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News from across the pond arrived late last week that the luxury car manufacturer Bentley had decided to fire its in-house chaplain.

A Bentley Motors spokesman told the Daily Mail: "We have a wide range of faiths and want to take a multi-faith outlook. It would be very difficult to have somebody from each faith. This now gives us the opportunity to look at this and recognize the range of faiths we have here."

Apparently a few days before Christmas the Rev. Francis Cooke was let go. According to reports of employees and Cooke himself, he acted more as a counselor than a religious proselytizer. He talked to employees about marital problems. One employee reported that Cooke talked someone out of suicide once. The employees are petitioning to have Cooke reinstated.

I’m not sure whether to believe the claim that there were no complaints against Cooke. One could easily imagine a member of minority religion suggesting that it’s not appropriate to have a member of the clergy wandering around the factory floor. Even the slightest claim of offense could make the already hypersensitive Brits back down from the meekest religious assertions.

Which is not to say that there is anything illegal about the employment of Rev. Cooke. I can’t speak for British law, but certainly in the U.S. a private company can offer its employees the services of a religious counselor without fear of government scrutiny. (Whether it can refuse to offer contraception on its employee health plan is another story.)

It does raise some interesting questions about the role of work in our lives. Work, in the earlier part of the 20th century, used to define us. As the cliché goes, men would go to work for one company for their entire lives. That company would take care of them even into old age. But then things speeded up. We switch jobs an average of 8 times just between the ages of 18 and 38. We don’t commit to companies any more and so they don’t need to commit to us.

Except they have. In myriad ways, the companies we work for have become more and more involved in our lives, encouraging gym memberships to make us healthier, offering more ergonomically correct seating to help us be more comfortable, instituting employment policies to make sure we treat each other well. Of course, all of this is in the interest of the company. They’d rather we be healthy and comfortable so we can work more and better. They want to make sure they are not the subject of any harassment lawsuit because they didn’t properly monitor the work environment. Whatever help the company offers has all been bureaucratized and approved by the lawyers.

And so whatever else it signifies, it is surely a loss that someone like the Rev. Cooke was, as the Brits say, “made redundant.” The kind of personal attention he offered, even if it was borne of a religious impulse, will be missed.

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