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Work and Culture

By R. J. Rushdoony
March 26, 2012

The modern state, having divorced itself from Biblical faith, has not only lost the criterion for truth, but it has also lost the ability to create a working society. Work in the Bible is God's ordained means whereby man gains dominion. Work for modern man is an ugly necessity which takes away time from the pursuit of pleasure. In turning from work to pleasure, modern man has chosen the pleasure principle over the reality principle as the operating standard for life.

The inability of most cultures to advance beyond a limited degree is due to their distaste for work. Work is regarded in most of history, as well as in much of the modern world, as a degrading and distasteful necessity, to be required by force of the lower classes.

A college girl, a relative, shared an apartment with three other girls, one of them from Latin America. Although the Latin American girl came from a family of somewhat less means than the other three, who were of the American middle class, in terms of her country she belonged to the upper class. She never picked up a dish. In the bathroom or bedroom, she dropped her clothing to the floor in the expectation that someone should pick them up for her. She obviously expected a full-time servant to feed her, pick up after her, and be at her beck and call. Work was something which should not be expected of her: her dignity placed her beyond work.

This attitude with respect to work is in increasing evidence. In the Soviet Union, the first generation had the background of disciplined work because of their upbringing in old Russia. With a third generation, this discipline is waning, and work is regarded with contempt and production suffers. All over the world, a growing element, products of the humanistic state and its culture, regard work as an evil. Significant sectors of the New Left believe that machines and automation can eliminate work and "free" man, and only the evil conspiracies of the capitalists prevent this.

This is their goal, to be "free" from work. But, first of all, freedom from work is a surrender of dominion. Work was and is the God-ordained means to dominion. In spite of all its political stupidities, the United States remains the world leader because of its still remarkable productive abilities, a continuing consequence of the Puritan work ethic. Man cannot escape work. He will either work as a man gaining and exercising dominion, or he will work as a whipped slave, but he will work.

Second, a godly work ethic is time conscious and respects time. Much contempt is expressed today for people who are clock-conscious, as though freedom means despising time. But time is life; it is man's most precious commodity. Time lost cannot be recovered, nor can time be boarded up. To despise time and clocks is to be suicidal. A godly work ethic practices the most basic conservation of all, the conservation of time and life.

Third, work is a theological fact: it is God-ordained for the creature who alone is created in God's image, man. It is God's appointed way for man to realize the implications of that image, namely, righteousness, holiness, knowledge, and dominion. By means of work man is able to fulfil God's creation mandate and calling, and to become a ruler over himself, his calling, his household, and the world around him.

Basic to the dream of the humanistic state is the creation of a new world order, one in which man supposedly "finds" himself without God's help. The realization of man and history is seen as the rebirth of man as the new god and the death of the God of Scripture. This is to be the freedom of man.

This statist dream is not only antinomian, i.e., hostile to God's law, but also anti-work. Man's liberation is seen as freedom from God, law, and work. But life cannot be redefined. The conditions of life are given by God, life is God's creation, and its conditions are also totally God created. No more than man can live without breathing and eating can he live without law and work, nor can he live without God, without thereby choosing death. As Wisdom declared, ages ago, "all they that hate me love death" (Prov. 8:36). The conditions of life require the fountain of life.

The modern state, however, has by its humanism cut itself off from the fountain of life. It no longer has the ability to provide meaning to life, nor can it give work any enduring meaning. Social cohesiveness is waning, and the city becomes less and less a community and more and more a battleground between classes, races, and gangs. Modern man is rootless and cynical; he has trouble living with himself, and to live and work with others is for him a great burden.

A few generations ago, one of the most popular and common proverbs of the Western world held that "Every man is the son of his own works," i.e., a man could not blame others for his own failures. Increasingly, however, this belief has given way to the approach or classical Greek tragedy, namely, that man is a prisoner of his past. Classical and modern humanism are agreed on this radical environmentalist position: work is futile, for the past has doomed us. Humanism then and now ends up hostile to life and to man. The future like the past will be dominated by those cultures which can work with purpose, ability, and zeal. Oratory can command votes, but purposive work commands history.

(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 900; Chalcedon Report No. 114, February, 1975)


Topics: Biblical Law, Culture , Dominion, Statism

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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