Servilism is service related to slavery.

It’s when persons providing service are required to comply or be subservient because of a designated station in life. As in a caste system or society in which certain types of human beings are treated as inferior.

Less intelligent or intuitive. Deficient in character or morals. Born for menial jobs that serve the needs and desires of their “betters.” Skin color, physical features or propensities, assumed inferior intelligence, cultural affiliations, stereotypical demeanors, and other characteristics considered abnormal. Creatures to be servile and meritorious only in the context of how well they give of their limited talents to those born more fortunate.

Even today, we human beings who consider ourselves a dominant tribe or culture attempt to eradicate or separate another one considered inferior or threatening. As seen in the Russian conflict with Ukraine. As in the unrelenting diminishment of Jewish people and others tied to historical or theological categories not aligned with mainstream thinking.

As belief in a supreme being grew prevalent throughout the centuries, biases toward those considered inferior were modified to fit religious concepts of right and wrong. Derived from the acceptance that human beings are more alike than different. That other races and cultures are not threats, but merely distinct from one another in superficial ways.

Religiously managed methods of exercising superiority have more to do with the responsibility of the dominant class of human to take care of the inferior classes. Or to improve them in ways more like the superior cultures behave, believe, or even appear.

To accept the responsibility Rudyard Kipling titled “the white man’s burden.” A mantra some even applied to the biological source of all humans. That women are to be cared for as procreators and nurturers of offspring, to serve their families and male rulers with deference as providers of their sustenance.

Many people accepted servitude as a natural state. The slavery culture that developed in the United Kingdom and United States eventually used the “white man’s burden” admonition, violated often by unscrupulous and immoral members of a commercial class. But even among venal overseers and masters, human beings classified as “property” needed to be cared for to maintain their value as workers or commodities in the marketplace.

Women, the biological source of all humanity, were excluded in the participatory and decision-making body of the times. They were restricted from working in so-called male occupations and leadership roles, including governments. Not because they were considered an inferior species, but because their God-given role was designed to concentrate on conceiving, delivering, and nurturing children. And maintaining the families in which they were raised. Which included service to the father of those children, configured any way the man considered appropriate.

Servilism is Alive and Well Today

This negative view of service still endures today—a form of societal servilism. A kind of service not entirely voluntary. Or voluntary only in a constricted sense.

The three main economic systems are capitalism, socialism, and communism. Capitalism and socialism are typically associated with representative government. Communism is linked to a more dictatorial form of decision-making.

All these societies incorporate some kind of class system in which a majority of citizens perform essential services in the marketplace, agencies, institutions, or organizations.

Compensation is always a condition associated with servilism. Even slaves, as property, had to be fed, housed, and medically cared for. Today, when classic slavery is deemed a criminal act like human trafficking, ordinary people are servilely compensated for services they provide through minimum forms of monetary compensation.

Monetary compensation varies depending on what society or the employer considers appropriate in terms of education, preparation, skills, and nature of the work involved. A major factor determines the extent to which the service of an employee or provider is considered valuable.

So, the value of a service is dictated by those who control the source of money: owners, managers, bureaucrats, boards, or other elected or appointed decision-makers. And those individuals and groups are greatly influenced by societal beliefs about value.

They are also influenced by the availability of resources to pay employees, and attitudes of society about the importance of the jobs being compensated. Capitalistic societies equate compensation with how critical the work is considered in terms of profits made by the commercial organization. In both capitalistic and socialistic societies, those employed by tax supported agencies or entities that fulfill a critical need are usually paid wages commensurate with their education and the extent to which candidates are available to fill those jobs.

The small percentage of those who have exceptional entertainment or athletic skills often attract large financial rewards during the time they are lauded and maintain the talent for which they are recognized.

Socialistic economies differ somewhat since their representative governments equalize wealth and subsistence levels through tax equalization and income distribution formulas. Designed to avert both extreme wealth and extreme poverty.

Capitalistic countries believe that such a balanced policy retards economic growth, since less money is available for research, investment, and incentives. They accept a huge disparity in quality of life, believing that people work best when they are inspired and capable of achieving economic goals that are enticements to ever greater accomplishment.

