Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pope Francis: Possessing Nuclear Weapons is Indefensible

Pope Francis said late in 2017 that the nuclear arms race had become irrational and immoral. The irrationality itself rendered even just the possession of nuclear weapons as immoral, according to the pope. Whereas past popes had recognized deterrence as a legitimator, both irrationality and the extent and “upgrading” of such weapons were factors in Pope Francis’s admittedly personal view. Yet was his basis only moral, or religious in nature? 
With “such sophisticated nuclear arsenals,” the pope said, “we risk the destruction of humanity, or at least a big part of it.”[1] The proliferation of the weapons is relevant here, even in the pope’s answer to what has changed: “Irrationality is what has changed.”[2] Surely irrationality is a staple of human nature, rather than appearing all of a sudden in 2017. The pope must have had in mind the reckless rhetoric exchanged by the North Korean dictator and the American president. Unfortunately, even a large, established nuclear power, an old cold-war warrior, can allow for irrationality even though institutional safeguards exist as checks. But as time goes on and leaders come and go as weapons proliferate as well as become more powerful, we can conclude that the psychology of human nature is itself too weak. 
Ethically speaking, the harm that could befall a significant portion of humanity from nuclear bombs renders the possession thereof as immoral, given the element of irrationality in interpersonal and thus intergovernmental relations. But is the objection also religious in nature? If our species is made in the image of God, then destroying a part or all of the species can be said to be condemnable on religious grounds. The Catholic doctrine of humanae vitae can be taken in this sense, rather than that human life itself is sacred, which could be reckoned as a self-idolatrious claim. We have a spiritual nature—an innate yearning for the transcendent.[3] To expunge this nature is condemnable on religious grounds.
The pope can thus be criticized for having based his opinion on a moral position rather than going on to use the occasion to preach on the distinctly religious element (or grounding). A species that can not only conceive of transcendence beyond the limits of human cognition, sensibility, and perception, but yearn for it even though it remains beyond is also that species that can so easily lose perspective in altercations and lash out irrationally such that much harm is done to the species or a part thereof. If we are angels, a saying goes, we must be killer angels. But must we be? Are we not also capable of exerting will-power, self-discipline, especially if we can be watchful and hold in check powerful individuals who are in the sway of irrational emotion? Or is the proverbial cat out of the bag, with no one willing to destroy the most powerful weapons? Will time eventually catch up to our sorry species?

1. Francis Rocca, “Pope Calls Nuclear-Arms Growth Illegitimate,” The Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2017.
2. Ibid.
3. This point enjoys considerable space in my book, Spiritual Leadership

On the Place of Religion in Business: Refusing to Serve Gays

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in December 2017 in a case on whether a baker in Colorado had been justified in refusing to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. He claimed that his Christian faith forbid him from making wedding cakes for gay couples. “I follow Jesus Christ,” he declared when interviewed at his store. The Gospels are silent on the issue of homosexuality—it being said to be a sin only in the Old Testament—so the inference that following Jesus requires opposition to gay marriage (not to mention that homosexuality is an important issue in following Jesus) can be questioned. If the inference is tenuous, then it is the baker’s ideological stance that was actually at issue before the court. More broadly, is religion vulnerable to acting as a subterfuge, or cover, for what are really personal prejudices?
In terms of constitutional law, the baker contended that the First Amendment, “whose guarantees of free speech and religious exercise supersede any state law, exempts him from [Colorado’s] antidiscrimination act,” which has covered sexual orientation since 2007.[1] The question, I submit, is whether free speech and religious exercise are salient in a business context. 

The full essay is at "Refusing to Serve Gays."

[1] Jess Bravin, “Supreme Court Set to Hear Gay-Rights Case,” The Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2017.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Greed and Christian Ethics in Profit-Seeking

In his 2011 Easter sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued an outspoken attack on the greed consuming the world’s civilized nations. Speaking against the rush for oil, power and territory, the Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams argued that the comforts and luxuries that people take for granted can not be sustained forever. He forecast that civilization itself would one day collapse from the over-production and consumption.  

                             The Archbishop of Canterbury (The Telegraph)

Williams laid the root of the excessive acquisitiveness at the doorstep of the fear of death. “Individuals live in anxious and acquisitive ways, seizing what they can to provide a security that is bound to dissolve, because they are going to die. . . . Whether it is the individual grabbing the things of this world in just the repetitive, frustrating sameness that we have seen to be already in fact the mark of an inner deadness, or the greed of societies that assume there will always be enough to meet their desires - enough oil, enough power, enough territory - the same fantasy is at work. We shan’t really die.” Relentless activity in the world of business is our way of forestalling the thought of our own coming non-existence.  It follows that “(w)e as individuals can’t contemplate an end to our acquiring, and we as a culture can’t imagine that this civilization, like all others, will collapse.”  Therefore, we take our comforts and luxuries for granted and ignore the warning signs that they cannot be sustained indefinitely.

In short, the West defines itself in terms of ceaseless activity geared to acquisition without limit—as though a fatted calf stuffing itself for dear life—in order to keep the inevitability of an end at bay. Hence, we identify ourselves by our functions, as in “I am a banker,” rather than by our respective natures, which exist in idleness as much as activity. In fact, it may only be in the silence of a holy night that one can come face to face in the darkness with oneself, unfettered by one’s vocation.

Whereas the Archbishop’s sermon focused on greed inherent in excessive acquisitiveness, the Easter message of the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev Nazir-Ali, discussed the immorality of the financial markets in terms of financial inequality. As reported in The Telegraph, “The bishop said that high-earners such as City traders and company directors must swap their desire to ‘make a quick buck’ for a commitment to share their wealth. Bishop Nazir-Ali blamed the turmoil in the world’s financial markets on amoral forces and warned that one of the ‘great disparities’ of our age was the gap between rich and poor.” Even though capitalism necessarily makes use of people unequally according to particular efforts, talents, and resources, the greed of the “haves” need not be utilized in ways that exacerbate the inequalities such that the “have nots” are left without the means of sustenance. Writing in a Sunday newspaper, the bishop charged, "The turmoil in the markets is almost certainly the result of such forces.” Indeed, the greed of irrational exuberance pushes the gap to such an extent that volatility can destroy the market from within.

