Is Labour Dishonourable? – My Response to Nietzche

Is Labour Dishonourable? – My Response to Nietzche

In a post by Orwell1627 (found here) entitled “NIETZCHE: The Dignity of Work” is summarized Nietzche’s view of work as a dishonourable necessity for the purpose of enabling true artists and purveyors of beauty to practice their craft. He claims that the idea that there is honour in work is simply a slavish defense mechanism in which the labouring man is able to fight pessimism with the idea that there is some ultimate purpose for his being made to work continually.

This is a very brief summary and I would recommend going and reading the explanation in its entirety, but I will begin my response.

My first challenge to this view of work as a dishonourable necessity is twofold. Firstly, the production of materials to be used in the arts. What shall we say of the man who collects materials to mix paints for the painter? Or of the builder of excellent violins? Or of the quarry men who unearth great blocks of granite for the sculptor? Am I to understand that these men take no part in the joy and beauty of the process and the outcome of such artistic pursuits? They are allowed no enjoyment of it at all? Is there not a deep honour in men who give their entire lives not only to pay bills, but with their work to finance those most artistically gifted? In this way do we not all take part in the artistic process? The suggestion is seems foolish. The second half is that if one were to choose any great novel or film or work of theatre, he would come to realize that the only stories worth telling are the stories of a character starting at some disadvantaged point, overcoming obstacles, and being victorious in the end. These are the stories of humanity, the ones that make us feel the beauty not only of what is seen, but to imagine depths of not yet existing beauty.

Nietzche also would (according to Orwell1627) claim that for a man to labour in our western 40-hour work week and attempt art on weekends would still be futile and wasted time because those 40 hours could have been spent creating art (I am not aware of any specific definition of “art” that this is based around). This assumes that all people are in some way artistic, and that “If only they had the time” they might be composing tremendous earth-shattering ballads, or etching the ceiling of some more beautiful Sistine Chapel. Where does he draw proof from? He has the philosopher’s benefit of never being required to touch the mediums he claims intimate knowledge of, and so with humanity, with work, and workmen he knows only by what he has heard.

He does not hear the pride hidden underneath the voice of the complaining worker at the end of a long day, reciting the difficulty he had in his exquisite execution of his task in spite of overwhelming odds. He knows beauty only as what the Greeks have claimed, and sees not the beauty of beads of sweat, toil, the pursuit of the valuable, the rest after a summers work, the excellence of a deep breath in the shade. He sees not the art in the internal conversation of a man who, on seeing difficulty ahead, girds his loins and prepares for battle, to face the deathly cold or scorching heat, for his clan, for his wife and child, and for the pride of his name.

A book could be written on the objection that he is only claiming beauty as the sole useful pursuit of man because that is what the Greeks have taught him. His vision of Art is too small, and his vision of value. But I will leave that for now in favour of illustrating through the words of one of my own favourite artists.

Perhaps chiefly, Leo Tolstoy not only saw the beauty in, but came close to calling toil the only beauty, or at least the basic core of the life well lived. In his well-known quote from Family Happiness:

“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet, secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour – such is my idea of happiness.”

This quotation possibly better than any other encapsulates Tolstoy’s love for, appreciation and romanticism of the workman’s life. Indeed, hard work and morality were nearly the only things he ever wrote about.

G.K. Chesterton says about Tolstoy in his book Orthodoxy that Tolstoy romanticized peasantry because he was not a peasant. Chesterton also says that Nietzche romanticized war for the same reason. The true beauty, to him is Joan of Arc, who saw the beauty of valour and toil, and romanticized them, but was actually able to live successfully as a warrior and peasant.

Art is nothing without toil. All of men’s greatest true stories (and therefore inspiration for invented ones) come from a commonality among the greatest majority of people. These stories strike tones in common with all mankind on some level, that draw us together for or against some common object, and enable beautiful things to be seen in all that is done.

Finally, I would suggest that I, the free man who is able to work hard, and enjoy well-executed joinery and carpentry, to listen to the finest music I can set my ears to, take a breath of thankfulness for a cup of hot coffee on a cold day, who can joyfully run and joyfully rest, can read Shakespeare and the Bible, am more archetypal of the ideal liberated open man than Nietzsche ever hoped to be. His principals betray his slavish devotion to the Greek cultural principles and reveal his never being liberated, and as we know now,  by his own principals, he was enslaved.

