On Twitter recently there’s been some discussion of what a committed Christian life should look like – raised initially by the suggestion that especially in liberal churches, some people who don’t belong in seminaries may end up there because they can’t see a way to express their commitment and engage with their religion in depth without ending up on a track to ordination.
I can relate to this in some ways. Although there’s no danger of a Quaker ending up on a path to ordination, and ordination for Pagans and Buddhists looks very different (for the former, it’s much less structured and unlikely to provide a whole livelihood; for the latter, it’s often more about joining a monastic community – another thing liberal Christians often can’t do), I relate strongly to the situation: wanting to live a committed life in which your religion and religious values are central, but not seeing how to put that together.
I suspect that for those for whom a paid religious role isn’t an option, this is going to require a kind of portfolio life – a reasonable job, a friendship circle, and a religious community outside both of those (perhaps itself built from several elements: a online discussion group, an in-person worship service, a once-a-year camp or festival with the like-minded). Careers centres are encouraging people to consider ‘portfolio working’ (which means having more than one job at once and hoping the lean times in one line of work balance out the busy times in another). I am strongly opposed to the mode of thinking which says that a job is just something you struggle through in order to have money to spend at the weekends – for one thing, the people I know who’ve lived like that often don’t have the energy to enjoy their weekends as much as they’d like. However, bills have to be paid and in the current market you only get a certain amount of choice about what you do.
One of the issues here might be summed up in the Buddhist concept of finding a ‘Right Livelihood’ – a way to make a living which does not conflict with your ethical values or religious practices. How far am I willing to bend my ethical considerations? Am I willing to sell products that I wouldn’t buy, for example? Am I more worried about the ethics of the organisation for which I work, or the opportunities they give me to use the skills I have to good effect? Is it better to neglect my skills and abilities and do something menial for a good cause, or better to be happier in my work for a more morally ambiguous employer? How do you even judge the morality of employers, especially when they are large organisations?
Although at the moment I’m applying for academic jobs, I went to a training recently about making the transfer from academia to the non-academic world. Since only a small number of people with PhDs get academic jobs (between one in five and one in ten depending who you ask and which subject areas they are considering), this is something I need to have considered. I was somewhat dismayed when I asked a question about working in the charities/non-profit sector and the only answer the speaker really had was ‘well, remember that the pay is worse’. I don’t want to be rich. I want to be a Quaker-Pagan who brings their religious values into the whole of life.