Let’s meet the Nones and go together to the altar of God
Dr. Jean-Francois Orsini, OP, Ph.D.
In America and the Catholic Church, we are losing the Nones, the young and the confused who are unaffiliated. I think that things are even worse: these Nones seem to define the post-Christian world in which we live and that becomes very much like a post-post-Christian world. Because we are in a world that has lost an appreciation for the true, the beautiful and the good. This is really two steps back from Catholicism.
I happen to be in a very special and rare bubble: I am a specialist of management and I am also a traditional Catholic. There are very few of us. In most courses of management that are offered in Catholic colleges and universities they use textbooks that bow to the worst narratives of the psychological and sociological “sciences”.
But I am here to tell you that we can change the world of the Nones and our world at this precise level point of the courses of management.
Indeed, let’s take a look at history and how religion existed within the past economic cultures. The economies were principally based on agriculture. Up to 90% of the population were occupied in farming 1. What is the mindset of a farmer? He has to deal with many variables for the success of his labor, some he can work with and others he cannot. Among the variables he cannot deal with are of some of formidable imports: the climate, droughts, strong rains, insects, hail, etc. What can he do about these? Turn himself to God and pray. Religion showed them all the farmers stories from the Bible and told them that in all things they have to rely on God’s will. They could connect with that and religion flourished.
Coming back to the Nones. What are their principal modes of survivals? Well, it is their career and the professionalism they need to build their careers. How dire is their situation? Very dire! 64%2 of the population live paycheck to paycheck. They spend their income on invoices and taxes without building significant savings. Losing a single paycheck, for one month, is a serious problem. Especially when statistics say that in average, they may spend up to 6 months3 finding another job.
Now what does the Church do to help them with this problem? Answer very little. So, why is the Church not helping the executives, the white-collar workers and the myriad of small businesses that represent the great majority of the working population, young and not so young? Is it that there is a bias against them as they are viewed as the non-poor? Others than poor? And taking care of the poor is such a major requirement, we are told, for our plans of spiritual development? Is it that there is a feeling that counseling the non-poor would necessitate talking about money and that is felt to be an unclean matter? Is it that to deal with the better-off as the non-poor may be considered to be having to go into major economic and political matters which are not advised for the clergy to go into? To respond to that later consideration we just have St. Pope John Paul II who wrote in his encyclical “Laborem Exercens” (On Human Work): the key to socio-economic question is Work. I am paraphrasing: Capital is something completed on, that thing which a person works on. A sheet of music is capital, the professional singer following the sheet is doing work. When the song is recorded on a disk, it becomes capital and so forth.
Actually, the Catholic Church possesses very powerful tools to advise these non-poor but genuinely in need Nones. These tools are the virtues that have been held high by the Church but are really the fruit of human wisdom and human patrimony. They are the cardinal virtues which were first mentioned by Plato in the Phaedo before being mentioned by Isaiah, according to Joseph Pieper. He even mentions them as if they were old hat already in his time.
St. Antoninus of Florence who is one of these saints who are saintly at avery young age knew about them. He was quite cognizant of the realities of the world of commerce as the principle of double accounting was invented in his city. In his Summa he lays the principle of genuine business ethics. He wrote that it is simply about applying the virtues to commerce.
These virtues are what should really be appealing to the Nones, because the Cardinal virtues are very practical.
A Jesuit (sorry I did not retain the source) professor of management at Santa Clara University did a study with successful businessmen. He asked them what was the most important element that was necessary for their business success. In his questionnaire, he offered many possible responses, including marrying the boss’s daughter. They responded that what was the most important secret of their success was “good judgment”. Indeed, good judgment is the virtue of Prudence. Prudence is essentially being able to find, develop, imagine, the tools to attain a desired objective. It is the foundation of correct planning. Peter Drucker, perhaps the most prominent management consultant – and someone who taught Catholic catechism in Rome before becoming the chief consultant of General Motors – invented the concept of “management by objectives” … doesn’t it sounds like teleology? Shouldn’t our Moral Theologians be interested in getting involved now?
