Science in Christian Perspective



Richard H. Bube
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305

From: JASA 37 (December 1985): 229-231

Christian men and women with a fundamental commitment to Jesus Christ find their everyday loyalties sought by three principal "bodies." Each body has its own legitimate area of claim, and each body can overstep the bounds of its legitimate area to make the living of a responsible Christian life difficult. When any of these three bodies seeks to replace the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the life of a Christian, it plays the role of anti-Christ: a force that is in antithetical conflict with the claims of Christ. Interactions with church and state have taken place for many years and are fairly well recognized and appreciated. The growing role of the modern corporation in shaping the lives of Christians is perhaps not so well realized. It is the purpose of this communication to heighten our awareness of the potential role of the modern corporation, and to suggest guidelines both for Christians in charge of corporations and Christians working for corporations to prevent the modern corporation from playing the role of the anti-Christ in our lives.

The Body of Christ

What has often been called the "invisible church," the fellowship of all true believers in Jesus Christ constitutes the Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Each Christian man and woman is incorporated into this living Body of Christ as a vital cell or organ in a physical body. When we in faith accept the grace of God offered in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we become baptized into His Body. After that our allegiance to brothers and sisters in the Body is at least as compelling as any other allegiances we may have, even those involving natural brothers and sisters. The Body of Christ lives under the Headship of Christ Himself, and is motivated by the love of God and our neighbor; it expresses its highest goal in the effort to live out a model life on earth of what it means to be a citizen of heaven, as part of the total effort of making disciples for Christ.

The Church Organization

It is, of course, not possible to identify the Corpus Christi uniquely with particular Christian churches or ecclesiastical organizations (the "visible church" or Corpus ecclesiae). The Corpus ecclesiae has for its charter the carrying out of the work of Corpus Christi in the world, but consisting of human organizations as it does, it often falls short of that commission. Hence sources of conflict may indeed arise between the Corpus Christi, the authentic Body of Christ in its mystic unity, and the Corpus ecclesiae, the earthly structures in which the Corpus Christi is temporarily housed. It is sad but true that there are times when a Christian must choose between the claims of Corpus Christi and the counter-claims of Corpus ecclesitie, which invokes the name and Lordship of Christ to enforce its own authority. In particularly sad and tragic times the Corpus ecelesiae may so deny by its confession and/or its life the very heart of its relationship to Jesus Christ Himself, that it can become anti-Christ. Even-in less dramatic situations, the demands of the ecclesiastical organizations for the support and maintenance of their own earthly existence can hinder or make more difficult genuine devotion and service in the cause of Corpus Christi.

The Secular State

By the fact of their existence in the world as citizens of secular states, Christians also participate in a Corpus populi, one of many "Bodies" of the people. The particular Corpus populi to which a Christian is related by citizenship or residency has authentic claims upon the Christian such as fulfilling the responsibilities of good citizenship and recognizing the role that legitimate state functions can play in God's plan for human life in a sinful world. At least in an ideal construction, each Corpus populi should be motivated by a desire to preserve order and a love of justice, and expresses its goal in the effort to secure and defend social justice within itself and the rest of the world after the pattern set down by Christ Himself, But the claim of a State may greatly surpass this legitimate area, become the absolute claim of a totalitarian State, and express the role of anti-Christ.

It is not surprising that the history of nations records a continuing conflict between the Corpus ecclesiae and the Corpus populi. In times of proper functioning, the church organizations strive to protect and uphold the Christian under the pressure of non-Christian demands from the State. Perhaps there are also occasions when the State exercises its appropriate powers to protect and uphold the Christian against the pressure of non-Christian demands from church organizations. When the Corpus populi and the Corpus ecclesiae are seen as the framework within which to live out a subset of one's responsibilities as a member of Corpus Christi, then all is well. But when either seeks the ultimate allegiance of the Christian, not recognizing the ultimate sovereignty of Christ, totalitarian persecution and repression of Corpus Christi results.

Making a Living and the Modern Corporation

There has always been an additional force competing for people's allegiance: the force associated with the necessity for them to make a living. Perhaps we simply forget how difficult it has been for many people for many centuries, when a six or seven day work week dominated their lives and left little time for anything else. And perhaps we forget the more recent developments in which the industrial revolution uprooted people and made their search for support a dominant factor in their lives, if not the dominant factor. One of the reasons that we forget these things is that we like to believe that we have moved on to more enlightened days, to situations in which it is possible for men and women to work 40-hour weeks in dignity, with time to spare for other activities and commitments to Corpus Christi, Corpus ecclesiae, and Corpus populi, not to mention family and friends. We like to believe that, at least in the Western world and certainly in the United States, positions of responsibility and challenge are available to any with the abilities to handle them, and that these positions need not lay total claim to their lives to the exclusion of all other commitments. Surely in considerable measure we seek to believe in an illusion, however, and we close our eyes to the terrible toll in broken families and divorce, for example, that participation in such positions regularly extracts. A societal structure based so strongly on competition drains its participants of their lives and strength, and then casts them away for fresher material.

