‘Faith in the Economy’ - a Debate in InterFaith Week 2011
A debate on ‘Faith in the Economy’ was held at St Peter’s church in Nottinghamon Thursday 24th November. Those taking part were:
Christopher Harrison, a former Treasury civil servant and now vicar of All Saints, St Peter’s and St Mary’s;
Reham Alam [Inclusion Training]
Taj Gill [Streets Ahead Estates] and his colleague Tarly Dhillon
Adam Harris [Vistage International]
All are entrepreneurs running their own businesses.
Introducing the event, Patricia Stoat, chair of Nottingham Interfaith Council, said that the economy isn’t just a matter of money, but of what kind of society we want to live in: our religions offer us an alternative take on work, money and possessions, and challenge us to think differently.
Christopher Harrison, now vicar of St Peter’s, but once a Treasury civil servant, opened the debate with a survey of the world economy andBritain’s place within it. He noted that many of us feel that ‘all is not well’, with too much debt and inequality, and too little concern with human value and dignity. Christianity, he said, can’t be identified with any economic system, but always insists on the value of each human being, the perils of excess, and the significance of judgement. He argued that only our awareness that we are all accountable to God provides a basis for trust in society, the key to community cohesion.
Reham Alam, our Muslim speaker, agreed, but wanted to go further. Usury, lending money at an interest rate set by the lender, and with all the risk borne by the borrower, is forbidden in Islam. The Islamic tradition teaches that anyone amassing great private wealth while ignoring the needs of the poor is ‘violating the fundamental laws of existence’, and this leads to catastrophe. Reham noted that this doesn’t mean that being a success in business is a bad thing: on the contrary, to work hard and make money, and to use the money well for the good of all, is commendable. The Islamic ideal is productive business ventures based on partnerships, where risks and rewards are shared. But the debt-based economy that damages and hurts those who have no part in the system must be challenged.
A Sikh perspective was offered by Taj Gill of Streets Ahead Estates and his colleague Tarly Dhillon. They pointed out that we need money for daily life, that businesses must be profitable if they are to provide jobs and security for investors, employees and their owners, as well as good service to their customers; but that honesty and fairness are the key to long-term profitability. The purpose of business should be a win-win, with satisfied customers paying fair prices for good value. That said, Sikhism teaches that there is a greater purpose in life, and that seeking God is our true goal. Respect everyone, do the best you can, give back to your community, this is the Sikh way. Tarly pointed out that starting a new business in the middle of a recession was a good example of Sikh resilience, going against the flow, focusing on opportunity!
Closing the debate, Adam Harris of Vistage International referred again to our common values. He asked, why do people go into business? What motivates them? People go into business because they want to make a difference, because they have a passion to do things better, to build and shape and change the world. To achieve this they take risks, work hard, and believe in what they are doing. This is the Jewish way. Adam pointed out that aspiration is important, and that faith plays a key role in encouraging all of us, but especially young people, to aspire to achieve, and create, and build community through our efforts. Values matter in business, now more than ever, and values based on respect and desire to be better are the key to success.
The current economic system, one questioner from the floor pointed out, has served us well but seems too inflexible to deal with the crisis it is now facing. The panel agreed. The crisis is ethical, not economic. The honesty and integrity of our institutions is being questioned, ordinary people feel that they have no voice, and that while they are suffering, those responsible for the crisis continue to prosper and profit. Is the backlash just beginning? We live, as someone noted, in interesting times. What can restore our faith?
The debate on Faith in the Economy formed part of Inter Faith Week 2011 and was organised by NiFC.