Accordingly, the bishop urged: “Those with power need to ensure that the poor are not disproportionately affected. What is required is a change of heart, of disposition, of attitude. . . . From possessiveness we need to move to gratitude for what we have, from 'cutting corners’ to make a quick buck to that integrity for which business in this country was celebrated, and from mere accumulation of wealth to a generosity of spirit. . . . When that happens, hedge fund managers and directors of companies can indeed go into the kingdom of heaven ahead of the chief priests and elders." This statement is a departure from the rich man getting into the kingdom of God being like a camel getting through the eye of a needle—a view that was dominant in early Christian thought. The bishop’s thesis that generosity can deliver even a rich person harkens back to the salience of the virtues of liberality and magnificence that were dominant in the Christian thought on wealth in the late Renaissance. Such is the distance within the history of Christian thought on wealth in relationship to greed (on this shift, please see my book, God's Gold available at Amazon).

Because generosity requires wealth in the first place, the bishop was assuming that the link between earning wealth and greed is mitigated or even eliminated by charity (the root of which is caritas, which means sublimated human love) of part of one’s wealth. Although involving virtue, this approach is less idealistic than the earlier stance in which even pursuing wealth was assumed to be tantamount to being greedy. In other words, the bishop’s stance is more worldly because it allows for some profit-seeking and wealth-holding (as long as they are accompanied by the virtue of generosity rather than the vice of selfish acquisitiveness sans limit). Even so, the stance is quite idealistic compared with the greed that nearly brought the financial markets to collapse in 2008. The question is perhaps whether generosity amid profit-seeking and wealth-holding is sufficient to restrain the ceaseless productive activity for still more.


Jonathan Petre, “Archbishop of Canterbury Attacks Western ‘greed’ in Easter sermon,” The Telegraph, April 24, 2011.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Christian Leadership Navigating Geopolitics: Pope Francis in Myanmar amid Ethnic Cleansing

With the U.N. having “denounced the murder, rape and pillaging of the Rohingya in western Myanmar as ethnic cleansing,” Pope Francis had to “strike a careful balance” during his visit to the country in late 2017 “by maintaining his moral authority without endangering his tiny local flock.[1] Even the decision to meet first with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander of the military that had “driven more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country” could be taken as a compromise of the Pope’s moral authority because Francis would met with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the next day.[2] That the local Cardinal had urged the Pope not to even use the word Rohingya during the visit pointed in the direction away from the Pope acting as a moral compass and thus to a hit to his reputation as a leader of principle rather than expediency.
Considering the salience of agape, or self-emptying love, in Christianity, the spiritual virtue should be in the Pope’s leadership even in the context of national and global politics, especially if on behalf of a persecuted group. Was not Christ himself persecuted? Furthermore, a history of Christian martyrs suggests that compromising for the sake of one’s self or organization enjoys little legitimacy. To gain the whole world and yet to compromise or lose an opportunity for spiritual leadership in a secular, sordid context—evading talking truth to power—has an anti-Christian resonance that can deplete a Christian leader’s reputational capital.   
The institutional self-protection that an organization tends to engage in can rationalize all sorts of antithetical conduct, including protecting clerics who rape children. Are not such children worthy of protection even if the institution itself bears the brunt? What then of a persecuted religious and ethnic minority? If Christ evinced love where it is not convenient, then Christian leaders should be protecting other religions even more than Christianity itself. Paradoxically, only in such a way can Christianity really thrive, for being true to itself—being authentic rather than self-serving—is true strength, whereas expediency evinces weakness.  

[1] Jason Horowitz, “Pope Francis Arrives in a Myanmar Tarnished by Rohingya Crackdown,” The New York Times, November 27, 2017.
[2] Ibid.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Religion and Politics: Russian Orthodox Patriarch Helped Syria’s Assad Regime

In the wake of yet another Syrian massacre of civilians, including families being shot at close-range in their own houses, the New York Times published a report in 2012 that claimed that Russian priests and theologians commiserated with diplomats from Damascus at the opening of an exhibition devoted to Syrian Christianity in a cathedral near the Kremlin. While it is understandable that the Kremlin would not want to lose its “longtime partner and last firm foothold in the Middle East,” it is perhaps less palatable for Christian prelates and doctors of the Russian Orthodox Church to essentially look the other way on atrocities so the Syrian Christians, many of whom are Orthodox, won’t be pushed under the bus in a wave of Islamic fundamentalism that could be unleashed should Assad fall from power. The Syrian Christians were reluctant to join the Sunni Muslim opposition to Assad for fear of being persecuted by the Sunnis should they gain power.

                                     Clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church                                  NYT

The full essay is at "Russian Patriarch Helped Assad."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Essence of Leadership

In The Essence of Leadership, leadership itself is reformulated in such a way that what emerges—the essence of leadership—is distinct from related phenomena, including management, presiding, and mentoring. This is not to say, however, that leadership bears no relation to strategy—hence the complex concept of strategic leadership, which is not without risks. Leadership itself contains risks, which a focus on the essence of leadership, rather than, for instance, taking leadership as simply about having influence, can arguably minimize. Such risks include the cult of the leader, to which charisma and attributions of heroism are especially susceptible, and the distorting impact of ideology, such as in Burns’ version of transformational leadership. Shaking out the risks and distinguishing leadership as a unique phenomenon are ways of pointing back to the essence of leadership, which applies in virtually any culture. That is, the essence is cross-cultural. Taking comparative religion as a stand-in for cultures, I demonstrate that the essence of leadership can be informed by Taoist, Buddhist, and Judeo-Christian principles.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Christianity and “Social Capitalism”

The SEC charged Ephren Taylor with a fraudulent $11 million Ponzi scheme in April 2012. According to Reuters, “Taylor fraudulently sold $7 million of notes said to bear 12 percent to 20 percent annual interest rates, to fund small businesses such as laundries, juice bars and gas stations.” He “had conducted a multi-city ‘Building Wealth Tour’ in which he spoke to congregations” on the importance of “giving back.” He called himself a “social capitalist.” In actuality, he used the money on himself and his wife’s attempt to become a singer.

