Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Christian in Industrial Society, by Sir Fred Catherwood



Sir Fred Catherwood, The Christian in Industrial Society, 1980 Inter-Varsity Press


The late Sir Fred Catherwood, one time president of the British Evangelical Alliance is somebody I would inevitably admire. A Christian Conservative MEP who defended both capitalism and the European Union. He was also very much involved in the world of business. In our age of populism, such a patrician would probably get dismissed as an 'establishment figure.'

This is a slightly odd book in that it is based on the conclusions of a group of Christians in business, finance and the trade union movement. Other than Catherwood, the only member of this panel named is George Woodcock, who was a General Secretary of the TUC. The anonymity of this discussion group is a little puzzling.

The book explores various issues in industrial society from an Evangelical perspective; the relationship between employers and employees, the social responsibility of business, the place of trade unionism, taxation and the stock exchange. The book feels very dated in its portrayal of powerful and regimented trade unions, which does not reflect industrial relations today. Readers today might be surprised that two significant issues are never brought up in this book, racial discrimination in the workplace and women in the workplace. Nor is there any discussion of immigration.

The conclusions of the book are conservative, supporting capitalism, yet they are also very positive about the role of the Trade Union movement, which contrasts with the Tory hostility to unions that came in with Thatcher. These days, many in the Conservative Party are working to build a new relationship with trade unions. There is a good deal of no-nonsense commonsense morality in the book. Reading it, I found myself reminded of my father, an Evangelical Christian who worked as a director in industry for many years and who always strived to manifest Christian virtues in the workplace.

The book very much identifies with the idea of the Protestant Work Ethic and sees this a positive byproduct of the Reformation, even including an appendix discussing the Weber's theory. When it mentions Catholicism, it seems to show a certain level of misunderstanding, particularly regarding the Catholic idea of vocation. In reality, many Catholics have as strong a work ethic as any Calvinist (which the appendix does acknowledge).

This is perhaps a dated book, nevertheless, it's uncomplicated sense of virtue makes it an edifying read.

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