This is working theology.
Working Theology is a newsletter of notes on the divination of labor to close the gap between church leaders and business leaders.
Work and spirituality sit at the center of human life. Everyone wants a good job, and we all have questions about our purpose, morality, and what happens after we die.
These ideas are deeply intertwined. What we think about the Creator and what we do with our work is as intimately connected as are body, mind, and spirit.
Many concerned about the role of modern work tend to emphasize our humanity. Workplace conferences say they “make work more human.” Technology companies like Gusto believe they’re “making work meaningful for everyone, everywhere.” Analysts sell their services to help create an “engaging and meaningful culture.”
While all these organizations help answer questions to “make the world a better place” through our workplaces, they don’t go far enough. They often raise more questions than they answer.
What does it mean to be human? What is meaning, and where does it come from? What is a culture, and how do you create one? What is work good for anyway, and how is it defined? How can we contribute to human flourishing through our work?
Science and technology alone cannot answer basic human questions.
Most of the time these organizations begin to answer these questions with science or technology, but science and technology have their limits.
For example, a team at Deloitte created what they call the “Human Experience Quotient” by conducting “a meta-analysis on what humans value by considering a wide range of indicators, including sociology, to anthropology, neuroscience, behavioral science, and even mythology.”
However, exploring the human experience without referencing the humanities—while whittling down the “human experience” to an algorithm—is myopic at best and arrogant and dangerous at worst. Science alone cannot answer basic human questions, questions regarding the nature of logic and mathematics, ethical boundaries, metaphysical claims, aesthetic judgments, values, purpose, or even science itself.
We need to expand the scope of the conversation around work in our lives and in our communities, personal and professional. We need theologians and philosophers to engage with economists and data scientists, historians and organizational psychologists, business leaders and spiritual leaders.
Let’s start with theology.
Beneath all these issues lies theology, quietly waiting to be inquired. In the old days, theology used to be called the queen of the sciences, since it provided the end goal for our questions: Why does any of our work matter in the first place?
Great philosophers and theologians throughout history have asked—and have attempted to answer—questions about the ideal society or economy or organization, questions about meaning and purpose and what work is good for. They searched for the answers to what encourages eudaimonia, human flourishing.
Even Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk that launched Start with Why raised questions of values and purpose: People don’t buy what you do—they buy why you do it. They buy into what you believe. If that’s the case, let’s start with what organizations believe about humans, work, and culture. Then we can start to work out how we do that.
Unfortunately, even theology has its limits.
Look up and down.
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates describes the allegory of the cave, in which prisoners are chained to a wall, watching mere shadows dance in front of them yet imagining the shadows are the real objects. They can’t imagine what it’s like to be in the sun and see the vibrant world outside the cave.
However, once they do discover the “beatific vision,” as Socrates calls it, they’re then “unwilling to descend into human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell.”
Seminary showed me many paths for the “ascent of the soul into the intellectual world,” but it didn’t show me many paths downward into the pragmatic world to learn how businesses or communities operate, how economics and finance work like machines to reconstruct society.
Consider this newsletter a descent to walk “among the prisoners in the den, [to] partake of their labours and honours, whether they are worth having or not.”†
Thanks for reading.
We’ll explore these questions and more together in this short, daily newsletter on the divination of labor called Working Theology.
Thanks for reading. I’m glad you’re here.
†Plato, Republic, Book VII, in The Great Books of the Western World, vol. 7, ed. Mortimer Adler (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1955), 390–393.
Brandon Giella serves as a practice director of research and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, a marketing agency focused on workplace software. He earned a BA in creative writing from Georgia Southern University, an MA in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, and an MBA in finance from the University of Texas at Dallas.