Divorcing Faith & Work
March 17, 2016
Filed In: Church and Culture
Over the past several decades, the pressure to divorce one’s faith from one’s work has become increasingly strong. We’ve done it for a very long time in our political life, even as far back as the candidacy of John F. Kennedy who gave a landmark speech in which he aimed to assuage the American voter that as president, he wouldn’t be beholden to the papacy. This pseudo-logic, when taken at face value, presents itself as common sense; if my faith interferes with your life, then as a holder of public office, I shouldn’t use my faith so as to allow you to have absolute freedom. The problem with this line of thinking is that by leaving behind the tenants of one’s faith in the workplace, we all lose out on the very tangible goods that accompany faith.
Atticus Finch crystallized the idea of living an integrated life in To Kill A Mockingbird, a point which I’ve raised many times on this blog. We cannot be one person at home and one person in the public life. Not only is it difficult to maintain two realities, no one can be successful in doing so. Faith brings a dynamic set of positive qualities with it. Faith does not merely suggest that we be respectful and honest with others, it demands it. Do we not wish for all people to be treated with respect? So if we require that in order to hold public office or to work in a neutral setting that people leave their faith at the door, do we also wish them to be disrespectful and dishonest?
The real problem is a misunderstanding of the proper role of faith and spirituality in our lives. The entire premise of creation is hinged on free will. Blind faith is no faith at all. In order to truly live as God desires, we must do the right things while fully understanding and freely choosing to do them. This is what makes faith such a powerful force for good. We give of our time, material possessions, and support not for the praise, glory, or some desire for self-actualization, but because we understand what the good is and freely choose it over the evil of pride and selfishness.
I can think of no clearer example of this necessity to understand the good in order to do good than Alison’s profession of medicine. Alison objects to prescribing contraceptives on religious grounds. Her faith has informed her belief that contraceptives are not only contrary to natural order, but that they commoditize one’s sexuality. She has learned from the Church what it means to be truly human and truly alive, and she knows that the gift of human sexuality and the cooperative nature of creation demand both self-mastery and self-respect. Through this lens, she can see that the promises that contraceptives make are not only untrue, but they’re incredibly destructive.
These are her personal beliefs and its from this starting point that she begins her decision making process. Does it matter to her patients that she starts her thought process with faith? No. Do most of her patients share her beliefs? Doubtful. It’s what Alison does next that lends credence to her conclusion to not prescribe contraceptives.
Taking her suspicions that contraceptives may not be in the best interest of her patients, she learns of the increased suicide rates among sexually active young women, she learns of the serious potential side effects, and the serious challenges with infertility that rise out of prolonged use of contraceptives. These findings are not in any way connected to her faith; they’re medical and scientific facts. Weighing them against the proposed benefits of contraceptives, it becomes her medical opinion that the risks do not outweigh the benefits and that the treatment is medically unnecessary. That decision is not only based on the medical facts, but on the cost to the patient in terms of monetary expenditure on the treatment, future costs of correcting damage done by the procedure, and the crippling emotional toll that infertility takes on a couple. These are all facts that if her conscience, informed by her faith, had not been suspicious, she may have never discovered. Like the powerful Philip Morris advocating the benefits of smoking to the general public, modern pharmaceutical companies have mounted a successful public relations campaign touting the benefits of contraceptives while minimizing the harmful and lasting side effects.
This example so clearly illustrates the tremendous good that faith can bring to the workplace. As a lens of compassion and humanism, faith is able to help us cut through the falsehoods and self-serving intentions to do what is truly best for those around us. Faith promotes the common good by helping us to make decisions in favor of the greater good. All of this requires our faith to be yoked to our intellect, the two working together to discern the correct solution.
Faith and work cannot, and should not be divorced. Faith, properly understood and integrated, can be a powerful force for good that lifts up one’s company, cause, and mission. We need strong leaders who are firmly grounded in truth to carry us forward and we need to recognize that without fully developing our spirituality, we live limited, underdeveloped lives.