Thursday, December 31, 2015


Imagination and Hope

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has
not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears,
we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2 (New International Version)

“To infinity—and beyond!”
Buzz Lightyear, in Toy Story

            What is the content of Christian hope?  What happens after we die?  What does the New Testament teach about the afterlife?  These, and related questions, are the subject of N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope.  Part of the “surprise” is that so many Christians seem unaware of what the Bible teaches about the future.
            First, and this is of central importance, we will be raised from the dead.  We will have “spiritual bodies.”  Our bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrected body.  Second, the kingdom of God will come to earth.  Christians still living will join resurrected Christians to meet Jesus when he comes to rule.  (The picture is that of a happy throng welcoming a Roman emperor as he comes into a city.)  Third, there will be a righteous reckoning, a judgment, for all human beings.  Fourth, our lives now—that is, Christian ethics—ought to reflect values of the coming kingdom.  These four ideas form the core of Christian hope, but it takes 300 pages for Wright to explain them, because it takes a lot of work just to distinguish Christian doctrine from Platonic, pantheist, or naturalist views.  Wright has to show that these four ideas really are what the New Testament teaches, and that there is good reason to believe them.
            Along the way, Wright firmly opposes ideas that have become commonplace among Christians (judging by hymns, sermons, and prayer books); e.g. the Platonist idea that at death our souls leave our polluted bodies behind, the pantheist view that at death the individual consciousness merges with the universal spirit, the naturalist belief that at death the person simply ceases to exist, or the Neo-Platonist notion that the physical world is fundamentally evil, something we should be happy to escape.  Many people today, in the church as well as out of it, assume that these ideas are what Christianity teaches.  Against these views and others, Wright argues vigorously for the coherence and truth of the four points I listed before.
            Why have non-Christian ideas become so prevalent among church people?  Partly, of course, because we live in a pluralistic society where people with varying worldviews interact regularly.  Partly, Wright suggests, because Christian leaders have done a poor job of teaching Christian doctrine.  There are priests, pastors, and bishops who haven’t so much as considered whether the New Testament contains a plausible doctrine of the afterlife, so when it comes to offering hope to parishioners they grasp at whatever comforting notions are available in popular culture.  I want to suggest there is another cause as well.
            I agree with Wright on the four essentials of Christian hope: resurrection, second coming, judgment, and kingdom ethics.  The problem is that those essentials don’t tell us everything we would like.  In regard to the resurrection, the apostle John admits plainly: “and what we will be has not yet been made known.”  In 1 Corinthians 15—the most detailed passage in the New Testament about the resurrection—Paul isn’t much clearer.  Paul insists that the resurrection will happen, but then he says, “it is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.”  Naturally, we all want to know what a “spiritual body” is.  Paul answers with an analogy: a seed of grain dies to become a plant.  He talks about different kinds of body and different kinds of “splendor.”  And he concludes: “the dead will be raised and we will be changed.”
