Religion in Business

By Priest, Jim T. | THE JOURNAL RECORD, November 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Religion in Business


Priest, Jim T., THE JOURNAL RECORD


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 Hendricks 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- esteem. 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 training. That's a daunting and discouraging finding. This suggests "training" for ethics may have little or no impact on ethical practices. 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. …

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