Friday, November 13, 2009

What is the theological community doing?

Currently I'm in the planning team for GCF's next year's major conference. During the meeting, I found out that the structure for each topical session will be facilitated by two persons; one theologian and one marketplace person (a.k.a. Christian who is working in non-Church related environment). The given reason is to balance the theological perspective with practicality and relevance in the marketplace.

About an hour ago, I was attending Stephen Green's lecture. The respondent to the lecture was Hsieh Fu Hua, CEO of Singapore Exchange Limited. Both are confessed Christians and also leaders in the marketplace. (Stephen Green is an ordained Anglican priest besides being the chairman of HSBC Bank). Such combination would be perfect. Or not.

With these two scenarios, do you see a fundamental problem shared by both?

It seems like the underlying principle in both scenarios is the assumption that the value of a person's expertise
lies on the caricature of the person's profession rather than the content that validates the person's expertise.

This principle simply means that you do not evaluate a person's expertise on the basis of the person's contribution to the subject matter, but based on the circulating caricatures of the person's profession in your community. So when you invite a theologian to speak on medical ethics, you already assumed that the theologian lacks working knowledge on the subject simply because of his profession. Hence you arrange a medical doctor into the conference to 'balance' the topic. In the same way, when you invite a businessman to speak on theological relevance of the financial world, you assumed he is good with the subject, and then arranged for a respondent who is also a businessman as respondent simply because he is a businessman who so happen to be a Christian, or vice versa.

This is an awry principle especially when it comes to inter-disciplinary subjects such as the relation between business and theology, science and religion, politic and faith, medical ethics with religion, etc.

Inter-disciplinary study is a subject on its own, with its own regulation and working assumptions. Simply assuming someone who is a Christian and also a successful businessman to have great insights in the relation between business and Christianity is a mistake.
The right evaluation is that which measures the quality of the person's insight based on his insights, and not based on the profession or condition which he happened to be in and good at it.

No doubt both Stephen Green and Hsieh Fu Hua are businessmen par excellence. No doubt they are committed Christians. No doubt they have good insights in their own respective fields. And no doubt they may have good insights in the inter-disciplinary subject relating their profession and their faith.

Stephen Green briefly shared the few main points made in his book. Then followed by Hsieh Fu Hua's response. Then the Q&A session.

The summary of Green's lecture was that Christians should differentiate 'values' from 'prices' based on the Bible. A good exhortation, no less.

I am reading his book and I understand what was he lecturing on. It has no real constructive impact or influence on the financial world per se. He wrote that himself in his book, which the lecture was based, "
[T]his is not a book about economics or policy. It is not a recipe for the reform of the global economics or policy. It is not a recipe for the reform of the global economic or financial system. It is about the other kinds of issue which arise from a global crisis of historic proportions: questions about who we are, about how we have changed, about our beginnings and ends." (p.xii) In other words, it's Green's reflection on the human condition triggered by his witness of current economic crunch.

Perhaps the CEO's point is that the economics condition is actually directly influenced by the individual human's condition.

After Green's speech, Hsieh reponded. He spent about 10-15 minutes highlighting some points in Green's book. His response was opened with him jokingly admitting that he did not know what the role of a 'respondent' is. In his response, there was no critiques, just 'Amens' all the way. May be he was not joking in his opening statement after all.

During Q&A, I wanted to ask a question but did not managed to because the session ended by the time I wanted to raise my hand. This is the question I had in mind:

Mr. Green, I have a question on Christian's decision in making investment choices. In 2007, HSBC was reported to have earned USD$657.3 millions from its investment in a multi-industrial company Textron despite the fact that this company manufactures the notorious and controversial cluster bombs. Now, with respect and without judgment, I would like to know what was HSBC's rationale in making that decision? Purely based on profit-loss calculation or ignorance of such production by the company or both or other reasons? Perhaps this could be a relevant case-study or precedence for us to follow.

No particular ground-breaking insight was shared by the speaker and the respondent (unless you consider quoting the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 is a theological insight in a theological academic setting). The moderator ended the session with this question, "
How would you want the next generation think of this generation?"