Saturday, February 8, 2014

Faith and business

So I've been tiptoeing around the issue for some time, and it is time to have out with it.

I think it is a terrible crime that we are imbuing non-persons with person-like attributes. I think we in America should stop now.

Let's back up and consider when and how and to whom this refers.

Primarily I am concerned that businesses are not people and should not be treated like they are people. It also worries me when we assign potential people (embryos and fetuses) the rights of people because, well, not people. Embryos and fetuses certainly are closer to people than businesses though, and they ought to get their own discussion of personhood in another post.

Businesses. When I think of a business, I think of a group of people that provide a good or service others buy such that the group of people can get paid salaries and the purchasers get whatever it is they pay for. A friend of mine runs a business that has one regular employee (my friend) and occasionally it hires some other people but for the most part, it's just my friend doing business and keeping business separate from play by incorporating so it's clear what's business and what's fun (it's an event planning business). This friend's spouse works for a multinational corporation that employs thousands on several continents. Size and scale vary.

But let's talk faith for a moment. Faith is a word with a specific set of meanings. It is a belief in something with no justification or reason for that belief, a set of religious beliefs such as Islam, an obligation of loyalty (Johnny acted in good faith to mend the rift between the white hats and the black hats.), or a trust or confidence in the abilities or intentions of another person (I have faith that Johnny will be able to find the cat). Faith is a noun. That means that an agent is needed to have it because it's that certain kind of noun that gets possessed. But if you look at those examples, you'll note that people are the agents in all of them.

So faith is something people or groups of people have and isn't something that could be possessed by an inanimate object. My chair has no ability to have faith or to act in good faith. I'll make the case that animals can't have faith either because they aren't sentient actors. Animals are unable to possess ethereal things like faith or an idea of an afterlife by definition because they aren't people.

So this brings us around to businesses. A business is a construct for the purpose of making money and therefore because it isn't a person, it cannot possess faith. A business is made up of people who work for it but the business itself can't exhibit the characteristics of a person because it isn't a person. A business cannot love. A business cannot get married. A business can't get baptized or have a bar mitzvah or participate in any faith-originated sacred event. This means a business, in addition to not being a person, has no ability to participate in a faith and therefore isn't capable of having faith in the same way a person can. Can you bless or curse a business? Sure! But that makes the business the subject of a faith-based action rather than the actor in it.

This is where the rubber hits the road. Some business owners are mad that they have to pay for health insurance for their employees. I get that, but it's a cost of doing business if you are over a certain size. If we had a different system where we had a single payer model for healthcare, we'd charge businesses or people more and call it something different (or just call it a tax) to pay for health coverage at that time. Business comes with costs - you need to rent office space probably, you need to pay for supplies, you need to pay your employees fairly, you need to pay whatever else your local area charges businesses who incorporate. Businesses in the US also pay specific taxes that support the common welfare: medic.are and Soc,ial Secu.rity. There's no denying these are taxes and no pretending the business can have any say about how these programs play out once the business pays them.

Let's talk about the difference between owning a business and the business itself. If you own the business, you get to set the tone of the business. Check out corporate cultures as disparate as Costc.o and as some examples. One encourages unions, pays a living wage, and employs most people full time. The other discourages unions, pays minimum wage and sometimes holds food drives at its stores to help its employees make ends meet, and employs relatively few people full time. The owners and major shareholders of these companies shape these choices, and if you have a big company then obviously some of what happens locally differs from what the corporate central office imagines might happen. The owner(s) of the business are people and they are not the business, no matter how influential on the business they may be.

Let me hammer on that distinction again. Because businesses are not people, the people who own them cannot "be the business" no matter how much they influence the doings of the business or are the only one doing them. People remain people and businesses can never be people, therefore nobody can "be the business" and no person's attributes can all belong to the business because there are some things that are people-only.

Based on businesses not being people and the people who own businesses being unable to change that piece of semantics and hopefully reality, businesses can't have faith and therefore can't use faith as a reason not to pay for health care of a particular nature that the faith finds objectionable. For lots of reasons that are icky (another post!), we in America require by law that employers of a certain number of people pay for health insurance for employees. There is no faith in that whatsoever, just business. For some reason we have decided it's the employers' job to pay for this, and I won't argue the whole system is ridiculous, but it is what we have. Employers pay taxes that support those government programs and they have no control over what employees do with that tax money in the future. Requiring employers pay for yet another thing is just par for the course then.

The argument that because the owners of a business have certain faith-based beliefs, they shouldn't have to pay for very specific pieces of health care is ridiculous. The logistics are awful for one (defining the faith beliefs, determining if they are real or the employer being cheap or misogynistic, etc), the idea that what amounts to a tax that businesses get some say in how much to pay can be skipped entirely because of such a personal belief is just silly (who gets to skip taxes they don't like to pay? Nobody! Not even non-person businesses!), and it is impossible in my mind to set proper limits. For example, some faiths believe that blood transfusions are immoral and inappropriate. Can a business say they won't pay for blood transfusions, even if the employee needs and wants one to save her life? What about if a woman has an ectopic pregnancy and needs medication to resolve that but her employer has forbidden the use of very specific medications that are viewed as immoral? What about the case of the schizophrenic person whose faith says that all medications starting with the letter S are immoral who suddenly owns a company through inheritance? It's too messy to decide individually what's what, so it's best to just have the law be the law and be done with it. Pay for health insurance that meets minimum standards to prove it counts as health insurance or stop doing business (or be awful and cut your employee's hours so nobody is full time anymore and therefore nobody gets health insurance).

This lands me in a personal spot where there's this lovely pharmacy down the street that would be a nice place to do a rotation. The problem is a tip jar on the counter. It's for the local church-group-run crisis pregnancy center. I have several problems with this but what crosses the line for me is the presence of faith in a business. If the jar is on the counter, it means the business (and not its employees or owners) endorses it. Businesses have no place supporting one faith over another. I've worked in places where we had similar jars for the humane society or a nonprofit children's hospital or to support some local sick person in need of expensive care. I cannot in good conscience work in a place that allows faith to bleed into business like that, particularly because crisis pregnancy centers ARE NOT a place to get health care and if you are in a pharmacy, it suggests an endorsement of any health-related things advertised. Pharmacies should not advertise fake health care options because it is dangerous to do so. I think I would get sued if I told a cancer patient I refused to order their chemo medication because they ought to just die instead of going against G*d's will. I wish we recognized that this faith-based intrusion is just as inappropriate as refusing to fill a prescription for contraception (as a business, remember, not a word about individual pharmacist ethical choices based in a personal faith in this post).

Business is about money. Using the "faith of the business" is logically faulty and very likely an excuse to avoid paying more to employ people, or as a way to show off how faithful the owners are to their friends. Don't accept the idea that businesses can have faith and should act on that faith. It's bogus.

1 comment:

  1. AMEN. Beautifully said. I 100% agree. I've mentioned before that my boss (at a family practice medical clinic) is very religious, but you would NEVER know it as a patient, and he is very careful to never mix his personal & religious beliefs - as it should be.