The true beauty is in anything examined carefully, held up to the light, and declared beautiful. Human art will only ever have the value that is placed on it by us, the power to create art lies precisely in our judgment of the thing to be beautiful. The attribute of beauty wherein its value is completely extrinsic is the same reason why it makes men fools who make it a god, and makes men crazy when it is claimed to be the chief end of man.

This is worth considering. Though if one were to find the source of true beauty, he would be not far from finding God himself.

Can These Dry Bones Live?

Can These Dry Bones Live?

(Musical suggestion: Shenandoah, by Goldmund)

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.  And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

Ezekiel 37:1-3

Imagine if you will that the entirety, known perfectly, of who God is could be represented by a mathematically perfect circle. And so the sanctification of an ordinary human (the growing in righteousness) starts with a single point. That single point is the first meeting of a man with the first really true thing he knows about God. It is one-dimensional, simple, and the single object of his focus, walking around to see the other sides will yield no new information and he is left underwhelmed but still intrigued. Then suddenly a second point appears, and a man learns that God not only is but is Love. A line connects the two dots, and a second dimension is born.

The world of this man expands suddenly, another axis by which the world and the truth might be navigated and understood. A man then is told the truth of Jesus, one person of the Triune God, about his coming, his words, his deeds, what it means, and the weight of sin and death on a world wondering what kind of a saviour could this be? More points appear, they connect and connect, creating a triangle, then a square, and more and more vertices are added as each really true truth about God appears before him.

One day he accepts these truths, and then another element is added, a dimension of time, wherein what he sees and the words he reads are now alive and moving and acting upon other objects, and the characteristics of God all modifying each other in a beautiful and complete dance. But yet more comes continually adding and adding together, and a man spends his whole life pursuing the truth of who God is, and eventually there comes a time when the ordinary eye cannot distinguish between the vertices, and the spaces between them. It looks, at least to the casual observer, something very much like a perfect circle.

Who would know differently?

The man knows. And God knows. Though honest and sincere attempts are made in fervent men and women to be made righteous in a slow and steady progression, and though they meditate on the very words of God day and night, and though they seek him daily, though they pray without ceasing, though they take care of the widows and the orphans, there is still just the very slightest feeling that this is something like THE truth, but not quite. It is like the lines on this very screen, and from even where I sit the letters on this page look completely smooth and every curve organic. But I know that if I come within a certain distance I will see the pixels. The grains. The imperfect.

Forgive me for relying so heavily on the abstract, but this is where my mind forms the framework for the real world.

As I have moved through life, trying (and yet allowing the work of the Holy Spirit to move me) desperately to move towards that which I know to be of eternal value, to see the perfect, I know that my waking eyes, and the eyes of my mind are as yet incompatible with what is perfect. They require an upgrade that is not available in this life. I know, and I will always know that even if I were to see the perfect, I would not be able in my actions to mirror it exactly.

I see often that I forget a truth, one that others hinge upon, and there is a break in my near infinite polygon. I regress, I lose focus, thinking the circle of my sanctification more perfect than I ought, seeing my understanding as more perfect than it is, and I am set back hard upon parts of the path I have already walked, and shall most likely walk again.

It is in these moments that I have sometimes repeated back to God his own question. “Can these dry bones live?”, and then with Ezekiel, “O Lord God, you know.”

Can these bones live? When after knowing and seeing what I think to be something of the true Glory of God. After I have with St. Augustine had “such delicious thoughts” of God and his Goodness that I would nearly be ashamed to write them down. Yet still I falter, and I see all the jaggedness of vertices and oblong in my hard won circle.

O Lord! Can these dry and dead bones live? Will I ever shake the stench of death off of them? Will you prophesy your word over me? Fill me with the breath of life? Will you end my exile in a foreign land and welcome me in to your holy hill?

Dear God show me your glory, at the expense of everything else. The Glory that shines, and sustains life by its glow, that currently covers Heaven itself, and I will pass away, all I know will pass away, all the foolishness of the words I write and say will pass away, when the perfect comes.

O let the perfect come.

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Cor. 13:8b-12

Faithful in the Grey

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

These words from 1 Corinthians chapter 10 were written to a church that was celebrating the freedom they had found in the grace of God. They were once under a law that was too much for them. The covenant of the Old Testament between the people of Israel and God. After many thousands of years the nation of Israel had found time and time again that it was impossible for a man or woman to live in complete accordance with these laws.

