“Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.”
―Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Raise your hand if you believe you’re not doing enough right now. Do you feel like you still need to honor a commitment you made before the world lurched into chaos? Are you holding yourself to a higher standard than you are your loved ones? In light of the desire of some “to go back to normal” before it is factually safe, I feel echoes of the Puritan Work Ethic in its most deadly form.
In An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (for Young People), Roxanne Dubar-Ortiz makes a compelling argument that the Puritans and the Pilgrims were each a cult. They were so outside of mainstream theology that they had to flee their country in order to create “godly societies.”
Once I saw that in print, I could feel myself backing away from that zealotry. What if we sought to deprogram ourselves from the cult of the Puritan work ethic that’s still taught in schools and underlies our myth of the "American Dream"? What if we allow this time of physical distancing become the strangest lesson ever for all of us?
It’s hard for me to accept it today—maybe it’s hard for anyone paying any attention—but taking a shower in the morning feels like an accomplishment right now. You, too, are absolved of your “sin” of not being more than a human can be.
We can’t turn back the clock to save lives, but maybe we can change our addiction to productivity that enables our leaders to fail us so tragically. Maybe we can change our habits of corporate consumption or unending growth of markets that leave small towns ruined. Maybe sustainability of markets—and our hearts and minds—is more important than the wealth of ten people on this globe.
Amidst the genuine worry, pain, fear, and death, maybe we can make a ritual of believing that we have the power to reverse the ethic that's killing our planet and wrecking our hearts.
I’m going to refuse to believe the cult’s lie that I need to overwork myself to death, recommitting to the changes we need to make to dream a new way of living into a world that is sustainable. Nothing is impractical when it comes to the necessity of a sustainable world.
Spirit of Grace, ever remind us that a new way can be found, and move us toward the possibility of courageously living our lives in the face of all that is before us now.