Nov. 4 (Bloomberg) — Barclays Plc Chief Executive Officer John Varley stood at the wooden lectern in St. Martin-in-the- Fields on London’s Trafalgar Square last night and told the packed pews of the church that “profit is not satanic.”
The 53-year-old head of Britain’s second-biggest bank said banks are the “backbone” of the economy. Rewarding high- performing bankers with more pay doesn’t conflict with Christian values, he said. Varley was paid 1.08 million pounds ($1.77 million) and no bonus in 2008.
“Talent is highly mobile,” Varley, a Catholic, said. “If we fail to pay or are constrained from paying competitive rates then that talent will move to another employer.”
“Is Christianity and banking compatible? Yes,” he said in an interview after the speech in the 283-year-old church. “And is Christianity and fair reward compatible? Yes.”
Varley joins Goldman Sachs International adviser Brian Griffiths and Lazard International Chairman Ken Costa as London bankers who’ve gone into London churches in recent weeks and invoked Christianity to defend a banking system that critics say has created wealth and inequality in the U.K.
“The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest,” Goldman’s Griffiths said Oct. 20, his voice echoing around the gold-mosaic walls of St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose 365-feet-high dome towers over the City, London’s financial district. “We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieving greater prosperity and opportunity for all.”
While I agree with this maybe-I-have-an-axe-to-grind banker that making a profit is not Satanic, it isn’t particularly virtuous either. I have nothing against capitalism, but once it loses its ethical footing – and just like most other things in the West, I think it has – its power is just like any other power: subject to corruption.
This piece of pop-psychology enlightenment alone is an ample demonstration of why bankers should stick to banking and leave the pulpit to priests (who, admittedly, tend to use the pulpit to decry the evils of banking):
“The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest,”
When Jesus told us to love others as we love our selves, it was hardly an endorsement of self-interest or loving ourselves; it was simply recognition of the fact that we do love ourselves. Even people who are miserable and consumed with apparent self-loathing are only in that state because they feel hard-done-by and wish for better things – because they love themselves. A person does not become suicidal through a lack of self-love, but by an over-indulgence in it; he loves himself enough to do anything to escape from his misery.
Let’s hope that John Varley takes some other sayings of Jesus to heart, too. Like:
“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?