This last week, I’ve been at a conference that centers around the idea of vocation. Most of the conference attendees are folks from institutions of higher education, some religious and some not. As my colleague and I wandered the breakout sessions and sat through the workshops, we both remarked a few times on the terminology that is used regarding vocation. Most refer to vocation as being more than just a job or a career, but a deep sense of calling, which implies both a call and response. In fact, I am hoping to make sense of some of this terminology around my dissertation, and propose a definition of vocation that brings clarity to my work and potentially my campus.
I was struck by this understanding of vocation as I read this week’s work by Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. What really stood out to me is how we’ve equated vocation with our career. Douthat was even guilty of this. He mentions that since the collapse of vocations in the 1960’s and 1970s, fewer and fewer Catholics can be found in work. He says, “The institutional Church is still theoretically committed to such solidarity, but it lacks the numbers necessary to make that commitment manifest in a comprehensive, culturally significant way”
Douthat, a Catholic, regularly makes himself available to the American public as the youngest columnist for the New York Times.2]His column, which centers usually on politics, religion, higher education, or moral values, was really where he started writing Bad Religion. Douthat’s book is divided into two sections and part one sets the stage for a Christianity in crisis. He traces the strong moral decline of church attendance and participation from World War II onward. In his second part, Douthat highlights some major heresies in the church today. He dedicates a chapter to understanding the gospels as they relate to the picture of Jesus throughout the Bible and culture. He also circles through cultural phenomena like the “name it and claim in gospel”.
I found Douthat’s commentary on work as it relates to the prosperity gospel quite interesting. He says, “The stringency of Christianity’s sexual teachings gets most of the press, but the commandment against avarice, if taken seriously, can be the faith’s most difficult by far. You can wall yourself off from pornography and avoid people who tempt you into adultery, but everybody has to work – and every day in the work-place is a potential occasion of sin.” As Douthat points out, this is a poor use of understanding work as ultimately being a gift from God. In fact, Douthat later remarks about how most would feel as though God doesn’t need to intervene directly in your work, but instead just send a raise your way to let you know God is thinking about you. When we reduce God’s involvement in our work to our cosmic boss, we miss so much of what God is showing us in our work. We miss the fact that in the very beginning God worked and God showed that it was good. God received pleasure from God’s work, not from the benefit it brought him. I would agree with Douthat that the way we view work in America is heretical to God’s original design.
 Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York, NY: Free Press. 2012) 199.
 Ibid., Loc. 2
 Ibid., 189
 Ibid., 190.