A hierarchal understanding of human achievements

In Justo L. González's Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective the ninth chapter is dedicated to theological anthropology ("On Being Human"). In this chapter he discusses the danger of a dualistic view of humans where the mind/intellect is superior to the body. He observes that Christian doctrine that promotes this strict binary within a hierarchy has tended to justify judging certain individuals as being worth more because their lives are given to the pursuit of intellectual matters. Then he says the following things that have made me stop and think this morning (p. 129):

It is on the basis of this hierarchal understanding of human achievements that some people complain about the wages of garbage collectors being close to those of university professors, forgetting that it is much more rewarding to be a professor than a garbage collector, and that therefore in all justice garbage collectors ought to be paid more than professors! Those of us who form part of the intellectual elite need to be reminded that our society could go on living for quite a while without us, but it would have a hard time surviving without those who pick lettuce, cook food, and collect garbage.

”The hierarchical ordering of soul and body is then joined to the racist and sexist notion that women and people of darker skin are best suited for physical pursuits , whereas white males are best suited for the intellectual life. The obvious conclusion is that the present ordering of society—and of the “traditional” household—is grounded on human nature and ought not to be questioned. But it is clear that is can and should be questioned.

Now, full disclosure: on the one hand, I am working on my Ph.D. while preparing for a teaching internship at a local university with the desire to make teaching a profession someday; one the other hand, what little money I make comes from my job as a custodian for my local Church. Many days I have felt bad about this. When I had yet to receive my offer for an internship I complained several times aloud to myself (my wife as well) that it didn't make sense for me to do all this schooling to clean toilets and take out the trash. While there is some pragmatic truth to this (i.e., student loans!) there was also something quite arrogant about this that exposed my ugly side. I think I was valuing one profession over another. I wasn't seeing my custodial work as a different type of work for this place and time than my hope for future work in the classroom, but as a lesser type of work, and that is wrong. González is correct: the pursuit of intellectual matters is a privilege, not a right; it is a type of lifestyle, not a superior one. Often I have heard professors complain about their work and students. I hope that if I have the chance to teach that when I hate grading, or I am annoyed with a student, that I will remember that in comparison the work may not be easy, per se, but most people would take it over manual labor because manual labor is a different level of difficult. And personally, I agree: I think those sort of jobs should pay more.

In the next paragraph González writes that, "...it may well be that theology is best done with dirt under one's fingernails." Why? Because of the aching bones of hard working people remind them of their finitude and physicality. May those who live the so-called "life of the mind" never forget that they too are flesh and blood.