Although is not because

In the July-August edition of the Harvard Business Review the editors featured an article by HBS Professor Clay Christensen.  Entitled “How will you measure your life?” the article was something of a phenomenon.  Hundreds of thousands went on line to read the article and journalists around the world picked up on themes from it, including David Brooks, who writes for the New York Times. The editorial staff of HBR was so taken with the response that they chose to leave the article on their website through the month of October.  They went on to observe that since his article was published Professor Christensen has faced even bigger challenges than those posed by the world of commerce.  He was diagnosed as having follicular lymphoma and, a short time later, suffered an ischemic stroke.

What struck me was the way in which the editor introduced the on-line version of the article:

“Though Christensen’s thinking comes from his deep religious faith, we believe that these are strategies anyone can use.”

The “though” or “although” in that sentence is something that I often hear when people talk about religious convictions and it could and often does mean a lot of things:

“Although you might not be religious, you may find something helpful here.”

“Although I am not religious, I found something helpful here.”

But it can also mean:

“Although it’s religious, it’s still helpful.”

In all fairness to the editorial staff at HBR, I have no idea how many of those implied meanings might have been hiding behind the language.  But there are other times when I have no doubt that what people mean is, “Although it’s religious, it’s still helpful.”

The problem with this language is that “although” is not the same thing as “because.”  When people like Professor Christensen write out a deep faith, they arrived there “because” of their convictions, not in spite of them.  I don’t know him, but I suspect that is also what sustains him in these days of recovery.

There is wisdom to be had from religious convictions that cannot be achieved by any other means.  Believing something about the existence and nature of God — and with it, a number of other things about the nature and purpose of human life — profoundly re-shapes the way in which we see the world.  It isn’t a disposable vehicle for achieving insights that can be had some other way.  There are times when you are either religious or you aren’t, and you get it or you don’t.

Too often our culture fails to grasp this elemental point, privileging anything but religious wisdom.  No one would say, “Although Professor So-and-So is a secular humanist, there is something of value here.”  There is ideological resistance to religious convictions that approximates a religious conviction of its own kind, and it is often as intolerant and unwilling to listen as any religious fundamentalism ever dreamed of being.

Could it be, then, that readers won’t entirely understand the wisdom of Professor Christensen’s article without taking into account his religious beliefs?  Probably not.  Although is not because.

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