The full essay is at "Christianity and 'Social Capitalism'"

See: God's Gold, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

Jonathan Stempel, “SEC Charges Ephren Taylor II ForAllegedly Bilking Churchgoers In $11 Million Ponzi Scheme,” The Huffington Post, April 12, 2012.

Partisan Bishops Castigated Poverty Nuns

In April 2012, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization of women’s religious communities, of having members with “serious doctrinal problems.” Specifically, the Congregation alleged that members of the group had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The Vatican’s use of “radical” to describe the “feminist themes” belies the neutrality of the Holy See on the matter (for the adjective is both unnecessary and pejorative). In other words, if you want to discredit someone’s point of view with which you disagree, simply label it as radical. The labeling says more about the labeler than the actual target. Specifically, the labeling indicates anger and resentment as well as prejudice. The white supremacists in Alabama in the 1960s, for example, labeled the Freedom Riders as radicals. In going after the group of nuns, the Vatican too was being partisan.

According to the New York Times, the Vatican accused the group of “focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping ‘silent’ on abortion” and gay marriage. The traditionalists then firmly in control of the Roman Catholic Church did not attempt to distance the realm of eternity from partisan political issues. In fact, that certain issues were being played over others was itself partisan in nature. The traditionalists had a political reductionism going, wherein abortion had to be regarded as the political issue (with gay marriage playing a distant second). The reductionism is highly dogmatic in the sense of being arbitrary. For one thing, Jesus says nothing in the Gospels on the topic. In fact, that he is represented as making statements on the poor suggests that the bishops’ reductionism is misplaced—that any reductionism would have to go the other way. That the bishops undoubtedly believed that they could not be wrong only compounded their error (and false-humble pride).

Furthermore, to treat an emphasis on non-favorited political issues as a doctrinal problem and disagreement on specific pieces of a legislation as a “serious doctrinal problem” is to commit a category mistake: treating political partisanship as religious doctrine. Ultimately, the fallacy (and reductionism discussed above) stems from self-idolatry—the making of oneself (or one’s politics) into a god. The fallacy also involves over-extending the purview of a religious office.

The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” This does not include being teachers of public policy or political science. The statements at issue here were most likely those made in support of President Obama’s health-insurance law of 2010, which the U.S. Council of Bishops opposed. Opposing a partisan position on a bill is not necessarily to disagree with religious teachers of faith and morals because one could appeal to elements of the faith and morals to support either side of the specific bill.

“I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell, the executive director of the conference, said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.” A political interpretation is not the same as a moral or religious teaching. In the case of Obama’s health-care legislation, one could apply moral and religious teachings to either partisan side. It is telling that Campbell pointed to the bishops of being mad—a quality that is all too human. Out of anger, the instinct of a bishop is to go to whatever is the basis of his authority, even if it does not apply. The bishops’ effort to reduce a politically partisan difference to one on doctrine is meant to get the adversary on the familiar grounds on which they are used to rendering judgments and using their power. In other words, it is a power-grab to render a particular politically-partisan position as a “doctrinal problem.” We know how to deal with such problems, whereas we are more out on a limb in our ventures into lobbying for particular public policies.

Ultimately, the “investigation” was a front for anger seeking to vanquish a political adversary under the subterfuge of religion and order. Writing a letter to the U.S. Government in support of the president’s health-insurance bill did not violate or challenge the bishops’ doctrinal teaching even if the letter differed politically from the political stance of the bishops. Besides human nature itself, the root of the problem is sourced in the forays (i.e., over-reaching) of religious functionaries into the partisan politics of a government and the further instance that particular partisan stances be adopted by others in the religious organization.

To be sure, being a religious organization does not bar one from politics in so far as one is a citizen of a state. However, to regard particular partisan positions as somehow religious in nature, important, and thus highly obligatory for other officials and members of the organization is dogmatic (i.e., arbitrary) and over-reaching as well as indicative of a category mistake concerning domains (i.e., confusing religious with political). It is self-idolatrous to regard one’s ideological partisan position as theological. To force it on others as if it were theirs too just points to the aggression that is used as an agent of self-idolatry. That all of this has come to enjoy the trappings of religious authority that is viewed as legitimate in society speaks to a certain decadence in us all.


Laurie Goodstein, “Vatican Reprimands a Group of U.S. Nuns and Plans Changes,” The New York Times, April 19, 2012.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Catholic Ethical Stance on Greed

Catholic economic, social and political ethics from Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes (The Church in the Modern World) encyclical in 1965 through the relevant encyclicals of John Paul II are “especially critical of the risks of avarice, acquisitiveness, and waste in consumerist societies, the indifference of many affluent people toward the poor, and the swing of governments away from redistributive taxation, welfare ‘safety nets,’ and foreign aid to poor nations, toward a kind of ‘economic rationalism’ that encourages and enacts hard-heartedness and selfishness.”

Avarice is simply another word for greed, a basic desire for more. This motivation presumes that however much a person has accumulated, it is not sufficient; rather than resting on a good deal having been achieved, it is human nature to instantly view it as insufficient next to a better deal not yet accomplished. The change of perspective from gladness to near indifference is truly remarkable. The quickly-assumed mere default-status of a good deal (e.g., from self-congratulations to the banality of fait accompli) is occasioned by the recognition that even more can potentially be had (on even better terms). A fundamental desire for more is behind this recognition and the ensuing change of perspective on what one already has procured.