            For two thousand years, curious minds have asked: how shall we be changed?  What will that change be like?  And after the change, then what?  The honest New Testament answer has to be, “What we will be has not yet been made known.”
            Enter the Christian philosopher.  I don’t mean Thomas Aquinas specifically, and I am not mocking.  The Christian “philosopher” has something right.  He says, “Look.  Scripture does not tell us all we would like to know, for good reason!  The very next verse (1 John 3:3) says, ‘We will be like him, because we will see him as he is.’  The fact of the matter is that our existence in heaven is unimaginable to us.  God cannot tell us all about it; at best, hints of heaven are all our minds can handle.”  Aquinas called the state of the blessed “the beatific vision.”
            As I say, this philosophical answer has something right.  The eternal, transcendent God is an infinite being—perfect in power, holiness, and love.  This God exists, we believe, as three persons.  We will see the Son (and presumably, the Father and Spirit as well) as he is.  We do not know what that will be like.
            The philosopher (or the philosopher in us) walks away, content that he has stilled our desire for an answer.  Has he?
            Many people in our culture, people in the church as well as out, will confess that heaven sounds boring.  Christians will admit this hesitantly, because they know eternity with God is supposed to be good.  But they don’t have any picture of it.  Unbelievers, some of them at least, take the boredom of perfection as final proof of the falsity of Christian dogma.  (One of my atheist friends claims that God himself, if he existed, would be bored.)  If heaven is unimaginable to us, what are we supposed to think?  Our cartoons give us pathetic pictures of angels strumming harps.  Notice that cartoon hells are much more interesting.
            We are not just philosophers; we are poets.  Part of hope (only a part) is imaging the good future we desire.  I agree with Adrienne Martin, who says hope is a “syndrome” consisting of different elements: emotions, beliefs, behaviors, perceptions—and imagination.  If we obey the philosophical side of us, and cease trying to imagine the age to come, it is no surprise that we will come to think it boring.
            Notice that I just changed terms.  Instead of “heaven” I wrote “the age to come.”  The poets in us need to imagine the future, and the age to come is easier to grasp than heaven.  It’s also closer to New Testament language, which speaks in terms of the coming new age, not in terms of going to heaven.  This is one reason why stories like J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” and C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce have such an appeal.  Tolkien and Lewis let the imagination explore beyond the grave.
It is perfectly right to heed our philosophical side.  In the preface to The Great Divorce, Lewis explicitly warns that he is not trying to actually describe the afterlife.  The point of the book, he says, is to confront the reader with the choice—the divorce—between heaven and hell, between allegiance to God and allegiance to the self.  Nevertheless, the book has had the wonderful effect of helping Christians imagine a beautiful, interesting and delightful afterlife rather than some static changeless perfection.
Lewis’s warning was right.  We must be careful not to confuse our images with the kingdom of God as it will be when Jesus reigns.  When it comes to doctrine, we must be content to say Jesus will reign, and that will be good.  But when it comes to hope, it helps to have a picture, an image.
Buzz Lightyear had it right.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hoping and Acting

