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.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.