We seem to have lost our way when it comes to the role of government and its relationship to business. This is, in part, because the third pillar of a democratic society has become taboo or too hot to touch. There are three pillars; all worth talking about: and no one’s going to get hurt searching for truth… are they?
I believe the three pillars of a democratic society are: religion, government and business.
Religion is not a tag-on to the idea of culture. It’s the seed from which we grow; the defining reason for why we do what we do (and how). How we choose to govern our society depends very much on what we believe, in our core. Religion is what we believe in our core. This means that government is (meant to be) a reflection and outgrowth of a people’s religion. If government is how we meet our collective goals; organize our social gatherings and groupings; and reach for higher ideals than any one of us might attain on our own, as individuals; then government is dependent on what religion says about what’s important; who matters and why. In other words, government is meant to serve the higher ideals of a society, as embodied in its core values and beliefs, which can be called its religion.
But religion is not a topic we’re comfortable with or have consensus on. It is personal, after all, which makes it tough to talk about, let alone agree on. And yet, religion refers to the beliefs and spiritual practices of a people, not a person. So, it’s tricky—I admit.
But what happens when a society’s religion starts to show its age, or begins to suffer from certain fault lines in its pillars and/or institutions? Specifically, what happens to a Christian society when Christianity is in need of a fresh outpouring of holiness; or even a deep healing, re-centering touch from God?
Although Christianity in North America might seem a bit wobbly at present, government isn’t giving up its power any time soon. Government programs have long overtaken religion as the source of having collective needs met. This has led to people receiving what amounts to charity without any of the moral responsiveness, or soul-food, attached. This has led to a less-than-holistic view of society and its good, which has played its part in where we are today: allowing only two of the three pillars to form the basis of our society. We have become a 2-dimensional culture vs. a 3-dimensional one. (No wonder people travel to “other cultures” for culture…).
So, what is the role of government when and where its overarching religious and moral codes are weak in the eyes of society; or have been rejected outright?
Democratic government is designed to serve the people. When and where it can’t serve the moral good of the people (because for morality to have meaning, people must feel it matters, to them—morality, among adults, cannot be imposed and still be called good), government shifts to serve the economic interests of society.
In this all-too-familiar scenario, government becomes the slave of business, profit, corporate growth and anything designed simply to make money, shifting the moral imperative to meet the needs of the people in a way that enhances the whole, to the debatable concept of “trickle-down economics.” Government, in the absence of a godly light that shines on all and forgets none, says, “We help business make money and business will help the people by providing jobs, security, pensions, etc.” Well, that’s the idea anyway. But when the typical CEO earns in the first few hours of a new year what a typical employee earns in 365 days, trickle-down economics is no longer a credible theory (or practice).
When government serves the interests of business instead of the holistic interests of the people first and foremost—from a mutual love and concept of brotherhood, which Christianity inspires out of a love for God the Father—government becomes the virtual employee of business. This is a problem inasmuch as we are not essentially economic beings; we are fully human, made in the divine image of God. Yes, money matters. But people with soul-needs matter more.
When all you have is government serving business, you have a moral void, which creates a deep sense of confusion and fear for most people, who feel themselves to be vulnerable, which they are! In a moral void, anything can happen and there’s little to no guarantee it will be good. People understand this, instinctually.
The moral void is real because business is good at making money, not making moral choices. Of course, making money is a skill, talent and blessing for all involved. But business is practical; it’s not called to turn around and use its profit to meet the needs of the people in a soulful, caring way. Rather, it’s called to re-invest and make more money; to grow economically and succeed in its useful, ingenious ventures. Of course, there are countless individuals in business who put their money to work for others and seek to serve society as a whole: there’s no doubt about that! A long list of names comes to mind. But asking/expecting business—as a pillar of society—to lead the moral way, when it is not called to it is a bit of a set-up. It’s not even fair, in my opinion.
Whereas, religion, by definition, is morally grounded and often impractical in economic terms, upholding sacrifice over gain, mercy over efficiency. You can see how a strong religious pillar might serve as a counterweight to a strong business-minded pillar, with the pillar of responsible government in between.
Religion is moral—the guiding compass of a society and the root of its culture, collective identity and shared destiny. Government is service—meant to keep a selfless eye on the good for the whole. Business is practical—meant to act in creative ways to employ the gifts and talents of a society and strive for its place and progress in the world.
These three pillars of a democratic society are meant to work together, mutually enhancing and upholding the other: not tearing down, or even criticizing each other.
The problem is today many of these words and ideas (democratic. religion. business. government. responsibility.) have been muddled to the point of making us incomprehensible to each other. And so, we talk louder. We shout. We shut people and their ideas, thoughts and feelings out of the conversation. We turn our back on the past in the name of moving forward, without having a clue where we’re going, or how we’re going to get there, or why bother in the first place.
To place first things first, again. To allow religion its moral authority and forgiveness to be made real and relevant; to hold government accountable for ensuring one group doesn’t trump over another group; to ask business to do what it does best without looking to money for our salvation: restoring balance to the three pillars: this is the key to the success in our context, today. I believe.