Saturday 19 April 2008

Lecture on Spirituality and Business

Rowan Williams's lecture (17 April 2008, at the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, London) about post-religious spirituality, part of the Faith and Life in Britain series, this one summarised as 'Society Still Needs Religion' and called 'The Spiritual and the Religious: Is the Territory Changing?', focusses in on those who discuss injecting non-dogmatic and non-confessional spiritual values into corporate business culture. He uses the example of the writing of Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall (2004), Spiritual Capital: Wealth We Can Live By, Bloomsbury. This book pursues the idea of sustainable capitalism via spiritual values outside of any specific religious system, and indeed requires no religious adherence or doctrinal belief of any kind. Indeed it calls upon:

"deeper, non-sectarian meanings, values, purposes, and motivations that might be sacred to any human being

(quoted by Rowan Williams as of page 3).

The idea of the book (which Williams only loosely introduces) is that both human beings together and the planet itself are stakeholders in the economic system. There stakeholders do not just seek profits but the common good of sustainability; to then meet the demands of the stakeholders requires three types of capital in general - material, social and spiritual - and three kinds of human capital where intelligence - IQ or rational intelligence and EQ or emotional intelligence survey and understand the current situation of materialist profit-making and SQ or spiritual intelligence that moves business on to the common good where business transforms how it behaves in its core activities and further carries out goodwill enhancing projects for the wider community.

Williams does not say this, but whereas New Age spirituality is associated with consumerism and choice, this spirituality clearly is associated with production and notions of integration and community. It follows a whole line of business and organisation literature concerned with methods of empowerment where there is overlap with sociology (Weber and afterwards) and, inevitably, rationality, efficiency and secularisation and, later, pluralism and empowerment.

Williams uses this book, and other statements drawing from the same well about spirituality, to ask about the difference between spirituality and religion. He questions whether this spirituality in bringing corporate cultures to nobler ends can ever actually be more fundamentally a critic (as when necessary), and maintains that it needs an agent for change, such as the action of God, which can therefore alter the stance of a believer quite radically compared (and contrasted) with the world.

He sees the motivation of post-religious spirituality as a protest against external authority, which is hardly about business operations, where exercising spirituality is arguably the manipulation of authority, just as is an emphasis on empowerment that still fulfils corporate purposes (against what that sort of empowerment when people go on strike). This all might actually make his point, that without a strong ethical source spirituality becomes something vague put towards manipulative uses rather than as a positive critique.

Or it might make his point so far. He seems to need an active agent, as found in the revelation of Christianity - but it is equally possible (and he should know, given much of his method) to have an ethic sourced in a strong narrative that can present a critique and action as well as notions of bringing together. After all, Marxism did this - Marxism that was hardened by imagining itself as an identifier of processes of historical change.

The point is that there are sources of ethics, and some can be quite challenging. A green ethic, for example, demands investment that short-termism would resist. It can turn consumerism around, say to smaller vehicles and more efficient transportation than having larger and more isolating cars. Of course corporations grab the green message to smother it and turn it into marketing.

There may be no ethical operation for the likes of McDonalds (he gives as an example) in that such an operation cannot just absorb a spirituality to meet the common good. But, actually, it is subjected to hefty ethical criticism already, and whilst it has slightly altered operations it could well be one of those businesses that cannot ever inhabit an entirely satisfactory ethical space. How can we know whether it does or not? Well, we cannot, except ethics are rather like Law. They reflect the collective coming together of pressures that derive from conversations about ethical predicaments - in the McDonalds case about agricultural production and opportunity cost of land use, world movements of food, obesity and food poverty, about sameness and predictability (the ideology of McDonaldisation), and about low level trapped employment.

The ethic that arises as a critic may be various and multi-sourced, but variations and disagreements bubble up to transient consensuses about what needs to be done. Some of these ethics are indeed 'owned' (where we are patrons rather than subscribers), though again ideology is pervasive and clever, that we can end up thinking we own that to which we in fact just subscribe. This is the extension of empowerment within and outside corporate walls, and it can be crafty.

It is less about secularisation. After all, if the business and organisation world is the focus, then the Weberian rational and disenchanting tendency produces soulless and top down institutions that cannot take account of the complexities of technology and specialised education and training needed today. In other words, businesses have to empower to some extent in order that people can function in complex high value output organisations. Only in some organisations do these trends go backwards: for example, the National Curriculum removed the relevance of the expertise of education theories among educated and trained teachers and turned British teachers into disenfranchised factory workers of already set syllabuses and recorders of quantitative assessments - behaviourism for statistical returns.

The more advanced approaches use systemic and human relations authority, where there is real decentralisation and change from below, where managements have to be communication systems up, down and across.

So secularisation gives way to pluralism anyway, if a co-ordinated pluralism, and that corporate pluralism is subjected to interests and is not even and free. This was the point of Jurgen Habermas and his communicative rationality, and distortion by economic interests.

Rowan Williams' interest, of course, is a defence of Christianity and what is within it as an agent of ethical change, a sufficient critic as well as purveyor of higher values.

What puzzles me about his argument is the lengths he goes to get to it, in that despite all the narrative references he has revealed himself to be someone who is at heart a doctrinal and historical believer. If this is so, then all these values and other sources of ethics, or wafty spirituality, however worthy, can be shortcutted to what he thinks is actually true, and true in a traditional sense. But he still wants to present the argument in terms of narratives and resources, such as the change in Jurgen Habermas when he acknowledged that traditions supply narrative resources towards producing the common good, which he had previously limited to disinterested, modern(ist) rational argument.