Acquisitiveness itself can thus be seen as the value—indeed being an end in itself—behind greed. Within acquisition, or as a further end, is the pleasure that can be obtain by consumption. There is thus a utilitarian, pleasure-maximizing, utility undergirding the value (of acquisitiveness) and motive (of greed). But unlike the ethical utilitarianism of Bentham and Mills, here the maximizing of pleasure is at the individual level, rather than of the greatest good for the greatest number.

Although individualism can be ethically laudable in terms of character or virtue ethics, a focus on the individual can also reduce to hard-heartedness and selfishness. Where pleasure-maximization is centered in, or limited to, oneself, redistribution is viewed negatively. For example, in the context of the stalemate during July 2011 on raising the U.S. Government’s debt ceiling, certain members of Congress refused to go along with an agreement that included ending the Bush tax cuts for individuals making over $200, 000 ($250,000 for couples). At least for some of the wealthy, having more rather than less even when the latter included ample surplus was worth continued stalemate and the related possibility of default of the U.S. Government and global economic turmoil and hardship. Individual pleasure-maximizing at the expense of the public good can thus be viewed in terms of niggardly selfishness at odds with justice as love and benevolence, and thus, furthermore, as being at odds with Catholic ethics.


Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics, Vol. 1, Ruth Chadwick, ed. (New York: Academic Press, 1998), p. 486.

On the historical Christian views on the relationship between wealth and greed, and the associated theory of justice as love and benevolence, see: God's Gold, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Has American Catholicism Become Unavoidably Republican?

Putting a religious faith through a particular political ideology can be regarded as artificial because the transcendent is not limited to the confines of particular ideologies. Were it otherwise, the transcendent would not go beyond the limits of human cognition, perception, and sensibility. Leaders of religious organizations should thus be particularly careful lest they inadvertently cut transcendence short. Practically speaking, that some members could feel marginalized or leave the organization altogether is a capricious cost that can be avoided. In other words, according to religious criteria, no reason would exist for such marginalization or departures. Unfortunately, religious leaders can easily dismiss this drawback out of a desire to channel the religious through their particular ideologies. I suppose this is a form of idolatry.
In the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, a liberal political ideology became associated with Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago after the “started a program against gun violence and opposed Republican health care proposals on the ground that they would strip coverage for the weak and poor.”[1] Alternatively, the Cardinal could have preached against the violence that had plagued parts of the city and for helping the weak and poor. He could have gone to some of the problematic neighborhoods as well as to places where the poor received medical services—even bringing along other clergy to volunteer. Starting a program specifically oriented to guns, and voicing opposition to a political party’s proposal is to step out of the shoes of the fisherman and into the shoes of a legislator. Faithful Catholics in Chicago could legitimately have had a different stance on guns as well as on health policy at the federal level. The Cardinal’s political shoes could easily have made such Catholics uncomfortable going to church and even, particularly sadly, with their Catholic faith. A desire of a religious leader to advance particular political platforms becomes self-centered if it causes members of the religious organization to feel even just uncomfortable.
Visiting a large Catholic church in my hometown outside “Chicagoland” in northern Illinois in 2013, I was amazed at how blatantly Republican the members were; they made no effort to hide their political identification, and it didn’t hurt that the bishop at the time made no secret of his political conservatism. The parish was socially conservative on political issues “down the line.” Even members who were political moderates must have felt uncomfortable there. Indeed, the parish lost considerable members. To be sure, the pastor, who would go on to become bishop of North Dakota, was extremely conservative (and reportedly not very kind). Sadly, “belligerence can acquire a theological justification,” according to Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa writing in La Civilta Cattolica.[2]
The authors look at American evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics as having been “brought together by the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere.”[3] Looked at in the other direction, the desire includes bringing the political sphere into church. The authors warn that the “religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other.”[4] As people of religious faith are subjected to temporal, ideological constraints—even scripts—the faith is artificially circumscribed, as is the body of Christ gathered in fellowship. In fact, the fellowship itself becomes artificially delimited.
In short, the “article warns that conservative American Catholics have strayed dangerously into the deepening political polarization in the United States.”[5] Meanshile, American Unitarian Universalist societies have also contributed to the polarization by becoming virtual liberal camps geared to political activism. I could imagine Unitarian protesters facing off against pro-life Catholic protests with only a street between them as they shout at each other in the name of religion but actually in the sphere of politics—a domain that had become polarized societally by the time Donald Trump was elected U.S. President. The willowing down to ideology brings with it a perspectival narrowness in which even shouting under ostensibly religious auspices does not register as oxymoronic—not to mention as eviscerating any religiousity.  Clearly, it makes no difference whether the ideology is liberal or conservative; the effect is the same. I would even say a presumption to moral and political infallibility also comes with the partiality that is inherent in willowing truth down to a particular ideology. No self-corrective, let alone humbling, feedback loop can operate, so the partisans armed with what they presume is religious truth are unwittingly vulnerable to going too far without realizing it. Even Christian partisans could end up killing rather than loving their enemies without any recognition that they have violated Jesus’s commandment and teachings. That even something as obvious as this could easily be missed ought to be sufficient reason to ward off the temptation to get political and judge fellow religionists accordingly. Yet with an impaired self-corrective feedback loop, resisting the temptation “after the fact” may require nothing short of a miracle.

This book may be helpful for tips on how to sidestep the political: Spiritual Leadership in Business.  See also Christianized Ethical Leadership.

[1] Jason Horowitz, “A Vatican Shot Across the Bow for Hard-Line U.S. Catholics,” The New York Times, August 2, 2017.
[2] Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism,” La Civilta Cattolica.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Jason Horowitz, “A Vatican Shot Across the Bow for Hard-Line U.S. Catholics,” The New York Times, August 2, 2017.