Capitalistic societies believe the general education and welfare of children, while important, are familial obligations. General investments in children (such as their schooling) should be limited to sustaining and continuously invigorating the economy. The economy first. Everyone’s fulfilled life —a distant second.

Voluntary Service of the Kind Provided by Christ

Can we conclude that voluntary service is offered only when the contributor is otherwise able to live at the subsistence level or above?

Jesus Christ was not a slave. But he lived in a society considered subservient by its military and political masters—the Romans. And Jewish classes like the Pharisees who believed themselves superior to other Jewish sects. They created laws and rules of behavior that dominated their own race and culture, making them cohorts of the Roman occupiers.

By trade, Jesus was a craftsman, but left that trade to spread his ministry. Nothing biblical suggests financial support from his family. What does show up as support comes from friends and followers, usually in the form of housing and food. Specific people appear as capable of providing tangible as well as spiritual support, specifically men like Arimathea and Nicodemus. Possibly even Lazarus and his sister, Martha. Other women also supported Jesus, particularly Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna (see Luke 8).

Jesus, the Son of God, lived as a human being with the same creature and emotional needs we have. Unlike me and millions like me, he did not have a satisfactory retirement income. Nor did he have an organizational sponsor or a charitable system that donated much to his ministry. He went out alone and convinced other key individuals about who he was and the importance of his message from God.

Spreading the message was different in Jesus’ era. No TV, internet, postal service, radio, public address systems, or phone. Just a man who walked and interacted with others along the way. Done voluntarily because those with whom he interacted helped materially, emotionally, and spiritually.

That voluntary service worked for Jesus because communities were smaller and more interactive than most are today. People shopped outdoors in the markets or conducted their trades in the fields or open-air structures.

Jesus was able to influence others because his speech and demeanor were characteristic of a rabbi or knowledgeable teacher. In that era such a wise and learned person was recognized by reputation, instead of formal academic study and the certification necessary today.

The other reason Jesus was accepted as a volunteer rabbi is because people longed to hear the message he articulately preached. That love and mutual support were at the center of life’s purpose. Not an existence based on submissively serving dominate cultures such as the Romans and Philistines.

Servilism in the Twenty-first Century

Today’s society, especially in the United States, is greatly influenced by the philosophy of servilism. Instead of Roman or Philistine rulers dominating our lives, commercial and political influencers tell us our life’s purpose is to serve their material and emotional wants and needs. As well as their beliefs, convictions, and biases. As hourly employees and professional providers of medical care, educational growth, oversight of property, and protection from life’s hazards.

Monetary compensation for those services varies depending on how much workers are valued by those who control our financial universe. And how much human beings themselves are valued.

As in ancient times, those providing ruler-defined service today are asked to accept life’s meaning and purpose through assigned or available endeavors. Employment in jobs or other forms of legal activities must generate income. Entrepreneurial work in agriculture, manufacturing, or a commercial activity. Fulfillment of governmental responsibilities.

If such purposes are insufficiently satisfying in the minds of those serving, they are given diversions. The Romans excelled at providing exciting games and other forms of entertainment. Just as we do. Diversions with no lasting meaning. Just momentarily significant in the minds of recipients.

Jesus’ life as defined by God, his father, revolved around a single purpose. He found ways to provide service that meant something in a universal and eternal setting. Everlasting. Life enriching for everyone.

Conversely, a purposeful life in the Twenty-first Century is usually defined as something tangible. Relatable. Job descriptions or family responsibilities.  Scholarly pursuits. Hobbies and travel. Activities and involvements. Relationships and interests. Interactions with things, items produced, or nurtured. Constructing and caring for.

What is often missing is a sense of purpose, the kind Jesus held. One in which voluntary service to others absorbs the persona. Becoming not what we do but who we are. Reaching out in order to gather in. Allowing the spirit enveloping others to enlighten us, thereby gaining insights into what a God-directed service should be.

Servilism in the Twenty-first Century exists when we allow ourselves to crave material things and recognition for superficial achievements.

Jesus wanted none of that. He only asked that we love each other as he loves us. 

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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