Amazon seems like a tough place to work, whether you are in the marketing department in Seattle or in a warehouse in Allentown, Pa., where workers have been reported to collapse from exhaustion trying to fulfill their daily quota of shipments. But Amazon is only one especially visible example of the sorry state of work in the digital economy. American workers put in more time on the job than most of their global economic peers, and increasingly, the boundary between work and not-work is a fuzzy one. As a result, the labor force increasingly experiences work as precarious, discontinuous and materially unrewarding.
There is also a problem in the way we talk about our work. As the stability of work that characterized the industrial era becomes rarer, the terms that theologians, philosophers and the magisterium developed to describe the moral significance of jobs””not just terms like career and craft, but vocation and co-creativity, too””become irrelevant. Despite the strength of its social teaching, the Catholic Church, not to mention many Protestant denominations, has yet to develop terms people in the postindustrial West can use to connect their work to their religious commitments.
For most Christian groups, the issue of work is a theological demilitarized zone. Clergy and laity tend not to discuss it. Clergy often have work experience outside the church to draw upon in the (unlikely) event that a congregant seeks guidance on a work issue, but they almost certainly have no theological training on this topic. Courses on marriage and sexuality are staples of university and seminary curricula, but courses on work are rare. This mutually acceptable silence is a great pastoral failure, a squandered opportunity to understand the universal call to holiness in everyday economic life.