This was not unjust. The level of difficulty of a law or order has nothing to do with its rightness.

And so when this Church heard the news of Jesus and how his death had overcome sin and paid the price for them, they rightly rejoiced! The freedom that came after the burden of being a slave to sin and constantly offering sacrifices of no real power, and to find that the sacrifice had been made to cover all past and future sins meant the release of a burden that no man could bear. The celebration was justified. A peace in the heart that could never have been explained or foreseen is a cause for great joy.

But that is not what the writer of this letter is talking about. There are other actions, with less clearly drawn lines for if they are to be considered sin in the first place. I have spent a great amount of thought on these grey spaces. Some are spoken of little, and others not at all in the Bible. But there are ways to determine if they are lawful and beneficial for you or if they are unhelpful, and actually destructive, in your life.

I have heard a preacher once say that you know the things in your own life that either increase or destroy your affection for truth, Jesus, and other people, and whether or not you can handle some or any of those things.

I’ll start with an example of the sorts of things that are spoken directly to in scripture, and work into the more difficult to define.

Alcohol. Christians, as has been written by better men before me, must be “teetotalers”. We must put to death any desire in us to be seen as strong or manly in the site of others by the amount of alcohol we can consume without passing out or talking foolishly. Ephesians 5:8 states “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” And so we have a clear guideline for the place of alcohol in our lives. Can Christians with a clear conscience take part in a glass of wine? Absolutely. Assuming we have not and are not being drawn into addiction. But what is the redirect in this verse? “But be filled with the spirit.” We know the focus of much of the world is to be filled with new and better and stronger drink. It is epidemic. But in the church our epidemic should be a desire for more and better and stronger works of the Holy Spirit. I could put it this way: Don’t worry about what you drink, but become obsessive about your pursuit of holiness and intimacy with the Holy God. As a serial hobbyist I know that all obsessions of material things will forsake you and ruin you, and the only obsession that I know will improve you and leads you to care more for others is of God’s word, his presence, and the recognition of his voice. So, let our ears be tuned to it.

But what about things that are “morally neutral”? Sure I can have a glass of wine. Sure I can spend a day playing video games. Sure I can and probably should get regular exercise. God has made the world with a myriad of good and right things that for each person, may (with a heart of glad thankfulness to God) be enjoyed for our joy and HIS glory. But some of these things may hurt you. I have found that I can’t spend multiple hours on video games. I can’t explain why and I don’t fully understand it. But for me in my life, with the personality that God has given me, I am made to feel weak to temptation, despondent, inattentive, and mentally drained when I partake. So what do I do? I abstain.

What about exercise? I enjoy running in crisp air or hiking in the woods, the rush of blood and the heightened heart rate that makes me feel alive. But what if it is taken past enjoyment of God’s creation and how he has wonderfully made us all? Am I constantly examining myself for physical improvements? Am I so focused on my flaws that I need to purge them from me by excessive exercise? Do I constantly compare myself to others and give pride yet another foothold to distract me from the beauty of the metaphysical, for God’s love and his immensity and how the way he has made us speaks to his wisdom and goodness? In all honesty, I would say: sometimes. What does that mean for me? It means that I don’t carve out my day to go running all the time. I don’t give up time with my wife and son very often for the sole purpose of physical improvement. But I do make an effort to include my family in things that benefit my spirit. Climbing mountains, walking on riversides, and taking those times to drink in the good that God declared over his creation, the bits that are still there despite the fall.

So I take my exercise in measured and intentional amounts, I don’t play video games, I enjoy an occasional drink in an appropriate setting, with those who take a similar view. There is a second part to this idea in 1 Corinthians, and that is “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Now what does that mean? It means in the grace and power of God we take this thing one step further. We work by the Holy Spirit to identify those things that are beneficial, and which are neutral, and which tear down ourselves, but God’s work on the inside of us is always and forever making us look outward at others to see what we can do for their benefit and their good, so they would glorify HIM.

Once those things are identified and we have good conscience about all of them in light of the truth of the Bible, we must stop thinking about ourselves almost altogether, and about the good of others. Other people are going to have different strengths and weaknesses, and if we wish to live a life that puts others first, then we need to consider our morally neutral acts in light of those around. It says in Romans 14:15 in the context of whether or not someone may think eating or drinking of a certain food be sinful or not: “If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” So if we know that our friend can not drink alcohol, and indeed is convinced it is sin, then we abstain at the very least in his/her presence. For the Christian, we must almost universally participate in less than our conscience allows us, for the sake of others. 

