Recently I have been reading on two very different but related topics: Biblical models of economics and banking ("After Capitalism: Rethinking Economic Relationships" by Paul Mills and Michael Schluter), and the role of scientists in Hitler's Nazi Germany ("Hitler's Scientists: Science, War, and the Devil's Pact" by John Cornwell).
The link between these two is how people consider their roles in employment and industry. In particular, there is a correlation that even in entirely different industries people's thoughts, actions and values remains the same. As imperfect people, we have a tendency to deviate from our moral obligations to others to benefit ourselves. In our increasingly secular world, God is becoming more absent, and thus this tendency of moral deviation amongst people increases.
While there were a few notable scientists in World War II that did not help the Nazi regime in Germany there were many that did. The scientists often justified their aiding of the Nazi government by stating that science was an apolitical endeavour, removed from moral or value judgements. They argued it was not the place of the scientist to make moral judgements about the potential use of their research as that was the place of the government.
Many others were also complicit with the regime simply due to threats to their employment and safety. There were also countless others complicit in morally devoid activities from doctors performing experimentation, guards in concentration camps, to businessmen exploiting slave labour. It is important to note that these people were not unusual or especially bad. Most simply deferred their moral obligations to others, such as bosses, the government or some other authority. Psychological experiments show this to be a human tendency, such as in the famous Milgram Experiment which demonstrated that most people would electrocute another person to what they believed were lethal levels if told to do so by someone with authority.
Today we are faced with different kinds of moral decisions, though these can still lead to disastrous outcomes. The global financial crisis revealed how moral distancing in the banking and finance sectors throughout the world leads to economic collapse and irreparable harm. This was mainly demonstrated in how banks through subprime lending intentionally indebted individuals who did not have the means to repay loans.
Paul Mills and Michael Schluter make this point eloquently in their book. I agree with their view that an attitude in business of inflicting or allowing permanent indebtedness amounts to a modern form of slavery, and is profoundly unbiblical.
This is emphasised throughout Leviticus 25, including verses 35-37: "35. If any of your people become poor and unable to support themselves, you must help them, just as you are supposed to help foreigners who live among you. 36-37 Don't take advantage of them by charging any kind of interest or selling them food for profit. Instead, honour me by letting them stay where they now live."
Paul Mills and Michael Schulter state that the Old Testament model of business is very different from today. It involved interest-free loans to fellow Jews and periodical erasure of debt (the Year of Jubilee). While this may not be realistically achievable in our current global economic system it is an excellent model to aim towards.
They claim that central to the Biblical understanding of business is that business interactions should be treated as relationships, and like personal relationships should be treated in a moral and fair manner. One problem with capitalism as it stands today is that the on-selling of debts and the distance from financier and lender can be so vast that there exists no meaningful relationship between the parties besides the monetary one. I believe the principle of godly loving relationships should be expanded to include not only business but to encompass our occupations.
"And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."" (Matthew 22 verses 37-40, ESV)
The point of our lives is two-fold: Love God, and demonstrate loving godly relationship with others. It is easy to distance ourselves morally in our occupations and financial decisions. While our occupations may be apolitical, it does not mean that we also should be amoral.
We must accept moral responsibility in all our decisions. The key I believe is to treat every choice and interaction we make in our life in terms of a loving relationship. An indifferent heart is not what God desires, he desires a heart that shows love in every relationship we have, personal or otherwise.
Nathanael Yates from Perth, Western Australia, is an award winning young scientist completing a PhD in the neurobiology of schizophrenia
Nathanael Yates' archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/nathanael-yates.html