Office As Monastery
First Things has a couple of thought-provoking pieces up today about career and meaning. First up, political scientist James Rogers says it’s a mistake to think a person who goes into business does not have a responsibility to think of his career as a kind of religious vocation. Excerpt:
While I would be loath to argue that the pursuit of business is superior to the pursuit of monasticism, I nonetheless would insist that business vocations do not necessarily entail a lesser form of Christian life. Indeed, Christian discipleship can be quite meaningfully pursued through vocations in business.
Providing a needy person with a job not only eliminates want for that person, it also creates the opportunity to multiply charity through the hands of others. Paul encouraged Christians to do “honest work” with their own hands, so that they “may have something to share with those in need.” This is of course not unique to business firms, many monastic orders do work to pursue charity as well. My point is not that business is superior to monasticism (whether of the new or the old sort), but only that it need not represent an inferior form of spiritual life, especially for those particularly concerned with helping the needy.
Meanwhile, Leah Libresco criticizes the twentysomething women extolled by Hanna Rosin in her recent Atlantic essay — the women who have lots of recreational sex, but put off emotional commitment until they get their careers well-established. Libresco suggests that this strategy is a deformed kind of monasticism. She says that once you learn to subject your need for real love, and a real relationship, to your desire for career success, you risk deforming yourself. Excerpt:
There’s a word for people who turn over their entire waking life to one cause, and willingly sacrifice the possibility of a family for the opportunity to serve: monks (or, more archaically, oblates). Just like the driven twenty-somethings of Rosin’s article, monks and nuns have made a commitment so total that it precludes marriage. But in the case of vowed religious, the form of their service is meant to be elevating, not just useful. I seldom hear people claim that spreadsheets are good for the soul. Even for people doing high intensity work for the public good (the teachers, the social workers, the public interest lawyers, etc.), the form of their work may still be deadening.
Most careers aren’t vocations, so we need space outside them to grow and love. It’s possible to make a short-term decision to put life and relationships on hold, in order to make a high-intensity commitment to a cause (this is the model for the oft-touted national service draft), but it’s unhealthy to let these crisis-mode jobs give shape to your life.
In an earlier post on this theme on her Patheos blog, Libresco has this to say about how damaging the career uber alles dynamic is to individuals and to society:
Because regardless of whether you think a 20-something year old needs sex to have a full life, if you admit that you can only make it fit if you strip it of intimacy and mutual recognition, the debate on the need for sex should pause while you figure out how to revamp your society and your life.
Can’t this be the culture war battle where we all fight on the same side?