In search of transcendent commerce & immanent value: an exploration of faith & business

Money is a religion.

That’s not a condemnation of our consumer society. It’s just a fact.

What is religion? Let me break out my diploma and tell you that there is no good definition of religion. So you must craft something that describes how you engage with religious beliefs – your own or others.

I’m inclined to start with a definition of religion proposed by Dr. John D Caputo, of Syracuse University. Religion is:

…something simple, open-ended, and old-fashioned, namely, the love of God.

In this case, “God” is a word that stands for your higher power. It could be a personal god or it could be an idea, object, or belief that you hold higher than any other.

A definition like this one makes it clear: there is a religion of money.

Money is both an object of faith – you don’t think those bills in your wallet are actually worth something, do you? – and a system for guiding our behavior – we do what we need to do to get the money we “need.”

We put faith in the fact that the number in the corner of a paper bill is what the bill is actually worth. We put faith in the idea that a plastic rectangle means we will pay what we owe. We put faith in the check that we get at the end of each week.

On the flip side, money guides everything we do. It is its own set of commandments. Thou shalt get a job. Thou shalt pay the bills. Thou shalt save for retirement. Thou shalt buy a [car, house, appliances, etc...]. If you break a commandment, society tells you about it.

Understanding money as a religion – even a poor one – has helped me to better understand the nature of pricing, become more comfortable with exchanging money for service in a transaction, and develop a philosophy for commerce that extends past my own business.

So if money is a religion, how does my own faith affect the way I make money?

Perhaps more important to me & my angle on the conversation:

How does my philosophy of religion affect my philosophy of business?

My philosophy of religion stems from the work I did in college. I studied the thread of the Reformation that eventually became Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s idea of “religionless Christianity.”

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor & theologian. He was also a committed pacifist who was involved in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. He was hung for his crime days before his prison camp was liberated. He’s a complex dude.

While he sat in Tegel Prison, Bonhoeffer began to construct a theology of “religionless Christianity.” While the title may be provocative, the premise is simple:

Jesus is there only for others … The church is the church only when it exists for others.

The system of religion that Bonhoeffer saw all around him was one in which the self was the center. I do this, I am absolved, I become closer to God.

He found this counter to the message of Jesus, to the core of Christianity.

While the work was not completed before his death, Bonhoeffer sought to strip the religious “system” of me-centered rites & rituals and turn to a simple code of “live for others.”

See where I’m going? Bonhoeffer was building a you-centered faith.

It’s no wonder that I see the emerging economy as you-centered, other-centered. It’s no wonder that I am convinced that the path to personal success is paved with other-centered business practices.

Bonhoeffer’s gospel was very much a social gospel. But even more, it was a community gospel. It was a simple prescription for creating communities that worked. His work begs the question: how can we be uncared for if it’s everyone’s desire to care for those around them?

Expressing yourself and your love & gratitude for a higher power becomes an intimate, connected experience between people, here & now.

Why should commerce be any different? Why rely on a system of investments, operating budgets, and procedure to dictate the credibility of a particular business?

What if we remove the barriers to commerce – to connection – and engage each other as individuals with immanent value?

Who needs the old system of business, commerce, and consumption when we can strip that all away and create more meaningful transactions (connections) between each other as human beings?

Click to tweet the word!

Just as the truth of your own faith – whatever it might be – is found in your own experience, the truth of your own business is found in its ability to connect people and highlight their own value.

Your position as “business owner” in the You-Centered Economy is inherently other-focused. You are in business for the benefit of others. The rewards you reap are directly related to your ability to shine your light on those you serve.

When viewing business through the eyes of faith, you can put money back in its place. You can remove money from the realm of religion and see it, instead, as a representation of exchange, a currency for action.

Money is a symbol – a representation of meaning – of the connections we are creating. First, create connection. Second, assign appropriate value to that connection. Third, exchange the currency. Money merely stands in place. The meaning stands on its own.

Invest in connection, spend the dividends.

Just as our faith transcends the actions we perform on others behalves, our value transcends the transaction & the currency exchanged. Yet both of these scenarios are dependent on the immanence of human connection.