Hope and Behavior

Much of ethical theory, especially in the modern period, concerns actions.  It is assumed that moral philosophy should answer questions like these:  (1) In situation x, what is the right thing to do?  (2) Why is that the right thing to do?  To answer these questions, the standard ethical theories of the modern period—utilitarianism, Kantianism, social contract theory—all claim to appeal to rationality.  The right thing to do is whatever a rational being would do in that situation.  Of course, each theory gives a different account of how reason is supposed to guide our behavior.
Partly because debate between modern theories of ethics has been inconclusive, the last half-century has seen a revival of interest among moral philosophers in “virtue theory.”  Ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle often thought about ethics in terms of character traits—virtues like courage, generosity, and justice and vices like cowardice, selfishness, and injustice.  Starting with Elizabeth Anscombe (1958, “Modern Moral Philosophy”), some philosophers have thought we might get around sterile modern debates by going back to the language of virtue.  As a Christian philosopher I welcome the return of virtue theory.  It seems clear to me that much (not all) of the New Testament’s teaching about morality is couched in virtue language.
Hope is a virtue.  According to the apostle Paul, it’s an important one, though not quite the most important.  “… these three remain: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.”
Now, the revival of virtue theory provokes many questions, one of them concerning its relationship to action theory.  Which is more fundamental to the moral life, behavior or character?  Can action theories, which offer to tell us how we should act and why, make appropriate space for consideration of virtues?  Action theorists might suggest that virtues are merely psychological tendencies toward good behavior, or virtues may be nothing more than actions repeated enough to become habits. 
Conversely, can virtue theories guide our actions?  A thoroughgoing virtue theorist might say that the right thing to do in situation x just is whatever a person with a well-formed character would do in those circumstances.
It would be philosophically pleasing to have a general theory here, one that explained how questions of character are subordinate to questions of right behavior, or vice versa.  Unfortunately, none of the arguments I’ve read for one side or the other have been very satisfying.  So I’m not going to attempt such a general account. 
Perhaps a way forward is to say that it doesn’t matter which concept is really more fundamental.  Whichever way one looks at it—that right action is most important and virtues are really just tendencies to act appropriately, or that character is really basic and our actions merely display our inner being—one could still hold that there ought to be an appropriate “fit” between behavior and character.  If we are going to say that so-and-so is just, we ought to be able to observe her doing just acts.  If we see someone acting justly in a regular, dependable way, we probably ought to say she has the virtue of justice.
Now what are the behaviors appropriate to hope? 
Since people hope for many things, and many kinds of things, our initial answer will have to be very general.  It may sound vague.  Here it is, in the form of two guidelines: 1) If and to the degree possible, one ought to act to build for one’s hopes.  2) One ought not to act in such a way as to contradict or prevent one’s hopes.  These guidelines deserve some comment.
In The Shawshank Redemption, life prisoner Andy Dufresne hopes to escape from Shawshank prison.  Over many years of imprisonment he acts, in a variety of ways, to accomplish his goal.  Suppose Andy had “hoped” for escape but had done nothing—made no plans, dug no tunnel, accumulated no evidence of the warden’s crimes—to achieve his goal?  I think we should say, in that case, that Andy didn’t really hope for escape.  When a person desires a good future but does nothing to achieve it, we may be tempted to say he doesn’t hope but only wishes for it.
Wait a moment!  Someone should object.  Is it always the case that we can do anything to achieve our hopes?  Suppose I hope that the course of treatment prescribed by my doctor will heal my injury so that I can resume jogging.  What are my actions?  Taking the pills, I imagine, or doing the specified exercises.  If I refuse the medication or fail to exercise, again it seems my “hope” is really only a wish.
Okay, another case: imagine an ordinary person who hopes that the Syrian civil war will end soon and allow millions of Syrian refugees to resettle in their homeland.  I say “ordinary person” to exclude political leaders who might have some practical role in brokering ceasefire in Syria.  It seems that most of us who hope for peace in Syria can do little to accomplish it.
This is why my first guideline expresses itself: “if and to the degree possible.”  Sometimes actions in accord with our hopes are obvious.  Students who want an A grade but who fail to study don’t really hope, because there is a lack of appropriate fit between their behavior and genuine hope.  To heal my injury, perhaps the only possible action is to take the pills.  In regard to peace in Syria, prayer may be my only recourse.
The first guideline says: as a general rule, when you can take action to build for your desired end and you don’t, you are not acting in accord with hope.  I might daydream about winning the lottery, but if I never buy a lottery ticket I don’t hope.
(I am not claiming that actions in accord with hope are always the right thing to do, all things considered, even if the thing hoped for is a legitimate part of the good life.  For the moment, I am leaving open the possibility that virtues might contradict each other.  It is possible that practical wisdom might decree that in this particular situation I ought to act in accord with justice rather than in accord with hope.)
The second guideline says that we should not act so as to contradict or prevent our hopes.  Sometimes we hope for transcendent goods, futures that we can do nothing to accomplish.  Nevertheless, we might act in ways that deny or undermine those ends.  Our actions would express the vices of despair or presumption.  (See “How Not to Hope,” an earlier blog post.)
There are millions of Syrian refugees fleeing civil war.  Such an enormous humanitarian crisis staggers our imagination.  We don’t know what to do.  So we turn off the news, either literally or figuratively by turning our thoughts to other things.  This ignoring of the situation is a kind of despair.  Turning away is an action; by it we act in accord with the vice of despair rather than the virtue of hope.  If we are to really hope, we must at least not act in ways that contradict our hope.
The two guidelines are only an abstract structure.  To say more about actions appropriate to hope, we would have to examine particular hopes.  What is it that we actually hope for?  That question takes us back to last week's essay on the variety of hopes.


