I had worked summers in the tobacco and hays fields. I had made some money by mowing grass and doing other yard work but having my first regular job was different. It made me feel like I was an adult. In many ways that first job was a right of passage. It was an important educational experience - a valuable process I believe is being lost to our youth today.
It was a crappy job. It was hard work. It paid minimum wage and I never seemed to get enough hours. But, it was a job, with a boss and a paycheck and it was more about me learning and growing than about me contributing to the gross national product. It was an introduction to what it meant to have responsibility and discipline. And it motivated me to get better jobs, earn more money, and work at something I found meaningful.
I've been working hard every since. I've built a career that is satisfying and makes a difference in the community. Work is a part of my life - it’s no longer just a job, but it started out that way. And that is the way it is suppose to be.
But I fear that my experience and attitude about work is no longer the norm. My beliefs about the essential nature of work for human fulfillment and health is becoming the minority view in this country. I certainly never imagined that the federal government would create so many disincentives for people not to work.
Let me explain why this is a such troubling trend. When it comes to work, there are generally two types of societies. In the first type, people work to live and in the second, people live to work.
Live-to-Work societies are not so common and are fairly new to human history. The prominent ethic is working more than living. Here people work in order to find meaning and purpose. In many ways, working is living. Fulfillment is found in work (calling and career more than job). While it may be toil, work is not seen as a “necessary evil”. Work in and of itself is good - not merely a means to achieve good.
You can see the contrast of the two cultures in how they value time, for example. In Work-to-Live cultures time doesn't have the same meaning as in Live-to-Work cultures where time is measured and valued the same as money. On the other hand, Work-to-Live cultures reject the “tyranny of time.”
In Live-to-Work cultures a person is often measured by their profession. “What do you do?” is usually the first question asked when people meet. “Who is your family?” is usually the first question for people in the Work-to-live cultures. Family ties, clan, and who you know are more important than what you do.
You can also see the difference in the economic realities of the two types of societies as well. Work-to-live economies tend to be more stagnant (poor) while Live-to-Work economies are more growth oriented (prosperous). Consequently, materialism is not a driving force in the former as it is in the latter.
In Live-to-Work communities’ people see work as a virtue. It is a moral imperative. Not working, therefore, is immoral and even sinful. The purest would even say that work is an act of worship. Work is one way mankind connects with the Creator who made mankind in His image. Refusing to work is an act of rebellion. It is this “theology of work” that is the foundational principle of the Live-to-Work culture.
While materialism now plays a factor in the motivation of Live-to-Work communities, it is a fairly recent substitute for the original dynamism that created these contemporary societies – the protestant ethic.
The German social thinker Max Weber first identified this sociological force found in modern, western civilizations. In his classic work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, he argues that capitalism, science, invention, the rise of progressive education, and all the other things that identify western societies, originated in the ethos of ascetic Protestantism.
He also described what happens when the religious component is removed from the cultural equation, “In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport.”
In the United States, where God no longer matters as He once did, the ethic of work is being battered by other philosophical forces. We are witnessing the systematic demolition of this core principle in two profound, culture altering ways.
The first way is through materialism. Materialism usurps “creation” and “calling” as the primary motivation for work. Work is still worship but it is the worship of things instead of worship of the creator who gave mankind work.
Remember, God gave Adam a job in the garden before the fall. Work is not a result of the fall only that work would be toil. Materialism focuses on the material rather than the spiritual. That is one way work becomes toil. Working for things instead of working for calling is hard. If you do what you love, what you were created to do then work is not toil, it is joyful and meaningful. But covetousness fostered by the spirit of materialism is no substitute for calling. Pursuing wealth for wealth's sake has many unintended consequences.
The second way it has been perverted is the rise of a “dependency culture” where people do not value work and come to believe that it is the responsibility of others (those who do work and, in their opinion, have too much stuff) to provide their “daily bread”.
Both are dehumanizing and foster the more debase and selfish side of our nature. The first inspires people to work for the wrong reasons and the second encourages people not to work at all. Isn't it interesting how error always comes in pairs of opposites? In this case, we are offered either the enjoyments of greed or the spoils of envy to fill our empty, God-shaped souls.
There is a third way, however. Embrace the Judeo-Christian ethic of work that once built the freest, most prosperous, and most generous nation on earth. Teach our children what our great grandparents knew - work is good and that not working is bad and that working for the wrong reasons is nearly as bad. Teach the next generation that the motivation for work is the benefit of work itself. The third way is to celebrate work as special privilege not as a necessary evil or as a means to surround ourselves with more junk.