Monday, July 31, 2017

On the Arrogance of False Entitlement: A Nietzschean Critique of Business Ethics and Management

Nietzsche is perhaps most stunning in his eviscerating critiques of modern morality and, relatedly, Christianity. His pessimistic attitude toward modern management is less flashy, but no less radical, for the business world would look very different were it populated by Nietzschean strength rather than so much weakness that in spite of which—and because of which, seeks to dominate even and especially people who are stronger. Accordingly, this book provides formidably severe critiques of both business ethics and management and sketches Nietzsche’s notion of strength as an alternative basis for both. Nietzsche’s notion of the ascetic priest as a bird of prey with an overwhelming urge to dominate eerily similar to both the business manager and the ethicist. Therefore, the last two chapters are on Nietzsche’s unique take on Christianity, and John D. Rockefeller, a devout Baptist ostensibly compatible even with being an acidic monopolist. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Regensburg Domspatzen: Systemic Abuse of Kids in an Established Religious Institution

The utility from beautiful music for many does not justify the physical and sexual abuse of a relative few. Even though utilitarianism goes by the motto, the greatest pleasure (and least pain) for the greatest number, the severity of the pain to a few can, I submit, outweigh a more widespread, yet relatively superficial, pleasure for others. Surely the intensity of pleasure and pain must enter into the ethical calculus. I have in mind here the Regensburg Domspatzen, a Roman Catholic boys choir, in the E.U. state of Germany. This case points to the default power of established institutions and a religious psychology.

On July 18, 2017, Ulrich Weber, an outside lawyer announced the findings of his investigation. He found 547 cases of plausible physical abuse, 67 of which involved sexual abuse.[1] The abuse took place while Georg Ratzinger was the choir’s music director—from 1964 to 1994. His brother would be the Pope from 2005 to 2013. The presumption in terms of accountability was that the Church would police itself according to its Canon Law. However, in this case the personal conflict of interest should have sent the case to the local police, yet this was not the case. Instead, that pope threatened priests with excommunication should they contact the public authorities. Cut off from heaven for aiding accountability concerning people who had abused children! The power to excommunicate itself can thus be viewed as culpable. Moreover, the presumptuousness, including the accompanying blind-spots, that religious authority can engender and perpetuate is worthy of note.

One rather obvious take-away from this case is that the investigation of illegal act should be left to local police rather than religious organizations. Put another way, canon law does not trump criminal law. A second, less obvious, point regards the ethics of the sheer inertia of established societal institutions such as large, very old, religious organizations. Like a speeding ball in the void of outer space, such an institution can go through time seamlessly without virtually any resistance to slow it down, regardless of how unethical or even illegal the internal acts and cover-ups may be. This disconnect for clergy and members alike, wherein they continue as they had as if nothing had changed, can be reckoned as a sort of cognitive pathology in itself akin to or abetted by denial. Members as a whole continue to contribute money, and virtually no one resigns from the organization as an ethical protest or personal stand of sorts. In terms of organization theory, a disconnect between an organization and the wider society can be expected to impair the organization in at least some respects, not limited to diminished reputational capital. In terms of organizational life-cycles, such a period should be one of significant contraction, rather than steady-state. I submit that in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, the combination of being such an established (i.e., entrenched) institution and the psychology of religious denial block the natural “ebb and flow” that both in theory and practice pertains to organizations generally.

[1] Melissa Eddy, “’Culture of Silence’ Abetted Abuse of at Least 547 German Choir Boys, Inquiry Finds,” The New York Times, July 18, 2017.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical

The spiritual business leader who searches for personal and profes-sional integration is the chief beneficiary of this booklet, which can also be taken for a way to promulgate meagerly a new theory on the phenomenon of religion that stresses its uniqueness and distinctiveness. I begin with spirituality in order to find cleave distinctive nature off any reduction to ethics. In distinguishing spirituality from ethics, I look at religious experience of transcendence as a more suitable basis for spirituality. Next I’ll look at the business literature on spiritual leadership—scholarship that conflates such leadership with ethical leadership. I extract residue from that extant literature that can serve as a launching pad for an account of spiritual leadership that is grounded in transcendent religious experience.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Religion As Metaphysics: A Category Mistake

The claim that God is real, or even that God's existence is reality, is problematic chiefly because it incurs the category mistake of treating religion as through it were metaphysics. Rather than being an atheistic argument, obviating the mistake privileges God's radical transcendence. To be sure, viewing religion through metaphysical lenses is problematic for some other, relatively minor reasons as well. 

For one thing, pondering the metaphysical in religious garb may actually be the human mind looking at itself as though through a mirror. “God, as a metaphysical being, is the intelligence satisfied in itself, or rather, conversely, the intelligence, satisfied in itself, thinking itself as the absolute being, is God as a metaphysical being. Hence all metaphysical predicates of God are real predicates only when they are recognised as belonging to thought, to intelligence, to the understanding.”[1] Accordingly, theology “is pre-occupied with the metaphysical attributes of eternity, unconditionedness, unchangeableness, and the like abstractions, which express the nature of the understanding.”[2] But Kant claims that God’s “existence is not susceptible of proof from reason.”[3] Feuerbach explains that the “proof of the existence of God transcends the limits of the reason.”[4] In other words, if God transcends the limits of our intellects, then God as a metaphysical being must go beyond our understanding and its attributes. Hence Feuerbach insists that, “to religion God is not a matter of abstract thought,--he is a present truth and reality.”[5] God as a reality is distinct from attributes of the human mind.

Does this mean, then, that God’s reality is of feeling?  Feuerbach thought that God was a mere projection of human feelings. The philosopher claims that God “in the sense of a nomen proprium, not of a vague, metaphysical entity, is essentially an object only of religion, not of philosophy,—of feeling, not of the intellect.”[6] But whereas reason seeks to ponder reality—even being the real in Kant’s self-serving idealism—feeling is oriented to human experience, which is hardly reality itself. In other words, if God extends (or is based) beyond the limits of human perception too, then feeling also falls short from getting us to the reality of God.

