"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Christianity and “Social Capitalism”

The SEC charged Ephren Taylor with a fraudulent $11 million Ponzi scheme in April 2012. According to Reuters, “Taylor fraudulently sold $7 million of notes said to bear 12 percent to 20 percent annual interest rates, to fund small businesses such as laundries, juice bars and gas stations.” He “had conducted a multi-city ‘Building Wealth Tour’ in which he spoke to congregations” on the importance of “giving back.” He called himself a “social capitalist.” In actuality, he used the money on himself and his wife’s attempt to become a singer.

The congregants’ susceptibility to Taylor can be understand from grasping the larger historical trend within Christianity wherein the prosperity gospel—in which it is believed that God rewards “true believers” with material wealth—had replaced the anti-wealth view wherein being rich and saved is like a camel getting through the eye of a needle. In other words, the shift in historical Christian thought from a close coupling of wealth and greed to an outright rejection of such a linkage made it more likely that the lay Christians would view investing in “social capitalism” as sufficient to justify having wealth beyond subsistence living.

Secondly, Taylor’s assumed conflation or mixing of Christianity and social performance in business enabled the congregants to open their wallets presumably for religious purposes in line with a social conscience. It is worth pointing out that camel is not given a pass for using wealth in a socially responsible manner. In other words, if simply having wealth is indicative of underlying greed, how one uses the wealth is not sufficient to undo the linkage and justify having the wealth in the first place.

Moreover, fidelity to a social norm such as corporate social responsibility is not religious. Even though Unitarians maintain that certain social structures are the object of their faith, the religious domain contains a transcendent referent.  That is, faith in a religious sense is oriented to an object that lies beyond the limits of human cognition and perception.  Specific social structures do not qualify because they are in our human domain.

In fact, to advocate a particular social norm is not to justify ethically with ethical reasons.  That is to say, corporate social responsibility is not business ethics.  The difference can be explained by referring to David Hume’s naturalist fallacy, which holds that what “is” the case cannot justify what “should” be. In other words, you can’t get ought out of a melon. You need ethical reasons, such as “it is fair because x,” to justify what one should do. To advocate a social norm is not to provide an ethical reason; more would be needed to provide support for why a certain norm that can exist should exist.

Therefore, I question Taylor’s linking “social capitalism” to religion (and Christianity in particular). The application cannot even be justified under the rubric of religious ethics. In addition, the congregants were too gullible because they had applied or bent Christianity too far from its native turf.

See: God's Gold, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

Jonathan Stempel, “SEC Charges Ephren Taylor II ForAllegedly Bilking Churchgoers In $11 Million Ponzi Scheme,” The Huffington Post, April 12, 2012.