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If you enjoyed this post and are hungry for more, check out my posts Stop Trying to Make Money From Your Passion and Towards You-Centered Economics.

Would love to see your thoughts & reflections on this on Twitter. Use the hashtag #youeconomy!

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23 comments on “In search of transcendent commerce & immanent value: an exploration of faith & business

  1. I’m going to read this over again. This is some deep stuff.

    It makes me think of the scripture that says ‘you can’t love both God and Money’. If this is the truth than all religious acts done for the sake of one’s ego serve money. And the only way out is to put love above career status, and clients/employees/etc above profits.

    Quite a difficult task we have as humans. But I think its totally possible. And I agree that this is what is about to bust forth out of the dark era we are in. Its just the old ways dying so the what is coming will be stripped of any religion.

    • tara gentile says:

      It is totally possible. But it’s important to realize that serving God & others doesn’t negate the flow of money & wealth. Easy for me to say now… but not so much a few years ago.

      Earning money doesn’t mean you’re not serving. In fact, earning money can be (although not necessarily) an indication of your service. Figure out what that means & what form that’s going to take for you.

      • Yes – despite that I view serve others as more important than making tons of money for the sake it, as someone born and raised in NY state, I fully grasp how much money it takes to maintain a lifestyle that supports those closest to you and build a sustainable career/business.

        The hardest part for me is deciding upon an actual number. I completely get the concept but have a hard time figuring out how to interpret that into something so hmm ‘labeling’… if that makes sense. Breaking out of the 9 to 5 mold with a few unhealthy non-profit arts roots is making this translation of my value/time/experience into a yearly salary daunting. And until I figure out those goals its hard to determine what products/services to offer.

        I honestly feel like I’m doing this all backwards but I’m not sure coming up with fantastic product/sales ideas without any goals is the right way either. Anyway… I’m rambling at this point. Thanks for sharing this post and thanks for the reply :)

  2. Melissa says:

    I’m loving the direction your going with your new endeavors, and, gotta tell you, your new pics are marrrvelous!

    • Wendy says:

      Great post, but it should be “imminent”, not “immanent”.

      Sorry to be picky, but that stuff bugs me!

      • tara gentile says:

        Hey Wendy! That stuff bugs me too ;) But, in this case, the word “immanent” is correct – it means “inherent or existing within.” We use it in theology & philosophy to talk about the divine presence that exists within the world – and not merely outside it.

        Immanent value is referring to the inherent – and divine – true worth that is within each of us and all of our creative work.

        Imminent means “about to happen.”

        • Wendy says:

          Sorry, Tara, I stand corrected! Immanent was not in my ancient Webster’s dictionary.

          I leaned something new today- cool!

  3. Jennifer H. says:

    I agree with Jessica. This IS some deep stuff. You’ve definetely given me something to think about & process.

    I love your new pics too!

  4. I appreciate this post so much. I am experiencing a similar shift in wanting to figure out how my seminary experience and ultimately my theology is shaping who I am and how I want to do business. I know that the formula has felt shallow to who I am. Thanks for bolstering my courage to continue the transition.

    • tara gentile says:

      I actually owe a lot to Mark Silver at Heart of Business (http://heartofbusiness.com) for pushing me to really connect the dots between my theology & my business philosophy. I had compartmentalized them for far too long.

      I would love to hear more about how your own theology is affecting how you build a business!

  5. Sara says:

    Hey Tara

    You’re such an inspiration and I totally agree with this. My partner (husband?) and I have the same approach to spirituality- he is actually a part of a Vedanta group, which isn’t a religious organization per say- but a philosophy of how to approach God.
    In Vedanta there is a saying that all paths lead to the same truths. So you could be a practicing Christian, Hindi, Buddhist, whatever- and still grab some meaning and truth from it’s teachings.

    One of our inspirations is the Beatles after their trip to India. They were able to put their spiritual practice in motion- without labeling it as anything to do with spirituality… But the quality that came from it is obvious.
    That’s what we really strive to do for our business, life, and family as well….. But oh to learn the balancing act!

