Thursday, July 03, 2008

The book of exodus

So I got fired. Actually, it was about a week ago, and I considered writing about it. I actually even considered blogging about it fully in a new, separate blog chronicling my experience with unemployment, something I've been lucky enough to go about ten years without having to experience. I'm not sure I really understand the blog concept, though, even after having my own for some time. Really there's no real need that society has to know what goes on in the minutiae of my daily life, despite the fact that that's what technology has allowed us to experience in so many ways lately.

It's funny, although it's not so much a coincidence as an end result of my earlier rantings about Darwin that I ended up buying a copy of Marx & Engels' Communist Manifesto yesterday. (These are the names that one doesn't tend to bring up in church, but I do at times.) See, I was looking for a copy of Origin of Species but couldn't find one (to buy, they probably had one at the library to check out, but I was perusing the bargain books in the bin at the front of the library) and ended up settling for what was probably nearly as embarrassing a book as the other would be, at least were I to be seen reading it by a fellow evangelical fundamentalist. I'd always wanted to read Marx in his own words, so to speak.

I've gotten about halfway through it, and so far the only surprise has been the double-takes at how modern the concepts seem to be. This book was written 160 years ago, but you could pop into the text and make a minor change like substituting "Internet" for "telegraph" and it would read like it was written yesterday. The world hasn't changed so much from the time of Marx after all it seems, even with the rise and fall of Soviet-style Communism. Perhaps he's even still right, as I suspect he's on track in saying that the number-one product created by the bourgeoisie is their own gravediggers.

Getting back to my original point of being fired--which I was planning on writing about anyway long before the Manifesto crossed my path--I was actually quite happy with it, to my slight surprise. I think it may come down to my being in many ways a communist at heart. I'm not likely to be the sort of person to rise up and start a revolution to destroy those who create in me an unhappiness with my lot in life, so it's actually quite nice to have them simply toss me out.

The fact is that there are concepts that have come from Marx and the like that are surprisingly very Christian, albeit the Christian response to the situation is different in so many ways. So often I hear nonbelievers rail on and on about how awful it is that the Bible doesn't come right out and condemn slavery. There's an interesting thing about slavery that so many Christians accept as a fact of life that's not often stated, however. No, I'm not talking about the party line that I also often take that "Biblical slavery [is] very different from our modern understanding of the practice." What I'm talking about is that "slavery" and "employment" are just different words for something that is in many ways the same at its heart.

We are fortunate in this day and age in a way that looks different but is surprisingly similar to the ancient Israelite culture. Slavery in ancient Israel was a matter of personal choice: if you had no way to support yourself independently, you could choose to sell yourself into servitude to your neighbor. Really, this was like taking a job with a six-year contract, as you would be paid, and you would be released in the seventh year. In our society, we really aren't that different, besides the fact that we don't get six-year contracts. (Most of us get something more like a six-month contract, twice a year coming together with your master boss to decide whether you continue to be happy with the arrangement you have.) We get to choose who we're going to be slaves to, and our servitude is not spent bound in chains of iron, but in chains of dollars.

Sure, so few of us would actually willingly sit at our desks doing what we do day in and day out if there was not a paycheck tying us to our employer. There are exceptions, but it seems that 99% of us would drop what we're doing at a moment's notice for a chance at more money, and also we dream of the day when we'll be free of our wage slavery and get to RETIRE! Free at last, free at last!!!!

So anyway, I've escaped from slavery, and come to the promised land of freedom, but I know it's temporary, and I dream daily of finding a new master with larger, stronger chains to bind me to a new desk: it's the American way of life. Higher income doesn't make for more freedom, but less. How many opportunities do I have to potentially walk away from an $8/hour job flipping burgers, vs. say a $50k/year job sitting at a desk processing pointless paperwork? Believe me, I'd rather be flipping burgers or washing dishes; it's tangible and feels meaningful to feed people and protect people from food-borne pathogens than shuffle a pile of papers designed to tell some CEO that their pointless business could profit greatly from joining forces with our pointless business for more efficient pointlessness!

But we all end up this way, don't we? And the Christian belief is this: we're all slaves, some of us just have more obvious chains. The question is, all of us have a certain amount of control over who we choose to be our master. I assure you that while I have worked for many companies that do things I consider meaningful on different levels, and I always strive for a job that will make me feel that I'm making a difference in the world, the only way to consistently find meaning is to not let my job be master over me, not let the almighty dollar be my god and my chains of oppression.

Communists suggest the way to be free is to cast off the chains that bind you from the outside, and there's wisdom to that to some degree. For the Christian however, (and we are not the only idealists to feel this way--it's part of why I always say I admire Buddhism that they take this concept even farther) the solution is to cast off the chains from within. Whether I truly may be a slave with literal chains on my body or a symbolic slave with monetary chains lashing me to my desk in an office, in my heart, I know who I really serve as master. Yes, I look for financial prosperity, but I don't seek money for money's sake, nor even for my sake. Yes, even though I have a wife and kids, and financial responsibility to them that society and God smiles upon when I fulfill that responsibility, I don't even serve that master at heart. No, as a Christian, my master is, and must always be, Christ Himself. I choose freely to subjugate myself to the "easy yoke" of a Master who I believe will protect me and love me in a way that no other master will, or even possibly can.

As a Christian, that's the closest to complete freedom (a mythological concept) that one can ever get, and I am content in that alone.


Liadan said...

I'd actually say that the closest thing we have to the Exodus sort of indentured servitude you described would be military service-- you sign a contract to do whatever your superiors tell you to do and go wherever they tell you to go, with a significant chance of major bodily injury or death in the bargain, for absolutely crap wages. It might even be worse when you take stop-loss into account.

Also, as a former barista, food service or other low-level service work isn't more "fulfilling" than any other kind of pointless production-line job just because you have a tangible product at the end. Whatever benefits you have from the immediacy of effect is more than offset by the way a lot of people feel entitled to treat service industry peons. Cf. "house slaves" vs. "field slaves."

Brucker said...

Hmm, your point about military service is a good one, but I still disagree with you on being a member of the service industry. In mid-2006, I ahppaned to be working two jobs, one with a missionary organization, and the other as a barista. I once told my co-workers at the coffee place that I often feel like I had a greater impact on the world at my secular job. Sure, I'm an evangelical Christian, and missionary work sems like a no-brainer for being a high calling in life, but there's a big difference between on the one hand being missionary support personnel and doing work that is theoretically important but of which you can never see the direct impact, and on the other hand handing a double latte to Joe Schmo and genuinely wishing him a great day, feeling that I've made a direct impact on the life of one person that day.

It's another one of my internal paradoxes that despite my closet communist tendencies, I'm fully sold on the concept of the importance of service. In our society, it's service personnel (baristas, cashiers, waitpersons, etc.) that make up a large portion of the daily personal interaction we have.