Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story - VIII

Section 10: Work
    We have been responding to the "Raised Evangelical" series on the atheist blog "Love, Joy, Feminism" by Libby Anne ( in which she asks readers to tell their stories about how they were raised in conservative evangelical homes and then became atheists. The respondents follow a standard question and answer format, which we have also tried to follow in our own response.
    Those who have looked at the original series on Libby Anne's blog may have noticed an omission. While she asks her respondents to describe their churches and education, and what they were taught about politics and gender roles, there is scarcely any mention at all of work. She does ask at one point about mothers working outside of the home, but there is no discussion about what it is actually like to work for an employer. This undoubtedly reflects Libby Anne's own personal experience. We gather from her blog that she is a young woman in her 20's, married with two children, and currently a graduate student. A bright, intelligent young woman, apparently what she does not have is significant work experience.
    Herein lies the problem. Her lack of work experience is reflected in her worldview. In describing her own deconversion she says "I have walked beyond the borders of religion and found that the world is still a beautiful place, filled with wonder, love, and joy." A "beautiful place"? "Filled with wonder, love, and joy"? What planet is she living on? What she has apparently done, in effect, is to replace the "evangelical bubble" in which she was raised with the "academic bubble" she lives in now. Thus it is relatively easy for her to imagine that the world could get along just fine without God. She has never been in a truly godless environment.
    Here, then, is what life is really like. It is in the business world where human beings interact with each other economically. It is a place where each person's actions directly affect others. And it is not a pleasant sight. Most businesses exist for the sole purpose of making money for their owners. They hire employees; they buy goods and supplies from vendors; they sell to their customers. Theoretically this can all be done with a measure of integrity, but it rarely is, for it is here that human nature comes into play. Because we are essentially self-centered by nature, we rarely conduct these transactions with any regard for the other person's well-being. We regard them as economic opportunities for ourselves. We misrepresent our goods and services to our customers. We charge as much as the market will bear. We suppress wages. Moral and ethical considerations take a back seat to profits. Caveat emptor ("Let the buyer beware") is the ancient motto of commerce.
    It wasn't quite as bad as it is today. I can remember that as a boy growing up in the Syracuse, NY area most of the banks, department stores and hotels were locally owned and operated. The owners knew most of their employees by name, and many of their customers as well. There was a human receptionist who greeted you with a warm, pleasant "hello."
    It was a time when it was still possible to talk about a "Protestant work ethic." People more or less recognized that if you wanted to run a successful business you had to treat others with integrity and respect. My grandfather, a machine-shop foreman, put it like this: "It does not take much to give a small shop distinction. A few good, steady mechanics, a few reliable customers, a good location, personal contact with the workmen, good management, adequate tools and machinery, and a reputation for service – these things make for success" (H.L. Wheeler, Popular Science Monthly, Aug. 1923).
    Today this seemingly unimpeachable wisdom is largely forgotten. The 1980's saw a wave of mergers and acquisitions, hostile takeovers and leveraged buyouts. The modern corporation is run by MBA's armed with computers and fixated on numbers. The pleasant receptionist has been replaced with an automated voice-mail system ("press 3 for accounting"). Customer service and even recruiting have been outsourced. The customer is now largely invisible to management.
    In this large, impersonal business environment greed and selfishness reign triumphant. The human element is lost. It is the dog-eat-dog world of cutthroat capitalism in which all managers think about is the bottom line. They personally do not care what happens to their customers, their employees, or their employees' families. It is hardly a "beautiful place, filled with wonder, love, and joy." It is rather the harsh world of greed and power. It is the grinding struggle for survival.
    And what does God think about all of this? "Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (James 5:4; NKJV). Remove God from the picture and you have removed any binding moral obligation to treat others equitably. The profit motive reigns supreme!
    It is here that the biblical message is so strikingly relevant. Atheists sometimes accuse the Bible of presenting a false and distorted view of reality. Yet the central themes of the Bible center around sin and redemption. What is unrealistic about that? The presence of evil in the world is obvious. It is the redemption part that must be revealed.  Are we prepared to say that realism demands that we simply accept evil? That the hope for redemption is a mere myth?
    Is there a real difference between right and wrong? Is there real justice? Can God punish sin without destroying the whole human race? Can He forgive sin without appearing to condone it? The answer to all of this is the gospel: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Other blogposts you might enjoy:
Boom and Bust 
Capitalism and the Sabbath 
The Social Agenda of the Tea Party 
Wealth Management 

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