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Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson will discuss the impact of religion on economics.

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Source: Music: Emerson, Ralph Waldo. English Traits. Boston: Houghton, 1884. Print Music:

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Hello, and welcome to economics, economics and religion. If there's anything that might tend to dominate our lives, many people might say that it's money and time spent thinking about it, planning how to spend it, earning it, or just worrying about it somehow. It's generally a pretty big preoccupation for most of us.

But what does it have to do with religion? Well, let's see. Our English word economy comes from the ancient Greek word oikonomia, which means management of a household administration. It comes from two words. Oikonomia is broken down into oikos, meeting house, and nomos, meaning custom or law.

Oikos, nomos, oikonomia, economy. Economy, management. Money is a big part of economies and has been for a long time. Money is a symbol. The goods and services of an economy symbolize some sort of dedication to each other, cooperation.

And sure, throw a little competition in there with the modern free market. And now, with an expanding and volatile global economy, change happens. Commitments, dedications, and loyalties shift.

So change happens. Commitments, dedications, and loyalties shift. Any pure symbolism or higher law that might have inspired the first coin mint is most likely obscured behind our ATMs, our automatic thought mechanisms, modern habits, and associations with money and economic life. But what are the preoccupations that we have? What are they really?

What is the stress? What is the hypersensitivity or the carelessness around money management? What's behind it? What does money mean? Is it possible that what's behind it is some desire to reconnect with the meaning of money and the meaning of life, the ancient sense of living community and exchange, something that goes back and forth?

William Desmond and Jacob Needleman remind us that money originated as a symbol of man's soul, symbolizing the principle of exchange with some higher force of life-- a deity, supernatural, et cetera. And for us modern folk, we also have some sort of faith process going on with respect to money and the economies that are so interwoven in our lives. First of all, there's the basic belief that money will work.

A $20 bill is a $20 bill, breakfast for two. The belief therefore has meaning. Because I am fed, my body is given food to carry out my duties in life. So now, there's another level, one we alluded to earlier, managing house in relation to law. And law and duty are intimately linked in many spiritual and religious traditions.

And this brings us back, in a more practical way, to our daily lives of work, family, religion. Most of us interact with a variety of different peoples and cultures every day. All the dutiful players on the field of this modern global economy, they're all wearing jerseys of every color, every faith, every religion, every language.

In a large sense, recent nondiscrimination laws have made this game possible. Recognizing different religions in the workplace is almost commonplace now. You can see it, for example, in a business that reserves a room for lunchtime prayer or meditation, et cetera.

Hospitals recognize the variety of religious needs of its patients and their families. They offer not only a Christian prayer facility, but others as well. And this is a trickling down of international business behavior and evolving norms and customs. Negotiating with different cultures and religious preference and the associated duties and laws requires a kind of sensitivity.

And maybe this modern demand, if not a requirement or duty of responsible business today, is related to the original exchange between people. People of a tribe who invested meaning and symbolism in those early, rudimentary, but very foundational transactions so intimately linked to their cosmologies, their religions, and the laws that were handed down and transmitted from generation to generation. Perhaps the recognition of prayer rooms in hospitals and the workplace, the holidays for many different religions, cafeterias that accommodate religious dietary restrictions and needs, aren't these all examples of economies weaving and exchanging with religious values in one way or another?

How about back to the basics again? Food-- you might think of kosher food. And surely, the industry of preparing, shipping, and selling Jewish kosher food items blessed by the rabbi. And in other traditions as well, you can see similarities between money and religious belief, and practice.

Perhaps these are all elements of a sensitive and creative exchange with the world and its people. As Emerson said, a creative economy is the fuel magnificence. The new age brings new qualities into request. The virtues of pirates gave way to those of planters, merchants, senators, and scholars. So money, economics, religion.