Thursday, December 17, 2015


Varieties of Hope

            What do we hope for?  How might that hope come to pass?  How crucial to our overall future is the hoped for good?  Answering these questions helps us to see that there are many kinds of hope.
            Suppose a homeless woman said her fondest hope was to get an apartment for herself and her two children and a job that would let her afford the apartment.  But how do you apply for a job when you live in a car?  Even if you got a job, how can you keep it without childcare?  The woman feels trapped—and guilty: she blames herself for the failed relationships that saddled her with the children, and she worries that she has undermined their future as well as her own.  Most of the time, she lives in despair.  Unsurprisingly, she is often also depressed.
            How should we think about the future this woman desires?  There are jobs she could work, there are apartments she might rent, and there are childcare providers (for a price), so in one sense her imagined future is possible.  But as things stand now, the woman sees no way to put them together.  To her, the good future seems impossible.
            According to the “Hope Theory” of C.R. Snyder and his associates, the woman needs two things to gain hope.  Charles R. Snyder (d. 2006) was a theorist in positive psychology at the University of Kansas.  He postulated that hope consists of perceived capabilities to produce routes to desired goals, along with the perceived motivation to use those routes.  Snyder and his colleagues have produced lots of empirical data to show that when a client gains these two self-perceptions many positive outcomes follow.  She will feel better about her situation and she will be much more likely to gain the good future she desires.
            Accordingly, “hope therapy” is pretty straightforward (though not easy).  If as therapists or friends we want to help the woman, we need to help her imagine ways to find work, childcare and housing; and we need to help her to feel her own motivation to do those things.  So imagine a friend or a social worker offering timely help.  Together they think of ways forward: perhaps a relative or church can provide temporary shelter and an address; maybe the woman has friends she can trust for short term childcare while she interviews for jobs; the woman qualifies for housing assistance from the government; and there is a program of subsidized transportation in the area.  Once the woman sees that these routes might actually get her to her goal and she realizes that she can use them, she has hope.
            I do not imply, by this illustration, that overcoming homelessness is as easy as thinking differently.  “Hope theory” does not imply that.  According to “hope theory,” hope consists in the new way of thinking, that there are routes to the goal and that the agent can take them.  But hope is still only hope; the good future is still future.  Unseen obstacles or bad luck can get in the way.
            What the illustration does show is this.  Some of the things we hope for are “possibles,” in that we think we know how they might come about, while other good futures are “impossibles,” because we have no idea how to achieve them.  At first, the woman thought of a future with an apartment + job + childcare as impossible; later, we imagine her seeing this future as possible.
            Actually, even that is too simple.  Rather than segregate our hopes into “possibles” and “impossibles,” we should see that the things we hope for fall into a wide spectrum.  On one end are good futures that we think are very likely (e.g. I fervently hope someone other than Donald Trump will be elected president in 2016, and I am extremely confident my hope will come true), and at the other extreme are good futures we think are very unlikely (e.g. I hope that environmentally benign renewable energy sources will crowd fossil fuels out of the market in my lifetime, but I don’t expect it).  The good futures we want—the things we hope for—lie scattered all across this spectrum.
            Besides probability, the things we hope for also differ in the mechanisms by which they might come about.  “Hope Theory” focuses exclusively on the routes and motivations of the agent.  Suppose someone hopes for plentiful snow and an early start to the ski season.  Such a case falls outside the scope of Snyder’s theory, since there is no way for the agent to bring about the thing hoped for.  “Hope therapists” would advise us to concentrate on the things we can change, or at least influence.
            Nevertheless, the class of things we cannot bring about includes some important hopes.  Like all orthodox Christians, I hope for the resurrection of the dead.  I can do nothing to make this great thing happen, yet I think this hope is—and should be—central to my life.  The fact that Snyder’s theory has almost nothing to say about such transcendent hopes is a significant limitation to his theory.  “Hope Theory” has other defects as well, but I reserve that discussion for another time.  Snyder’s theory illuminates certain aspects of some hope, a very useful thing to have done.
            In our taxonomy of hope, then, we can sort hopes by the objective probability that the hoped for thing will occur (from very likely to very unlikely) and by the mechanism of achievement (from under the influence of the agent to completely outside the agent’s power).  And there is at least one more difference among hopes.
            Some things we hope for are not really very dear to us, while other hopes are so important as to be essential to any good future.  Again, we should think of a range from very unimportant hopes to the most important ones.  A person might hope for ice cream after dinner (little importance), for a promotion at work (moderate importance), or for an end to a civil war (great importance).
            In summary, then: the things we hope for differ in their probability, in their mechanism of achievement, and in their importance.  If hope is a virtue, as many moral philosophers aver, that virtue may be better exemplified in some hopes than in others.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Work, pt 4

