For a long time, I’ve been one of those people who eschews organized religion. “Faith,” all too often, becomes an argument for oppression and corruption. Yet faith plays a central role in Boardroom Omega, even if we don’t see it “on-page.”
One of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had, though, was with a dear family friend, who is very involved with the church. When I expressed disdain for the church, she asked why. As we discussed her faith (without her truly proselytizing, mind), I came to understand something:
For some people, their faith is a calling to do right in the world. It is less “religion” and more philosophy.
Once I understood this, I could make peace with even organized religion, to some extent. Yes, I still disagree with the corruption that pervades many establishments. Yet, on an individual level, I can understand how faith becomes a guide post, a moral philosophy that helps one navigate this world. And I have the utmost respect for the idea that faith can be what motivates someone to make the world a better place.
The Tension of “Improvement”
One of the issues here is that not everyone believes the same things about improvement. That is often the crux of the problem between, say, the religious right and the left. Not everyone agrees what will make the world a better place.
In some ways, we are all trying to end suffering. The problem is we disagree about how to do that. For a leftist, for example, trans people will find their suffering alleviated if we offer them support. That means giving them access to healthcare that empowers them. It means society becoming more accepting and understanding.
For someone on the religious right, however, trans people are ill and need to be healed. They see the illness (or problem) as rooted in the person being at odds with themselves. If we help them “accept” what they are (as God made them), then they will stop suffering.
As you can see, we’re actually seeking the same outcome. But there are very different means of achieving “better”–and very different opinions about what helps.
The end of suffering is a good goal, but I think we have to listen to people about what will alleviate their suffering. When we don’t, we hurt people more. That’s what is wrong with people who support anti-trans arguments. That kind of argument trounces people’s personal autonomy, arguing that you somehow know better than they do. That’s paternalistic, medicalizing. It takes away people’s agency.
But this illustrates the issue we face: people have different conceptions of what would make the world a better place. I think a world where we’re all accepted and loved as we are would be a better place. Other people think that everyone finding Jesus and believing as they do would make the world a better place.
Faith as Philosophy
Many religions expound on the same points; for example, the Christian doctrine and Confucian morale both state something similar. Christians will be familiar with the Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Confucian texts, on the other hand, state the “Silver” Rule—don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have them do to you.
Both of these statements get at the same point. Treat other people how you want them to treat you. If you don’t want people to lie to you, then don’t be dishonest yourself. If you want others to be nice to you, you should be nice to them.
What religion really is, then, is a doctrine for living a good life, for getting along with other people. And many of the same tenets hold true across religious belief systems.
Thus, I like to think of religion as a system for governing how people act toward other people. It’s a guidebook for how to behave. The difference between a Christian and an atheist isn’t exactly moral behavior or immorality. It’s whether or not there’s a higher power telling you how to behave.
Thus a Christian person and an atheist can be just as (im)moral as the other. The only difference is the question of what motivates their (im)moral actions. The atheist is motivated only by their belief about how they should treat others; the Christian is driven by the idea that there’s punishment or reward in an afterlife, that there’s some higher power looking in on us, judging us.
Boardroom Omega Looks at Faith as Motivation
People will argue the atheist is actually more ethical or moral, because they don’t need some external motivation to act morally when they do. I think it really doesn’t matter what motivates you, so long as you act in a way that doesn’t actively harm others.
Taking this idea of faith, I wanted to explore it a little more in Boardroom Omega. Faith is not a motivating factor for me, but it is important to huge swaths of humanity. There’s nothing wrong with this, by and large—the issue is when people perpetrate harm in the name of religion.
Nonetheless, as muddy as the waters get, we have to understand that religious tenets can be more flexible than some would like to believe. And religion does motivate many people to be more kind, more caring, and more altruistic.
Adopting Judaism’s Call to Make the World Better
I stepped away from the dominate Christian frame to some degree with Boardroom Omega. I didn’t fully leave the Judeo-Christian philosophy, however, instead turning to Judaism and its call for those in the covenant to make the world a better place.
Judaism is incredibly maligned in the Christian world, something that has never quite made sense to me—in part because the Christian Old Testament is also part of the Jewish Torah. In effect, Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe quite a few of the same things. Christianity, in some senses, is just a weird “split” from Judaism, retaining a good deal of the elder religion’s beliefs and scripts.
There are many, many myths behind antisemitism, but some is just plain old misunderstanding. Jewish communities can be quite secretive and closed, which made Christians suspicious of those communities.
Kindness and compassion for one’s fellow human beings—not matter their creed or faith—is emphasized in some Jewish communities. This makes sense: if God made all, then he must have created all individuals, whether or not they are part of the “chosen” group. It makes sense to be kind to all creation, to extend compassion to all creatures, even if they don’t share exactly the same faith as you do.
The call to make the world a better place also makes sense; if you are part of God’s chosen people, if you are placed on his green earth, then ought you not use your time to … protect all that he has made? To make life better not just for yourself but for others as well?
Redeeming Billionaires in Boardroom Omega
This thread within Judaism of “making the world better” was something that appealed to me as I worked on Boardroom Omega, because it falls (somewhat) into the billionaire romance category. Both Jake and Perce are incredibly wealthy; both of them are executive-level career men in lucrative industries. And both of them benefit from Lunex’s business activities, some of which make them unfathomably wealthy.
