Monday, September 22nd, 2014
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Martin Luther & Bertrand Russell


MARTIN LUTHERluther125X175.jpg
Sermon on the Gospel of John 2:1-11, 1525

No one will believe that it is serving God to perform diligently and well the domestic duties, otherwise the servants and the children would zealously and merrily do their work in the house, determined to make a paradise of it by gladly doing the will of their superiors. They should say: no matter if I am now and then reprimanded, since I well know that my calling and position is also a service of my God. Alas, such servants are scarce. Ought not every maidservant who is God-fearing and pious, when ordered to cook and the like, be cheered by the example of the mother of Christ, so that she will say: my duties are like those which the Virgin Mary performed at the marriage. Though my task is but an inferior one, and insignificant, yet I will execute it to the honor of God, who has ordered such obedience—and I know that my labor thus performed will be pleasing to Him. The world may ridicule such compliance with the demands of duty, but he who wishes to be a Christian will regard it as necessary, and as a proper service of God. Thus can all servants in the house, whether male or female, take pleasure in the work of their several stations; yea, they can truly exclaim: we praise Thee, O God, for the labor which Thou hast assigned to us, inasmuch as we are thus enabled to serve Thee much better than do the monks and nuns who have no divine command.

They who are thus content in their position will do their work with cheerfulness and pleasure, and have an Eden upon earth, while God and His holy angels will rejoice at it. Likewise will the master and the mistress of such servants richly reward them for their faithful and willing services. Trustworthy and pious servants are highly valued everywhere.

BERTRAND RUSSELLbertrand125X175.jpg
“In Praise of Idleness,” 1932

Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying, “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached.

First of all, what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two different bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e., of advertising.

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If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper that did his job well.
Martin Luther King Jr., 1954
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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