Last one, I promise!

Some Thoughts about Work, Part 4

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a person to eat and drink,
and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun
during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.
Ecclesiastes 6:18

He that will not work shall not eat.
John Smith

            I have advanced the thesis that “moral law of labor,” which says that every able person ought to work, may be false.  Historically, most people have believed it because it seemed obvious that only hard labor stood between human beings and disastrous scarcity.  Thus, Paul told Titus that Christians ought to work to produce “daily necessities.”  But in recent centuries, I allege, we have discovered that capital, when invested, can make our work so productive that in effect capital replaces labor.  That is, it replaces labor aimed at producing daily necessities.  People may continue to work if they choose; my prediction is that we will not have to.  Now it’s time to reply to certain objections.
            First objection: capital cannot replace human labor; it can only replace certain particular forms of labor with other forms of labor.  I already admitted, in part 2, that there is no clear line between necessary labor and non-necessary labor.  I also admitted that some job classifications are unnecessary at one point in time and yet necessary at a later time—and necessary for the production of basic goods.  For example, consider the creation of large-scale irrigation in ancient Mesopotamia.  Before irrigation, agriculture produced enough goods for a limited population.  With irrigation in place (and with it various social and legal inventions to make the system work), a much larger population could be supported.  Before it was invented, “irrigation master” was not a necessary job classification; later on, without irrigation masters people would have starved.  Thus, though capital transformed ancient agriculture, it only changed the kind of work people did; it did not free them from work altogether.
            Reply: to overturn my prediction (that capital will eliminate or almost eliminate “necessary” labor), this objection relies on the assumption that the number of people working new jobs will equal the number displaced by the new technology.  There is a sense in which this assumption has proved true, at least in the past.  But there is a more important sense in which it is false.
            In the past, “creative destruction” has driven people from old jobs into new ones (e.g. cottage weavers in villages became factory workers in cities).  So economists sometimes generalize and say that creative destruction always produces as many or more new jobs.  But that ignores the difference between labor for necessities and labor for non-necessary goods.  When old “necessary” jobs disappear, some of the new job categories are non-necessary jobs.  In the 20th century, the percentage of Americans working on farms dropped precipitously (while farm production rose).  The children of the farmers moved to cities, where only some of them went to work making necessities.  Therefore, against the first objection I reply: capital can so effectively produce necessities that human labor aimed at necessities dwindles.  We might celebrate the fact that capital frees people to produce non-necessary goods, but no disaster occurs if they choose not to.
            Second objection: the moral law of labor holds true even if capital can produce daily necessities for us, because we are created to be workers.  This objection concedes that capital is so productive that most people may be freed from the need to produce basic goods.  But perhaps this should be lamented rather than celebrated.  Consider another bit of wisdom from ancient Israel, the verse from Ecclesiastes quoted above.  The wise man (probably not Solomon as traditionally thought) observes that people can do nothing better than to find satisfaction in their work.
It seems that human beings are created to work; work stems from our very nature.  Much of the satisfaction of life comes from productive labor.  The second objector suggests that the moral law of labor reflects a deep truth about the good life for human beings; just as we are meant to be lovers, we are also meant to be workers.  God has given each person a unique set of talents and capacities, and it is God’s will that each one of us use those abilities to benefit ourselves and other people.
            Reply: the second objection depends on ambiguous use of “labor.”  The moral law of labor says that every able person ought to work.  The second objection admits that capital can produce necessities for us so we don’t have to do that kind of work, but insists that we ought to work anyway.  What is this work that we ought to do?  It is labor that fulfills our nature, that uses our capacities to benefit others, and that honors God’s call.
            Okay!  We ought to work, if “work” means, “doing things that fulfill our nature.”  But that isn’t the same thing as producing daily necessities.
            There’s something right in the second objection.  I would put it this way: God has made us to be “makers.”  Part of what it means to be created in the image of a creator God is that we ought to be creative.  (See Being at Home in the World, where Mark McLeod-Harrison and I affirm and discuss these ideas.)  When people are freed from the need to produce daily necessities, they can make culture, new culture.  To paraphrase Andy Crouch: if you don’t like current culture, don’t complain about it; instead, make more.  Sing new songs, cook new dishes, play new games.  In a myriad of ways we will honor God’s gifts by doing useful things, but they may look more like play than work.  Why should play be reserved for children?
