In church last Sunday, the New Testament reading was from the Gospel of St. Luke, 10:29-37. In all of the Bible, there is no passage that is more familiar to churchgoers, non-churchgoing Christians, non-Christians, atheists and pagans alike. It is the central piece of Jesus’ philosophy and, without question, my favorite Bible story. Oddly, it appears only in Luke.
It is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan.
That phrase, the Good Samaritan has entered our vernacular as a metaphor to describe a person who is thoughtful and kind and helpful, especially in an emergency situation, and one who rescues when others do not. Others “pass by on the other side” and that phrase of non-performance and failure also has entered our language. The Good Samaritan and the Levite are powerful images and metaphors with powerful messages.
I think there is no passage, in any book published anywhere at any time, that gives better advice about living life well. I know that when I have acted as a Good Samaritan I have felt worthy of this life that has been given me and when I have passed by on the other side I have felt sadness and worse.
However, given our modern way of life, our contemporary philosophies and our recent priorities, I’m not sure why I should feel sadness and worse. After all, we are each responsible for our own success or failure, are we not, and a hand proffered or a hand-out are surely just a part of a grand scheme to force dependence upon charity onto those who, otherwise, would work and succeed. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, we say, even to those with no bootstraps to pull on.
The Good Samaritan therefore, in our modern American creed, is not the hero of Jesus’ parable but the villain. In this nation that claims to be Christian at its roots, we have converted the War on Poverty into the War on the Poor; and the Levite, who passes by on the other side, is the admirable one of the story, not the despicable.
And so we elect representatives to Congress, aka the House of Levites, who have no problem, for example, financing that part of the farm bill that supports corporate agricultural interests while, at the same time, seeking to de-fund food stamps. Food stamps! In a similar way we permit, indeed demand, that garment workers in some foreign lands, labor under conditions that has them robbed and beaten and left for dead, as described in Luke. We pass by on the other side.
You can enumerate more cases for yourself in which the virtuous Good Samaritan has been replaced by the villainous Levite or perhaps (since there are usually economic arguments involved) by the flitting Tooth Fairy.
And so I look at the community I know best — our brewing industry — to ask if we are social Good Samaritans or corporate Levites. Now there is no question that brewing companies, like any other corporate venture, need to make a fair and sufficient profit; but being a Levite is not about profit or loss: it’s about involvement and conscience and participation and awareness. On these measures I score the brewing industry highly in a variety of ways.
First, in direct charitable involvement: As far as I know there has been no national disaster in this country in which breweries of all sizes have not turned their packaging plants to bottling sterile water to send to needy places, and have not, for example, dedicated beer profits to that support. Profits from Sam Adams’ Marathon beer called Boston 26.2 went — guess where!
Breweries are routinely asked to sponsor and support charitable events. Under the banner “Our Neighborhoods Our Responsibility,” the Anheuser-Busch Foundation, for example, is deeply involved in our social fabric. From its website this quote, which could be the mantra of many other brewing companies large and small:
“Charitable outreach is at the core of Anheuser-Busch’s business philosophy and has been since 1906 when the company donated money to the American Red Cross to support those impacted by the San Francisco earthquake.”
Since 1997, AB has donated $515 million, and countless hours of volunteer work by employees, to organizations that support education, health care, the environment, economic development, disaster relief and military personnel.
Miller-Coors is similarly engaged in sponsorship activities that support worthy charities. Just one recent project is a sponsored event in which the company will donate $64,000 in each of four communities to Soles4Souls to provide footwear for the needy.
Many, indeed most, smaller breweries are also engaged in similar support of events for people from veterans and disabled to those involved in disasters from the Aurora shooting to the Boston bombing. Every year, there are countless beer festivals around the country that support local charitable organizations.
For example, Sudwerk, here in town, generously supports our Davis Beerfest, and many breweries in California donate beers and send volunteers. The Beerfest is a significant fundraiser for Citizens Who Care, which is a Yolo County charity supporting caregivers of those shut-in, mostly elderly citizens.
Second, I would argue that corporate charity is an extension of corporate good citizenship that involves, for example, fair dealing with employees and with the communities in which breweries operate: to pay equitable wages and provide useful employee benefits and to minimize impact on the community through traffic mediation, control of pollution and blight, and green operations. I score the brewing industry high on these scales when I would excoriate others.
Another, third, scale of evaluation is the exercise of corporate influence for corporate benefit. Does the brewing industry look after its own interests through lobbying and even buying a few senators? I suppose it does. But does this industry with enormous persuasive power (dollars) seek deregulation as, for example, bankers do?
Do you detect lobbying to reduce the drinking age, or change drinking and driving laws, or modify the highly regulated separation of breweries from retail beer sales, or redefine the stringent laws on beer advertising and labeling, or reduce taxes for (of course) the good of all men, the country and God?
No, neither do I.
Taken all in all, I think the brewing industry, while remaining always a competitive business established to make a profit and to satisfy its owners and shareholders, is a pretty good citizen.
Even a Good Samaritan.
— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com