Business
and Religion: A Clash of Civilizations?

edited by
Nicholas Capaldi (M&M Scrivener Press, 2005), 442 pages

book cover imageThis book is the first in a series published by M&M
Scrivener Press, and edited by Nicholas Capaldi, the Legendre-Soule
Distinguished Chair of Business Ethics at Loyola University
in New Orleans, where he also serves as the Director of
the National Institute for Business Ethics. The series,
titled Conflicts
and Trends in Business Ethics,
strives to “rethink
. . . our understanding of traditional business practice
and its relationship to everything else.”

The book looks to the modern tensions among business, ethics,
and morality and how these can be bridged by a heightened
understanding of both business and religion. Capaldi has
brought together a variety of voices from varied religious
and cultural traditions across the globe “in an on-going
conversation designed to challenge, defend, and rethink our
traditional views.”

The potential conflict between a globalized business and
faith is not new. In his landmark book After Virtue,
Alisdar MacIntyre argues that if we hope to slip the grip
of modern barbarians, we need another sort of St. Benedict
to help us see our way clear. Just as Benedict engaged the
world with his Rule, we too must do the same, living out
our faith in the marketplace. His world faced the challenge
of how to bridge religion and commerce. Our world faces a
magnified version of this challenge: Western culture is largely
business culture, which has taken over popular culture, and
transformed it into something hostile to religious faith.

It is here in a world dominated, if not governed, by business
and its interests that business and religion meet. A world
in which religion is minimized, seen as personal and expected
to be kept out of the public square and the boardroom. It
is not so much a clash of civilizations as the book’s
subtitle suggests. Rather it is more like the subculturization
of religion within the civilization of business—a subculture
that is expected to be subservient to business and struggles
within itself between being relevant to and validated by
the business culture and acting in opposition to it.

Business, that is the buying and selling of goods and services,
does not so much clash with religion as the growth-driven
capitalistic and global model of business clashes with our
very nature. Business and religion can thrive together if
intertwined with each other in “a formal, stable, patterned
existence in a particular place . . . a community of neighbors
(with) a collective history.” This type of environment
however is not conducive to the unlimited growth-based, global
business model that dominates contemporary understanding
of capitalism; although it is conducive with a different
profit-based business model—one that seeks to build
and sustain local community as a meaningful part of that
community.

Whether it is acknowledged or not, however, the influence
of religion on business is tremendous, especially when we
talk of business morals and ethics. Religion is in the world,
but not “of” it. Therefore it shapes the world
by throwing as John Paul II wrote, a “critical light
on society.” Business is unable to throw a critical
light on society or itself and must look to something else
for its bearings. As a result business needs religion to
check and inform itself. Indeed business gets its validity
from religion. A business world uninformed by religion becomes
undone by its ego and avarice, recognizing only the primacy
of growth and profit, it devours all in an attempt to get
more—our recent business headlines tell this tale clearly.

Business and Religion presents all sides to this
debate, from those seeking disengagement from global capitalist
models to those interpreting those models through a tradition
of faith. The challenge and, for some, the frustration is
the apparent lack of common ground between the two camps.
But in reality, there is only one camp—that of humanity.
And if we recognize thisand choose to operate our business
lives from the viewpoint of our connectedness as humans beings,
than we will create a humane business world. This cannot
be achieved by fiat, although it can be achieved by individuals
executing their business responsibilities with an awareness
of the human and community based obligations born by all;
taking action accordingly. Such actions are sacrificial in
nature and it is this that makes such action difficult and
rare.

Capaldi’s book provides several exceptional essays
to guide us in this direction. One essay, Subsidiarity
as a Business Model,
focuses on the Catholic principle
of local governance as a model for business success. Subsidiarity
made its debut in Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum.
He presented for the first time the recognized goodness of
local governance and commerce set against the trend towards
political and economic centralization. The employment of
subsidiarity as a model for business as well as government
is the epitome of the environmentalist slogan of “Think
globally, act locally.” This is the challenge of today’s
business executive, how to act locally yet engage effectively
in a global business environment. The challenge can only
be answered by courage and education; courage to stand fast
in the face of expediency as a method to enhance short-term
profits and education of executive and management staffs
to recognize the long-term power and profit to be gained
by leveraging the interests, needs, and talents of local
communities. The placement of profit and loss responsibilities
in the hands of local business units, and requiring executive
development to include time in line operations of the business
unit an executive leads is all part of building a sense of
obligation and understanding of the role local business operations
play in the success and growth of a global business.

Also of note, is the contribution of Harold B. Jones, Jr.
a Methodist pastor who teaches at Mercer University’s
Stetson School of Business and Economics. His essay, The “Conflict” Between
Business and Religion: Where Does It Come From?
, focuses
on how one’s religious orientation manifests itself
in either a religion based self-justification of actions,
in other words using religion when it is convenient or conducive
to personal gain, or viewing religion as a source of rules
about how to live and conduct oneself in the world.

Jones maintains that a person of good spiritual discipline
is better equipped for worldly success than her non-believing
counterparts; summarizing that “. . . the deeply religious
person is likely to be a more effective human being than
the one who keeps God at a distance.” This is to say,
that “a person . . . is likely to deal more effectively
with life when under the influence of a deeply held faith.” Jones
tempers the Weberistic tone of his words by acknowledging
this view is not uniquely Protestant. Rather, “Long
before the Reformation it had been the distinctive trait
of Western monasticism and as such had played a role in the
laying of the foundations of Western prosperity.” How
true this is and it is a large part of the reason we need
to find “another sort of Benedict” to help us
restore the rightful balance between prayer, labor, and leisure
in human activity. Benedict was all about business as it
fit into its proper place and time within the wholesome rhythm
of a rightly ordered society and life.

Jones sees that religion and business do not threaten each
other; it is the acceptance of material abundance as the
measure of things that puts us askew and at odds with religion.
It breeds a lack of personal and cultural discipline so essential
to a balanced life and culture.

The penultimate essay in this collection is by Samuel Gregg,
director of research at the Acton Institute and adjunct professor
at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Marriage and
the Family. Gregg’s essay, Globalization: Insights
from Catholic Social Thought
, is well placed at the
end of the collection and draws an accurate bead on the mark
which lies at the heart of this question of conflict between
religion and business: “How is a Christian to live
out the Great Commandment (Mt 22:36-40) and be a successful
person of business at the same time?”

Gregg cites George Weigel’s summary of the tensions
between a Christian or a Catholic worldview, and the modern
worldview being spread by globalization. The former stresses
the integral unity of every human being, whose end is ultimately
not of this world. The latter renders the inclination to
transcendence to the satisfaction of desires. He struggles
in his conclusion however as he seeks to reconcile a libertarian
view with the Great Commandment—a tall order for any “individual” to
undertake.

In Business and Religion Capaldi accomplishes the
goal he set for himself: to bring together a variety of viewpoints
in a single binding in order to stimulate thought and open
up dialogue on a critical component of modern life. Hopefully
this effort will extend itself beyond academia and the executive
suite, finding its way into local communities and all levels
of business—finding a hearing and application within
the very human workaday world it contemplates.

Kevin P. Shields is a vice president at Automatic Data
Processing (ADP), Owings Mills, Maryland.

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