Happy Labor Day! Now Get Back to Work or, A Call to All for Justice

DSC01714Does anyone else find it incredibly ironic that the people who have to work on Labor Day are the people for which the day was created? It’s the laborers who still have to work to support the non-laborers who celebrate a day dedicated to laborers.

A person I know who is a manager at a national retailer (a big box chain) told me the story once of how he had to sit down and talk about personal hygiene with an employee. The employee had to stop the person and say he knew how to bathe, he just had to choose between food for his family or the water bill that week. He chose the food and thus couldn’t shower. Keep in mind, the person who told this to me is incredibly loyal to his company and an ardent conservative, so there was no hidden agenda.

As many people enjoy a day off tomorrow, many others will be hard at work to ensure that the others are able to enjoy that day off. Some are essential – such as police, doctors, firefighters, and the like – but others are completely non-essential. Their essential jobs are to make sure we can get our stuff checked out to enjoy our Labor Day sale, or put food on our plate at the restaurant after a long day of doing nothing.

The holiday was originally set aside to celebrate the contributions of organized labor, or unions, after the US Marshals and others killed a few laborers during a strike in the 1880s. Organized labor brought justice to work, or at least attempted to, during the Industrial Revolution; thus, Labor Day recognizes their contributions. The modern celebration is ironic because 28% of America’s workforce is in retail (considered a laborious job), but only 3% of workers are unionized. Considering that the US unemployment rate is at 6.3% (give or take), but at least 49% of Americans take some form of government assistance. Perhaps part of the problem for the rapid increase of poverty, or necessity of government assistance, is that the average retail worker working full time brings in $18,500 a year.

Now, while there are practical reasons for considering a wage increase in just the retail section alone (the aforementioned link shows that increasing wages for retail workers would actually benefit out economy and only cause a 1% increase in prices), we must first consider the ethical ramifications of what we’ve been doing to our economy and, more importantly, to ourselves. Labor Day was created to celebrate not just the work done by laborers, but more importantly, to celebrate laborers. People who work for a living, who do construction, who come and fix the toilet, who work on your car, who mow your yard, who clean up after you and your rotten children at a restaurant, who help you find the clothes you “need” to have, these are people that we treat differently: they’re servants. Though no one wants to realize it, we’ve done away with most of the middle class and shifted them to the servant class. Who cares if the servants aren’t paid well and are mistreated? Perhaps they ought to get a better job and an education to help achieve that better job, never mind the fact that if everyone did that then there’d be no one to mow the yard, to fix the car, or to fix the toilet (which would lead to a pretty crappy society).  Continue reading

John Galt vs. Jesus Christ

DSC02076For a shorter read that helped inspire me to write this post, something I’ve been meaning to do, read Joel Miller’s excellent article on the subject.

The Blaze is an extremely conservative online publication, meaning that any time one ventures into the comments (word of advice: Never read the comments on a website), one finds the extreme right of the conservative ideology. Thus, it should be no surprise that a story about a man giving his business to his employees after retiring was met with quite a bit of hostility. The hostility wasn’t necessarily over the action, but the man’s justification for his action. He said that he felt he needed to “give back” to those who had helped him, just as he had done charitable giving his entire life in order to “give back” to society. The idea of “giving back” is what got the commenters rowelled up. After all, the man paid wages to the employees and paid his taxes, what exactly did he “owe” to his employees or to society?

The hostility towards understanding one’s obligation to the other stems, I believe, from Ayn Rand’s filth-ridden ideology philosophy, which has infected permeated the conservative movement. Rand believed that every person existed for themselves, thus altruism and charity were evil. No one owed anyone else anything, we only owe to ourselves. In fact, through the mouth of John Galt, she wrote:

By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man–every man–is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose. (Part 3, Chapter 7)

“Every man is an end in himself and exists for his own sake.” Think about that – if true, all ethics related to the other exists solely for one’s own benefit. In other words, the only reason I don’t murder my competition is because by doing so, it allows someone to murder me. However, if I find myself in a position where I am the strongest and control the means to murder, well then, murder away. In a less extreme example, such as economic distribution, I can do whatever I want to my workers so long as it doesn’t pose a threat to me. They exist for themselves and I exist for myself – the ultimate irony is Rand’s philosophy is that in attempting to insure against people being treated as means, she ensured that all men are treated as means. After all, if I exist for my own sake and my happiness is my highest purpose, then your existence and happiness mean nothing to me. They can be used at my leisure, should I be more powerful than you, to create my own happiness.