Such an evasive thing that reality is, for besides being mistakenly likened to the human intellect and its abstract ideas, and even feeling, belief itself has been allowed to take center stage. The belief affirming God’s sui generis existence in particular has been allowed to become the definitive litmus test in theistic religions; “belief in the existence of God becomes . . . the spiritual import of the idea of God, a chief point in religion.”[7] For example, a person is “a Christian only through this, that he believes in Christ.”[8] Whether the person values the teachings or the example of Jesus is only indirectly related—the key being the belief in the metaphysics of Christ’s unique existence, or reality. Accordingly, Feuerbach makes the following remark: “If the existence of God, taken by itself, had not rooted itself as a religious truth in minds, there would never have been those infamous, senseless, horrible ideas of God which stigmatise the history of religion and theology.”[9] It is fully in line with the nature of faith, Feuerbach argues, to slap a nonbeliever on the face rather than turn the other cheek, which could alternatively be the Christian’s focus.

In short, the belief that God exists is all that counts to the theist, who is prepared to fight on behalf of the belief, for it is easier for the human mind to grasp such a belief than the nature of God’s reality itself. “The existence in the existence of God is the belief in a special existence,” Feuerbach explains, “separate from the existence of man and Nature.”[10] In other words, “Existence, empirical existence, is proved to me by the senses alone; and in the question as to the being of God, the existence implied has not the significance of inward reality, of truth, but the significance of a formal, external existence.”[11] The special nature of the existence thus goes beyond the belief in whether God exists. As Feuerbach points out, God “is not only a being for us, a being in our faith, our feeling, our nature, he is a being in himself, a being external to us,--in a word, not merely a belief, a feeling, a thought, but also a real existence apart from belief, feeling, and thought.”[12]  

The transcendence of such a real existence is unfortunately undercut by the heavily anthropomorphic nature of the god-man type. Hence Feuerbach makes the following distinction: “But it is equally perverse to attempt to deduce the Incarnation from purely speculative, i.e., metaphysical abstract grounds; for metaphysics apply only to the first person of the Godhead, who does not become incarnate, who is not a dramatic person.”[13] The Trinity thus incorporates the idea that “God is universal, abstract Being, simply the idea of Being; and yet he must be conceived as a personal, individual being.”[14] God as a historical person is difficult to reconcile with the universal quality of reality itself. Likewise, it is much easier to relate Brahman than Vishnu or Shiva to the real in Hinduism. To say that the atman (soul) is the same as Brahman, which pervades everything and everywhere, is of a different relation than that which exists between the atman and one of the deities.

Yet even to say that the Christian Godhead or the Hindu Brahman is real—and in a sense that does not dovetail with the nature of reason or feeling—is misleading, for the association involves the category mistake of taking religion as metaphysics. Is eternity really a metaphysical concept? Is reality a religious concept? If God is the Creator of what exists, then to reduce God to that which is real mistakes the Creator for the creation. Stopping at reality thus falls short of God’s radical transcendence. To yearn experientially for the very condition behind or aside from reality extends the experience of transcendence. To think of God as not depending on reality, but, rather, as giving rise to it pushes the deity that much further away from the entrapments of human understanding, which so likes to capture the divine rather than fall away. To ponder God’s kind of existence as sui generis is thus to unhinge it from even being the real. That sort of existence is distinctly religious, and given the religious notion of transcendence the nature of God’s existence necessarily transcends our intellect. So how could we expect to stay long with the comparatively easy metaphysical notion of reality? It’s time for religionists to leave the foreign garden of metaphysics in order to return home to finally ponder, just what is the native fauna among the untended weeks in the proverbial Garden of Eden?  

Related: Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical, a short book that is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.

1. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, George Eliot, trans. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), 37.
2. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 54.
3. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 201.
4. Ibid.
5. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 199.
6. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 186.
7. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 201.
8. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 329.
9. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 202.
10. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 203.
11. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 201.
12. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 199.
13. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 52.
14. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 213.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Experience of Transcendence: The Core of Religion and Spirituality

Transcendence beyond the limits of human cognition, and thus reason and even religious beliefs is notoriously difficult for the human mind to grasp; even if as I suspect the human mind has an instinctual urge to yearn to go beyond cognitive and perceptual boundaries (i.e., beyond our ordinary experience), that same mind also has a dogged proclivity to cloth wholly-other religious objects (e.g., a deity) in familiar garb. Transcendent experience itself is immune, hence focusing on the experience itself is superior to getting caught up with the presumably certain divine attributes of a religious object, yet even such experience can be held back, or unduly circumscribed, when the transcendent reference-point is rendered conveniently familiar. Hence the dictum against graven images.  

As “an emotional and sensuous being,” a human being, Feuerbach suggests, “is governed and made happy only by images, by sensible representations,” including those that are fabricated by the imagination.[1] In other words, we have “an instinct, an internal necessity, which impels [us] to think, to perceive, to imagine.”[2] This instinct sees nothing wrong with applying itself to religious objects, essentially robbing them of their rightful transcendence.

