The scandal surrounding Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff returned to the public lexicon a term made famous shortly after the First World War–Ponzi scheme. Named for Charles Ponzi, the original Ponzi scheme involved the sale of foreign postage coupons that promised a 50 percent return on investment in a matter of months. In reality, Ponzi was simply using one investor’s dollar to pay off another and playing an elaborate game of musical chairs. Nearly a century later, Mr. Madoff’s own scheme is believed to have cost investors anywhere from $50 to $65 billion and may hold the questionable honor of being the largest fraud perpetuated in American history.
While Mr. Madoff is an extreme example of corporate fraud and excessive greed, his case is one among many, unfortunately, that offers the opportunity for public discourse and discourse in the academy on the role that values and faith play in the business and academic worlds. More specifically, this article will attempt to address the growing disconnect between an individual’s personal spiritual beliefs and professional code of conduct with particular application to the academy. It should be noted that this article is framed within a Christian worldview, but certainly has application across faith traditions and for those with no faith tradition seeking to consider how their personal values and belief systems translate into their professional lives.
This article addresses four specific issues: first, needs that are met by spirituality; second, the separation that often occurs between a person’s “professional life” and “spiritual life” and the implications for the academy; third, criticisms of higher education that are relevant to this discussion of spirituality; and fourth, opportunities that Christians and people of faith have in the academy today.
Meeting Needs Through Spirituality
Dr. Dallas Willard, who before his death in 2013 was a professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California and noted author, observes that spirituality meets two basic needs of human life: identity and an understanding of values as an individual as well as a sense of empowerment and the belief that there is an ability to have control over certain matters. His observation is particularly relevant in today’s corporate world as more and more business practitioners separate their spiritual identity from their professional one. The result, in some cases, is a dueling set of values that change and conform based on the individual’s environment.
This growing separation of the work world from the faith world has led to what the author has observed as a third need–that is, the need for meaning. As people search for spirituality, it is in part a search to find meaning in their lives. There is an overriding need to know that their life matters now and that perhaps their contributions will have some lasting impact after death.
Near the end of Amy Tan’s book, Saving Fish from Drowning, she expresses this need for meaning in a profound way. The narrator of the story, a wealthy art patron in San Francisco, dies. In death she sees and experiences all that is happening around her. At her funeral one of the eulogies emphasizes all of the many contributions she has made to the arts both in terms of volunteering her time and giving generously of her resources. As the woman experiences her own funeral and this eulogy she reflects:
Reading the roster of my achievements, I should have been bursting with pride. Instead, it struck me as nonsensical. I heard a roar of voices coming from every bit of chatter from every dinner, luncheon, and gala I had ever attended. I saw a blur of names in thick, glossy programs, my own displayed in “Archangels,” below those in the fewer-numbered and more favored “Inner Sanctum,” to which that Yang boy, the Stanford dropout, always seemed to belong. Nothing filled me with the satisfaction I believed I would have at the end of my life. I could not say to myself: “That is where I was most special, where I was most important, and that is enough for a lifetime.” I felt like a rich vagabond who had passed through the world, paving my way with gold fairy dust, then realizing too late that the path disintegrated as soon as I passed over it.”
This can be seen in many of the C-level executives enrolled in Pepperdine’s Presidential/Key Executive MBA program. These executives, many of them with extensive leadership experience, have chosen to return to school not because they wanted or needed to acquire additional business skills. Rather, they are looking for significance and meaning in their life, having learned that being successful in business alone cannot meet all of their needs. In fact, a number of these students use the program to prepare for a transition from their “business life” to a life dedicated to service or missions.
Separation of the Work World from the Faith World
In this search for spirituality, whatever form it might take, we very often see, even in Christians, and maybe particularly in Christians, a separation of “professional life” from “spiritual life.” A very visible and well-documented display of this happened with Ken Lay, the now infamous CEO and chairman of Enron. The son of a Baptist preacher, Lay clearly articulated his Christian faith and yet was involved in one of the most egregious corporate scandals of its time. Ultimately, Lay was convicted of six counts of conspiracy and fraud and four counts of fraud and false statements in a scandal that led to one of the biggest bankruptcies in U.S. history, cost thousands of employees their jobs and life savings, and cost investors billions of dollars.