Hence, what Mr. Lueken did is the ultimate affront to John Galt because he recognized that not only does he not exist for his own sake, but where he is in life is owed to others. President Obama had the unfortunate experience of giving an extremely poorly-worded speech during his campaign, one where he famously said, “You didn’t build that!” I cringed when I heard that soundbite because I knew every person voting against him would jump on that one part of the speech while ignoring the message. His overall message, however, was still rejected by the extreme right; his message is what Mr. Lueken lived out, namely that where we are in life is in part thanks to people who have helped us along the way. Yes, it takes personal initiative to get where we are (which is why I support private ownership), but no man is autonomous, no man is an island, no man exists within and for himself.

John Galt’s speech, or Rand’s teachings, fall short when applied to actual existence because they go against our very nature. Christianity teaches that all men and women are created in the image of God. Since this image is not physical, it means that certain traits of God are also inherent within us, though to a limited and finite degree. One aspect is that God is Trinitarian, meaning that God is relational. This, too, has been transfered to us. We are relational creatures and cannot live without a relationship. But being relational by nature means that by the very act of existing, we have moral obligations to other people. We no longer exist for ourselves, nor is our happiness our supreme goal. Rather, being in the image of God means we are tied to God, who is love. Thus, our ultimate purpose is to love God, but in order to love God we must also love those who bear His image. In loving those who bear His image, we therefore have obligations to them; we owe them. We treat them as ends rather than means; thus, when our workers help us become rich and we have paid them a small fraction of what we’ve made, we feel a moral obligation to “give back” to them for all their hard work.

It is this idea of “giving back” that irked Rand so much and why she hated Christianity. For one, the woman feigned indifference to charity, willingly compromising and saying that charity was neither a moral duty nor really a virtue. From the same linked article, Rand, talking about Christ, goes on to say:

Now you want me to speak about the cross. What is correct is that I do regard the cross as the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. Isn’t that what it does mean? Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture.

Her understanding of the cross aside, notice what she says. Christ died for the “nonideal.” Thus, those who are ideal are encouraged to sacrifice for the “nonideal.” Even when talking about charity, she argues that charity is acceptable so long as the people we are giving charity to have “earned it” and are “worthy of it.” Now think about that; if you have to earn something then is it really charity? And people say she was a great thinker Certainly, such a contradiction must have been apparent to her.

Where Rand fails – and why no Christian should ever follow her in anything she teaches Christians should use great discernment and realize that one can support the free market without turning to Rand – is that she fails to understand love. Is Christianity about the ideal human coming down and dying for nonideal humans? Yes, she was right on that point. Not only does “Christian philosophy” include the idea that the ideal human died for all the nonideal humans, that’s the central idea. When people try to say that Jesus wasn’t perfect, they’ve supplanted the Gospel with something else, they’ve eradicated Christianity and put up a materialistic pagan version of Christianity. Thus, Ayn Rand was right in her summation of Christianity as the ideal dying for the nonideal; where she’s wrong is when she condemns Christianity for this belief.

Christ taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God with one’s heart, soul, and mind and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. What is interesting is the connection point between the two; Christ says, “And the second is like it.” In other words, to love one’s neighbor is like loving God, meaning the two are tied together. It is Christ who came to use as both God and man, as the ideal human, to live these commandments perfectly. He did so not to laud Himself over us, but to take we who are nonideal and to make us ideal. He deified human nature so that we could be as He is. Christ dying for us, for being with the lowly and downtrodden may be a scandal for John Galt, but it in line with who we are as humans.

We can try to live the philosophy of John Galt, but in the end we will end up morally bankrupt and in danger of Hell. While Rand’s ideas may provide temporary riches, they do not offer eternal riches; selfishness and greed ruin everything they touch, they are an acid to all that is good. We are created in the image of God. Thus, we do not exist for ourselves or for our happiness. We exist for God and therefore exist for each other. We “give back,” because even if we do not owe anything to those we give back to, we owe everything to God.