Substantial burden, tender conscience, Hobby Lobby

Robert Middlekauff, The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728: 

On her deathbed [Increase Mather’s] mother thrust upon him another great burden, a wish expressed in great emotion, that if it were God’s will, Increase should become a minister. Filled with doubt that he was even one of God’s own, Increase shook before his mother’s parting words; as he later recalled, “the Lord broke in upon my conscience with very terrible convictions and awakenings.” For almost three months he suffered dreadfully from his sense of sin and his worry that he was not one of God’s chosen. His behavior reflected his unease—on several days he shut himself up in a room and listed his sins while appealing to God for mercy. His occasional isolation probably would have gone unnoticed by his friends, except that it was accompanied by “preciseness” and a ”tender conscience.” Increase’s altered behavior made his companions uneasy; and they made him feel their scorn for his new scrupulosity. The changes in actions doubtless amounted to little in behavior—he was always a good boy—but a greater seriousness in attitude and a conscientiousness in observing the simple pieties of Puritan life would have been enough to alarm his friends. 

Their derision did not deter Increase from his new purpose and his quest for God continued. Increase respected, even revered, his tutor John Norton, but something prevented him from seeking comfort from Norton. He loved his father and it was to him that he turned, asking for his prayers. The end to this agony came on election day in May 1655. Norton and his family left the house for the day and Increase, after hours in prayer, finally attained peace and the assurance that he had received God’s grace. Assurance came after he achieved a complete sense of psychological dependence upon God: “At the close of the day, as I was praying, I gave my selfe up to Jesus Christ, declaring that I was now resolved to be his Servant, and his only and his forever, and humbly professed to him that if I did perish, I would perish at his feet. Upon this I had ease and inward peace in my perplexed soul immediately; and from that day I walked comfortably for a considerable time, and was carefull that all my words and wayes should be such as would not offend God.”

The recent  Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court regarding the religious liberties of many for-profit corporations has potential effects on corporate productivity that should concern us.   With religious liberty comes religious responsibility: can our nation’s companies weather spiritual storms such as those described above, now that they have God-fearing souls to tend to? Optimists can hope that long-term the effects of improving corporate souls will be beneficial but we risk slowdown (or even a plummet back into recession) due to increased introspection, meditation, time spent parsing of theological fine points, or soul anxiety.  Hobby Lobby at least can get some needlework done while engaged in these contemplative pursuits, but other corporations may have more limited options.

[Note that  Increase got over his angst well enough to become president of Harvard, perhaps arguing— if for some reason we decide to stick to this particular analogy I’ve set up—  for the optimistic view regarding productivity.  It seems, however, that neither Harvard nor Increase thought much of his tenure.  Increase was pressured out as he was spending too much time back at his congregation, busy with ministerial duties.  Increase’s final self-analysis of his Harvard leadership years: [t]he Colledge is in a miserable state. [. . .] The Lord pardon me in that I did no more good whilest related to that society.]

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Posted in Economics, history, law
3 comments on “Substantial burden, tender conscience, Hobby Lobby
  1. sonatano1 says:

    The Court claims that its decision is a narrow one, and it seems to be from the stuff I’ve read on SCOTUSblog (I don’t feel like reading the unedited 49-page decision just yet.) Then again, you can never tell how these things will go, especially as far as precedent is concerned.

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