"The Ethicist" is Randy Cohen's long-running advice column in the New York Times. Each week, Gabriel Delahaye's "The Unethicist" will answer the same questions as "The Ethicist," with obvious differences.
This week, a young woman wonders whether or not she should be forced to talk prayers to God as part of her job singing prayers to God, and a young man wants to know if... something about a bridge, Gabe wasn't really paying attention.
I sing in a full-time, all-professional church choir. Like most of my colleagues, I am not of the same faith as the church. During services we sing sacred texts, but few of us recite the spoken prayers, feeling that doing so would go against our own beliefs. Recently the clergy mandated that we recite the prayers along with the congregation. Is that ethical? A.R., New York
Your problem is a difficult one, Deloris Van Carter, but I think we both know that you are as much to blame as the clergy. No one would ever wish to be in your place, witness to a mobland murder and forced to enter a convent under the witness protection plan. But who was it that took Sister Mary Robert and Sister Mary Patrick out to a bar? It was you. And what did Mother Superior do when she caught you? She made you join the choir. Now you've built that hilarious meth lab in the basement and the punishment is spoken prayer. It just seems obvious to me that if you keep being so sassy and bull-headed, no matter how candid and lovable, it's going to result in further inculcation into the sacred rites. One more infraction and you will be ordained.
OK, that was my Sister Act joke. Here is my Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit joke:
Sure, A.R., maybe you find that the request to join the rest of the congregation in spoken prayer violates the separation you had drawn for yourself between your professional work and your personal spirituality, but the more you can get the audience on your side, the better chance you'll really shine at the All-State Music Competition in Los Angeles, winning enough money to save St. Francis from closing, and then one day become one of the top-selling female hip hop artists of all time, only to fade into obscurity after pretentiously naming your first baby Zion and being kind of a prick about the whole fame thing, keeping that enraged integrity alive by occasionally releasing songs on the soundtrack for Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, or fucking Surf's Up (WTF).
A consulting river scientist, I co-designed a bridge project to include creative use of plants and an elegant solution for handling floodwaters. The design won a major award I'm quite proud of. Some months later, I learned that a member of the awards committee may have been improperly influenced, although I cannot be certain. May I continue to list the award on my résumé? Steve Gough, Murphysboro, Ill.
Your problem is common enough, Steve, and the solution is poetic. Find a serene, untouched stretch of river somewhere. Design the most beautiful bridge the world has ever seen, with shimmering suspension cables held in stunning arcs between the soaring anchor towers. Give the stonework the kind of craftsmanship no longer found in modern construction, and landscape the shorelines along each side of the river to speak to the meditative beauty of the natural world. This will be a great opportunity to express the transformative power of man's union with nature, not a brute conquering of the world, but a way to live in it. Include creative use of plants and an elegant solution for handling floodwaters.
When this work is done, climb out to the crest of the bridge, stare out at the glorious view afforded only by elevation over water expanses, take a deep breath, and throw yourself in that fucking river and drown to death. You are boring.
Then again, unlike other popular adviceicists, I don't have an Emmy for work I didn't even do on an episode of Late Show with David Letterman to gratuitously mention in my responses for no reason at all, so you might want to get a second opinion. I'm still pretty sure no one gives a fuck about your resume, though.