            Third objection: overturning the moral law of labor robs laboring people of dignity.  Protestant leaders like Martin Luther objected to the medieval notion that priests, monks, and nuns had “higher” callings from God.  All honest, productive labor honored God, Luther said.  The shopkeeper, the miller, the woodsman, and even the peasant laborer have equality before God.  Recognizing the dignity of labor helped establish the dignity of laborers.  It prepares society for more radical ideas of equality and prepares the ground for democracy. 
Now, the objector says, if we say that there is no moral law that people ought to work, we open the door to the pernicious idea that some callings are better than others.  Perhaps we won’t think of “religious” callings as higher; perhaps we will say “creative” people (artists and computer programmers) have the higher callings.  If we deny people at the bottom of the socio-economic heap the dignity of labor, what do they have left?
Reply: the third objection gets things backwards.  Those of us whose lives are made easy by reinvested capital need to imagine what labor is really like for those who still work as our ancestors did.  Back-breaking labor is not what gives dignity to human beings; rather, it is the intrinsic worth of human beings, constrained by circumstances to perform such tasks, that confers dignity to necessary work.  If, as I predict, the day comes when reinvested capital produces most or all daily necessities, many people will not be able to “compete” in the labor marketplace.  They will not be able to “earn” a significant income in a competitive labor market.  After all, who can compete with a robot driver?
Fourth objection: even if it were possible for capital to produce our daily necessities, our market economy requires that people work.  Saving and investing capital is only half of a capitalist economy.  Production has to be balanced by consumption.  A capitalist system produces goods only in the hope that people will buy them, so consumers need to have incomes.  If people don’t work, how will they have income to buy products?
Reply: we will need to invent ways of putting purchasing power into the hands of people who don’t work.  Exactly what those ways will be, I don’t know.  But already modern economies have found ways to chip away at John Smith’s order (for the Jamestown colony in 1608): “He that will not work shall not eat.”
Today we think it unremarkable that many people live as many years after “retiring” as they did “working.”  We should remind ourselves how unusual, historically speaking, that is.  Historically, most people worked until they were too ill, often dying.  Invested capital has made our economy so productive that we can afford to have millions of unemployed consumers.  We have adapted our thinking to this unprecedented situation by telling ourselves that retired people have “earned” the income they spend; thus, their condition doesn’t really violate the moral rule: all people who are able should work.
But that’s just false.  “Retired” people violate the moral law of labor just as much as the traditional independently wealthy “dilettante.”  The point is this: in both cases we have people who do not work or work only when they choose, and yet they have access to purchasing power so they can buy things in the market.  And people who live on state support—through food stamps, disability payments, and other social security payments—are yet another group of people who do not work and yet have money to spend.
We need to get used to this idea.  For a market system of production and consumption to work, those who buy things have to have money to spend on the goods produced.  If, as I predict, many will not be able to participate in producing goods, they will need to be given purchasing power even if they don’t work.
This idea outrages many of us, precisely because it finally abandons the moral law of labor. It says that people ought to have money to spend in the market even if they didn’t earn it.  I can’t pretend to make the notion easy to swallow.  But maybe it will help if we look at production and consumption from the point of view of the 1%. 
Very wealthy people own much of the means of production; in many cases their “work” consists of managing investments of capital.  They look down on the economy from lofty financial heights.  Some of them “earn” enormous amounts of money simply by leveraging other people’s money.  But sometimes things go wrong.  When things go badly wrong, we call it a recession.  And when the economy goes into a recession, very wealthy people discover it is in their interests to “get the economy moving again.”  Policy makers search for ways to encourage consumer spending in the face of low consumer confidence.  Many economists point out that the most effective way for government policy to encourage consumer spending is to increase expenditures on food stamps; almost as effective is spending more on unemployment benefits.  These measure put money into the hands of people at the bottom, people who will almost certainly spend it quickly.  I’m confident you see the point: The people at the top need to recognize that it is in their interest to put purchasing power in the hands of people at the bottom.  It doesn’t’ matter whether those people have earned it.  It’s good for everybody if they have it.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Work, Pt 3

