Business Ethics According to Pope John Paul II

September 2009By Jim Wishloff

Jim Wishloff, an assistant professor and award-winning teacher at the University of Lethbridge in Edmonton, Alberta, has published in the Journal of Business Ethics, the Journal of Business Ethics Education, Teaching Business Ethics, and the Review of Business. He is a member of the Board of Governors of Newman Theological College, also in Edmonton.

Christian discipleship is a radical undertaking. It is not just a matter of being a trustee or manager of God’s resources by making good moral choices. The rich young man had done this and it wasn’t enough (Mt. 19:18-20). Jesus wants His followers to do more by risking more. He wants His disciples to seek intimacy and restore relationships with one another and the whole of creation. The basic Christian endeavor is to recreate community by establishing relationships that are life-giving, transformative, and healing — risking all and trusting God in doing it. Life is lived in thanksgiving without fear because of God’s providence. No matter what one’s profession, whether lawyer, teacher, physician, or so on, the Christian calling is, teaches the late Pope John Paul II, a “vocation to divine love” (Veritatis Splendor, #112). This is no less so for the businessman. Our Lord’s twofold commandment to love (Mt. 22:26-40) is to be fulfilled in enterprise as well. We are to will the good of others in our organizational life just as we do in our personal life. All our actions in enterprise must be “in conformity with the dignity and integral vocation of the human person” (Veritatis Splendor, #67).

To derive the answer to this question it is necessary to recapitulate the understanding of how deeply our social nature is situated in our being. Human life is always life-in-community. A full human life requires material necessities and moral, social, intellectual, and spiritual progress that cannot be achieved in isolation. Social life is necessary for our perfection. Thus, associations of greater to lesser intimacy are demanded metaphysically.

The first form of communion between persons, instituted by God by design, is the partnership of man and woman. God is the Author of marriage, which is the indissoluble union of a man and a woman ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. The human family is the central element of the divine plan from the time of creation. It is the original cell of social life, existing prior to and above all other levels of social organization, and is deserving of recognition as such. The family constitutes nothing less than the foundation of society.

Beyond the family is the local or civic community. This encompasses all the associations or groups intermediary between the family and the state. The political community overarches all, ideally providing a stability that allows for harmonious living between citizens of the polis.

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Back to September 2009 Issue

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While I admire the idealism expressed in the above article, we know that due to original sin we live in a less than ideal world. In a 2003 documentary titled "The Corporation" the writers note that a corporation is a virtual person created to protect shareholders from direct litigation. They then ask a very intriguing question. If a corporation were in fact a person, how might we classify its behavior? After looking at a number of well-known corporations the documentary identifies several recurring character traits:

1. callous disregard for the feelings of other people
2. incapacity to maintain human relationships
3. reckless disregard for the safety of others
4. habitual lying for the sake of profit
5. the incapacity to experience guilt
6. failure to conform to social norms
7. lack of respect for the law

According to the DSM-IV, in a real person all of these are symptoms of psychopathy. I agree that business is a noble calling, but we need more people to listen to that call.
Posted by: Tim Ross
September 21, 2009 01:07 PM EDT
Sorry, Tim, but your comment reads like too much Karl Marx. It was once noted by Eric Hoffer, and I paraphrase, that even the worst money-grubbers were mere doves compared to the money-haters like Lenin, Stalin, et al. That was in the early '50s when the world still recoiled from the horrors of Marxism, from Europe to the Far East.

Actually, Tim, I had intended only to respond to Mr. Jim Wishloff's commentary, not having read your remarks until the end of his insightful, inspring and fresh thoughts. Oddly, I was going to post only "Take that Karl Marx!"

I commend the way in which Mr. Wishloff states: "Far from there being an inherent incompatibility between the individual and the society, they can be seen to be complementary — i.e., they exist for one another. The individual person develops in society or by contributing to society, and society exists for the development of the person. Self-sacrifice for the common good is not the denial of self but is self-fulfillment."
Posted by: j17ghs
October 06, 2009 02:05 PM EDT
I am no fan of Karl Marx. When necessary I argue against socialism by pointing out that its materialist principles defeat the altruism required for it to function. The documentary I referred to asks whether or not corporatism has succumbed to a similar materialism. This is not an indictment of capitalism but rather a warning that Western economies can also be defeated by the loss of spiritual perspective. Posted by: Tim Ross
October 11, 2009 05:33 PM EDT
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