For the first time in my entire life, I recently had to ask my gracious and godly friend to refrain from something that was causing me to stumble. I don’t think he acted wrongly, but I could not in my heart get around his opinion on something that I held dear. I am a vegetarian, someone that Paul earlier in chapter 14 of Romans calls “the weaker brother.” And I had to ask, in a sense, for my friend to apologize to me. I had never thought of it in this light before but to plead with a stronger brother on your behalf, that you might not sin in your heart but be in good communion with the church family was one of the most humbling things I’ve experienced. I’ve rarely had a real problem doing what was right (generally, and even that not to my credit, but a gift of God), and I’d up till then held that it was a strength of character that allowed me to endure the light ridicule of others if it meant not grieving their hearts by admitting my hurt. There may still be some truth to that, and we should always try to suffer all offense graciously, but that’s not what was going on inside me.

Why do I write all this? I write it to say that you can never know if the day will come that you will be the wounded one, the weaker brother or sister, in need of the grace and kindness of your family and friends to be willing to sacrifice things they have every right to, covered by the grace of God for your benefit and yours alone.

When,–not if– that day comes, you will want to look back and see that you had always conceded your rights for the good and building up of others. Many things are lawful, but not everything is beneficial or helpful, so let us seek not just our own good, but the good of his neighbour.

In this way, we can live righteously, together in love, in the grey.

Radical Forgiveness

“What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!’
Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”

Dear Lewis,

I do not propose to map out a method for the release of all hatred, malice, vengeance, and anger, but only to plead with you passionately on behalf of your soul. I have seen the world, and I have seen the way we humans get when we are together. The progression of technology that has brought us closer than ever, or more truly brought those of us already in agreement together, is a double-edged blade in itself.

I have tried to reintegrate myself into this world in careful measure but I admit to you now that I have ever and always the increasing inclination to reject wholeheartedly what I have seen called tolerance and social justice, “crying out against oppression” and forms of patriotism. I want to live somewhere I can no longer see the smoke of our cities burning. The online communities that have sprung up serve as a benefit to those who felt alone by replacing that feeling with one of being surrounded by many like-minded friends, all sympathetic, to their cause and station.

Now it is true that the foundation of all great sins are good things. The most passionate violence can stem from the deepest love. The motive, however, cannot redeem the action.

I cannot read the news. Every day there are people being ugly to one another in unimaginable ways. It hurts me but it does not anymore surprise me. Worse yet when a person of some importance is found guilty of something that was supposed to be “beyond him” there are two responses that I despise the most. The first is an arrogant declaration of the person’s guilt and how so-and-so knew all along they couldn’t be trusted, and he yells harshly “look at your God now!” They feel that they have been justice itself all along. A lone blind judge holding the balance.

The second response is similar and it is the response of those who take on the pain of others as a personal insult, as if they were owed righteousness from their famous ones. They, then, make it their personal goal to find and inform every person who will listen about the many horrible things the fallen person has done and replay and rehash until breathless every horrid thing, and in doing so shove their hands deep into the filth of the accused, and I think, take some joy from it.

Not so for you. You cannot judge the heart of man. If there is anything that I hope you learn from me it is to practice daily the forgiveness of the unforgivable. This is the greatest benefit to the shrinking of the globe. Now that you know who the worst people are in all the earth, think of them. Think of their faces before you. Look them in the eyes and wonder and pray and ask God how it is they came to take part in these things. Pray with tears and be thankful that whatever your lot in life was it hasn’t brought you to the place this person now dwells. Then, take pity. Console the victim. Encourage the downcast. But never take on the hate of this world for any cause. If you must rise up, rise up in justice, but never in anger or out of vengeance. I assure you it cannot be born without ruining you. Forgive the war criminal. Forgive the murderer. Forgive the liars, cheaters and the self-justified who would die without admitting their guilt. I say again you cannot bear the judgment for the sins of the world, for none is righteous.

This may seem impossible. But it is a practice that I think will serve you well. If these are your thoughts, then maybe, just maybe, you will in life be able to forgive your friends, and your family, and your neighbour, and possibly even yourself.