Catholics Need Not Apply!

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Disney’s latest bow to the altar of wokeness prompts a question: Is it still possible for Catholics and other people of faith to follow their convictions in their corporate workplaces?

At its core, woke capitalism rejects many of the Christian tenets that previously informed the decision-making of our nation’s business leaders
At its core, woke capitalism rejects many of the Christian tenets that previously informed the decision-making of our nation’s business leaders (photo: Marko Aliaksandr / Shutterstock)

The Walt Disney Co.’s recent “woke” political activism has ignited a firestorm from its core customers: parents whose children watch and love Disney. By taking sides against parental rights in the national controversy over Florida’s new education law, the Walt Disney Co. has angered many parents, prompting them to question whether they should continue to allow Disney’s movies and TV shows into their homes. 

Disney’s latest manifestation of the new religion of wokeness provokes another question: As “woke capitalism” in support of progressive demands continues to exert its authority over the operations of more and more American businesses, is it still possible for Catholics and other people of faith to follow their convictions in their corporate workplaces?

Catholic New York Times columnist Ross Douthat coined the “woke capitalism” phrase in the last decade to describe the increasing trend of corporations to pay homage to progressive political agendas. By then, it was clear that the careers of Catholics could be at stake if they worked for companies that subscribe to wokeness. This was demonstrated by the departure of Brendan Eich as chief executive officer of the Silicon Valley tech company Mozilla in 2014, following vituperative attacks from “LGBT” activists. Eich’s transgression was to personally donate money several years earlier in support of California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that amended the California Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman — an action in complete alignment with Eich’s Catholic faith, which defines marriage exactly the same way.

Let’s return to 2022 and Disney’s opposition to Florida’s new law. While the law has been deliberately mischaracterized by political progressives as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, what it actually does is prohibit teachers from initiating age-inappropriate discussions about sexuality in classrooms. It also requires schools to institute procedures informing parents about any modifications in the services it provides to students, as well as advising them about changes to their children’s “mental, emotional, physical health or well-being.” 

The only reason the bill became contentious is because it was passed by Florida’s state government in the specific context of the ongoing nationwide efforts by “LGBT” activists to inculcate students with their views about controversial matters like homosexual activity and “gender-transition” procedures for minor children. Obviously the legislation would make it harder for such activism to occur without parental knowledge, which conforms with the Church’s teaching that parents are the primary educators of their own children and that the family is the fundamental unit of society.

What it doesn’t conform with is woke ideology, a catchphrase that originally was associated specifically with progressive views about race but which in recent years has grown to encompass a broader spectrum of progressive perspectives on contemporary political and cultural flashpoints. As such, along with decrying the United States as a fundamentally racist entity, wokeism condemns traditional religious beliefs about the family and human sexuality as being grounded in the evils of “patriarchy” and “heteronormativity.”

While these ideas have featured prominently on U.S. college campuses for several decades, and also to a substantial extent in governments and the media, it’s only more recently that they began to surface in corporate boardrooms and executive suites. This seems an odd fit, given that hard-core social progressives are generally among the most vocal critics of capitalism. But the increasing secularization of Western society has generated an elite class that sees “no need for old-fashioned belief systems and religions,” as Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles noted in a reflection he delivered last year about the rise of secular ideologies, and consequently the woke mentality now dominates much of the corporate world, too.

Still, the degree to which these progressive beliefs are sincerely held by corporate leaders is debatable, as Douthat pointed out in a 2021 talk at the Napa Institute. While some business leaders might subscribe to woke ideology because they agree wholeheartedly with its premises, in many cases they are supporting radical social agendas for other reasons, such as seeking to deflect left-leaning governments from raising corporate tax rates or trying to increase their companies’ ability to recruit college graduates who have become deeply invested in progressivism. 

But, Douthat added, whatever reasons might incline a particular company’s executives toward woke capitalism, in general their support is a tribute they feel obliged to pay in order to continue to do business in contemporary America. That’s why at this moment Disney is maintaining its stance in opposition to the Florida parental-rights bill, even though this might result in irreparable damage to the Disney brand, which historically has been based on the embrace of family values.

At its core, woke capitalism rejects many of the Christian tenets that previously informed the decision-making of our nation’s business leaders and which fostered in them an impulse to treat their workers fairly and to serve something greater than the corporate bottom line. That Christian foundation now has been replaced by a harsh and unforgiving secular creed that, in the cause of social justice, zealously demands that corporations must embrace radical agendas as sacred imperatives that no Americans can be allowed to impede, including their own employees

This current corporate wokeness creates a nearly impossible situation for faithful Catholics who have worked hard throughout their careers to achieve success in business. Either you compromise your values and go along, or you run the risk of suffering corporate cancellation. In fact, it has become nearly impossible in this environment for a faithful Catholic to be the CEO of a public company. 

What is also sadly ironic about this situation is that Catholic social teaching offers the best possible framework for solving societal issues. Though the proponents of corporate wokeness would claim that it does attempt to solve serious social problems, it fails to arrive at the correct answers because it is crippled by its lack of a supernatural dimension. 

“Today’s critical theories and ideologies are profoundly atheistic,” Archbishop Gomez noted in his reflection on secular ideologies. “They deny the soul, the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature; or they think that it is irrelevant to human happiness.”

As Catholics, we already have the solution that corporate America needs to truly achieve authentic success and lasting human happiness: faith in Jesus Christ. It’s particularly appropriate to remember this right now as we enter into the Easter season, the liturgical time when we rejoice in Our Lord’s saving resurrection from the dead. And it’s our mission to proclaim this truth, in a spirit of charity, to everyone who needs to hear it proclaimed again — whether they are occupying a privileged chair at a major corporation or are situated in one of life’s most difficult peripheries.

Happy Easter, and God bless you!