Here is another example of the practicality of the virtues in management. During a conference of Industrial psychologists, a speaker mentioned and deplored that his field did not have a concept of effort. Effort indeed is a chief interest to top and middle management who want to ensure that their charges are putting enough effort to complete their tasks well and on time. Now don’t you sense that “effort” is part of the virtue of Courage/Fortitude. This virtue is not limited to the soldier charging the enemy with his bayonet. It can be opened to many other lower risks as long as they aim at achieving a “bonum arduum” a good thing that is difficult to attain. Well, the difficult good to be attained can be found in the workplace. It can be a physical difficulty, but also, mental, financial, intellectual, career related, even ethical, etc.
I should add examples of the other cardinal virtues applied to management. Justice is ensuring to provide to each what is his due. Before exercising justice, one must look around to find anomalies between what is due and has not been provided to those we call “stakeholders”. This effort of examining one’s environment is important in management as it resembles the need for a constant search not only of inequities but also of threats and opportunities and should spur to action. Temperance in management goes beyond refraining from goods like food or sex for the purpose of higher goods. So, managers should not hold on exclusively on a preferred product, a method of working, a department, etc. at the expense of a better solution. There is an expression for a manager who fight for his department against another. It is called “empire building”. Let say: his marketing department wishes to spend great sums of money in advertising against the finance department that wants to limit these expenditures; those are typical fights that might jeopardize the financial health of the whole company.
Naturally a virtuous person has to possess all these virtues together. An other important lesson.
Why am I very excited to tell you all these things today? It is because of a certain experience. As I was in the University of Pennsylvania library consulting a collection of academic paper, a long time ago, for my doctoral thesis at the Wharton School, I found a paper that upset me at the highest level. The author was goading me with the statement that nowadays management consultants have the same role with top management of corporations as saints had with kings (like St. Thomas Aquinas with French King St. Louis IX).
Also, I wrote a book to promote the virtues in business called “Virtue Based Management”4. There are two copies selling in Amazon as I had to re-edit it after the fall of communism. Please look at the reviews on the old edition but the newer edition is fresher. I have had a dismal nonsuccess with this complete Catholic and Thomistic handbook of management. Similarly, to the instant realization that all the themes of management can be improved descriptively and normatively by a study of the virtues, which started me on the book, I recently had the flash realization that I had a solution for the saving the souls of the Nones. From the Cardinal virtues, the Nones may be led to the understanding and appreciation of the theological virtues and from there to the whole catechism.
We have to know our battlefield in this conquest of the Nones through virtuous management. There are very few books of Catholic management. On one hand, there is the typical anti-Catholic bias of publishers, in particular of management books. You can verify that there are many more advice to managers from a Buddhist angle than from the Catholic angle. This is part of the modern culture in which the principle of Karma is much better understood and utilized in the wider population than the principle of transubstantiation for example.
On the other hand, there is also the bias of Catholic publishers against a book that is not addressing spirituality from beginning to end. When I proposed to Father Joseph Fessio, SJ that Father John Hardon, SJ had communicated to me that my book was “highly publishable”, Father Fessio responded: “Find yourself a publisher”.
Therefore, I had to self-publish.
Another consideration: what about Opus Dei? It has officially placed its protection under St. Joseph the worker. I was involved for several months with Opus Dei who has a center two blocks away from my home. The good Opus Dei priest who did a very good work at operating a backhoe at my sins (their specialty) would place a wall between my spirituality and my work and considered the writing of my book: work. I have joined the Third Order Dominican instead. Being pre-Reformation, their spirituality and charisma does not put walls in doctrine as barriers to contain the heathen protestants.
In conclusion, to promote these efforts to reach to the Nones, we need an groundswell in the Church that will be perceived by these Nones. We need first a great involvement at the doctrinal level from moral theologians. Then a considerable effort at the pastoral level from the clergy and lay people to rally our dear Nones and hold them in our arms. But first we need to understand that these Nones do not necessarily have a materialistic heart and a love of money but are children of God trying to survive in this world’s economy.
If we do this, I would like to predict that we will also be able the rechristianize our culture.
1 – https://animalsmart.org/animals-the-environment/comparing-agriculture-of-the-past-with-today
2 – https://money.usnews.com/credit-cards/articles/how-many-americans-are-living-paycheck-to-paycheck
3 – https://www.topresume.com/career-advice/how-long-to-find-a-job
4 – https://www.amazon.com/Virtue-Based-Management-Jean-Francois-Orsini/dp/1588271994/ref=sr_1_4?crid=1L5V94L4VX055&keywords=virtue+based+management&qid=1659973025&sprefix=virtue+based+%2Caps%2C86&sr=8-4