Continuing our blog series examining the Core Values of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ), we follow up on yesterday’s posting on our little explication of “Nothing should stand between God and the human person,” with a dissertation on the meaning of work. As it says in the CESJ Core Values,
There is a hierarchy of human work: The highest form of work is perfecting the social order to elevate each person in his or her relationship to God. The lowest but most urgent form of work is for sheer personal survival.
|Yup. Aristotle again.|
This particular Core Value is an application of the “law of the urgent over the important.” It does, however, take something for granted: that work is essential for human development. The question is, What kind of work?
To oversimplify somewhat, there are two types of work. There is the work you do to survive, and the work you do to become more fully human.
The latter requires a bit of explanation. If (as we’ve said in a number of previous postings) the meaning and purpose of life is to become more fully human, then the main goal of every human being is to become more fully human.
Since human beings are (as Aristotle said — and we agree with him . . . and if you don’t, you probably don’t want to read further) “political animals,” we naturally require a social order suitable for carrying out the task of becoming more fully human. Thus, we conclude that the highest form of work is that which creates and maintains a social order suited to each person carrying out his or her task of becoming more fully human. Within the Aristotelian framework within which CESJ operates, becoming more fully human means conforming closer to human nature.
|Missing the point a little.|
Now it gets complicated. Since human nature is necessarily a reflection of the Nature of the Ultimate Source that created human beings — and since “[m]any people call this Source, God” — conforming to human nature means conforming to the Nature of the Creator. Becoming more fully human can therefore be understood as becoming more like God. Of course, rational people know all the while that we will never, ever become God, just more and more like Him.
Yes, we’re using the masculine pronoun for the sake of convenience and general cultural heritage; if you want to substitute He, She, or It, go ahead . . . we’re talking about the perfect Being that Aristotle called “the God of the Philosophers”, of which you can draw certain logical conclusions, but nothing else. Thus we say that the highest form of work for a political animal as a political animal (as we say in the Core Values) “is perfecting the social order to elevate each person in his or her relationship to God.”
|Not wrong, but not quite right, either.|
Obviously, considering each human person solely as an individual, the highest form of work is to elevate your own relationship to God by conforming yourself to nature, but we’re talking about the Core Values of the Center for Economic and Social Justice here, and the concern is for human beings as political animals, not mere individuals. As political animals, our task is to take care of the common good, that vast network of institutions within which we realize our individual goods, so that it is possible for individuals to become more fully human.
In this way we fulfill our obligations both as political animals and as individuals. It’s not an either/or. It’s both. Human beings’ individual nature and social nature complement, they do not contradict each other; they are two halves of a whole.
|A good indication something isn't right about work.|
. . . as are the forms of work, the first of which we have just covered, that of elevating one’s relationship to God. The lowest but most urgent form of work — for sheer personal survival — does not contradict the highest form of work, but (again) complements it. After all, if you’re not alive, it’s not going to do you much good to be elevating yourself in your relationship to God, now, is it? You’re in Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell getting you just deserts, or you’ve ceased to exist, or something, so it’s a moot point.
Because the lowest and the highest forms of work are complementary, they must not contradict one another. No one should ever be put in the position of going along to get along. For example, in today’s poorly structured social order, how many people vote for a candidate who they think will get them what they want, instead of feeling confident they have the power to get it for themselves?
The question then becomes, How is it possible to stay alive and elevate one’s relationship to God? The quick — and, as far as we are concerned, the right — answer is to be able to exercise your natural rights of life, liberty, and private property. The exercise of these rights not only allows people to take care of themselves, it elevates them in their relationship to God by making it possible for them to acquire and develop “virtue” — “human-ness.”
And you thought work was just to earn money to keep you alive to work.
A lot you know.