My new friend John pulled the news article from his pocket and
pushed it across the breakfast table toward me. The headline from
the Nov. 17 edition of USA Today read, "Businesses seek religion to
improve the bottom line."
As I scoured the article written by Rabbi Gerald Zelizer, I felt
mixed emotions. The rabbi revealed that American businesses were
increasingly looking to "religion" as a way to increase profits. I
was glad to read about a resurgence of faith in the marketplace but
it sounded to me like the tail wagging the dog.
"In the 21st century, more religious leaders will be found in the
corporation than in the conventional church," argue Dr. Gay
and Kate Ludeman, who organize religious/business seminars in the
United States. "This shift will be traced to the disintegration of
the nuclear family and the increasing importance of work as a source
of self satisfaction."
According to Zelizer, the gap between religion and the work world
is narrowing because they both speak to the same issue: self-
Without religion and/or work, we wonder whether we have value. More
and more businesses are looking to religion to help their employees
"find themselves," become more productive and bring more to the
corporate bottom line.
As I mentioned, I'm pleased there's a new emphasis on faith in the
marketplace, but using religion as a method to produce profitability
is both distasteful and, well, unethical. When we use our religious
faith primarily to maximize profit in our business, we are
prostituting a sacred thing. A religious faith should definitely
make us more ethical, and it may make our businesses run better. But
heaven forbid we should misuse heaven to boost earnings heavenward.
Zelizer writes, "The most challenging dimension of religion in
business is the application of ethical decisions to the bottom
line." Ninety percent of business schools include mandatory courses
in ethics. Yet despite a resurgent interest about religion and
ethics in recent years, it's difficult to discern a corresponding
increase in the level of ethical business conduct.
In fact, the Journal of Education for Business found that students
who have taken college ethics courses respond less ethically to
ethics surveys than do business people who have had no ethics
That's a daunting and discouraging finding. This suggests
"training" for ethics may have little or no impact on ethical
Just as the proof is in the pudding, the practical benefit of
ethics training is in the performance. If ethics -- or religion --
have no real world application, they should be relegated to some
stuffy corner of a university library to be studied as an ancient,
impractical oddity. If they're not practical, they have no place in
the real world. …