It is not a secret to anyone that the USA has adopted western European business ethic model. Considering the dominance of Judeo-Christian culture in that region, it is of small wonder that quite a few moral principles from the Bible have entered the field of international affairs. I suggest that we compare the two sets of morals: the one hidden beneath the texts of the Bible and the one widely applied in business. The work in the world of negotiation has been traditionally seen as something that cannot possibly contribute anything to God worship. Ambitions and wealth, property owning and exploitation of human labor (however slight and well rewarded) are considered sinful in the opinion of representatives of the traditional branches of Christianity, such as the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Yet Wayne Grudem claims that an effective work of any businessman can be a proper way to glorify the Holy Father. I suggest that we investigate some of the ideas provided by the author in his book “Business for the glory of God: the Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business”.
They will be criticized from a few points of view, and certain remarks will be included based on the ideas of Karl Marx and John Kaynes. John Kaynes made a curious comment concerning the discussed subject: “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the wickedest of men will do the wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone”. These words cannot be disregarded (for the concept of private business is a tribute to capitalism), because Kaynes is one of the “developers” of modern economic theory, yet, this remark contradicts with the main idea of Grudem. Can it be simply because Kaynes’s point of view is a realistic one and the author of the mentioned book makes assumptions about what the state of things could be like in perfect conditions? Wayne Grudem does not deny the fact that the current perception of business is based on just observations and the experience of the past, yet he claims that none of the elements of business and negotiation has been initially evil.
Four chapters of Grudem’s book (ownership, money, inequality of possession, borrowing and lending) concern material possessions and their management. The traditional interpretation of the Bible states that any type of possession is sinful; therefore the disciples who take the veil make a vow of poverty. Obviously, poverty cannot keep the business running. Such misinterpretation of the Bible (for I agree with the author, there is no allusion to the virtue of poverty in the Bible) among the Orthodox and Catholics is a result of the traditional hierarchical structure of the society originated in the Dark Ages (early Middle Ages), where the top figure on the scale would collect almost all the earned money (collected crops, livestock, produced goods) and manage it in the way he (back in those days women were prosecuted even for seeing dreams, it was virtually impossible for one of them to gain a high post) would find it appropriate.
Both Grudem and Marx agree on the ultimate importance of money (as an equivalent of possession or its measure) in the modern society. At some point, I do agree with the author of the book: barter used to slow down the development of the commerce; therefore, money as an equivalent, a measure for all products and services was initially a good idea and it still remains a useful and practical invention. Also, it was a sensible idea for the author to draw a fine line between the money as an object and “love of money, as a root of all evil”. At this point, the opinions of Grudem and Marx coincide (at least somewhat), because Karl Marx also chose to differentiate the concept of money and the concept of capital (which here we can interpret as “wealth”). Therefore, I do not share the author’s opinion about the money as fundamentally good thing, but I can easily agree with it being a neutral but very useful invention.
As a basic concept seems now rather clear, I suggest that we move further, to the complex issue of possession. In the book “Business for the glory of God” a thirst for possession is seen as a positive phenomenon, the wish to expand one’s care and responsibility, but Marx attributes this desire to the realm of capitalism and the need for an increasing surplus value for major manufacturers, which only results in spreading of poverty on the other “pole” (considering that the surplus value is the value of the produced goods with the laborer’s salary subtracted from it). One could argue that uneven distribution of wealth has been there forever since the simplest hierarchies appeared within savage human communities. Yet the profound studies of the civilizations of the past uncover one curious fact: there has always been poverty, but the person’s “income” never depended solely on the products of his or her labor, the person would also receive a fraction of common wealth, appropriate for his or her (mostly “his”) social status. There was hardly such thing as “you get only as much as you give”.