John D. Beckett, chairman of R.W. Beckett Corp and author of Mastering Monday: A Guide to Integrating Faith and Work, said of Lay and Enron,
“Like so many of my peers and contemporaries, I think he separated his work world from his faith world. Enron had a code of four values. Three are very close to my heart, because they’re identical to the ones at our company: integrity, excellence, and a profound respect for the individual. What happened to these [values]? People close to it told me that they basically set them aside. They breached their own integrity for the sake of doing these deals. Apparently, this happened at the board level, and it happened with Ken Lay. We don’t know the extent of his guilt, but I cannot absolve him for failing to stand up, pound the table, and shout, “We’re violating our core values by going in this direction.”
He did not; nobody else did. Beckett goes on to say, “The problem with formulas (i.e., core values) is that they can be a substitute for being sensitive to the Lord. Formulas may get you part of the way, but ultimately they break down. Unless a person’s heart has been transformed, you’ll just never get there by pushing levers and turning dials.”
According to Willard, “When you don’t have character transformation in a large number of your people, then when something happens, everything flies apart and you have people acting in the most ungodly ways imaginable.” Much of the discussion to this point has focused on the lack of congruence between a person’s work world and faith world in a secular, business setting. Does this same challenge afflict those of faith in the academy?
Recently there has been criticism of higher education from those at secular universities and those outside the traditional Christian academic sphere that seems to suggest that a separation of personal values from professional values exists in the academy as well.
Yankelovich notes that there is a disconnect between universities and the American people with regard to “ways of knowing.” “While higher education has grown more scientific in its quest for knowledge, the American people at large have grown more religious, more fretful about moral “truths” and more polarized in their struggle to find political and existential truth.” He goes on to say, “the public believes that science does not have, and cannot have all the answers, and that other ways of knowing are also legitimate and important…. Americans hunger for religious ways of truth seeking, especially with regard to moral values.” Yankelovich believes that if universities do not respond to these criticisms they will become more embattled, isolated, and politicized than they are already.
An interesting book that looks at these issues is The Decline of the Secular University by C. John Sommerville who is a professor of English history at University of Florida. He argues that universities do not address critical questions the world is facing today because if they did, it would require some focus on issues such as faith and values that they are not willing to address. He does not believe Universities are really looking for answers to life questions.
This separation of our personal and spiritual lives in the Academy has been called, “the two-realm theory of truth.” We are true and faithful believers on the one hand, and on the other hand, we are good scholars, but there is really no meaningful link between those two parts of our lives. But, as Stephen Evans, Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University states, “It is possible to combine genuine religious faith with a genuine commitment to excellence in our tasks in education.”
More particularly, as it relates to scholarly pursuits in the academy, Tippens noted “. . . excellent scholarship is only possible when grounded in certain virtues (honesty, truth-telling, humility, etc.). Good scholarship is produced by good men and women—people of high ethical character. Scientific reductionism, stripped of transcendent purpose, cannot in the long run sustain the scientific enterprise.” Summarizing very succinctly, Luke Timothy Johnson said, “All scholarship should be witness.” Clearly a call for the integration of our faith lives and our work lives in the Academy.
Fully Linking Faith to Life
It is easy as Christians to bemoan the fact that the academy gives little attention to issues of faith and spirituality and those scholars interested in these areas are often shunned. However, there is a tremendous opportunity right now to link faith and scholarship both at Christian and secular universities. As the demographics of the United States and the world shift, the majority of Christians in the world today are no longer in North America and Europe, thus we are seeing the growth of Christianity around the world.
The question is: How will we as academics of faith use this opportunity?
First, be great teachers, scholars, and colleagues to build credibility in the academy. This will give you a voice and people will listen when you have legitimate and interesting things to say about faith and its relationship with the academic work you are doing. Dallas Willard is a perfect example of this. He is someone who is recognized and noted as a scholar in philosophy, giving great legitimacy to his influence as a Christian scholar and teacher. Stephen Carter, Professor of Law at Yale, has also built a tremendous reputation in the legal and literary communities while also integrating his personal faith deeply with his academic work.
