I don’t think I have ever urgently needed someone with a Ph.D. Yet in the cultural economy of the 21st century, we celebrate the pursuit of even meaningless degrees, and dismiss critical professions once known as the trades. The cultural elite would have us believe it is better to be unemployed than doing real work that serves others.
We have turned the notion of honorable work upside-down, devaluing practical labor and exalting trivial knowledge. We celebrate someone pursuing an advanced degree at Texas A&M getting a special certification in Gender Studies, but look down on the high school kid who wants to be a mechanic.
Our schools subtly – and sometimes not-so-subtly – communicate to kids that anything less than earning a four-year college degree makes them something less than useful.
As a result, those students find themselves pressured into loading up on unnecessary debt that mainly purchases four years of suffering through indoctrination from leftist college professors.
The free market operates best when people are working at their passions with their naturally gifted skills. Conversely, when individuals are pressured to ignore their skills and talents to appease an elitist mandate, everyone suffers.
Does anyone ever urgently need someone with a graduate-level certification in Gender Studies? Yet we’ve all had moments when we were willing to pay a king’s ransom to get an honest plumber or roofer to the house.
The hostility of the educational and cultural elite, subtly belittling individuals if they don’t seek a college degree, has a devastating effect on individuals and society.
None of this is particularly new; it’s just recycled garbage from the past. The ancient Greeks believed labor was a curse. Aristotle taught it was preferable to be an unemployed beggar, so one could be devoted to contemplation.
The Bible turned such thinking upside down. It begins with the understanding human beings are created in God’s image, and are called to practical work. The Old Testament placed a high value on what Aristotle would see as “menial” jobs: Adam and Eve were told to work the land; King David was a shepherd. In the New Testament, Jesus was a carpenter who used the examples of daily work as the springboards for His teaching, rather than subjects to be avoided.
After the old lie reared its ugly head in the Middle Ages, 16th century Christian reformer John Calvin reclaimed the biblical doctrine of the value of work. He held that all work, in all professions, is glorifying to God.
But that elitist Greek lie keeps coming back. Public policy incentivizes young adults to take on massive debt to earn economically – and even socially – meaningless degrees unrelated to the jobs they wish to pursue. We have adopted policies that make it more advantageous to follow Artistole in the handout line, than join the Apostle Paul as a productive tent-maker.
Indeed, Paul was unapologetically clear on the subject in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.”
Many of our social and political problems can be attributed to those idle busybodies. In a republic of sovereign, self-governing citizens, each of us should be about the high calling of productive, daily work.
Real, productive work – meeting real needs – should be celebrated. All work is meaningful, because in our work we serve others with the gifts and skills given to us by God.