A particular manifestation of this situation in the modern world is the existence of the industrial corporation-particularly the large corporation, but not necessarily excluding the small corporations. This industrial corporation (note that the word is derived from corporare, to make into a body) can appropriately be labeled Corpus Mammonae, the Body of Material Wealth. It is motivated by the love of power and of money, and its goal is the increase of profit. Unlike the Corpus ecclesiae or the Corpus populi, which pose no necessary or inevitable dilemma for the Christian as long as they express themselves in terms of the ideals that they themselves publicly espouse, the Corpus Mammonae is a constant threat to the Christian, particularly when it is most faithful to its own ideals. Although certainly corporations, as well as any other domain of life, can be brought under the Lordship of Christ by committed Christians involved in the corporations, it is a continuing challenge for Christians involved in corporation activity to resist falling under the spell and domination of Corpus Mammonae ("No one can serve God and Mammon;" "It will be hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."). Certainly it is one of the most difficult and crucial undertakings that a Christian can make.

Some modern Corporations often seek to become all things to their workers: father, confessor, commitment guide, home, family-yes, even State and Church. Multinational corporations vary in size and power, but some challenge the power of any single State at least as effectively as do the church organizations. And, although the Corporation will condescendingly agree to observe the forms of religion, it will not tolerate any claims of the Corpus Christi that might lead to a restriction on profits. Allegiance to the Corporation must often take first place in all time commitments-over allegiance to church, family, or other social activities. The man or woman who is unwilling to sacrifice time with family or church fellowship in order to put in the 60 to 70 hours a week needed to allow the Corpus Mammonae to forge ahead to more products and bigger profits, is treated with the contempt "they deserve,"--certainly no less contempt than is showered on Christians in totalitarian nations when their Corpus Christi commitments begin to threaten their Corpus populi commitments.

Perhaps Christians are not really aware of the full dimension of the threat imposed by the Corpus Mammonae and for the necessity to develop, work out, and put into practice Christian alternatives. Because of the natural tendency to compartmentalize our lives into religious and non-religious segments, it is extremely easy to get caught up in the Corpus Mammonae syndrome without fully realizing it until some crucial crisis point is reached when the nature of the incompatibility suddenly becomes apparent. The consequences for the sensitive Christian, who is aware of the extent of the conflict involved, may well become catastrophic. Just as in some totalitarian nations, where Christians are usually squeezed into a tiny and politically ineffective minority, denied access to higher education and socially prestigious jobs, driven to seek careers and lifestyles on the borders of the society in which they live, so also under the growing impact of the unlimited Corpus Mammonae, Christians may again well be forced to "drop out" of the main streams of social activity-not because "dropping out" symbolizes their lack of desire to be involved in society (as characterized by the Flower Children of the 1960s), but because Corpus Mammonae will not allow them to "hang in" without exacting too high a price in violation of personal values associated with commitment to Corpus Christi.

Guidelines for Christians

If it is agreed that the above discussion outlines the potential dangers, suggesting guidelines for Christians is neither particularly profound nor easy. A Christian in charge of a corporation, or about to set up or become involved in a corporation under his/her control, needs to weigh the costs both to him/herself and to those who will be employed. Short periods of intense effort, when other activities are temporarily suspended, in order to achieve a goal is both understandable and even commendable; but a lifestyle of intense effort in which all other values and activities are excluded is not. If, as the manager of a corporation, a Christian demands of others that they devote their lives entirely to the corporation, he/she has already violated a fundamental recognition of what being truly human in Christ means. If there is no easy way to operate a corporation in our competitive society except in this way, a Christian should consider seriously whether or not this is an acceptable life's calling.

For those who are about to choose a life's work in a Christian framework, great care and sensitivity are required. If a particular corporation environment seems almost certain to threaten other human relationships and the fundamental lifestyle of care for others that should characterize the Christian life, it may well be that such an environment must be rejected even if it offers high promise of material wealth, power and influence. Any career pursuit followed for its own ends that is destructive of family and Christian fellowship relationships falls outside the permissible area for a Christian.

Finally, it should not be overlooked that indeed some Christians may be called to establish and work within corporations as the tangible expression of their commitment to Christ, their desire to order structures in a Christ-pleasing way, and their commitment to help others by providing opportunities for employment and sharing. Such Christians need to be upheld in prayer for their path is a long and treacherous one, and they would do well to be aware of the dangers and to count the costs regularly.