Monday, December 22, 2008

Leveraging Spirit: Ethical Questions for Naturalistic Religion II

Part II

When I look at community building initiatives that may take us in a good direction, but whose promises are usually practically unrealistic in wide implementation, Dufour’s professional learning community (PLC) comes to mind. The last thing the people at the PLC conference I attended wanted to hear was Andy Hargreaves (2008) warnings about the skeletons coming with “silver bullet” PLC implementation. As Briskin states, “we act from the tension of unequal forces,” (pp. 52). Believing there is a shadow side to every good intention rarely overcomes the sacrifices change demands.

Companies are attune to this fact. The theoretical frameworks underlying community building initiatives are increasing in sophistication. Advances in group neuropsychology and evolutionary approaches to religion hone organizational tools. When organizational theorist say “culture, values, symbols, and ideas must be added for they are the springs on which[the definition of] institutions rest,” (Stout, 1998) they seem to be saying the trappings of spirit are necessary components for successful business. Well intentioned initiatives build on this class of knowledge. We have increasingly sophisticated powers to leverage community. However, the sophisticated understandings required to prevent abuse have been thrown out with secular rejections of religion.

I think one can generally see two approaches to guarding the spirit in community:
1) arguments from sacredness,
2) arguments from utility.

Mitroff & Denton (1999 as cited in Groen, 2004) exemplify the argument from utility. “Those who practice spirituality in order to achieve better corporate results undermine both its practice and its ultimate benefits. To reap the positive benefits of spirituality, it must be practiced for its own sake,” (pp. 20). I certainly agree with this statement. Business initiatives that commodify spirit are typically easy to spot. They don’t resonate with the self-sacrifice, commitment displays, and implicitly understood norms necessary for authenticity (Atran, 2002). As a result, they don’t have the moral authority to safeguard abuse (Wilson, 2002; Smith, 2004). Without this, community stagnates. The problem is, not everyone finds spiritual dopplegangers easy to spot. What happens when pseudo-spiritual initiatives are sophisticated enough to skip ready detection?

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