Second, be willing to ask and investigate the tough questions that emerge in your field from a faith perspective. Be intellectually honest and willing to deal with doubts and challenges that may arise in your scholarly work directly and forthrightly. Willard says, “You have to ask yourself this question: Can you trust God to stand up before or under the most fair, rigorous, critical, intellectual inquiry?” As Christians we should be able to say, “Most certainly, yes!” and we should be able to show why these are important questions to our field that need to be addressed and that add insight and understanding even to those who are not Christians.
And the author believes that as others see the truth come out in this way they will want to know more. “You ravish people with the blessings of the Kingdom. You make them hungry for it. That’s why words are so important: we must be wordsmiths. You use words to ravish people with the beauty of the kingdom. It’s the beauty of the kingdom that Jesus said was causing people to climb over each other just to get in. People become excited like the pearl-purchaser: they will give everything to get in.” Our words can cause this excitement whether spoken in personal testimony or written in our scholarly endeavors. Either way, the beauty of God’s kingdom will be seen.
Third, do not forget the human side of spirituality and the Academy. While a significant part of our role in the University is to seek truth and understanding through scholarship and intellectual inquiry, we must never forget that we are also here to impact the lives of our students, which includes not only educating the mind, but also the heart.
George Pepperdine, founder of Pepperdine University, said in his founding address in 1937, “If we educate a man’s mind and improve his intellect with all the scientific knowledge men have discovered and do not educate the heart . . . the man is dangerous.”
In fact, thinking back through the author’s life, while the intellectual pursuits had a significant impact, they were nothing compared to the impact people had. People like the founder of a Christian sports camp where the author worked during summers in college. The founder had such a clear sense of grounding in Christ that it emanated through him to all that he did. His example continues to have a profound impact on my life. People like the MBA marketing professor who took a personal interest and encouraged the author to pursue a Ph.D., something previously never considered. People like a faculty colleague who thought the author’s gifts would be put to good use as dean of a business school—an opportunity the author would have never considered without his encouragement.
We can have a profound impact as people of faith in the Academy, not only through our scholarship, but also through giving of ourselves.
In times like these, where uncertainty and fear are so prevalent, it is even more critical for us to begin to bridge our faith life with our work life, and help others live their values as well. From a university perspective, the author’s university has attempted to restore knowledge and service with faith and virtue. And while this university is by tradition and mission a Christian university, this vision has relevance for all of higher education and the business community as well.
It is not an easy task, or a task for the faint hearted, but my belief is that Jesus did not promise that our journey as true disciples would be an easy one, He did, however, promise that He would be with us on that journey.
 Fields, R., (2009) The Biggest Ponzi Scheme in Modern History, Socyberty.com, http://socyberty.com/history/the-biggest-ponzi-schemes-in-modern-history-2/.
 Willard, D. (2007) Spirituality for Smarties, Paper shared at “Spirituality and the Academy”, an Intervarsity Conference held at the University of Southern California, February 10, 2007.
 Tan, A. (2005) Saving Fish From Drowning, New York: Ballantine Books, pp. 6-7.
 Pasha, S. and Seid, J. (2006) Lay and Skilling’s Day of Reckoning, CNNMoney, May 25.
 Guthrie, S. (2007) Defining Business Success, Christianity Today, February.
 Scheller, C. (2006) “A Divine Conspirator,” Christianity Today, September.
 Yankelovich, D. (2005) Ferment and Change: Higher Education in 2015, Chronicle of Higher Education, November.
 Sommerville, C.J. (2006) The Decline of the Secular University, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 Tippens, D. (2006) Scholars and Witnesses, An address to the Pepperdine University Faculty, October 6, 2006.
 Evans, S. (2003) The Calling of the Christian Scholar-Teacher in Faithful Learning and the Christian
Scholarly Vocation, ed. Douglas V. Henry and Bob R. Agee, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans.
 Tippens, pp. 11.
 Ibid, pp. 15.
 Jenkins, P. (2002) The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity, New York: Oxford University Press.
 Gibson, R. (2005) Pepperdine People, Pepperdine University, Fall.
 Willard, D. (2001) Rethinking Evangelism, Cutting Edge, Winter.
 Pepperdine, G. (1937) Founder’s Address, September 21, Pepperdine University,