Love, Sight, and Corporations

December 16, 2013

If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  -1 John 4:20

It is interesting that love is connected with sight in this Biblical passage.  Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Bible teaches that a human is much more than a physical, visible entity (2 Corinthians 5:4 refers to the body as a “tent”, and 1 Corinthians 6:19 refers to the body of a Christian as a “temple of the holy spirit.”).  Scripture also states that God created man in His “image,” specifically in Genesis 1:26-27: “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image’. . . [and] God created man in His own image.”  However, it is highly debatable (if not entirely unlikely) that the reference to “God’s image” has much to do with the physical appearance of human beings.

The thesis of this post is that the removal of the “sight” of a second party may actually hinder one’s propensity to love someone, and that that has consequences in our political and social lives.  This may seem obvious, but I am going to take it a step further than the obvious.

We know intuitively that a blind person must be able to love a person, so physical sight is not necessary to love someone.  But it is surely easier to avoid loving another person if one does not have to see that person.  If your community keeps homeless people relegated to a rough corner of town that you never visit, it is easier not to think of them or help them.  But if you have to face homeless people every day, your conscience is more likely to be bothered and perhaps spur you to do something to love the homeless, even if only donating to a local charity or giving a few bucks to a homeless person who appears to be in need.  On the other hand, one might choose to become callous toward the homeless, particularly with the aid of stereotypes and rationalizations such as “homeless people are lazy.”  Accordingly, it is said that if you cannot even love those who you see (and sight should make it easier to love someone), you cannot love God, whom you cannot see (because it is presumably harder to love God, who you cannot see).

But what if you owned a small private business in a neighborhood with homeless people?  I would imagine it would be even more difficult to resist a sense of sympathy to (and even responsibility for) the needs of those in the community.

Enter corporations.

Setting aside private companies, the “owners” of a publicly-traded corporation could be shareholders from all across the world.  If the corporation runs nation-wide chain retail stores or restaurants, the shareholder is far removed from the faces on the ground.  A corporation cannot truly love a person.  The corporation exists to provide profit to its shareholders.  Sure, a corporation can give money to a charitable cause, but it generally does so because it helps the corporation’s bottom line in the long run by building good will with consumers.  The private small business owner is in a much better position to help those with needs in the community because the private small business owner can actually “see” the faces of the need in a real way.

Furthermore, the private small business owner sees his or her employees and is more likely to treat them in a loving manner.  Grace and mercy cost a business owner no more than he or she is willing to voluntarily contribute.  The shareholders of a private corporation cannot see the employees and thus will not care about them.  The corporate hierarchy will provide little grace or mercy at the sacrifice of the company’s (and the shareholders’) bottom line.  Employees within a corporation can still exercise some grace and mercy, but with a much greater risk.  If an employee in a corporation shows mercy to a subordinate and it does not work out, the managerial employee loses his job, which is more than the comparatively negligible amount of profit lost by the corporation.

Now enter politicians.

Politicians, surviving largely on the backs of private corporations (this goes for Democrats as well as Republicans), answer these bottom-line focused entities rather than the rank and file individuals.  Moreover, federal government politicians are far removed from their constituents (often by thousands of miles).  If politicians need not look many of their constituents in the face for most of the year, it will be easier to forget to love them or serve their interests, just as people forget about the homeless in the bad areas of town that they never visit.

Is the link between “sight” and “love” a good reason to be suspicious of corporations and support local businesses?  Is it a good reason to prefer local to state or national government?

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

–C.S. Lewis, Answers to Questions on Christianity

This understanding of love is the basis by which we can determine what actions are truly loving.  If a person claims to love, yet acts in a manner that is contrary to the person who is “loved,” then we can rightfully question whether love is present, regardless of how anybody feels about it.