Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 9, 2002
Big business ethics in question
We must be spiritually remade before we are ready for God's kingdom
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
That everyone experiences a sense of personal guilt is common place. The conviction that the whole race is sick is scarcely less widespread. Recent events in the business world have added fresh evidence of such personal and systemic breakdown, traditionally explained by the Christian doctrines of personal and original sin.
Every day, it seems, a new scandal bursts into public view.
Bankrupt K-Mart is under Securities and Exchange investigation for allegedly cooking the books.
Former telecom giants WorldCom, Qwest and Global Crossing are all being investigated by the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and/or the Congress.
Adelphia's founding family is charged after it revealed that members used the company as their own personal piggy bank, dipping into corporate funds to subsidize the Buffalo Sabres hockey.
A $100-million settlement was secured from Merrill Lynch earlier this year after the brokerage firm was accused of hyping its stocks to win business for its investment banking unit.
Arthur Anderson was found guilty of obstructing justice when it shredded documents related to the bankrupt Enron Corporation.
Using quasi-religious terminology, Morgan Stanley strategist, Barton Biggs, wrote recently that people deeply believed, as an article of faith, in the integrity of the system and the markets. Sure it may have seemed like a casino, but at least it was an honest casino. Now many people are questioning that basic assumption. Are they players in a loser's game?
Without that faith that reported numbers reflect reality, that companies are being run honestly, that Wall Street is playing it straight and investors are not being hoodwinked, our capital markets simply can't function.
The phony earnings, inflated revenues, insider trading, conflicted analysts, directors asleep at the switch and unscrupulous executives testify that personal and original sin are still very much alive today.
The central problem of morality is the sin of pride or rebellion against God. It takes the form of a claim of autonomy: complete self-determination. The clearest practical symbol of being free from all authority or control is money and what it can buy.
The hatred and anger and lust fomented by greed are immediate corollaries. In fact the love of money continues when all passion is spent and anything else that might have resembled love is dead.
Just as the love of God needs to be made actual in love of neighbour, so sin, the focusing of love exclusively inwards on the self, never occurs in this life in a naked form. It needs to be realized, to become incarnate, in particular decisions and acts which amount to a rejection of what love demands here and now. Sin is not just the failure to observe a rule or a law, but the refusal to meet the practical demands of love.
As we develop our package of reforms for cleaning up the system and try to restore investor confidence, we need to hear again the call to conversion - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).
Jesus makes the need for conversion clear from the beginning. God's new order is so radically different from everything we are accustomed to that we must be spiritually remade before we are ready and equipped to participate in it. In his Gospel, John would later refer to the change as a "new birth."
No aspect of human existence is safe from this sweeping change - neither the personal, nor the spiritual, social, economic and political. The kingdom of God has come to change the world and us with it.
The assumption is that we are on the wrong path, moving away from God. The Bible refers to our self-determined course as walking in sin, darkness, blindness, dullness, sleep and hardness of heart. To convert is to make an about-face and take a new path.
The turning about is deeply personal, but it is never private. It is never abstract; conversion is always a practical issue.
In 1996 the United States Conference of Bishops suggested a 10-point ethical framework for economic life to be used as principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and directions for action. Several of them seem ad rem:
"In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the same."
"Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life and social justice."
"The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy."
"A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and the vulnerable are faring."
"The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might live on this globe."
We need a society of work, enterprise and participation which is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled to assure that the basic needs of the whole society are satisfied.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
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