Does your work define your identity? I think this is true for are many Americans, especially men. There’s a great article in The Atlantic that makes this argument.
Here’s a portion from under the heading: The Gospel of Work
The decline of traditional faith in America has coincided with an explosion of new atheisms. Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.
What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.
Homo industrious is not new to the American landscape. The American dream—that hoary mythology that hard work always guarantees upward mobility—has for more than a century made the U.S. obsessed with material success and the exhaustive striving required to earn it.
(Source: Click here)
While I agree with much that is argued here, I would also say that it is nothing new. In fact, it is quite old. Workism itself might be a new term and the situations around this may be new, but the idea that work creates your identity is quite old.
The Romans believed this. The ancient Egyptians did to. Any empire that has ever existed has proclaimed this same message. We are no different in that regard. We are just a different kind of empire. Not an empire of controlling land and Peoples through government tyranny. Instead, an economic and cultural empire that hovers over most of the world. While the British empire once directly controlled about 25% of the world’s landmass, we impact a larger portion of the world’s economies and have a farther reaching cultural impact than the British ever dreamed of.
The ancient Egyptians, under Pharaoh, worshiped workism. For them it was how things happened. “Make more bricks.” They enslaved people to make them work. The Romans did also. Economic exploitation was a major component of the Roman system. The economy needed to benefit the Emperor and the upper crust of society. And it would do anything it had to ensure that occurred.
We can see this in the Bible too. When Paul and Silas were in Macedonia, we read the following incident:
One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
(Acts 16:16-24, NRSV)
This isn’t just a story about Paul casting out a spirit. Paul’s act of casting out the spirit has an economic impact. The slave girl’s owners get upset because their source of making money was gone.
Money is a powerful idol that is worshiped. People will go to great lengths to protect their worship of money. In this story, we hear a crowd beat Paul and Silas because of Paul’s upsetting the status quo and unseating money from its privileged place of worship.
Worship of money and worship of work go hand in hand. And all too often, these idols have a free range in various empires. They demand a great deal from those who adhere to them. They butt out God because they offer a false promise and a false gospel. The danger lies in their message – that you can save yourself if you just work hard enough. You can do it. And when you do, you’ll be in control.
It’s a lie. Work can’t save you. Neither can money.