Recently the Congressional Budget Office released a report where they claim that the Affordable Care Act “creates a disincentive for people to work.” The report went on to predict that those disincentives would lead to fewer hours worked, costing the equivalent of nearly 2.5 million jobs over the next decade.
But what was really surprising is the response from Obama Care supporters who didn't argue with the findings but rather celebrated the findings, stating that people will now be able to choose to work less or not to work at all.
Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “Opportunity created by affordable, quality health insurance allows families in America to make a decision about how they will work, or if they will work,” Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi applauded the law for freeing people from “job-lock.”
I am alarmed by this attitude and so should everyone else in this country. For most of the history of this country, work was an accepted as part of part of life. It was even celebrated as a virtue. The average American would live their entire life without getting anything from the federal government except the mail. Those days are gone and soon the US Postal Service may be as well.
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that 49% of the population now lives in a household where at least one person gets some type of state or federal assistance. The Heritage Foundation's annual Index of Dependence on Government reports that in 2010, 67.3 million Americans received either Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Social Security, Medicaid, College Grants, or other some form of subsidy or assistance. That is an 8% increase in just one year.
All of these needs were once considered to be the responsibility of the individual to meet. If they needed help they got it from their family. If families needed help they got it from neighbors, churches, civic groups or other charitable organizations. Now these social institutions have largely abandoned their responsibilities.
I’m not as concerned about those on welfare getting help if they need it, although those numbers are much higher than they should be. Many of the other people receiving government assistance could live without their Social Security check, Pell grant or crop subsidy.
The problem is this - Our leaders in Washington (for no other apparent reason that to maintain political power) are purposely building a culture of dependency at every income level and with every group of people in our society.
There are a lot of people pointing their finger and wagging their tongue at the welfare queen not conscience of the fact that three fingers are pointing right back at them because they are just as quilting of feeding from the government trough. Corporate welfare is three times worse than food stamps.
I think Michael Goodwin, in a piece he wrote for the New York Post nailed it when he wrote this, "This anti-job, pro-dependency tilt is the crux of the nation’s polarization. In essence, it pits those who believe in the sanctity of work against those who believe in penalizing wealth and redistributing its fruits. Not all Democrats agree with that approach, but the party is now controlled by those who do. It is the party that celebrates subsidies and rewards states for getting more people on food stamps. It opens the door wider for disability payments and fights for unemployment benefits like it once fought for jobs. It does these things not because of an emergency but because of a warped ideology."
The democrats use to be known as the working-class party but stoking the endless demand of more free stuff they are becoming the entitlement party.
Are the Republicans taking a remarkably different stance on this issue? In word, yes. In deed, no. Their record is nearly as bad. We are going to have to have more than regime change in Washington to fix this problem. We must have cultural transformation at every level of society.
Here is a truth that seems to escape us in the church. Cultural change does not happen by political means. Cultural change happens by changing what the culture believes and values. What the culture believes and values is in the hands of the church. In the end. Work is a spiritual issue.
The failure of the War on Poverty to stop people living in poverty and the success of that war to start people living in dependency is something truly amazing. It’s a double failure: a sin of commission and a sin of omission. In short, the War on Poverty has now led to a War on Work - the end result will be more poverty, more misery, more helplessness and less work, less productivity, less prosperity.
We must understand that work is a gift from God. If the federal government does manage to succeed and make having a job an option instead of a necessity, then we (the citizen of this great country) must choose to work.
If the powers that be continue to undermine our ability to work, to be gainfully and fully employed, to undermine our self-respect, no matter what our occupation or skill level, we must choose to work; if not for the sake of the country then for our own sake.
When our ability to contribute to society and to the welfare of our families is curtailed, we become depressed, sometimes unable to function or even be creative with that vaunted free time. People on the dole are almost always a depressed lot, sometimes terminally. Leisure time loses all meaning and benefit if it is leisure is all the time.
What our leaders in Washington fail to realize is that work is not only about wealth creation (those opposed to wealth are then naturally opposed to work). They must grasp the reality that work builds (not just things but also self-esteem). Work creates (not just new products but also motivation). Work makes everything else we do possible: leisure, love, even laughter are made possible or at least aided by someone elses work.
Blogger Roger L. Simpsons made the issue clear when he wrote, “we are coming to a crunch point where the American people are going to have to make a decision between the welfare state — and its attendant depression — and self-reliance — and its attendant self-respect.”
Work is normal for civilized people. The quickest way to become uncivilized is to destroy the work ethic. Mark my words. There is a connection between work and social order. To undermine one is to destroy the other. There is an old saying that applies here, “Idleness is the devils workshop.”
The government might free millions from the need have a job but it will only set them free to do a different kind of work. To make my point I want to end today by reading some scripture from 2 Thessalonians 3:6-14.
6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, 9 not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.