One famous music teacher reportedly always asked every applicant to study music under him, “What can you do to earn a living?” At the seminary in Tokyo, all of us were encouraged to take courses to qualify as teachers in the school system. We were not expected to make a decent living in the church work: Christians in Japan are a tiny minority. So often clergy men and women have other sources of income. My nephew, a minister of the United Church in Osaka, sings in night clubs and teaches part time in a high school.
Art, religion, and science are vocations. They don’t belong to the same category as income generating employment. Many monks and nuns have skills in secular employments like teaching and nursing. They pursue their spiritual vocations in contemplation, meditation, or community service, while earning their living in various occupations. Some monasteries operate industries. “Oka” cheese and “Chartreuse” liqueur are well known.
Science is vocation too: Albert Einstein was a civil servant working in the Patent Office in Zurich until he became known for his Theory of Relativity. Theoretical Physics is not a lucrative business. Likewise are many artists and musicians. I know artists and musicians with graduate degrees doing odd jobs to make living. Vocations in pursuit of beauty, truth, and answers to the mysteries of the universe do not necessarily provide decent living. Van Gogh, whose paintings now command millions of dollars, never made money from art. All his life he was supported by his brother Theo.
Religion is on the decline, because science solved many mysteries and problems of life. It lost the role as the stop-gap where science had no answer. As secularism becomes increasingly prevalent, some religious people are responding to their despair in fanaticism, fundamentalism and terrorism. They are trying to recover the former glory. It’s time to realize that for religions to seek power and wealth is a travesty of the vocation. When science had little influrnce, religions had enormous power. That was when religions were powerful and wealthy, and most corrupt. Then, the worst crimes were committed by Western Christian institutions by default or by participation: Crusade, colonialism, and Holocaust.
It is a travesty of vocation when power and wealth become its goal; like physicians treat patients for the interest of pharmaceutical industry. When religion follows its calling, they can be what they are.