The Son, is, therefore, expressly called the Image of God; his essence is that he is an image—the representation of God, the visible glory of the invisible God. The Son is the satisfaction of the need for mental images, the nature of the imaginative activity in man made objective as an absolute, divine activity.[3]

Feuerbach must have read Hume, for he too laments how inherently difficult it is for the human mind to hold onto the divine as a pure, incorporeal spirit for long;  the mind automatically sets about clothing it in anthropomorphic attributes because they are familiar, which is in itself is “so agreeable to the mind.”[4] In other words, “an invisible spiritual intelligence is an object too refined for vulgar apprehension,” so we “naturally affix it to some sensible representation.”[5] By means of the instinct described by Feuerbach, the human mind tends to render the transcendent perceptual by our senses, and thus firmly within the limits of perception. In fact, Hume goes so far as to define idolatry as the portrayal of the invisible divine, which the human mind has trouble holding onto, in terms of “some sensible representation.”[6]

Is worship of a god-man, as in God made flesh, therefore an instance of self-idolatry? The very structure of man worshipping a god-man would suggest so. Furthermore, God made flesh in the Incarnation as Jesus Christ renders worship of the eternal Word, the Logos, surreptitiously susceptible to actually being worship of the human form idealized.[7] Augustine points to the significance of the human form of the second person of the Trinity:

[Jesus] was a baby, he grew as a man, he walked as a man, he hungered, thirsted as a man, he slept as a man, then at last he suffered as a man. . . . In the same form he arose, in the same form he ascended into heaven. . . . When, therefore, you think about the form of the servant in Christ, think of his human shape, if there is faith in you.[8]

Faith is tied here to Jesus Christ having a human shape (i.e., a human body).  It is not as if Augustine were unaware of the risks involved, for he warns against associating the form of the human body with the divine, which inherently transcends finite forms or embodiments:

(L)et every human configuration vanish from your heart; let there be driven from your thought whatever is limited by a bodily boundary, whatever is confined by the extent of a place or is extended with any bulk whatsoever; let such a fictitious image disappear from your heart. . . . Now, O man, if you cannot see your wisdom with the eyes of the flesh, nor think of it with such imaginings as bodily things are thought of, do you dare to impose the form of the human body on the wisdom of God?[9]

Hume stresses that the human brain cannot help but create such perceptual imaginings of bodily things to render the transcendent familiar at the expense of being wholly other and thus transcendent. Feuerbach points out that “the relations of humanity are not excluded from God” in that “God has a Son; God is a father”[10] Sensing that such relations render the deity too humanlike at the expense of being wholly other (as transcendent), Augustine strictly warns his readers that “no carnal thought creep up” in interpreting Jesus’s expression, “As the Father has taught me” in terms of a human father teaching his son. To liken the Trinitarian relationship to a (merely) human one would be, Augustine writes, to “fashion idols” in one’s heart.[11] Unfortunately, such idolatry is a danger even in spite of this warning, for “it is only natural that our own experiences or observations of father-son relations would mold how we view Jesus’ relation to his Father.”[12] In other words, our minds are susceptible to rendering the transcendent in familiar terms even to the point that the religious object is, as Feuerbach contends, actually human potential without our limitations as individuals.

Augustine exempts the case of Jesus Christ, however, on account of divine revelation attesting, albeit by faith alone, to the truth of the Incarnation; Jesus Christ is not just human potential, as divinity is something more even if it manifests as a Son in human form. Yet does this mean that the godhead tempts us mere mortals into self-idolatry by clothing the divinity in such brazenly anthropomorphic garb? At the very least, Feuerbach suggests, understanding repudiates the application of anthropomorphisms to God.[13]

Not so, Kierkegaard would undoubtedly reply, for the eternal coming into history through the Incarnation transcends human understanding, and thus cognition itself. Larger principles, in other words, are involved than the anthropomorphism. As Kierkegaard points out, “faith is not a knowledge, for all knowledge is either knowledge of the eternal, which excludes the temporal and the historical as inconsequential, or it is purely historical knowledge, and no knowledge can have as its object this absurdity that the eternal is the historical.”[14] Absurdity and paradox, which stress transcendence beyond human cognition, are two terms that Kierkegaard uses to describe distinctly religious phenomena.

In Fear and Trembling, for instance, Kierkegaard places the absurd above even human morality. The divine command given to Abraham that he sacrifice Isaac is not in a religious sense murder.  In other words, the religious sacrifice is above the moral verdict of murder—yet another indication that religion does not reduce to morality, and thus spiritual leadership is not really just ethical leadership. The absurd, unlike a moral system, lies beyond the clutches of reasoning. In Fear and Trembling, the absurd is Abraham’s faith that God would not break the promise that Abraham’s offspring would go on to fill nations even though that same God has commanded the old man to sacrifice his only child. This makes no sense, and yet for God all things are possible. Similarly, the eternal in a historical person, albeit historical in a faith narrative, is a paradox that can only be taken on faith.

The paradox is “the god’s planting himself in human life.”[15] This is no trivial point in historical Christianity, for, as Kierkegaard states, “(t)he heart of the matter is the historical fact that the god has been in human form.”[16] Christianity, he explains, “by means of the historical . . . has wanted to be the single individual’s point of departure for his eternal consciousness.”[17] Unlike Socrates, a teacher is needed who can occasion a re-birth of sorts in a person. The condition must be so significant that the person would never forget it.  “(I)n order for the teacher to be able to give the condition, he must be the god, and in order to put the learner in possession of it, he must be man. This contradiction is in turn the object of faith.”[18]

Feuerbach admits that “out of the need for salvation is postulated something transcending human nature, a being different from” human beings, yet “no sooner is this being postulated than there arises the yearning of man after himself, after his own nature, and man is immediately re-established.”[19] Therefore, “the contemplation of God as human,” with love as the unifier of the two, is “the mystery of the Incarnation.”[20] “In the Incarnation religion only confesses” what theology will not admit, “that God is an altogether human being.”[21] That which is supposedly “mysterious and incomprehensible” (i.e., suggesting of transcendence) about the notion that “God is or becomes a man” is actually “nothing more than the human form of a God, who already in his nature . . . is a merciful and therefore a human God.”[22] Neither the human form nor the idealized human qualities of mercy, goodness (benevolentia), power (omnipotentia), and knowledge (omniscientia) are particularly transcendent, as they pertain or come out of our realm and are very much within the limits of our perception and cognition, respectively.  Even in terms of human sentiments, a religious person “unhesitatingly assigns his own feelings to God; God is to him a heart susceptible to all that is human; . . . feeling can appeal only to feeling.”[23] Hence, petitions through prayer appealing to God’s goodness and mercy. Even in such a momentous condition in salvation history, therefore, the human mind leans toward seeing the transcendent through heavily-tinted anthropomorphic sunglasses such that the god is essentially rendered as human at the expense of transcendence.

