The Church and the Bank

The World Bank is also a highly successful secular economic entity like the Church, but the comparison does not stop there. Just as the Church has its Doctrine of the Faith, the World Bank too has a dogma: it is called the Doctrine of Development. It is never questioned and is held to be beyond debate. As George and Sabelli note:

But the World Bank is at once a bank with a small b, specialising in commercial loans to sovereign governments, and a development institution whose philosophy, choices and actions now affect huge numbers of people. It is the only bank that claims not merely an economic function but a humanitarian purpose as well. (pp. 4-5, emphasis added.)

. ..although it makes massive profits (in recent years well over a billion dollars annually), it acts in the name of values higher and nobler than those of a mere profit-making enterprise. (ibid.)

This brings us again to Mother Teresa - who has not been shy of accepting money and decorations in the name of God from criminal tycoons, drug lords, dictators and mass murderers. (Pat Robertson is less self-righteous, only more offensive.) The World Bank is not guilty of such practices though it has on occasion loaned money to countries ruled by dictators. I have not taken the trouble to find out if the World Bank has ever loaned money to Haiti, ruled by the Duvaliers ('Papa Doc' and 'Baby Doc') - among Mother Teresa's benefactors - who looted their country and organized mass executions. If it did, it would prove to be an unconventional source for her activities - the World Bank itself via a circuitous route running through Haiti of the

94 I say this because credit means faith - derived originally from the Latin word 'credere' meaning 'to believe'. I am sure the authors are aware of it and the tautology is intentional. Susan George and Fabrizio Sabelli, Faith and Credit, London, Penguin, 1994. I am grateful to Sri S.R. Ramaswamy for bringing their interesting work to my attention.


It is therefore not altogether fair to compare the World Bank to even the modern Vatican, for the World Bank has no criminal record (though it has had at least one disastrously incompetent chief executive in Robert McNamara of Vietnam War fame). Nor has the Bank served as a front for drug-money laundering by Mafia figures like Sindona and Calvi with their connections to the Vatican Bank. And yet its dogma of development and its enormous economic power have led the Bank to impose its projects on small nations against their own interests. And what remains unmentioned in all this is that for its employees the World Bank is a very lucrative career while maintaining its self-righteous humanitarian posture. Naturally enough this has led to a reaction with some critics seeing nothing but hypocrisy and evil in the Bank. As George and Sabelli observe:

Some critics have approached the Bank as a kind of quintessential Evil Empire, imposing its projects in the teeth of public opinion, the local inhabitants' wishes and, sometimes, the Banks own experts' advice. At one time or another, all these things have occurred. But if one tries, rather, to understand why it should upon occasion behave in such way, one is struck by an inescapable though perhaps irreverent analogy: this supranational, non-democratic institution functions very much like the Church, in fact the medieval Church. It has a doctrine, a rigidly structured hierarchy preaching and imposing this doctrine and a quasi-religious mode of self-justification. (ibid., original emphasis.)

Actually, this is not that far removed from the Church even today; one needs only to hear Mother Teresa justifying her financial and political deals to be convinced of this. The authors seem to have overestimated the depth of reform in the Church since the Middle Ages. It has not brought any more accountability, only better public relations - the difference we saw between its handling of Galileo and Allegro. (Incidentally, Mother Teresa, in a recent interview defended the Church's persecution of Galileo. No one apparently bothered to ask her if she also supported Giordano Bruno's burning at the stake.) The authors go on to compare it to another secular institution:

Or, to borrow from a wholly different tradition, the Bank is reminiscent of a centralized political party characterized by opacity, authoritarianism and successive party lines. Could the World Bank be the last of the Leninists [organization]? (ibid.)

Is it any wonder that Bertrand Russell called Communism a Christian heresy? And the comparisons are indeed far-reaching as the authors go on to observe:

Although such comparisons may offend believers and non-believers alike, a Church or a monolithic organization is an entity which may well resort to public relations; but which at bottom brooks no opposition or contradiction and which claims a monopoly on Truth. To be sole guardian of the Truth imposes a sacred duty in whose name inquisitions, purges, large-scale loss of livelihood or the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands from their homes can all be legitimized in the name of the greater good which shall come to pass at some future time. [Sic: or in another world.] (ibid.)

I have quoted extensively from George and Sabelli's book because they bring into focus the remarkable parallels that exist between the Church and the Bank. With the globalization of world economy, and with increased focus on developing countries like India, the possibility is very real that the Church may place its vast network of missions at the service of multinationals - for a price of course. That the Church sees business as a partner in evangelizing countries like India is no secret as we have already seen.

In this game, the Church may emerge as a competitor to the World Bank, or, possibly, co-operate with it. But one thing is certain: the Church will do everything possible to extend its reach in the Third World and extend its hold in the name of saving souls. Its survival depends on it. This is something that countries like India should be aware of. The operations of the World Bank offer a useful parallel well worth study. But more importantly, one must be on the look-out for entrepreneurs in the guise of religious figures bent on using the global economy as the latest bandwagon in campaigns of expansion in the guise of 'serving Jesus'. The old bandwagon - of Columbus and the Conquistadors - may be long gone, but their spirit lives on in men like Pat Robertson.

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