The late James Montgomery Boice used to say that we must attempt to think “Christianly” about every thing. It has been my endeavor for many years to integrate all of my thinking on every subject, beginning from a biblical basis. It is my belief that the Bible has much to teach us about other things besides personal salvation. The Bible contains not only the true religion, but the true history of the world, the perfect law of righteousness for men and nations; and implied in these things, a Divine design for culture. It is that general subject that I wish to address tonight. This is not meant as a manifesto, or a call to action, so much as an exploratory study – a dish of “food for thought”, if you will. I want to contribute to the common understanding of what we are ultimately trying to do – what is our corporate responsibility in the long-term. Keep this in mind, as I am going to say some things tonight that you may not have heard before, that you may think strange. Now you know what I am trying to do.
God's Machines and Man's
We moderns love our machines. Like Pygmalion, we adore the works of our hands, and ascribe to them godlike virtues. But our machines are as far inferior to the machines God built – the cosmos, plants, animals, and man – as our thoughts are beneath his. Technological man vaunts his superiority over his agrarian forefathers by pointing to the sophistication of modern machines. But are we really their superiors? Is the agrarian life now beneath our dignity, as so many suppose? Which is the nobler occupation –
the cultivation of God's living machines, or the manufacture and operation of man's inanimate ones?
Who is wiser:
One man spends his whole life acquiring knowledge that can never become obsolete, and skills that will always be needed; knowledge and skills that directly tend to his benefit, and that make him as self-sufficient as any man can be. More importantly, the knowledge he has is of God's creation, which was made to reveal the glory of the Creator. By this knowledge he gains humility, learns patience, experiences wonder and awe – all in the course of productive, healthful, and satisfying work. He passes this knowledge on to his sons; along with the land, the homestead, and many of the same tools that his father passed on to him.
Another man spends much of his life incurring debt to acquire knowledge that will surely become obsolete, and skills that may not be needed next year; the acquiring of which exhausts him, and the use of which makes him completely dependent on a chaotic impersonal system. He rarely sees God's creation, and has no time to think about it – he is always in a hurry. He often cries out to God in the miserable emptiness of his soul; but he does not really expect an answer. His business is to learn the ways of man – God is irrelevant to the world of making of money, in fact, a hindrance. His “work” is unhealthful and dissatisfying. His labor produces nothing of actual worth to humankind: he is a parasite, a middleman, who profits by placing himself in the middle of the long road from the producer to the consumer. Half the reward of his labor will be taxed away before he even sees it, and after paying the rent, and all the other service charges for living imposed by the system, he may have some to waste on the debilitating amusements that consume his pleasure-starved mind. He has no place where he belongs; he changes jobs and homes every five years. He has no lasting friendships – even his marriage did not last (How could it? He is clueless about relationships, and thinks of them in purely functional terms.) His sons – if he has any – do not care about what he knows. They insist upon finding out about the world for themselves and refuse any guidance. He will leave this world, and few will long remember that he was ever here – fewer, be grateful for his contribution – even fewer, revere his memory.
The first man's life is chiefly concerned with God's machines; the second, with man's. Both of them live by receiving input from their respective environments, and making the required responses. Both of them are shaped intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, by constant interaction with their environments. They become what they serve. God's machines make men; man's make drones and zombies. They inherit the benefits and the burdens of the very different worlds in which they live. God's machines enrich; man's degrade and impoverish.
Two Opposing Social Systems
In the following essay, the terms “technological society” and “biblical agrarian society” are used with reference to two mutually-exclusive systems of social organization. In brief, the term, “technological society”, borrowed from Stephen B. Clark, means a society in which technology is dominant, and its demands have either destroyed or re-shaped all the traditional institutions and relationships of society.
It is not against technology per se, nor against high technology in particular, that this paper is written; but rather against the domination of social order by technology – to the exclusion of every consideration of humanity, of ethics, and most of all, of the claims and purposes of mankind's Creator – which we increasingly see today.
“Biblical agrarian society” is my name for the society developed under God by our father Adam for the glory of God and the benefit of the human family: the traditional socio-economic structure found in the Bible. To illustrate, let us consider the case of Abraham.
An Example: the Tribe of Abraham
The Bible tells us that “Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold”(Genesis 13:2). How did Abraham become rich? It was not through trade. It was not through usury, extortion, or robbery. It was through cattle-raising. By wisely managing his flocks and his herds, he made them grow. This supported a growing number of servants, who with their families were regarded as his property. To this he would later add a large family of his own. All these were trained and educated by Abraham, so that they became a stable, loyal, and profitable workforce. These were provided for by Abraham, who was in turn their protector and their judge in the case of disputes. In practical terms, Abraham was the king of a nation. He was a servant-ruler, using his authority to organize and direct the workforce in the use of their labor and common resources.
The flocks and herds supplied the nation with meat, milk, wool and hide – all valuable and real goods. Besides these, Abraham used his organized workforce to dig wells, thus making water available to all who would pass through that country. No doubt he gathered wood, flax, metals and minerals, and other natural resources, as he had occasion, making them into useful products.
Most of these products were used, but the excess could be traded for goods that were not produced by Abraham's people. Thus he became wealthy in all kinds of goods, and in hard money as well. He did this with labor and wise management, by producing, acquiring, and distributing the basic necessities of life, thus adding to the aggregate wealth of his whole nation, to the common benefit of every family in it.
And because he demanded of his own people that they deal justly with each other and with those outside, the prosperity of his nation did not come at the expense of others. As a result, the aggregate wealth of the whole of humanity was increased. This is how it's supposed to work!
