Serving Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work
The Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books is one of the success stories of the 1990s. The original book of homespun wisdom sold millions of copies, inspiring a series oriented toward specific life situations. One of the more recent editions, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work (as well as Heart at Work, a similar book from series editor Jack Canfield) explicitly try to bring alternative spiritualities into the workplace, aiming at "mak[ing] your spirits soar and broaden[ing] your perspective of what it means to be fully human."1
Heart at Work is by far the more explicitly religious of the two books. The focus of the book is to recognize the divinity in each person, as is evidenced by a quote from a Hawaiian Kupuna, "Aloha.should not be seen as just a frivolous tourist greeting. Alo means the bosom or center of the universe, and ha, the breath of God, so to say this word is to appreciate another person's divinity."2 Another example is a poem by Kahlil Gibran, a mystic who proclaimed "the Mighty Unnameable Power,"3 who uses quasi-biblical metaphors (e.g., harvesting joy and singing with the tongue of angels) to teach that "work is love made visible" (this quote also appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work).4
More obvious is an excerpt from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn that "we do not have to die to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact we have to be fully alive.when we are truly alive, we can see that the tree is part of Heaven, and we are also part of Heaven. The whole universe is conspiring to reveal this to us."5 This religious principle is called pantheism: the belief that all is God (or, in this case, Heaven), and that God is all. The principle is foundational to Buddhism and Hinduism, and is highly prevalent in the New Age movement. Heart at Work contains many such New Age teachings to enhance people's self-esteem by convincing them that they have the power of divinity.
Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work is much less overt in its presentation of religious ideologies. The book's stories revolve around such themes as "on caring," "the power of acknowledgment," "service: setting new standards," and "overcoming obstacles." Nonetheless, the inspirational quotes that precede each story give a strong taste of the pluralistic, New Age emphasis that underlies the book. For example, the Buddha is quoted as saying, "Your work is to discover your work, and then with all your heart to give yourself to it."6 This sentiment, while on the surface quite noble, does not fully explain the Buddha's meaning: disengagement from self, and immersion in the present moment of work, is the path to the obliteration of self and the achievement of Nirvana. While the quote seems compatible with Christianity, its meaning is ultimately far different.
Similar to this is a quote from psychic Jean Houston: "We all have the extraordinary coded within us.waiting to be released."7 The quote seems to say merely that all people have the potential to succeed at work. However, Houston, who adheres to the pantheistic tenet that all is one, is saying that all people are divine and simply have to manifest their divinity. Again, the inspirational quote has a meaning that is foreign to Christianity.
Particularly egregious is the quotation from Matthew 6:34, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."8 While this quotation was appropriately placed in a section on reducing stress, removing it from its context eradicates its full meaning, which is stated in the preceding verse, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Jesus Christ was not simply telling the people on the Mount of Olives to avoid stress, but instead to focus on the things of God rather than exclusively on temporal concerns.
As is the case with many books dealing with infusing spirituality into the workplace, the books of Jack Canfield contain a great deal of common-sense. Nonetheless, Christians should be aware that the books also are steeped in a spirituality that is opposed to biblical Christianity.
1 Jack Canfield and Jacqueline Miller, back cover, Heart at Work (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996).
2 Quoted in ibid., p. 165.
3 Quoted in G. Richard Fisher, "The Defective Prophet," Personal Freedom Outreach, 7.4 (1987), p. 1.
4 Canfield and Miller, p. 36.
5 Ibid., p. 54.
6 Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, et al, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work (Deerfield Beach, Fl: Health Communications, Inc., 1996), p. 143.
7 Ibid., p. 181. Ellipses in original.
8 Ibid., p. 286.