We live in a culture where the strongest force in public life is religious fundamentalism. Protestant, evangelical, religious fundamentalism. Don’t believe it?
- Climate Science: Ask yourself why half of elected officials are climate science deny-ers – even just basic, undisputed climate science that is accepted worldwide (except perhaps in places like North Korea and Yemen). Their constituents hear on Sunday that there’s no possible way man could harm God’s creation or prematurely destroy the world – we’re waiting on the “rapture”. And anyway, even if we were harming it irrevocably, it doesn’t matter because a) we’re waiting on the rapture and won’t be here – only the evildoers will be left to reap what we’ve sown, and b) man was put in charge of the world when he was created and can do anything he wants with it. Opposing that is opposing God’s will. So cut down some more rain forest, cut it like Adam would – if they had had clear cutting, they would have used it.
- Alliance with Israel: Ask yourself why Israel is considered an inviolable alliance, even though it has led to 60 years of war of one kind or another? It’s because on Sunday, or at least any Sunday they go to ‘church’, more than half of the constituents of any politician are hearing that Israel, like the Old South, will rise again (animal sacrifices, rebuilding the ancient temple, and world war – yes, a global war started between Israel and Russia), and this is necessary for the apocalypse. This is called dispensationalism, and it has been the fastest growing and most prevalent theory among fundamentalists in US history. Go to any “christian bookstore” and ask for their prophesy section – tell them you want books on Israel, and bring a dolly. Don’t forget to pick up a Scofield Bible (best selling annotated bible in history) – then just look up Israel in the New Testament. Or flip through the TV or radio religious channels, and you can get dosed on this without leaving home. Pause when you hear Israel.
Imagine work in these two worlds. Clearly, we are talking about living in two distinct worlds of perception and awareness – two entirely incompatible epistemologies. So imagine now, that you’re telling the same people that you are supposed to:
- achieve self-knowledge (which is a lifelong process, not something that happens at an altar call when something came into your heart)
- discover your vocation (which is not something you find in the Bible, read as a vehicle of groupthink, but something deriving from a constellation of things utterly unique to you)
- have work as a source of transcendent meaning (which likewise isn’t buried in a book – and not merely find a job ‘obeying’ an ‘authority’ until the “rapture” occurs, but perhaps buck authority to achieve what *you* envision – not acquiescing to work as a “curse” but finding in work, your work, the work you were made for, the opposite of a curse – you decide what that is)
The rules of work are very different for these two very different imaginings of the world: Sure, there are lots of alternatives, but most share a different set of underlying assumptions from any fundamentalism (whether Maoism, Stalinism, or a religious fundamentalism). We’ll concentrate on the religious fundamentalism that prevails in this culture, versus the accumulated wisdom of non-fundamentalist alternatives.
Inevitable dispute: I think it was inevitable that, in talking about work, the experience of it, the doctrine of it (if you will), we could come up against the prevalent doctrine of our culture which determines the experience of a vast number of people in it, and specifically their experience of work. All along, in other words, to say the things we’ve been saying about work makes us ‘sinners’ in the ‘light’ of fundamentalism.
- We don’t accept our station as the final word (it leaves out the possibility of personal growth, or of the humbling notion that we may have been wrong).
- We don’t accept authority as absolute (or even conceive of work relationships in terms of authority and a rigid top-down hierarchy).
- We don’t accept that all the meaning in the world was written in the first and second centuries, gathered together in the 4th century, and printed in 1611. In fact, many of us can’t help but draw inspiration for finding and creating new meaning, from a different reading of the same body of tradition.
Children of Neoplatonism: There’s an odd juxtaposition, the same one experienced by the epicureans and the stoics in Greece. The stoics would say that there’s no value in the world, and would therefore abstain from trying to contribute anything of value to it. The epicureans would likewise say there’s no value in the world, and therefore one might as well revel endlessly in its pleasures, however filthy that might become. We’ve seen the same things come out of hedonists who said the only value is in the world (different side of the same coin) is personal stimulation – they are today’s game and media junkies. The core problem of all this neoplatonism – this opposition of the world and meaning, meaning and the world, is an inability to resolve the conflict created by the assumption of opposition itself. You see it in the way religious fundamentalism gets translated rapidly into:
An equal and opposite political platform:
- The world was created by god, but has no value, and is empty of meaning, and we were put in charge of it, plus it has to end for us to go to a world of only people like us (we’re going, you know), so oppose all but superficial restrictions on protecting it. Give corporations free reign. And if you’re drinking hexavalent chromium, and giving it to your kids in their koolaid, it’s just like Jim Jones – we go along with authority, Kansas (or California) – you and I are just grist for god’s mill. Corporations told us its good for us, and corporations are created by god.
- The only authority is god, and all other authorities were installed by him and act on his behalf, so do whatever those authorities want, unless they oppose our other political aims or don’t share our religious beliefs, and then they’re an exception inserted by the devil. For that kind, form a phalynx of non-cooperation and deny them any success, no matter who it harms – we’ve got to get the true authority back in power.
Electoral Schizophrenia: In other words, “the world has no meaning; the world is supposed to mean what we’re told it means; vote accordingly.” No wonder the culture is electorally schizophrenic. Yes, it was inevitable that when we talk about religion, we’re also going to talk about politics, because in this culture they’re virtually the same thing. Whether you’re offended that we talked about these or offended by the thing itself, it’s simply our task to point out a system of irresolvable conflicts that exists among adherents and is imposed upon the rest of us in a way that’s rarely ever questioned. So, again, as the title says prophesy is screwing us out of work, and out of a lot of other things in the bargain. You notice that the political conversation right now isn’t about work at all – it’s about jobs. The underlying assumptions about what work is and what it means aren’t being questioned or even addressed. Yep, doesn’t matter how you voted, doesn’t matter what you personally believe, you live in a fundamentalist culture, a fundamentalist nation if you’re in the US, driven fundamentally by unaccountable absolutes. The failure to elucidate and call these things onto the carpet, for fear (accurate fear) of more than half the people turning on you and running you out of office, underscores this prevalence, and demonstrates that we’re right about it.
Personally, this writer considers the world of work conceived in such a crucible to be bleakly hellish and pathologically nuts. If that would make us sinners, then sinners we are, quite conscientiously. But the truth is (topic for a different venue), that dispensationalism and the fundamentalism that’s been so effective at wrapping its tentacles around vocation in this culture, was cooked up in another unsuccessful political and cultural context just a few centuries ago. It’s a relatively recent invention and has nothing to do with historic Christianity. A lot of us are religious, but that doesn’t mean we’re denying climate science, trying to help Israel start a world nuclear war that scorches the earth, or thinking that righteousness is making sure you support big corporations, don’t piss off your boss, and quietly be a robosigner in your meaningless job in a meaningless world bound for (a therefore) meaningless destruction. If that’s prophesy, I’ve got an alternate one for you: people who throw off that mindset will live happy, fulfilling lives, and be godlike in their capacity to endlessly innovate. For them, paradise would be unbounded opportunities to continue being amazing and find transcendent meaning in their work – they’ll never be happy playing monotones on a harp on a cloud in the great corporation in the sky.