Thanks to EconJeff for alerting me to this article in the Wall Street Journal by a Christian writer and some time WORLD contributor Tony Woodlief. In trying to figure out how to make his kids enjoy work, he dismisses Adam Smith for reducing work to making money and finds nothing from churches that helps. He finally finds his answer in Karl Marx who praises creative labor! The author COMPLETELY MISSES the doctrine of vocation!
Maybe churches can help. But Thomas Aquinas fretted that work distracted men from God. Protestants like Billy Graham, meanwhile, see workplaces as venues for evangelism but say little about the inherent value of labor. When every plutocrat who runs for president must manufacture middle-class roots for himself, wealth is no longer proof of piety. And work itself, many pastors claim, is destined to be miserable because of God’s curse after Adam ate the forbidden fruit. So work is unpleasant, and its fruits are suspect. No wonder Concordia University’s Center for Faith and Business, among a growing crowd of organizations devoted to fusing Christianity and capitalism, sums up this theology of work in the last of its Ten Commandments for the Workplace: “Be satisfied with what you have.”
Max Weber is rolling in his grave.
Ironically, it’s that scruffy, godless rabble-rouser reviled by capitalists — Karl Marx — who offers a helpful work philosophy where traditional fonts of conservative wisdom fail. Marx saw humans as naturally creative: “free conscious activity constitutes the species-character of man.” Furthermore, humans want to craft loveliness: “Man . . . produces in accordance with the laws of beauty.” . . .
Sure, Marx advocated common ownership of property, which he might have been cured of had he observed children around a bag of cookies. And there is the fact that millions of humans have been enslaved or slaughtered by his intellectual progeny. But toxic governance prescriptions aside, Marx certainly had his finger on a truth, I think, about humans and labor. Left-leaning theologians like N.T. Wright and Miroslav Volf, meanwhile, agree that work should be seen not as a pietist’s grim duty or as an avenue to wealth but as a way of participating in God’s creative order. Liberal Tom Lutz’s “Doing Nothing,” a book that ostensibly sets out to justify Slackerism, likewise has a beef not with work but with purposeless work.
I’m a small-government guy, but when it comes to a work ethic, I find myself siding with the left. Humans need work, and they need to see that their work has a purpose. Come to think of it, you’ll hear that from any of America’s countless business gurus. We’re all Marxists now.
How can the doctrine of vocation be so invisible? Tony, send me your address via my WORLD e-mail address, and I’ll send you a copy of my book “God at Work” to free you from your Marxist shackles.