The Chinese representative was right to reprimand, not just the politicians and unelected bureaucrats in Brussels – where the length of lunch breaks is directly proportional to the size of pay packages – but also the peoples of many half-deserted European cities, who think that “summer is the time when it is too hot to do the jobs that it was too cold to do in the winter.” In France, the average person is all-too happy about the 35-hour workweek, with one month of paid vacation each year.
“Maybe it was porn who killed God,” wrote historian Niall Ferguson, summarizing the radical transformation of the work ethic that has taken place in secular Europe since the end of the twentieth century. The rise of cheap, crass, and corrupt entertainment has created new opportunities for young people to work less and to party more. The continent where St. Benedict planted the seeds of the Christian ethic “ora et labora” must change its labor laws, as well as its collective mindset. From high officials to ordinary people, too many Europeans have domesticated the sin of laziness. It is not just the welfare state which has put the virtue of industriousness out of business, but the slow death of the Christian faith.
Finally, the recent waves of migrants coming to Europe from North Africa (and from Syria) are dramatically changing the cultural, religious, and economic landscape of traditionally diligent societies. Last year, Austria’s Interior Minister, Wolfgang Sobotka, declared that 90 percent of asylum seekers end up receiving State subsidies. In Norway, migrants account for half of the welfare recipients in the country. In Denmark, 80 percent of families on welfare are of “non-Western origin.” Migrants granted asylum in Germany have been using welfare handouts even to spend their holidays in the countries they left, such as Eritrea, allegedly in fear of their lives. (It is worth noting that welfare spending in Germany accounted for 27.2 percent of the total government budget in 1990, while today it is more than 50 percent.) It is only Switzerland, which lies outside the EU, which prevents residents who have been on welfare in the past three years from becoming citizens.
A return to Christianity would make the Europeans see the work ethic as an antidote to the shallow “bread and circuses” mentality. Christianity sees labor as a sacrificial act that can deepen and sustain one's covenant with God. Theologically speaking, toil has a redemptive or sanctifying function. Work fits with the natural demands of a family structure. As marriages are falling apart and the symptoms of sloth seem ubiquitous, Europe could begin to cure its sense of boredom by rebuilding the citadels of faith with the bricks of labor and the mortar of love.
(Photo credit: Marco Arment. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 2.0.)