"The last taboo in corporate America"
Fortune magazine dedicating a cover story to spirituality in the workplace is something Weblog would normally be excited about. In fact, Weblog liked it when BusinessWeek did it 19 months ago and when The Christian Science Monitor had a related article back in January 2000. Too bad that Fortune senior writer Marc Gunther didn't read these articles and actually seek to do something better. Instead he settles for six very shallow profiles about how half a dozen executives are integrating belief and boardroom. Actually, the story about the Mormon furniture maker who went toe-to-toe with Warren Buffet over opening his stores on Sunday was pretty interesting, and the Christian CEO of Greyston Bakery (founded to support Zen Buddhists) has some pretty radical ideas about hiring practices and on-staff counselors, but most of the others don't probe too deeply. A Presbyterian management consultant tells execs readying to lay off thousands to "err a little bit on the generous side" before she takes off for heli-skiing. A Buddhist patent attorney finds peace through meditation, a make-up-your-own-spirituality entrepreneur used Quaker discernment methods to decide to sell his company. The Roman Catholic president of Blistex "came to see himself as working for his employees rather than the other way around." Awww.

Gunther writes that his article is "about people who struggle to resolve the tensions between business and God." (It's a bad sign when that sentence is preceded by nine sentences explaining what the article is not about.) But while Gunther may know business (though he usually specializes in writing about the entertainment business), his knowledge of religion needs work. "As much as Americans say they believe in God," he writes, "most also believe in religious freedom, and hence in the separation of church and boardroom." Huh? Did Weblog miss something? Operating by religious principles at work somehow violates religious freedom? And belief in God and belief in religious freedom is somehow contradictory? Gunther follows that sentence by saying, "And considering all the crimes committed in the name of one god or another, it's only natural to imagine zealous executives doing more harm than good." Yes, nothing more natural than, upon hearing that your boss goes to church, imagining him gunning down his employees while shouting, "Death to the heathens!"

Far more helpful would be to skip the Fortune piece and curl up with a back issue of Life@Work.

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The Christian Century's most problematic books
In last Saturday's New York Times, religion columnist Peter Steinfels took a slightly belated look at The Christian Century's list of "problematic" books. The surprise? Most were from authors that "the center to the left of the theological spectrum" (which represents most of the magazine's editors and readers) really like. At the top is the works of the publicity-hungry Jesus Seminar. But Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer (which is rapped for leading clergy into making "their own healing a primary agenda of their ministry") is a tremendous surprise. Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality sounds like one of those books an academic would throw onto the list to show how smart she is, but Princeton's Ellen Charry criticizes it for leaving readers "with the impression that the regulation of sex—say, in the form of marriage—is a purely arbitrary and rude intrusion of the state into the lives of citizens." It's not that Century editors have ever opposed the "regulation of sex," but it hasn't exactly been one of their editorial hobbyhorses, either. In fact, the only evangelical effort to make the list was The Living Bible, criticized for creating "a sanitized Bible, one rendered safe from all ambiguity and provocation."

That's not to say that other religious books—including others by evangelicals—would be safe from similar lists. That they aren't rapped more frequently, Steinfels writes,

may be due to charity. It certainly is not due to lack of material—spirituality lite guides on how to be your own best guru; niche marketing editions of study Bibles or daily meditations for computer programmers, dieters and cat owners; uplifting religious fiction; and well-meaning efforts to recast Jesus as the original successful lobbyist or the Buddha as a master of corporate personnel policy. This column has occasionally been tempted to create such a worst books list, only to be deterred by a feeling that it would be a little like breaking butterflies on a wheel or, perhaps more appropriately, rooting out dandelions with a back hoe.

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