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Bishop Huber on the Increasing Cisis of Trust in Society

by Wolfgang Huber Saturday, Mar. 22, 2008 at 5:27 AM

Responsibility for fellow-workers is just as important as responsibility for profits. The growing mistrust toward the economic elite changes directly into mistrust toward our political system. To find ourselves and affirm human limits, we need persons who share our hopes and suffering


[This interview published March 12, 2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Wolfgang Huber is the chairperson of the Evangelical Church in Germany and bishop in Berlin.]


Mr. Huber, Is it moral when firms send people into unemployment to increase profits?

Wolfgang Huber: I see a great tension that is publically recognized. A business can only accept its social responsibility when it is in the black. However there is a growing discrepancy between the profit expectations of shareholders and the paradoxical fact that these expectations are often fulfilled by simultaneously jobs.

What does your church do against this?

Huber: We honor businesses that combine economic solidarity with care and responsibility for jobs. I am always very impressed when I read reports about firms that fulfill the criteria of “work-plus.”

Are there enough businesses with positive reputations?

Huber: Medium-sized businesses provide the lion’s share of jobs. These are often family-run businesses. In these businesses, responsibility for fellow workers is just as important as responsibility for profits.

According to the latest statistics, the top managers of Dax-businesses (firms listed on the German stock exchange) earned 14 percent more in 2007. The average employee earned 1.4 percent more – less than the rate of inflation. Is that acceptable?

Huber: These days everyone tries to explain the difference that a board of director in a Dax-business is only active for four years on average.

That is also true for many workers.

Huber: Therefore the argument is not convincing to me. The loss of trust involves this growing discrepancy in income. If one still justifies the extremely high compensation by saying the activity ends, we have a situation that has lost its rudder and represents a negative effect of globalization. Still businesses with controlled board of director salaries are very successful.

Let us take a concrete example. Is it right that Daimler-chairman of the board Zeitsche earns 14-times what the German chancellor earns?

Huber: That cannot be explained from their responsibility. One's vast earnings do not benefit those at the lower end of the wage scale. That was the justice criterion of an important American philosopher.

The German constitution says: Property is obligated to the well-being of everyone. To whom is property obligated and for what?

Huber: Everyone is obligated to the same extent.

You allude to the case of presumed tax evasion.

Huber: Yes, everyone points to those with millions in assets. Three fingers always point back to oneself. Over 50 percent of Germans think tax honesty isn’t so important. When tax evasion by billionaires damages trust toward the economic elite, we have an even greater problem.

What are the consequences of this crisis of trust?

Huber: From Berlin, I see the consequences especially for the east. The growing mistrust toward the economic elite changes directly into mistrust toward our political system.

Is that one reason the Left Party has been cast off?

Huber: Yes. The other part is that the Left Party promises everything to everyone and harvests a spreading discontent in voters that alarms me.

Must businesses ensure a better compatibility of vocation and family?

Huber: That compatibility should have a high priority. Unfortunately there are many cases where women say to their boss, they are pregnant, and hear the answer: the time is not right for pregnancy. On the other hand, I know firms that go very far with family-based wage structures by balancing the part-time work of fathers or mothers with a higher salary. This is evidence of responsibility.

Can you offer a word on morality in politics?

Huber: My question is not directed to a person or party. Can the striving for power go so far that one proclaims something that one really isn’t ready to champion?


By Evangelical Church in Germany

[This short article from March 7, 2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

“Is Health the Supreme Good?” is this year’s theme from April 5 – April 12. The German Bishops’ Conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) invite reflection and discussion about sickness and health in church communities and diaconical institutions. The chairperson of the council of the EKD, Bishop Wolfgang Huber, refers to the frequent equation of quality of life and physical health. “Anxiety about one’s health today is similar to the worry about salvation. Expressed in an exaggerated way, the earlier hope for redemption beyond death corresponds today to the hope for maintaining health and healing from sicknesses.” “Suffering and transitoriness belong to human nature and are only shaken off at the price of one’s humanity. The desire for health and the right to therapeutic treatment can only be kept in good balance when sickness is not understood as something foreign or as deviation from the norm.”

Huber continued: “Despite all promises of regenerative medicine, despite all necessity of a palliative medicine – we cannot either create or redeem ourselves. The danger persists of reducing health to a product and/or medical and economic possibilities. Doctors become parties to contracts in which persons may sue for a successful operation or a restored body. The healing process is calculated after diagnoses and should follow a fixed time plan. Care becomes a service that can be divided in separate functional units. The orientation in a product- and customer consciousness leads ultimately to a codification or religion of order that seems to include the right to a good death. [Translator’s note: Goebbels according to Erich Fromm symbolized the religion of order. He kept a daily diary noting how many pieces of bread he ate and whether the train was on time.] Visions appear on the horizon that throw us back to a dark time of our history: good death-euthanasia.”

To find ourselves and affirm human limits, we need persons who share our hopes and our suffering and do not face us as business partners. To them, we are worth something even if we do nothing. These are persons who bind up wounds and care for us like the Good Samaritan. Whoever shares the suffering experience of another understands his or her own limitation and his or her own powerlessness. Many persons have experienced that such encounters have a spiritual dimension that makes them perceptive and wakens their passion for life. The church engagement for welfare and a good quality of our hospitals grows out of such encounters. Awakening this power of care and encountering with respect and recognition those who make this care their calling and those who pay for this care would be the true revolution that our health system needs. That is the reason why the churches are occupied with the theme health.”

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