American churches have aligned themselves with American nationalism in a way that has caused Christianity to be as "American" as it is "Christian" — sometimes as unlike European Christianity as it is unlike Islam. Nationalism, however, isn't the only force which has changed the nature of American Christianity. Major corporations are becoming heavily invested in finding ways to incorporate religion into their own agenda, transforming American Christianity into an arm of corporate capitalism.
There is, for example, a growing trend in corporate America to provide official, company-paid and company-approved chaplains to serve the spiritual interests of its employees. America apparently has a growing market for chaplains for the marketplace, creating what might be a new high (or low) point in blending capitalism, corporate culture, and Christianity.
This development is part of a larger trend in America of conservative evangelicals moving out of the backwoods and into the boardrooms. Their average levels of education and income are fast approaching the national average; as they acquire more corporate power, they bring their personal religious beliefs and attitudes with them.
In Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church, Michael L. Budde and Robert W. Brimlow write:
By telling employees that spirituality properly pursued makes for happy corporate functionaries, a wealthy firm, and a stronger nation, corporations further the absorption of Christianity by the capitalist worldview and culture, in the process robbing the church of its prophetic and eschatological qualities. The church falls victim to idolatry on the installment plan. Such a state of affairs does not trouble the corporations — indeed, they profit from such tendencies — but it should trouble the churches more than it does.
The argument offered in defense of company chaplains isn't any positive spiritual or religious benefits to the employees, but the idea that it will save the company money — and that's the fundamental interest/goal not only for this organization, but any company that pays for their services. It's not the well-being of the employees that matters so much as how much money can be saved by the presence of religious authority figures who might provide spiritual legitimation to the work environment.
It appears, furthermore, that workplace chaplains are exclusively Christian — no Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Humanist chaplains. If any employees actually want someone from a non-Christian perspective, they are put in the position of having to make a special request. People don't like to stand out in the crowd even in the best of times, never mind when they are already having enough problems to justify wanting the help of a chaplain, which suggests that non-Christian employees will be put at a real disadvantage.
The services offered by corporate chaplains aren't just counseling. They include the full range of services that would be provided by the priests, pastors, and ministers in a church. Would you like to get married by your company's chaplain? I shudder to think about how obsessively involved with a company I'd have to be in order to even contemplate that, but clearly corporations are expecting it. Corporate chaplains will even visit you or your family members if they end up in jail — but do you necessarily want your employer to learn if you or any family members are incarcerated for any reason?
What guarantees or forms of accountability are there to ensure that confidentiality exists? To be fair, even a pastor isn't legally bound to keep conversations confidential, but I have trouble believing one can invest more confidence in someone your employer is paying to talk to you. I certainly can't think of any reason to trust a large corporation to be the appropriate place to turn to for spiritual or religious guidance.
Several important questions can be raised about corporations' growing involvement in providing religious or spiritual instruction, guidance, and support to their employees:
- Will they favor Christianity, directly or indirectly?
- Will corporate chaplains be accountable to any larger religious body?
- Will any provision be made for secular and humanist employees?
- Will conversations remain private or will corporations gain more knowledge about employee's inner lives?
- Will chaplains provide an independent moral perspective, or just shill for capitalism, consumerism, and corporatism?
- Will chaplains' loyalty lie with their religion, the employees, the corporation they work at, or the corporation they work for?
- Will chaplains use their influence to sway employees' political beliefs?
It was not part of the original message of Christianity that becoming a Christian would make one a happier worker, a wealthier businessman, or a more powerful politician. These are, however, ideas which have become deeply ingrained in American churches and American Christianity. Even worse, so few Americans seem to recognize it — their uniquely American brand of Christianity tends to be perceived as what is essential to Christianity generally.
I think that there is a connection between the influence of corporate capitalism and the influence of nationalism. So long as Christianity was an "underdog" religion, a religion of the poor and oppressed, it paid to portray itself as promising future rewards in the spiritual realm rather than immediate rewards in the material realm. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, though, matters changed. The wealthy and powerful aren't very attracted to a religion that teaches them to give up all they have so that they will be rewarded in the afterlife.
To become attractive, Christianity had to start promising more rewards in the current, material world. Corporate Christianity and Christian Nationalism are simply extending a process that began very early on in Christianity's development — a process that creates tensions, if not contradictions, between many of Christianity's written ideals and its actual practice.
Corporations are, in a sense, taking up a banner which had long ago been erected by Constantine: In hoc signo vinces, now translated as "In this sign you will increase profits."