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Moral Investing: Our Sacred Obligation

Tips for moral investing.
by Thomas Strobhar | Source:
Avoid evil. While much has been written about investing, these two words should be the guide to all subsequent actions. Unfortunately, avoiding evil is often the last thing thought of, if at all, when most of us consider investment questions. Typically our first thought is of making money or getting a good return and, perhaps, minimizing risk. There is nothing wrong with such thoughts, although the first one, if taken to extremes, can smack of greed and the last one, is a matter of simple prudence. When taken together these approaches often result in people ignoring the most important principle of all: avoiding evil.

Why does this occur? Perhaps it is the self-interested nature of investing itself. The moral theologian, Germaine Grisez, says we should first ask ourselves why we are even considering investing. Why aren’t we giving this money to people who clearly need it now? This is a question that is seldom asked, but does require us to think of the needs of someone besides ourselves. Assuming we have established our need, e.g., college for the kids, retirement, etc., we then need to consider the manner in which we invest. Here we have two choices: direct investing in the stock of a particular company or a mutual fund which will invest our money in a wide range of individual companies. The first choice, according to Grisez, is morally more problematic for here it is assumed the individual investor is acquainted with the products or services a company has to offer and is free to exclude such a company if it does not meet some minimal moral standards. In a mutual fund, in contrast, all selectivity is left to the fund manager. Either approach poses moral problems.

What is it that would keep us from investing in a particular stock or mutual fund? It is the principle of material cooperation. In Catholic theology we have been taught about material cooperation with evil. It is our money, our material, which is being used to promote and profit from whatever a company does.

Many people don’t consider the fact they are owners of companies. They think they are too small to count. They don’t realize that as stockholders, they are the owners, however small. They see investing as a completely passive exercise with one goal: to make as much money as possible.

Sadly, this “looking the other way” attitude contributes to the “culture of death” we see in abortion and the destruction of moral values which results from pornography. Lenin said he would buy rope from the capitalist and use it to hang him. All too often today we are committing moral suicide in pursuit of material gain.

We are obligated to try and make sure our investment decisions are also moral decisions. As in many areas of life, we can’t let our most basic instincts override sound moral judgement. In Economic Justice for All, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops put it this way, “Individual Christians who are shareholders and those responsible within church institutions that own stocks in U.S. corporations must see to it that the invested funds are used responsibly.” Specifically, the Bishops call for avoidance of companies involved in abortion, contraception, embryonic stem cell destruction, certain defense related companies and those companies that derive “significant” revenues from pornography. While the Bishops guidelines are addressed to their fellow bishops, it can be assumed what is good for the shepherd is also good for the flock.

How much of an obligation is there to invest funds in a moral manner? How hard must we try to avoid evil? Here our efforts of avoidance should be proportional to the evil involved and what hardships we might incur if we didn’t invest in a morally responsible manner.

It would be hard to understate the evils of abortion and pornography, for example, where the results are the loss of life or the destruction of souls. Christ reminded us that sin would come but woe unto anyone that is the source of that sin. Financing companies that destroy lives or souls for your personal, material benefit is clearly wrong. While it would be preferable to avoid all business transactions with such companies including the avoidance of products or services of such companies, actually investing your material abundance in one of these companies in hopes of a profit is a most serious matter. An occasional business transaction of modest amounts is one thing. The alternative to finding another vendor may not warrant great scrupulousness, but investing is a deliberate, reflective act involving much greater sums of money. Care must be taken.

We are called to avoid evil. The story of the Good Steward in the Bible did not include making money through prostitution or similar enterprises that existed at the time. And certainly the New Testament is one long cautionary tale about the blind pursuit of money.

Make no mistake. Moral values are eternal. If we are to be judged, it is our lives, our responses to the countless moral problems that we are presented, that will form the basis of such judgment. Let us remember our destiny is to be with God in heaven. Let us not forget our sacred moral obligation, be it investing or any other walk in life: to do good and to avoid evil.

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