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