G. Clotaire Rapaille makes a great deal of money providing a service that the ancient church used to offer. No, he’s not drilling wells for water – although that’s imminently worthwhile. Rapaille travels the globe for corporate clients like Chrysler, Procter & Gamble, Boeing and DuPont explaining what makes a country and its people tick. Armed with psychoanalytical theory, Rapaille believes there is a ‘code’ for each culture. “The code is like an access code…” Rapaille says… “Suddenly, once you get the code, you understand everything. It’s like getting new glasses.“1
Rapaille is not without his detractors and skeptics. Some view it as amateurish psychology. Yet his corporate portfolio is as extravagant as his black velvet suits and Rolls-Royces and he’s not shy about boasting that “50 of the Fortune 100 companies” are his clients. Companies pay Rapaille between $125,000 and $225,000 to crack cultures, product categories, or brands across cultures. He gets $30,000 per 45-minute speech.
Rapaille’s success points to the failure of so much of religion today: it has lost the code, becoming “socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.” Faith has become a panacea for personal problems – not a code for connecting Sunday to Monday. G. Clotaire Rapaille gets it partly correct – there is a code. Yet properly understood, it goes beyond culture. It’s cosmic. If followers of the Judeo-Christian tradition understood faith in this manner, it would become more than merely “privately engaging.” It would also be socially relevant.
Uncovering the code is easier than we think. We can sense it in the momentous – as in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. We hear it when confronted with evil – as in the near-universal shock and horror experienced in 9/11. Or we observe it in the minutiae – as when high school students discover their locker has been vandalized.
Every student everywhere (with a pulse, that is) would be stunned to discover the locker ransacked. Shock is a slap in the face (because of the way it is) coupled with the anger of injustice (this is not the way it ought to be). I like how C.S. Lewis put it: “Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can’t really get rid of it.”2 After the student collects their wits, they march to the principal’s office to demand justice (what can be done to retrieve the books?). And the longer they stew on it, the more they want the thief apprehended (hanged?) along with assurances that this will not happen again.
This “collective unconscious” is really a cosmic code with four chapters – ought, is, can, and will. Whether we’re talking about building cities or Citroens, raising families or flaxseed, bickering with kids or colleagues, directing a symphony or sales meeting, or repairing a hole in the roof or hole in a heart, every person in the world imagines their life inside a “four chapter” story. The trick is ascertaining its origin.
Historian David McCullough says we walk around “everyday, everyone of us, quoting Shakespeare, Cervantes, Pope. We don’t know it, but we are, all the time. We think this is our way of speaking. It isn’t our way of speaking – it’s what we have been given.3 Could this code come from the Judeo-Christian tradition? The gospel was originally understood as describing how things ought to be. That’s creation. Second, it recognized the way it is. That’s the fall. Third, it envisioned what we can do to make things better. That’s redemption. Last, it looked toward a day when the world is fully restored – the final restoration. I’ve uncovered this cosmic code for scientists in Beijing, students in Europe and businessmen throughout the world. It’s not only cultural; it’s cosmic.
So why is this code not widely understood? Boston University sociologist Peter L. Berger notes that the traditional task of religion was to provide a code that could “serve as a common universe of meaning for the members of a society.”
Today religion appeals almost solely to the needs of the private sphere – needs for personal meaning, social bonding, family support, emotional nurturing, practical living, and so on. [This] represents a truncated view of Christianity’s claims to be the truth about all of reality.4
G. Clotaire Rapaille is raking in big bucks because he tells businesses what makes people tick throughout the week. That used to be one of the value propositions of the Judeo-Christian tradition, as C.S. Lewis noted: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.5 If we return to this cosmic code, the gospel becomes a new set of glasses enabling us see how we connect Sunday to Monday.
1 Danielle Sacks, “Crack + This = Code,” Fast Company, Issue 104, April 2006, p.96
2 C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity (New York: First Touchstone Edition, 1996), p.7
3 “Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are,” by David McCullough at Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar, February 15, 2005
4 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From It’s Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), pp.68-69
5 C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Harper Collins publishers, 1980), p.140