Rowan Williams is, apparently, like any historical believer. He said that the bones had to disappear into the transformation of the dead Christ into the person who visited the apostles. It has to be historical, otherwise he would stop celebrating the sacraments, give up being Archbishop and recommend no more archbishops. Well this is not about narratives and resources, but about others being plain inadequate and even wrong. Culture has moved away from the overarching truth it surely had properly observed, say in the Middle Ages.

Rowan Williams is becoming like Friedrich Schleiermacher, reaching out to the cultural despisers of Christianity, though Schleiermacher probably had more of a core sympathy with his reaching-out arguments, and so did Tillich who reached out with translations into existentialism that was also his mode of understanding the objectivity of Christianity.

Somehow (and I've changed my view here) Rowan Williams has a shadow argument (narrative, story) that masks his real argument (empirical history). Either that or narrative and resource is his real argument, and he has been playing institutional politics with ideas ever since having "the job". He may think that history and narrative are combined, and of course they must run together (even empiricist historians interpret) but the point I am making is the core of this. It is not in some narrative that gives meaning, but in an empirical event that he cannot access that needs to be told.

My own view is similar to Williams's regarding narratives without any extension. There is no universalism. Each univeralism is another addition. For example, John Hicks' universal theology of the Real (transcendence) has to avoid description or it is just another creed.

This does not mean an absence of ethical agents. There are plenty of ethical agents. Indeed there are plenty of institutional sources of the unethical, for example the traditional Church and its unethical stance against homosexual persons and inclusion. Christianity is not a one-way transformative, it also holds back from what has become ethical.

So everyone has to attach to some sort of defined ship, and there is some sort of identity there. I used to argue that these could be brought into a market space that was Unitarianism, where people of difference could worship together - and then Unitarianism acquired a kind of half-identity that put it exactly into the same muddles as found within liberal Christian attitudes to creeds and the like. Spirituality in a pluralistic Unitarianism had to be built up, to be rich and symbolic, and let the symbols fly off in all sorts of directions (whereas in reality it was an emptying out Puritan shadow).

The alternative is a better defined spiritual path, with its artistic riches, and I have done that in Western Buddhism and in Anglican Christianity (where I had started out a pathway commitment). Neverthless, that attachment must be light and critical, and not to be strangled by doctrinal statements. We are all now capable of being theologians to some extent, and the right to interpret can be decentralised - and if not it will be taken. I can read the same material as Archbishop Rowan Williams; he might be better resourced than me but I can argue with him much of the way, and certainly on methods he is becoming inconsistent. One problem of course is that when someone gets into a pulpit there are many of us who just want to argue the point, and the whole method of Christianity is top down and timid when it comes to people and involvement. Anglicans cannot move without a bishop's licence and the whole system is disenchanting itself: Weber's rationality was a secular echo of traditional Christianity.

For Rowan Williams, the believer is:

...inhabiting, in speech and action, a drama which purports to 're-locate' him or her in the space occupied by Jesus Christ in his eternal relationship with the Father...

Whereas, given his historical stance, he may as well say there is a reality like a spiritual wind that the believer may as well just be blown along within. My view is more narrative, that liturgically we join the drama from which the active sign and symbol system today is much more plural, that it is but one expression of 'spirituality' and that the ritual of the Eucharist relates to all those dramas of joining one with another.

Corporate culture knows this too: its is why so many corporations have rituals of belonging. The point about the Eucharistic ritual is that it represents something in the world but not of it, a stance of reflection over all, and indeed a critique, but we are also critics when participating in it and the institution that presents it. The Jewish culture, the Greek culture, the Middle Ages and the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Modernity and post-modernity are all resources that come to us collectively in that ritual and for which we are renewing critics, among the other practisers of spirituality who have their own rituals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the way this article presents the case for spirituality. The connection between business success and business failure is obvious to those who want to scratch beneath the surface. If you find spiritual beliefs contrary to science, then spiritual beliefs are viewed as measly superstitions and fallacies. This popular view is simply wrong. Science and religion operate under vastly different parameters. In my management book, Wingtips with Spurs: Lessons From the Ranch, I devote an entire chapter in this ‘business’ book to the connection of business success and aiming for a higher calling. In spite all of the majesty and awe that the scientific world inspires, science is not designed to answer the questions that religion asks. Nor should we use religion to fill in the ‘God of the gaps.’ Religion should embrace science as it improves our ability to explain how God put things together. Indeed, elites of organized religions hate the efforts to seek a scientific context for the appreciation of spiritual phenomena. They seek to control humanity with doctrine and dogma. Science in its intellectual, methodical, peer-reviewed processes can deepen our wonder and amazement at the power of God. Instead of warring factions, the two sides should encourage each other. I saw a newspaper headline recently that read, “Darwin vs. God, Round 2007: Kansas Declares Darwin Winner.” This is wrong on many levels. Splashy headlines are one thing; gross irresponsibility is another. I cannot stress it enough. God and science are not at odds. They never have been. Francis S. Collins, the scientist who lead the Human Genome Project, stated it best when he said, “Science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced.”