Some Thoughts about Work, Part 3

Lazy hands make a man poor,
but diligent hands bring wealth.
Proverbs 10:4 (NIV)

In parts one and two of this essay I stated a platitude:

The “moral law of labor” (revised): Every person who is able ought to work.

I broke off part two while making clarifying comments about the moral law of labor.
(1) The law of labor is not the only moral value.  It must be balanced against other goods.
(2) Some labor aims at producing necessities, but other labor procures non-necessary goods.
(3) There is no bright line distinction between necessary and non-necessary labor.  Between clear examples of necessities (e.g. food and clothing) and non-necessities (science-fiction novels), there are lots of goods in the vague middle (sailing ships and banks).  Goods in the middle group might have been unneeded at one stage of history but required to maintain the overall productivity of a later time.

Now, a few more points before we come to the main question.
(4) We don’t need a clean distinction between necessities and non-necessary goods to make an important observation.  People who engage in the production of non-necessary goods depend on the labor of people who produce necessities.   Imagine an artist working hard on a new symphony, poem, painting, or play.  While she works on her art, other people must supply her daily necessities.  The result of the artist’s labor may greatly enrich life for many people.  She may, if markets allow, trade her artistic production for other goods.  Nevertheless, her work is only possible because other people’s labor is so productive that it meets her needs as well as theirs. 
(5) History and civilization stem from non-necessary labor.  Artists, musicians, priests, rulers, soldiers, explorers, and scientists—like philosophers, none of these jobs bake any bread.  They produce no food, transportation, shelter, or clothing.  Yet without the work done by such people, civilization would not exist, our material conditions would never change, and the economy would be what it was fifty thousand years ago, a universal struggle for survival against chance and starvation. 
(6) Therefore: in economic terms, history and civilization have been made possible by the excess productivity of human labor.  Those who work to make the daily necessities supply their own needs and the needs of artists and their kind, the civilization makers.