Even though Kierkegaard considered the mystery of the Incarnation—the absolute paradox, in other words, as an object of faith rather than knowledge—to be beyond the limits of cognition, even his paradox may not reach transcendence in a religious sense. Generally speaking, the ultimate paradox of thought is “to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.”[24] The mind, in other words, paradoxically seeks to go beyond itself. So far, the understanding evinces the notion of transcendence. In “its paradoxical passion,” Kierkegaard writes, “the understanding does indeed will its own downfall.”[25] Likewise, cognition and reasoning fall before the Lord.

Yet if the eternal in history—in a human form no less!—is merely a species of the human imagination borne out of instinct rather than begotten by a godhead whose existence is not just idealized human qualities as Feuerbach suggests, then the absolute paradox is not beyond thought. For that matter, I could imagine a unicorn standing on the moon even though the actual science defines reason. Just as my imagination is not bound by the strictures of science, religion is not bound by science, or even metaphysics (i.e., what is real?) Even Feuerbach’s own notion of God holds back from transcending cognition, for “God is thy highest idea, the supreme effort of they understanding, thy highest power of thought.”[26] In other words, “God is what the understanding thinks as the highest.”[27] Religious yearning, on the other hand, goes beyond the point where understanding ends.

 Kierkegaard too holds back, as he is content to remain on the cusp of the unknown, where it collides with the understanding, rather than pushing further. “The paradoxical passion of the understanding,” he writes, “is continually colliding with this unknown. . . . The understanding does not go beyond this; yet in its paradoxicality the understanding cannot stop reaching it and being engaged with it, because wanting to express its relation to it by saying that this unknown does not exist will not do, since just saying that involves a relation.”[28]  The understanding does not go beyond the edge of the unknown that can be made known, and Kierkegaard is satisfied to remain there rather than to venture into the unknown, and thus to God beyond cognition. “But what, then, is this unknown, for does not its being the god merely signify to us that it is the unknown?”[29]  In other words, the unknown is the god. Yet the unknown to understanding is none other than ignorance, and the god, as omniscient, is hardly that. God extending beyond human understanding does not necessarily mean that the god is just the absence of understanding. Furthermore, that the god is mysterious, and thus not fully known, is not to say that it is simply the unknown.

In short, the understanding stops at the beginning of the unknown—arriving at it—whereas religious faith, and thus experience, extends into the wholly other, or absolutely different.  “To declare that God is the unknown because we cannot know it, and that even if we could know it we could not express it, does not satisfy the passion,” Kierkegaard states, “although it has correctly perceived the unknown as frontier. But a frontier is expressly the passion’s torment, even though it is also its incentive. And yet it can go no further. . . . What, then, is the unknown? It is the frontier that is continually arrived at . . . it is the different, the absolutely different.”[30] To arrive at something is not to go past its border into it. To be sure, it is not the understanding that can venture so. “Defined as the absolutely different, it seems to be at the point of being disclosed, but not so, because the understanding cannot even think the absolutely different; it cannot absolutely negate itself but uses itself for that purpose and consequently thinks the difference in itself, which it thinks by itself. It cannot absolutely transcend itself and therefore thinks as above itself only the sublimity that it thinks by itself.”[31] This is why it is so difficult for the human mind to conceive of God as wholly other; it is in the very nature of thought to conceive of objects in terms that bear some familiarity to the mind, which “cannot absolutely transcend itself and therefore thinks as above itself only the sublimity that it thinks by itself.”[32] To even try to think of something absolutely different involves an arbitrariness, and yet we affix such certainty to our knowledge of the divine attributes. Consequently, Kierkegaard points out that “at the very bottom of devoutness there madly lurks the capricious arbitrariness that knows it itself has produced the god.”[33] Hence the nature of the god—the religious object—may not be the basis of religion. Religious experience, on the other hand, is felt on our side of the line, within the known, and yet crucially its object or aim transcends even the border to the absolutely different that cannot be known, sensed, or perceived. The nature of the experience is thus unique. As such, it is part of the native fauna in the religious garden. In fact, being in itself immune from anthropomorphism from within our realm, the sui generis experience is, I submit, the defining characteristic of religion and spirituality. We can indeed transcend even the masks of eternity that we hold as ultimate. In achieving such transcendence, a person enters religion’s inner sanctum—that which religion really is.

The essay pertains to chapter 3, "Spiritual Leadership Revised," in Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical, which is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.

1. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, George Eliot, trans. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), 75.
2. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 78.
3. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 75.
4. David Hume, The Natural History of Religion, sec. 5, in Principal Writings on Religion including Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and the Natural History of Religion, ed. J. C. A. Gaskin (Oxford: Ox-ford University Press, 1993), 150.
5. Hume, Natural History, 152.
6. Hume, Natural History, 152.
7. Worden, God’s Gold, 338. See John 1:14.
8. Augustine, Tractates on John, 127.
9. Augustine, Tractates on John, 127.
10. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 56.
11. Augustine, Tractates on John: Books 28-54, 40.4, trans. John W. Rettig, Fathers of the Church: 
A New Translation 88 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993), 126.
12. Skip Worden, God’s Gold: Beneath the Shifting Sands of Christian Thought on Profit-Seeking and Wealth (Tucson, AZ: The Worden Report, 2015), 339.
13. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 35.
14. Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments or A Fragment of Philosophy, Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, eds. and trans. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 62.
15. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 107.
16. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 103.
17. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 109.
18. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 62.
19. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 45.
20. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 50. See also p. 48.
21. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 56.
22. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 51
23. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 55.
24. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 37.
25. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 47.
26. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 38.
27. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity, 38.
28. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 44.
29. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 44.
30. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 44.
31. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 45.
32. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 45.
33. Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, 45.