The Search for God and Guinness (2009)

In The Search for God and Guinness, Stephen Mansfield follows five generations of Guinnesses, showing how they brew a good beer, yes, but also how they have advanced philanthropy and labor relations.

Beginning at the end, Mansfield identifies five characteristics of “The Guinness Way”:

  1. Discern the ways of God for life and business
  2. Think in terms of generations yet to come
  3. Whatever else you do, do at least one thing very well
  4. Master the facts before you act
  5. Invest in those you would have invest in you

According to Mansfield’s telling, beginning with Arthur Guinness, the family “[found] out the will of God for [their] day and generation, and then, as quickly as possible, [got] into line”—borrowing a quote from Prince Albert (254). Their faith to the Christian tradition brought them to act on behalf of their workers and communities at large, trying to help people live better lives. Eventually, in addition to giving people alternatives to socially destructive gin and hard liquor, they would help employees live in clean and safe housing, for example. They also invested in the city of Dublin to bring parts out of poverty.

Interestingly, there are three “lines” the Guinness take: brewing, banking, and preaching. Mansfield stresses his opinion that the so-called “Guinnesses for God” are not the only Guinessess for God, that indeed the bankers and brewers are as faithful to a call from God as the clergymen Guinnesses. While this may be true, I found his narration of history and theology a bit troubling at this point—much of which strikes one as anti-Catholic. For example, he champions the Luther-led Reformers who “pulled down the artificial distinction between the sacred and the secular and sent men into the world to serve God by using their skills and trades in their honor” (158) over against the Roman Catholic model which allegedly only saw consecrated life as holy. This, of course, must be weighed against the fact that Luther allowed the executioner to do his work according to the job description instead of according to the demands of the Sermon on the Mount; the extent of Luther’s sacred/secular undividing must therefore be questioned. Moreover, real questions persist around the banker’s ability to act faithfully to the gospel of Christ, so too the brewer’s. According to Mansfield’s narration, the brewers seem to do a commendable job of looking out for their employees. But both the brewers and the bankers surely prophet disproportionately off the backs of their employees—something that the gospel casts judgment on. In short, Mansfield’s narration of what it means to be “for God” is vague and fails to be examined in light of the gospel of Jesus.

The figure of Henry Grattan Guinness, though, a nonviolent, ecuminically minded preacher, was of utmost interest.

The true value of the book, in addition to being a fascinating biography of the Guinness family, is in its business critique. The Guinnesses are examples of a company at least attempting to care for its employees. This example, as Mansfield notes in the epilogue of his book, “is nearly a reversal of business thinking today.” He continues,

The goal today seems to be to squeeze the worker until he can give no more. Rather than invest in him, rather than seek his good so he is better able to seek the good of his employer, we instead set up a tension between labor and management that is counterproductive to both (260).

If only corporations in all quarters could get back to Guinness’s concern for workers.

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