Spirituality and Business: A Christian Viewpoint. An Open Letter to Christian Leaders in Times of Urgency, by Philippe de Woot. Reviewed by David Beech
Spirituality and Business: A Christian Viewpoint. An Open Letter to Christian Leaders in Times of Urgency, by Philippe de Woot.
GSE Research, 2013, 102pp, ISBN 978-1-909201-09-5, £9.99. [French orig. 2009]
Reviewed by David Beech
Philippe de Woot draws deep on the wellsprings of western humanism and Christianity to offer a profound reflection on the Promethean power, genius, and potentially catastrophic consequences of business activity. In an open letter to Christians with business leadership responsibilities, de Woot, Emeritus Professor at Louvain Catholic University, sounds alarm bells about the darkness in capitalism and in humanity and outlines possible ways forward.
The organising argument of the book – set out in the Introduction – is a requirement to coordinate economic and technical creativity and progress with ethical values and political debate for the common good. Managerial leaders in business, de Woot writes, have three primary responsibilities. First, they have an obligation to found the purpose of the company on its creativity and its ability to ensure sustainable economic and technical progress at a profit. Second, business leaders must place ethics at the heart of strategic decisions and behaviour. And, third, Christian leaders with business responsibilities have the civic obligation to engage in political debate about the ethical implications and consequences of their actions in producing and distributing goods and services at a profit. In particular business leaders can contribute to a debate on the kind of world we want to create, a world in which there is a ‘set of social conditions that allow all people and all groups that make up society to achieve their own accomplishments in the most positive manner’.
According to de Woot the dominant model of economic development in the world today is not sustainable. He argues that it is not sustainable because the model of economic and technical progress has no purpose other than its own effectiveness and dynamism. In Chapter One de Woot describes the consequences of disconnecting economic activity from ethical values and public debate. In particular finance dominates the economy and there is a materialist and instrumental focus on understanding means to ends and a neglect of ethical meaning and purpose. This unidimensional model of economic development entrains barbarity and rampant dehumanisation. Examples of barbarity, according to de Woot, are climate change and resource depletion and unfair trade arrangements between developed economies and developing economies. Such barbarity, in turn, dehumanises us, with a ‘growing danger of inequality, exclusion, unemployment and social breakdown’. The implications are clear: earth, its ecosystems and species, may not survive the creative destruction of capitalism. Christian leaders and executives must wake up and denounce the growing deviations of our economic model and its drift into an abyss.
Chapter Two – just over half the book – is organised into three sections on the primary responsibilities of business leaders: for entrepreneurship, for ethics, and for statesmanship in the sense of contributing to the political debate about the kind of world we want to create. In each section de Woot develops his critique of a dominant and unidimensional model of economic development and its adverse effects and outlines proposals for an ethical way forward. Here de Woot summarises a lifetime of engagement with these issues and ways of addressing them for the common good. De Woot offers a positive road map for creating economic and societal progress in a sustainable and wholly responsible way.
In Chapter Three de Woot grapples with the agonising problem of evil. And he writes, ‘At the heart of evil there are people who fight it and whose bright smile speaks of life, love and probably eternity’. His insights and his selection of quotations from other testaments – Old, New, humanist, and related texts – are inspirational. I would have liked attention to other faith traditions. Thus, this testament from a Christian to fellow Christians may have limited appeal beyond Christian and related western humanist faith traditions. However, in combination with testaments from other faith traditions, it offers a powerful resource to guide and inform careful reflection and generative action for the common good by individuals and communities everywhere.
David Beech – firstname.lastname@example.org – is director of learning and development at Cambridge Leadership Development. He is a Chartered Psychologist with a DPhil in Social Psychology.
This review first appeared in MODEM Matters Issue 25 in December 2013