            The excess productivity of labor can be used in a variety of ways.  In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs decided to devote millions of man-hours of labor to construct pyramids.  In a very real sense, pyramids were physical instantiations of the excess productive capacity of Egypt’s agricultural economy.  In economic terms, we could say that some of the excess production of Egypt was “saved” and turned into “capital.”  That capital was then used to build temples and pyramids, and to support armies and a priestly class.  Egypt was hardly unique, economically speaking.  Ruling classes in civilizations around the world directed “capital”—in every case made possible by the excess production of those who labor to make necessities—to be used to create palaces, cities, roads, statues, prisons, libraries, navies, opera houses, and so on: in short, all the paraphernalia of civilization. 
Occasionally, sometimes by accident, capital was used in a way that increased productivity.  We can call this investment.  Suppose a ruler commands that human capital be used to build not a statue to his own glory but a road connecting parts of his territory.  A road, by making transportation speedier and safer, probably increases productivity in that country.  Absent natural or human caused disasters, a ruling class that consistently invested capital (saved labor) toward increasing productivity would, in a few generations, rule over a very wealthy state.  Unfortunately, rulers all around the world have burned up most capital rather than investing it; they do this primarily through war.
Modern capitalist economics depends on the reciprocal relationship between labor and capital.  Excess labor becomes capital, and capital increases the productivity of labor.  Only in the last three or four centuries have the ruling classes realized that capital can be invested.  They now know that resources invested in education and infrastructure (to take two excellent examples) will make a country wealthier, whereas capital spent on jewelry and colossal statues won’t.  I am not condemning resources spent on cathedrals or science fiction novels or the like; I’m only pointing out that they aren’t investments, in the sense that they don’t increase productivity.  Leaders in capitalist countries have recognized the dynamic of labor and capital and have tried to encourage it through government policies of many sorts.
I am not going to say anything about the various policies governments have devised to encourage saving and investing.  Whether those policies were wise or not, the long-term trend is clear.  Over time, the pace of investment and the overall increase in productivity has risen dramatically.  The total production of goods and services in the world is increasing exponentially.  The industrial revolution leads to the information revolution, which leads to driverless cars.
What next?
            Economists, futurists, and science fiction writers have long speculated about where economic change will take us.  Perhaps we will see the end of extreme poverty.  Perhaps we will use up crucial resources and pollute the earth.  Maybe the “population bomb” will consign billions to starvation.  The possibilities are infinite.  Nevertheless, I think we know enough about capital and labor to introduce a new thought: the moral law of labor may be false.
            Invested capital makes labor more productive. More and more, the production of goods relies on capital, not labor.  And there is apparently no necessary limit to productivity.  At one time, a farmer could feed his family and one other family.  Today, a handful of farmers can feed thousands.  There is no reason that in some tomorrow a small number of protein technicians could feed everybody.
            The “moral law of labor” says that everybody should work.  But there have always been a few people who are able to work but don’t.  Historically we have labeled them as “dilettantes,” “lazy,” “parasites,” and so on.  In current economic theory we call them “free riders.”  Notice the tone of moral disapproval.
            Some of the non-workers are independently wealthy.  They inherit so much capital that they need not work.  In popular myth, such “wastrels” fritter away their capital and come to a bad end.  In reality, plenty of independently wealthy people show enough wisdom to trust their financial advisors and live, either modestly or extravagantly, on the profits of their investments.  Given the productivity of capital, I predict that the number of wealthy non-workers will grow.
            Some of the non-workers live at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder in social welfare states.  In any country that has a sufficiently generous system of social welfare, there will be some people who choose not to work.  Given the choice between very low wage jobs and welfare, they take welfare.  These are the “free-riders.”  Economists worry that too many of them will create a drag on economic growth.  Perhaps they will.  But in the long run, the productive power of capital will increase the overall carrying capacity of national economies, to the point where the free-rider problem disappears.  I predict that in the long run the policy question will not be how to get those at the bottom to work; rather, the question will be how to get sufficient money into their hands so that they can buy things.  A capitalist economy needs consumers.
            I suggest the truth is this: people do not have to work to get the “daily necessities.”  Capital is far more productive than humanity ever guessed until recently.  As capital becomes responsible for producing a greater and greater share of the things we really need, more and more human jobs are devoted to creating non-necessary goods.  We become educators and novelists.  We invent new computer games.  We write blogs.  A tiny fraction of those blogs become commercial successes; most of them earn no money.
            In the future, that is what people will do.  They will “work,” if they choose to, at an ever-increasing palette of non-necessary jobs.  Only a minority will have the privilege of laboring at jobs that produce necessities.  Mostly, that group will consist of computer specialists, who tell the robots what people want to buy for Christmas.