04 October 2013

The Search for God and Guinness - Review

I love the San Antonio Flying Saucer. The location is perfect. It's less than an hour from my house, lest than 20 minutes from my nephew's and it's a great place for us to meet and visit every couple of months. Unfortunately, the location sux. It's three doors down from a Half Price Books. After a couple of pints, the part of my brain that normally says "You have plenty of books, already!" starts saying "Why not?"

My last visit, I picked up a couple of beer related books: a history of Prohibition and The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World, written by Stephen Mansfield.
Mansfield has written several books, including The Faith of George W. Bush (for which he received no death threats) and The Faith of Barack Obama (for which he received several). As a minister, all of his books use faith as a major theme. He's also a frequent commentator on Fox News and CNN.

The book starts, as any good book on beer should, with the history of beer. Mansfield's telling of the story describes the religious uses of beer, from the offerings of the Egyptians and Sumerians, to role of beer in the Roman Empire and Catholic Church.  When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the cathedral door and initiated the Reformation, monastic breweries closed all over Germany. Mansfield is quick to point out that was not part of Luther's plan.  Luther, John Calvin and John Wesley were all proponents of moderate drinking. They called beer and alcohol gifts from God.

Then Mansfield starts the story of Arthur Guinness and his beer. Unlike most histories, this doesn't go into so much detail that you forget what is going on. And his history shows the progression of Guinness' philanthropy from the beginning to today. In an age where corporations will fire thousands of Americans so they can outsource production and phone banks to increase profits, it's astounding that a corporation like Guinness helped restore a cathedral in Dublin, give their employees health care, and had the company doctor make strides in eradicating diseases among Dublin's poorest residents in the 1900 slums (which eventually earned that doctor a knighthood). Corporations don't give back to the community! They give back to their stockholders. And if they can shift some bank accounts to the Cayman Islands to prevent paying more taxes, then all the better.

Mansfield argues otherwise. He boils the lessons from the Guinness legacy to a few steps all corporations (and by extension, us) should take to be more socially responsible: 1) Discern the way of God for life and business; 2) Think in terms of generations to come; 3) Whatever else you do, do one thing extremely well; 4) Master the facts before you act; and, perhaps the most important, 5) Invest in those you would have invest in you (Guinness paid high wages, offered education, health care, entertainment to all their employees and their families--unlike corporations today, who use all their employees energies and when they are drained, turn them over to the church and state to take care of them. Bascially, they repaid the loyalty of their employees with loyalty to their employees. That doesn't happen today.).

I'm not particularly religious. I do not believe that religion (specifically of the protestant Christian variety) makes you a moral caring person. In fact, these days, listening to the GOP tell us what God's plan for America is makes them seem like the exact opposite. (Sometimes I think they'd like to revise the loaves and fishes story to have Jesus saying, "I know many of you are hungry. Go out and get a job! Don't mooch off other people! Leave the people who brought loaves and fishes alone!") So to read a self confessed conservative espouse such views is a delight.

Mansfield may be getting more death threats for this book, mainly from the CEOs of Wal-Mart and GE.

Is it a great beer book? No. But it is a great book to remind people about the role of corporations is our lives.




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posted by Jeff Holt at 08:00

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