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Work and the dignity of the human person, a Christian perspective

Jul 13, 2011, 3:25 PM | Article By: FR. EDU GOMEZ - Parish of the Resurrection, Brikama

In the social analysis of Karl Marx (1818 – 83), the proponent of Marxism, religion is referred to as the “opium of the people”. Karl Marx had viewed religion as a means of manipulation through which the human person is made to live in a utopian world.

For Marxism as an ideology, religion keeps the human person from work through which he or she expresses his or her dignity, identity and purpose of living in this world. For them the human person fulfilled who he or she is in work.

The Concept of Work and the Kinds of Work

In taking up this topic my main purpose of writing is to refute the ideology of Marxism and express that religion, and Christianity in particular values the human person and the work he or she does. I will begin by giving a definition of work and the human person to help in the understanding of the topic. The Webster new Ideal dictionary defines work as “the use of one’s ability in order to get something done or to achieve some desired result”.  Also the Collins English dictionary defines work as “the physical or mental efforts directed to doing or making something”. 

In all these two definitions, it is important to note that work is personal, i.e. it comes from the individual person’s efforts. Therefore the human person is not a robot of some kind of a fixed machine. He or she takes the initiative to do something for the purpose of attaining a certain good. When work is done collectively then it is communal, i.e. involving many people. The work that the human person does is for a purpose that could be for sustenance or for economic reasons. The human person need to feed, shelter and cloth oneself and that is the reason why he or she has to work.

There are different kinds of work that the human persons can engage in. One can engage oneself as a farmer, fisherman, businessman or woman, doctor, engineer, driver, police or security officer, a writer, religious leader, a builder, a carpenter or electrician. Whatever work the human person does, he or she should do it with all sincerity and honesty.

In our day and age, there are certain kinds of work that people involve themselves in and these are accepted and condoned as work. These are supposed kinds of work like selling drugs, begging, stealing and robbery. Also appropriating peoples property by tricks, dishonest and fraudulent dealings, money laundry, prostitution, laziness and total dependency on influential people.

Christianity abhors these kinds of negative behaviours which bad people take up as work. In the teachings of Christianity all these traits of life are not work but they are sinful acts and wrong doing in the eyes of God.

Christian Concept of the Human Person and Work

Christianity as both faith and religion values the human person as created by God.  The term “the human person” is used in this article to avoid the gender biased term, “man”.  The term human person is all inclusive and refers to both man and woman. Christianity does not teach about dependency and laziness.  Christianity teaches that the human person is placed in the world by God to work and so earn his or her daily bread. This is what fulfills the role of the human person and expresses his or her dignity, identity and calling in this world.

In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples (Lk. 11:2-4) “give us our daily bread” does not mean sitting down and totally calling on God to rain manna or bread from heaven. It means in praying and trusting in God’s providence one has to work as well.  Such an understanding goes along with the popular saying “God help those who help themselves”. 

In the first chapter of the book of Genesis, God is the creator of heaven and earth. God created the universe and all that is in it in six days and rested on the seventh day. God in His work of creation created the human person in the name of Adam in His own image and likeness (Gen. 2:19-20). In doing this, God revealed the nature and work of the human person. The human person from this context has both the potency of being a spiritual and physical being. The human person’s life is valued and sacred by nature. The human person also by nature is meant to be co creator and an imitator of God who creates.

The Catholic Catechism states that, “human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another”. Work is part of human history and existed in all human generations.In Deut. 28:8, God assures the people of Israel blessings in their work and promised to fill their barns with plenty. The New Testament also portrays work as that which gives fulfillment to the human person and many people in Jesus’ time worked. Joseph the carpenter had a workshop where he worked and Jesus worked there as well.  In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, it is stated that whoever refuses to work is not to be allowed to eat. Work is important in the life of the human person as it brings sustenance. One has to work to get the food to eat.


In the words of the late Pope John Paul II taken from his encyclical, laborem Excercens no. 4-5, it is stated, :in working man imitates his creator and in God’s plan work is always personal, subjective, done by one who is a person, conscious of that”.  The words of the venerable Pope encourages everyone to take up meaningful work for the benefit of oneself and making society active and not passive.In my assessment, work is frowned upon or lazily done. This should not be with Christian believers or good citizens. Work is important and as such should be valued by all in their different but good ways.

The season of rains in The Gambia has approached every person in this land should be seen active in work in the farms. The work to be done should be personal not one person because of his influence wills that people work in his name. The popular adage says, “there is dignity in labour”.