Biblical agrarianism survived in some parts of the world into the twentieth century, but is now virtually extinct. It has been almost wholly supplanted by technological society, or plutocracy. Even the poor nations of the world, that enjoy few of the benefits of technology, have been deprived of the comfort and satisfaction, the riches of meaning and meaningful long-term relationships provided by the traditional way of life.
The Economics of the Large Family
Fertility is a blessing from God – not only fertile fields and fertile livestock, but the fertile womb. Large families are the biblical ideal. Children in a free agrarian society are useful as workers and producers in the self-supporting homestead. They are the key to the future prosperity of the family, and the providers of support for their aged and invalid family members.
Large families, however, are impossible for most people to support in the technological society. The technological society has a money economy, and as such has made the home a place of consumption, rather than production. Because it usually requires a money-earning workplace outside the home, children cannot meaningfully participate in the support of the family. They are made an economic liability, rather than an asset. Hence, there is a collision of the biblical family ideal with a fundamental feature of technological society.
And because technological society is militaristic, and maintains a standing army, it must induce or else force large numbers of young men to either delay marriage, or to defraud their wives for months or years while they go overseas to serve the economic interests of technological society all over the world.
Social Order and the Eighth Commandment
Sexual restraint is another prominent feature of the biblical familial ethic. This was achieved in biblical times by a system of social institutions and customs designed to promote a culture of modesty, chastity, and generally responsible behavior. Children were intensively trained in the law of God from early childhood. The goal was to inculcate a sense of responsibility to God, the community, the family and oneself, so that the child would achieve maturity of character as soon as practical. Boys who were emotionally and morally men already at the onset of puberty were well-equipped to handle the temptations intrinsic in physical maturity.
Among the other provisions of biblical agrarian culture for sexual restraint was the system for making marriages – a biblical institution little understood today, even by Christians. Ordinarily, it was the parents who chose a mate for their child. The evaluation of prospective spouses was considered a task for the experienced and wise, and marriage was too important to be determined by mere sexual attraction.
In keeping with this was a standard of uncompromised modesty for the women. Biblical society protected women from becoming mere sex-objects to men by concealing their beauty. At the same time, by this measure, men were protected from undue sexual stimulation, and thus assisted in the maintenance of their purity.
By the age of twenty, a young Hebrew male was expected to be settled in his vocation and married. Hebrew maidens could be married as soon as they reached physical maturity. There was to be no prolonged period of sexual vulnerability, with all the desires of a married person, but no legitimate outlet!
There was a general segregation of the sexes, according to their roles. Men and women did not usually work together – even in the home. When they were mingled, as in the marketplace, strict rules of propriety provided substantial protection against temptation.
Coupled with these wise institutions was a law that made adultery a capital offense, and generally punished sexual sins with rigor, making prostitution virtually impossible.
Further, as Edersheim and others have pointed out, there was a universal sobriety that shunned idleness and empty amusements. Israel had no theaters, racetracks, bars, or casinos to exploit the weaknesses of men.
All of these constituent parts of the culture of sexual responsibility worked together as a system – a social order – that was consistent with itself. It could only work while all the parts remained in place. And it could only work in a functioning community – among families that shared these customs and values, and worked together to enforce the standards and laws.
Technological Society: Anti-Marriage and Anti-Family
Technological society, on the other hand, has other priorities than promoting the happiness of men and women and the well-being of the family by supporting the sanctity of marriage. Sex sells, and that's what technological society is about. Young men and women from Christian families are not doing measurably better in the area of sexual restraint today than the unchurched. And no wonder! They no longer receive intensive spiritual training in the home or the church. They are subjected to a constant assault on their virtue in the world at large, with which they have constant, intimate contact. And they face unrelenting economic pressure to delay marriage far beyond the age of sexual maturity, until at least their late twenties, in order to prolong their formal education.
This last deserves notice. Because the criterion of efficiency demands an ever-increasing standardization and specialization, intensive, formal vocational training becomes ever more necessary. Since the establishment schools do such a poor job of preparing children for higher education, the first years of college are often wasted in teaching literacy and basic learning skills. Accordingly, the average number of years spent in school, along with the cost of schooling, will most likely only continue to increase.
Technological society needs the family only until it can figure out a workable – and that means affordable – alternative to produce the slaves it needs. Its technocrats would like to be able to clone workers, determining their personal qualities beforehand according to the work they will be called to do, and producing each type in just the right numbers. But that is beyond their skill at the moment. Robots show some promise of replacing humans in some areas; but they are too expensive for general use, since each one must be individually manufactured, as they cannot reproduce. So the family must be tolerated for the present, although most of its functions have been transferred to other institutions.
The biggest problem with the family is that it is a system of personal relationships. It is a unit whose members tend to take a special interest in each other, to be loyal to each other, to provide for each other. Ideally, in a technological society, each person must have only one loyalty – to his own temporal interests. That way, he can be precisely controlled without resorting to force. He will infallibly pursue what he perceives to be in his best interests, and that perception will be infallibly predetermined by the technocrats who control the schools and the mass media.
Personal relationships have no place in a technological world, for they impair functional efficiency. For the technocrats to be satisfied, eventually, the tattered remnants of the family will have to go.
When a deadly virus invades a population, it often destroys itself quickly; for once its host population is killed off, it must itself die. The technocratic nations of the world must find a way to return to sanity soon, or they will perish. No one defies God and gets away with it.
The time will come when God will build again all that has been destroyed; and when the great world-wide revival comes, we can be sure that biblical agrarianism will come into its own again. Is it not prophesied? “... And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks”(Isaiah 2:4). May the Lord hasten the day!
Howard Douglas King
Revised November 29, 2014