Yet, as I’ve discussed previously, I think billionaires are somewhat unhinged, a plague upon society. So I wanted—or perhaps needed—to do something to offset the disgusting personal wealth these two characters have amassed.
Jake Is a Foil for Christian-Dominated Capitalism
That was where the idea of Jake being Jewish came in. Jake comes from a well-off family, and he’s clearly done well for himself. But more than anyone else, he embodies a sense of giving and compassion. Jake provides a clear contrast to how Perce’s superiors operate at Utopico. Jake’s workforce is diverse, happy, and (hopefully) paid well. Jake gives credit to all his employees; he seems to know them on a first-name basis. When he and Perce tour the facility, Jake says hi to the engineering team, who all seem excited to see him. Later, Jake offers himself up as a “sacrificial lamb” of sorts to better the lives of others around him.
Perce is rather self-centered through much of Boardroom Omega. At this point, however, he begins to see an alternative ethos, a different way of being and doing things. And he begins to adopt that into his own practice. At the end of the novel, we see he’s hired on his former assistant from Utopico, as well as his ex-would-be-sister-in-law. The team seems relatively happy, in that everyone is taking time off. At one point, Perce even announces to one of the other Lunex employees that he has no desire to recreate the toxic environment he left behind at Utopico. He’s imagining building something new, something different.
Critiquing Billionaires Yet Again
I didn’t dive deep into what this new structure looks like or how Jake and Perce might be utilizing their wealth in other arenas. And, of course, billionaire philanthropy walks a fine line. Bill Gates gives away a lot of money, but he receives tax breaks and other incentives that leave you questioning his charity. Does Bill Gates donate money from the bottom of his heart, or does he do it for expediency in lowering his tax bill?
We might imagine that, if he truly believed in “doing good,” then he might give away a lot more. No one needs a billion dollars (or more), because you cannot spend it in this life. Even your heirs and assigns cannot spend it. And so if Bill Gates doesn’t truly need all this money, why not give … more of it away?
The same might be said for Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos. Scott has been noted for her “money bombs.” She’s said she is guided by the idea that a single person should not be determining who gets what and when—that there are better organizations and individuals out there to make those decisions. In short, she’s unlocking her personal wealthy, redistributing it. And some have said it’s already reshaping society.
Imagine if other billionaires had a change of heart and began liquidating their wealth, letting it flow back into society. We might all get along better if we followed this philosophy: those who have much should share with those who have little.
When Charity Becomes Harmful
Yet there’s a dark side to even Mackenzie Scott’s “money bombs.” As much as she’s redistributing money, she is still ultimately in charge of where the money goes. That means if Ms. Scott is a devout Christian, she may feel the money is best handled by Christian organizations. Those same organizations may oppress trans individuals and other queer people; Muslim people; Jewish people; and others.
An example of this danger is JK Rowling. Rowling, one of the richest women in the UK, is single-handedly reshaping Scottish politics because of her outspoken views—and her donations. Rowling is anti-trans, and as such, any money she decides to donate to charity might go to a group like the LGB Alliance—a group that specifically boots trans individuals from the queer community. Other anti-trans organizations exist. It’s not hard to imagine that Rowling would be more inclined to donate money to them because their actions and philosophies align with her own personal beliefs about trans people.
Remember what I said about everyone wanting to “do good” but having different views about how to get there? That’s the case here. Rowling does not believe she is causing harm. She believes trans individuals to be ill in some ways, that they’ve been “corrupted” and need to be “saved.” She believes the people who argue we should give trans people access to surgery and hormones are perpetrating more harm than she is.
And this is where individual wealth becomes an issue. Rowling can direct her wealth to those organizations that prop up her beliefs—organizations and beliefs that do untold harm while also refusing to believe they’re doing harm.
It’s a good argument for no one being allowed to amass such enormous personal fortunes. And while we can laud Mackenzie Scott for embracing a different philosophy toward her wealth than her ex-husband, the fact of the matter is still that Mackenzie Scott has control over where that wealth lands as she divests it.
Billionaire Philanthropy Is Not the Answer
This is why it’s unconscionable to let individuals amass so much wealth in the first place. It allows a single person to change the course of the future in their own interests, while actively stomping over the rights and personal autonomy of every other individual on the face of the planet. A stark example: scientists think they could buy us more time to solve climate change for $300 billion. Jeff Bezos could be the world’s first trillionaire. He could single-handedly change the course of humanity by supporting those scientists.
Instead, he prefers to look to the stars. And look, I think space is cool too, but the majority of us are going to be stuck down here drowning, baking to death, or starving—dying. Because Mr. Bezos prefers to invest in his own personal version of Star Wars versus solar punk.
So as much as I wanted to give Perce and Jake a different ethos, a new mindset about how they spend their wealth—helping others, making a better world—I also recognize the fact that they have so much wealth in the first place creates a dangerous precedent. We could suppose one of them was ultra-conservative and wanted to ban porn or abortion; they easily could. Suppose they believed the poor are poor because they’re lazy and they deserve to suffer. They might think they’re making the world a better place by “punishing” the poor. But we always have to ask: for whom?
When we try to “make the world a better place,” for whom are we working? Who benefits from our efforts? We might think it’s everyone, but more often than not, the answer is “people like me” or even “myself.”
While we don’t get to see too much of Perce and Jake’s efforts in Boardroom Omega, I’d hope that the answer to that question is “everyone.” Because we all get along better when we take care of each other.