was...
Read more on Politics Balla