  6. Liz says:

    Tara,

    This is a GREAT post! I loved it and it is so true. We really do boost ourselves when we use our business to serve others. It is so natural in society to do the opposite, but truthfully, it’s the serving that creates a relationship with a customer who will in turn give your business a boost whether by future purchases or word of mouth referrals. LOVE IT!

  7. joy says:

    wow, what a great post! I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit lately, so to see your take on it is wonderful. thanks for putting this out into the world. I appreciate it. xo

  8. AMY says:

    I am not a regular reader of your column and I don’t know some of your buzz words – e.g. you-centered, other-centered – so I am probably not your ideal reader. None the less I can’t see the flow from your exploration of faith to your conclusion …

    “Money is a symbol – a representation of meaning – of the connections we are creating. First, create connection. Second, assign appropriate value to that connection. Third, exchange the currency. Money merely stands in place. The meaning stands on its own.”

    This concept is easy to grasp and I’m sure many people can see it whether they have a religious faith or not. Are you saying that you would not have been aware of this if you had not viewed “business through the eyes of faith”? Or are you rather presenting your ideas in a new context as a way of broadening your readership?

    Thanks

  9. This is a great post Tara. Thanks for making the connections so clear. I LOVED your Art of Earning ebook. Thank you, thank you, from a reader in Down-under Australia. oxox

  10. Wanda says:

    Hi Tara!
    Thanks so much for this post and I also agree with Jessica about it being some deep stuff! I have been struggling with my faith and how I do business for a while (am I charging too much – am I charging too little? sometimes working for free!). I am a freelance costume / fashion designer and at one point I questioned whether or not I should be doing this at all but it wasn’t until I read this scripture
    “She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honour are her clothing”
    Proverbs 31:24-25
    That a sense of relief came over me because I really did not want to stop doing what I was doing.
    I love what I do and I always felt that I was given a gift from God to be able to provide a service that can benefit others.
    Even though there is still a small struggle it seems that it is getting easier and easier and new doors keep opening up each day.
    Thank you so much! You are an inspiration xoxo

  11. Me and my husband were just listening on the radio to this situation where a woman’s very well-off, 3-yr, live-in boyfriend wouldn’t offer to help her with her car payment, despite her being laid off and doing all of the household chores. Most interestingly, was how the hosts and callers reacted.

    The thing that sticks with me is when one of the hosts said, “Listen. This isn’t a favor like, ‘Would you do the laundry?’ This is money!”

    So true how people treat money like an “other.”

    Also, I was a Religion major my first year of college, so Bonhoeffer really brought me back. :)

  12. LibertysYarn says:

    Like many have said, this is deep stuff and I need to meditate on this and the prior 3 posts. GREAT STUFF!

    I am reminded of an interview from the Daily Show with the author of Republic Lost. He described how our political system has been corrupted by, not only contributions, but the reciprocal reliance created therein. Its not that dissimilar from our personal lives. Its breaking that reliance on our current relationship with money and the system we use to earn it that seems to be the key.

  13. Laura Toller Gardner says:

    Kudos on the concept of immanent values! If we are unique expressions of Divine energy, then the same goes for the values upon which we build our lives, families, businesses, etc. As within, so without!
    Delighted that you are unfolding this wisdom within your creative and biz genius. It feels just right! And yes, stellar new photos. :)

    With sparkly affection,
    Laura

  14. Larissa says:

    Wow! I don’t know what else to say! This and your previous post are really challenging me, it’s so diffferent to what ‘society’ says, It’s what I need to read, and speaks to my heart. Thank you.

  15. Clara says:

    Hi, Tara. I linked to this from one of your more recent posts and the subject really resonated with me (itt seems Mark Silver gave you good advice). As some other readers have mentioned, I too appreciate the integration of your spiritual values with your business life in your writing. You raise important issues, and by doing so add extra dimension to the “picture” I have of you. We humans are complex creatures; too often we shy away from revealing that in public forums. I, for one, think that it makes us more real. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  16. Mary Apffel says:

    Tara….Thanks! Great insights. You have no idea how timely your message is for me. I am in the process of changing my business to follow my passion but I knew I needed something else. I’ve posted a “It’s the SERVICE!” sign in my office. I do want my business to be my service to the world. Thanks again. I hope I meet you sometime….maybe at Power Chicks.