We need more sermons against laziness | WORLD
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We need more sermons against laziness

Only the church can solve America’s work ethic recession


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We need more sermons against laziness
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The long-term prospects for American economic predominance are not mainly dependent on this year’s election and the candidates’ different policy agendas. The long-term prospects for the American economy are mainly dependent on a shift in culture, because culture is more important than policy. The “Great Takeoff,” which occurred shortly after the American founding, was not as much a matter of getting tax rates exactly right as it was a matter of getting human nature and prudential virtue right. It followed a theological shift towards the virtue of commerce among Puritan thinkers slightly before the founding. Later, there was a cultural shift towards the bourgeois virtues, which showed up in literature.

Since then, however, the idea that it is morally praiseworthy to work hard has fallen on hard times.

But that loss is real, and its effects are visible to those who have eyes to see. The cultural loss of a strong work ethic is behind the weird distortions we’re seeing in the labor market. The Great Resignation, in which masses of people quit their jobs and don’t come back, and the “quiet quitting” in which they quit working without actually quitting their jobs, are the cultural phenomena behind the supply chain disruptions and the pervasive decline in service quality. To say that we will grow our way out of stagflation is to say that we will work our way out of it.

Female work participation rate has only this month come back to pre-COVID levels after four years. The male participation rate has only climbed about halfway back to pre-COVID levels. We’re entering the labor force later, putting in fewer hours, spending less work time at work, and retiring earlier. In short, we’re lazy. And laziness is a sin. If that assessment grates on modern ears, then that just illustrates the problem again. We no longer believe in the Biblical admonitions to work hard and the Biblical commands to repent of the sin of sloth.

Financial advisor David Bahnsen’s new book just might be what we need. Full-Time: Work and the Meaning of Your Life is a manifesto in favor of regaining our Biblical view of work, what used to be known as the Protestant work ethic. Bahnsen bewails the common Christian tendency to put work in competition with worship or family or to only deem work worthy of Christian approval when it has a “spiritual” side effect such as opportunities for evangelism or financial support for Christian ministries.

Work, worship, family … these things are life, not something to be balanced against it.

But work is worthy because mankind was created for it. “Fill the earth and subdue,” says the God of the Bible at the climax of six days of His own work. And His patterns of His first week of work are added to the Decalogue as the pattern of our own week, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a Sabbath…” Note the proportions, six to one. How’s that for work/life balance? How can there be a work/life balance when work is a central point of life? One might as well talk about balancing family with life or faith with life.

Work, worship, family … these things are life, not something to be balanced against it. A life without work is a lesser life, which has some pretty countercultural implications for the idea of retirement. That’s a topic worth engaging with, given that we are suffering from the experience drain of an early retirement crisis. People dropped out early during COVID and haven’t dropped back in. The declining work ethic isn’t just a problem for “these kids today,” it’s a problem for 60-year-old parents as well.

Have you ever heard a sermon against laziness? Therein is the problem. Pulpits are the conscience of the Church, and the Church is the conscience of the nation. If the only references to work from the pulpit are about the sacred admonition to never, ever, ever miss a little league game or a Wednesday night Bible study due to work, then the message is that work just really isn’t that important.

The greater the welfare benefits, the more need there is for an internal moral compass. COVID stimulus plans, Obamacare, and other non-work-contingent transfer payments helped a generation of young men wrongly channel their God-given ambition into video-games. A generous series of extensions of unemployment benefits extended that time of shiftlessness. Social Security did the same for the other end of the demographic curve. That means that work has become financially optional for many. But work is not morally optional. It is a command and sluggardly behavior is disobedience. Apparently, a lot of folks need to be reminded of that fact.


Jerry Bowyer

Jerry Bowyer is the chief economist of Vident Financial, editor of Townhall Finance, editor of the business channel of The Christian Post, host of Meeting of Minds with Jerry Bowyer podcast, president of Bowyer Research, and author of The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics. He is also resident economist with Kingdom Advisors, serves on the Editorial Board of Salem Communications, and is senior fellow in financial economics at the Center for Cultural Leadership. Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest three of his seven children.


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