UK: Theology, reality and economy. (1 of 2)

UK: Theology, reality and economy. (1 of 2) - "Capitalists and Christians" by David J Jeremy (Clarendon Press, 496 pages, £45.00).

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

"Capitalists and Christians" by David J Jeremy (Clarendon Press, 496 pages, £45.00).

Review by Tim Beaumont.

Subtitled "Business Leaders and the Churches in Britain 1900-1960", this book is first and foremost a sociological tool. It is well written and accessible to the general public. But it will be of primary interest to those who need to know something of the impact of Christian businessmen on the workings of the business machine during the first half of this century. It is the best serious study of the subject to date, in spite of the fact that it contains a major flaw.

Because the Roman Catholic Church did not possess, over the period in question, lay structures equivalent to those used by the author to identify leadership in the Anglican and Free churches, he was not able to include Roman Catholics in his study. Given that the basic social teaching of the Roman Church is rather more radical than that of other churches, this is a pity. When the present author, or someone equally painstaking, has done a similar review of the Roman Church (preferably using slightly different criteria, and concentrating more on the effects of the Church on business than vice versa), we will have a seriously useful research base covering the whole field.

But with this book we certainly have enough to be going on with. Many of its findings are not surprising. Nevertheless, there is enough that is new (including specific case histories) to provide food for thought.

The high spots for the influence of Christians on business practice come, of course, from the days when individuals (and their families) had sufficient power to try, at least, to change the lives of their workforces, as well as to take tough ethical decisions at board level. Ethical decisions become harder the more people they affect. It is relatively easy to see all that you have and give to the poor if you are a rich youth who has not yet married or had children.

Even in the days of family firms, paternalistic benevolence often failed. William Lever built a church at Port Sunlight, and personally read Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" to "excited Port Sunlighters" on Christmas Eve every year. Yet he finally gave up trying to manipulate a recalcitrant church body and dived off into the obscurer waters of Freemasonry where, as "Worshipful Master", his word was law.

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