The Idolatry of Work

I came across this other day when stumbling around In Mala Fide:

God may be dead, but the cubicle jockeys and castrated middle-class drones of this land still think of themselves as part of a warped Calvinist elect. To them, their willingness to have their humanity stripped away day by day sucking at Mammon’s teat is proof that they are God’s chosen people. Anyone who questions the presuppositions of the American cult of “hard work” and “self-reliance” is ostracized from polite society…

The biggest flaw in Puritan doctrine, as I see it, is that there is a worship of work. Being a worker is a false idol unto itself. Yes, man was created to work. And yes, man is to put his best effort into his work. The problem, however, is that the Puritan work ethic has been twisted into a doctrine of worshiping workaholics, and, with that, a doctrine of materialism.
Perhaps this is another reason why America has started its decline: materialism is being used as a substitute for spiritualism. Everyone in America is told, from childhood onward, to be a good student, to get good grades in school, to get into a good college, to get a good job, to be a good worker, and then all the rewards in life will be given to you. And this message always takes a turn for the ruthless.
Good now becomes best, and everything becomes cutthroat. Lots of people begin to compete for limited elite pre-school slots, who in turn compete for elite primary school slots, elite middle school slots, elite colleges and universities, and finally elite jobs. And all these things start to get treated as entitlements (if I go to a good college, I deserve a top position in a Fortune 500 company, etc.) All these things are pursued with intense rigor, as if having an elite education or an elite job is the most meaningful thing in the world.
There’s a reason this is a cliché: “no one sits on their deathbed, wishing they spent more time in the office.” We have allowed our education and jobs, and little beyond that, to define who we are. In reality, though, we’re more than a sum of numbers attached to us by teachers and bosses. Each one of us, at the least, is someone’s child. We’re someone’s spouse, parent, sibling, or friend. We belong to families, to churches, to civic groups. And yet we define our worth by what we make and where went to school.
Now, it is true that our jobs/careers play some role in defining us. We can’t fully escape that. But we don’t have to let our job or our education be the sole (or even main) component of self-definition. Instead, we should let go of this materialistic mindset, and embrace our spiritual and social side. Maybe that’s what we need to do to get rid of the social cancer called materialism.

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