Faiths in London’s Economy (FiLE) – Shared faiths response to the credit crunch
by Jonathan Evens
Ten responses to the financial crisis from a multi-faith seminar include defining wealth as happiness, restoring trust and ethics in business, as well as replacing interest by profit-sharing. The article concludes by pointing out the positive opportunities for change available to people of faith and to Londoners.
Introduction This shared faiths response to the credit crunch originated in the ‘Ethics in a global economy’ seminar held at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace and organised by FiLE (http:// www.mile.org.uk/file.htm) in October 2008. A call for a shared faiths perspective on the credit crunch to be developed emerged clearly from the seminar and FiLE undertook to try to facilitate that process.
Two meetings to discuss a shared faiths response were held and two draft documents circulated to a group of interested people for comment. The overall process has included people from the Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jain and Jewish traditions in addition to representatives of faith-based and inter-faith organisations. One organisation making specific contributions to the document was Green Equity.
1. Wealth means more than money
‘Wealth’ is all that human beings receive from others and from the world in which we live. So, shelter, clothing, our abilities, social institutions, our cultures, the Arts, our relationships, the environment are all ‘wealth.’ In most faith traditions, these are seen as divine gifts.
The creativity of human beings means that we develop means by which we utilise and distribute wealth. Money is one such means of wealth utilisation and distribution, among many others (such as education or manufacturing), and becomes problematic when pursued in isolation from other means of utilisation and distribution. One factor in the current crisis is that money has been treated as wealth and the value of money separated from any tangible reality. Derivative trading is, for example, trading not just in intangibles but in the reflection of intangibles and then reckoning wealth in those terms.
One small example of the broader understanding of wealth that we advocate is that surveys of Londoners’ levels of happiness consistently show that a characteristic of boroughs where Londoners experience the highest levels of happiness are those with an inbuilt lung of creation in the form of the river and parks. Epping Forest has traditionally operated in this way for Eastenders while we also note that those who are financially rich tend to spend their money on art and culture. It may be that, as a result, we should measure Gross National Happiness like Bhutan: a country where this measure signals an attempt to build an economy based on spiritual (in this case, Buddhist) values.
2. The value of work
Work is valued in most faith traditions with human beings viewed as representatives of the divine on earth; in some traditions this extends to human beings…