The mentioned phenomenon can be attributed to the origination of capitalism in the Middle Ages. Again, Grudem sees this inequality of possession as an inherent element of the human society and Marx finds it a drawback of the current economic system. However, it cannot go unnoticed that the first author addresses the concept, and the second author explains the peculiarities of its performance in the given situation. But here they are, the opinion of a theologian against the opinion of the father of the modern economy. Owning private property calls for responsibility, but possession is much more likely to corrupt a person than to organize him or her. I might even agree with Karl Marx on the subject of capitalism being a transitional state of the development of the world economy, and a highly unbalanced one. It also might be that time will show that Grudem was wrong, and any type of possession is initially evil and corrupting for the human society; but I am absolutely convinced that humankind will not be willing to part with this particular “sin” anytime soon.
Yet in his book Wayne Grudem raises the subject of voluntary contribution of some part of possessions to the needs of the others; the issue that could be the answer to balancing the world discrepancy of what one needs and what one gets. In general, improvement of moralities of all people could be a good way to address many global issues, but the idea of founding a new, perfect society based solely on high morals is nothing but Utopia. Grudem also discusses the question of productivity. On the one hand, I cannot gather why the subject entered the list of ambiguous issues, for hard as I’ve tried to find a single relevant work that would count this aspect as a negative one, I failed.
On the other hand, it pleased me to discover the point that had arisen no discussion, the quintessence of everyone’s agreement: all Christian churches find high productivity of any activity a blessing from God, Karl Marx and John Kaynes consider high productivity a result of effective utilization of sources and optimization of processes of manufacturing (of course, these two authors also pay attention to the possible drawbacks of this phenomenon, such as overproduction, but Grudem only addresses the general positive concept of productivity, therefore, I suggest that we set aside its probable side effects for now). Karl Marx even commented once on the subject of manufacturing, production and productivity, saying that human labor is what makes a difference between the initial and the final product and the difference in their cost; apart from that, a man can do nothing above what nature (in the context of my work “nature” could be substituted with”God”) is capable of, which is changing only form of things. It is still a question open for discussion whether the joy of creating something new is an attribute to the godly origins of the human body and soul, but it definitely lifts one’s spirits to see a new high-quality and beautiful thing created with her or his own hands.
The last controversial point on which I’d like to cast light is employment. Karl Marx sees this aspect as one of the first signs of a working capital: an employer has obtained a big enough capital to free himself from physical labor and allows money to work for him (the exchange of parts of capital for employees’ labor). The Orthodox and Catholic churches see employment as a neutral thing. Yet, considering the aspect of the “sinful origins of any possession”, the appropriate reward for work is seen as food, shelter and a good attitude, but hardly ever any money. Basically, the traditional approach of Church to paying with conveniences for labor, a kind of barter, seems to have much in common with the ideology of the communist system (the hierarchical scales of both seem quite similar as well). The approach has proven itself to be inapplicable in the current capitalistic world.
Therefore, given a just attitude of an employer towards the employees, fair wages and good work conditions, the phenomenon of employment does not seem to bear any initially evil origin. As for the perversions that have invaded the original neutral-good model of employment, I can only add that even a fork could be used for poking eyes instead of picking food. The book ““Business for the glory of God: the Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business” by Wayne Grudem does have a seed of truth in it, because none of the discussed concepts has been developed for harm; on the contrary, most of them were designed to make the commerce and cooperation easier for everyone. And in the perfect conditions, in the world, where morality possesses the ultimate value and no perversions are ever implemented into the elaborate structures of cooperation, the functioning of the designed processes would go smoothly, provoking no discontent from any of the parties.
The love of money seems to have corrupted the society and the developed tools are used for increasing the income rather than for harmonizing the relationships between people and providing high-quality products for everyone. Indeed, now business is seen as something that lacks morals and ethics, but with a bit of effort and a major change of attitude it could be aimed at achieving a global welfare.
Grudem, W. (2003). Business for the glory of god: the bible’s teaching on the moral goodness of business. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books. Keynes, J. M. (1936). The general theory of employment, interest and money. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. Marx, K. H. (1867). Capital. (4 ed., Vol. 1). Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.