I used to teach Business Ethics. It was one of my favorite classes because I think it’s so important. Businesses impact every aspect of our lives. They provide goods and services, on which we crucially depend and livelihoods for a huge portion of society. Whether they are run ethically and responsibly makes a huge difference to our quality of life.
It’s widely believed that business is amoral. This belief stems from an erroneous understanding of the natural world as “red in tooth and claw,” a phrase from Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” that is often invoked to explain Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The natural world, according to this view, is like Hobbes’ state of nature: “a war of all against all.” And business, well, it’s like the natural world, isn’t it? There is no room for morality. It’s survival of the fittest.
That this view of business persists lends credence to those who argue that people who go into business aren’t all that intelligent or well informed because the view of the natural world as a war of all against all has been definitively debunked. It is now well documented that cooperation and mutual support among the members of a specific species, and even across species, is essential to survival. Prey animals, for example, are now well known to warn other species of prey animals when predators approach.
Life is easier for individuals who cooperate with others and harder for those who don’t. I used to spend a lot of time explaining this to my students. Businesses that provide good customer service enjoy a more loyal customer base than those that don’t and a loyal customer base is crucial to the survival of most businesses.
There’s more to business ethics than that, though. I’ve had a variety of jobs in my life and I would draw on those experiences when I explained to my students the satisfaction that accompanies doing a job well. I’ve been a waitress. I’ve been a sales person. I’ve been a receptionist and in every instance I derived enormous satisfaction from doing my job well. Sometimes it was directly related to the fact that I was helping people, even if in only very small ways. Other times it was simply the satisfaction that accompanies being good at something.
Unfortunately, the folks over at Evangelical Bible, an online Bible retailer, seem unaware of the importance of good customer service. Even more troubling, from a business that purports to be Christian and whose employees close their customer correspondence with “Blessings!” they appear unaware of the of the life-affirming “blessings” of doing a job well.
I ordered an ESV Study Bible in deep brown cowhide from Evangelical Bible recently. ESV stands for English Standard Version, a recent evangelical update of the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible from 1971 This edition of the ESV Study Bible is what is known as a “premium Bible.” The production standards for premium bibles are famously high. There are many reviews of such Bibles on YouTube that wax poetic about their flawless construction, the quality of the leather and binding, etc. I’d watched several reviews of the ESV Study Bible in cowhide (it exists in several less expensive bindings) and they had all been glowing. The Bible retails for almost $200, but I found it on the Evangelical Bible website for just over $100. I’d found one on Ebay for $80, but I’d also discovered in reading the comments on some of the YouTube reviews that the production quality of this particular Bible was uneven, so I thought it would be safer to buy it new than used. That way, I figured that if it were defective, I could simply exchange it.
The Bible arrived. The leather was nothing like the leather in the various YouTube reviews. It was not thick and luxurious. It did not retain the impression of a finger as “Bible-Believing Christian” had demonstrated her copy did. The cover was thin and hard. The headband was fraying. Most disappointing, however, was the fact that the edge lining (the strip of leather or cloth that connects the cover to the text block, which is to say the pages) was conspicuously wrinkled on both the front and the back covers. This wasn’t merely a visible cosmetic defect; it was a construction defect. Repeated stress on the covers that would be the inevitable result of use would eventually cause the folds in the edge lining to open up, with the result that the cover would pull away from the text block.
I immediately emailed Evangelical Bible, described the problems with the Bible, and I indicated I would like either to exchange it for one without defects or, if that were not possible, that I would like a refund. I attached photos so they could confirm for themselves the problems .
The folks over at Evangelical Bible acknowledged that the “feel” of the cover of the Bible I had received “had indeed changed” relative to the feel of the cover in the review of the Bible on YouTube. That is, Crossway, the maker of the ESV Study Bible, appears to have sent a number of truly premium quality Bibles to Bible reviewers on YouTube, but to have switched at some later point to a cheaper production edition. A retail practice known colloquially as “bait and switch.” Evangelical Bible acknowledged that the Bible I had received from them was not of the same quality as the one I had seen reviewed on YouTube, but refused to exchange it or acknowledge that there were any defects with it. I shipped the the Bible back to them and they refunded most of the cost. They insisted, however, on charging me a 15% restocking fee because of what they purported were the absence of defects.
Nice, eh? Not something you expect from a bunch of purported “Christians.” Yes, I know that I don’t need both the “purported” and the quotation marks around “Christians.” I am just so horrified, however, that people who call themselves “Christians” would behave so badly that I can resist no opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of these people. Do we really need more pseudo-Christians out there giving real Christians a bad name?
Evangelical Bible’s customer service stands in start contrast to the customer service of another retailer of books and writing-related products. I recently purchased something called a “writer’s box” from an online retailer called The Goulet Pen Company. At least I think that’s what it was called. It was a beautiful walnut box made to carry fountain pens, paper, and other writing equipment. Unfortunately, shortly after I received the box, it began to warp. I noticed this because it became increasingly difficult to close. I notified The Goulet Pen Company of the warping problem and asked them if I could exchange the box for one that didn’t warp. They answered me immediately. They explained that they had had that problem with a number of the boxes and hence couldn’t guarantee that they could give me one that wouldn’t have it. They instructed me to return the box and assured me I would receive a full refund.
I received a full refund before they even received the box back from me.
That is customer service.
So here comes the moral of the story. Goulet explained to their customers after we were all placed in lockdown, that while they were still taking orders, they would not be able to ship anything until the lockdown was either lifted or at least relaxed sufficiently that they could access their warehouse. It was a very bad time for them, they made no bones about that. The Goulet Pen Company is a small, family-run company. They hoped, they explained, that people would understand their situation and that their loyal customers would continue to place orders despite that they would be unable to fill those orders for an indeterminate period of time because, well, they needed the income from the orders.
So that’s just what I did. I sat down promptly in front of my computer and perused their website looking for things I could order for which I would have a use. I ordered a bunch of stuff. Several were things I had long thought about ordering and several were things I would probably never have ordered had I not wanted to help them out. The thing is, I did want to help them out. They did right by me, so I wanted to do right by them.
One of the main issues I discuss with my students when I teach the philosophy of religion is the relation between religion and ethics. There is more, of course, to religion than ethics. Most religions have an elaborate metaphysics that is sometimes divorced from their ethics. That’s a huge problem because it leads more than a few purportedly religious people to feel that so long as they profess belief in that metaphysics they are right with God.
That would appear to be the situation of the folks over at Evangelical Bible. They are likely all committed to the view that there is a God who created the universe, that Jesus Christ was this God incarnate and that he rose from the dead. It would not appear, however, that they’ve given much thought to the ethical implications of Christ’s teachings. They’ve clearly adopted the amoral, “Darwinian,” “red in tooth and claw” view of business that stands in stark contrast to Christ’s command concerning our obligations toward our neighbors. They’ve chosen the “wide gate” and “easy,” at least in the short term, “road” (Matt 7:13) of caveat emptor.
The present article is a “fruit” of Evangelical Bible’s “thorny” (Matt 7:16) customer service. I will never buy anything from them again.
The Goulets, not the folks over at Evangelical Bible, are the people who appear truly to love their neighbors.
(An earlier version of this article appeared in the June 3, 2020 issue of CounterPunch under the title “Tales from the Dark Side of Customer Service, or “Christians” Giving Christians a Bad Name.”)