Golden Calves (#11)
11. Fragmentation of this kind can ultimately lead to idolatry—an all-too-common occupational hazard of business life that threatens both individuals and organizations. It means abandoning one’s call to relationship with a loving Creator, as the Israelites did at the foot of Mount Sinai when they crafted and worshipped a golden calf. The golden calf is a symbol of misplaced devotion, born of a false idea of true success. There are many surrogates for the golden calf in modern life. They emerge when “the sole criterion for action in business is thought to be the maximization of profit”; when technology is pursued for its own sake; when personal wealth or political influence fails to serve the common good; or when utilitarian or consequential reasoning becomes dominant. Each of these “golden calves” amounts to a kind of fixation, usually accompanied by rationalization. Each has the capacity to “entrance” us as Pope Benedict XVI says in his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, and business leaders must pay careful attention to avoid the lure of idolatry.
Commentary: At the end of last week Pope Francis continued his challenging words to business leaders. Though the right and left quickly jumped on board with political statements (“Pope Francis is a socialist” “Pope Francis endorses income redistribution”) he is never that simple. But he surely believes businesses are not doing enough to relieve the sufferings of the poor, and that we need to live the principle of the universal destination of goods, recognizing we are stewards of our financial success but that all God’s children have a right to the surpluses our businesses create.
Our fixation as business leaders has to be the person, not just the profit. The common good demands that we reach out to those on the margins and help them. A government doesn’t “love,” and a government handout does not address the dignity of the poor. We have work to determine how best to share our success with the poorest in our society, to take care of their material needs, but mostly to love them as they are ipse Christus, Christ himself.