The weekend’s WSJ had an interesting article about work hours — the hours that people think they work, and the hours they actually do.
Over the past two decades of rapid technological deployment and globalization, it has become an article of faith among the professional set that we work sweatshop hours. Sociologist Juliet Schor started the rumor with her 1992 book, “The Overworked American,” which featured horror stories of people checking their watches to know what day it was.
Then God created the BlackBerry and things got worse. In late 2005, Fortune’s Jody Miller claimed that “the 60-hour weeks once thought to be the path to glory are now practically considered part-time.” In late 2006, the Harvard Business Review followed up with an article on “the dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek,” calling jobs that required such labor the new standard for professionals. The authors featured one “Sudhir,” a financial analyst who claimed to work 90-hour weeks during summertime, his “light” season. He’s got nothing on a young man I met at a party recently who told me he was working 190 hours a week to launch his new company.
It was a curious declaration; I would certainly invest in a start-up that had invented a way to augment the 168 hours that a week actually contains.
No set of issues reflects the heart of Catholic Social Teaching than the “life issues.” Over twenty years ago, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin coined the consistent life ethic using the New Testament image of a seamless garment to describe the cloaking of the image of God in humanity from conception to natural death — in criminals, in the unborn, in the marginalized and forgotten, and even our very enemies. This comprehensive ethical system seeks to link many different issues together by focusing attention on the basic value of life.
Today, talk of a consistent life ethic is practically a joke—arguably this is especially true among pro-life Democratic voters. Nevertheless, no one would argue against the assertion that neither side of the political spectrum fully embraces a comprehensive Culture of Life. The predominant liberalism of the Democratic Party and conservatism of the Republican Party reject the Catholic view on key “life issues”, while embracing it on others. This leaves faithful Catholics in two positions: we feel politically homeless and we cast our ballots with some sort of hesitation, reflecting our desire for better candidates. As if matters could be any worse, the “life issues” are used by political strategists and Catholics who are strong partisans for one party or the other as grounds to vehemently and divisively attack each other for political gain. They all quote from the same Catholic documents emphasizing different aspects of church teaching and appealing to certain basic Christian ethics while slyly or blatantly, but always conveniently, ignoring others; the latter incredibly undermines Catholic witness in the American political sphere.
The debate within the church over the past two elections has been this very issue and while one might agree wholeheartedly with one side or the other, the heated emotions embedded in our dialogue with the other side has damaged attempts toward real debate. Perhaps, at times, Catholics on both sides of the argument forget how much we all have in common. In John 17, we are given a beautiful image of the Lord praying to His Father for Christian unity for his disciples and all those that would come to believe through them. Thus, when our passions and partisanship allows division to win out, the only real victor is the devil. This is not even to suggest that the only solution is a “middle road” option of compromise, but perhaps there is a correct way, or better yet, a Christian way to be right in regard to a controversial matter and a charitable way of addressing the matter without brushing aside counter concerns or being “divisive” in the process.
As a new year approaches, as well as a new presidential administration with a significant party control in Congress, it appears to be as an appropriate time as any to ask the question: can we rediscover the seamless garment of life? I think we can and I think it’s necessary. Despite its terrible misuse, the seamless garment challenges us every day. 1) It encourages consistency in our approach to a great variety of issues that affect human life and dignity. 2) It challenges us to reflect on our basic values and convictions which give direction to our lives. 3) Most importantly, it challenges us to express our commitment to the sanctity of life in civil debate and public policy toward the ends of peace and justice.
There remains a host of challenges for the Culture of Life movement. The “life issues” for many minds refers simply to bioethical issues of abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, embryo-destructive medical research, and other such evils condoned as necessary medical care. Others argue for the inclusion of age-old scourges like war, capital punishment, genocide, torture, poverty and hunger, disease, violent crime, a lack of quality health care, and working toward a just economy, i.e. a more adequate distribution of domestic and global resources. All of these as well are “life issues” according to this view. No attack on human life and dignity in the fabric of human activity is an isolated incidence—they all are fundamentally related.
Catholic social doctrine embraces all of these issues as Christian concerns; whereas there is little debate over the former, there is now much heated debate over the priority each issue should have. There are two temptations that seem to exist: to emphasize certain issues and downplay, or even ignore, the importance of others, or to simply equalize them all across the board. Both have severe flaws. No Catholic, or anyone for that matter, has the luxury of attending only to one or two challenges. It is a clear misapplication of humanitarian principles. On the other hand, while modern threats to the sanctity of life are many, it still remains that the scope and gravity of some issues reflect a greater lacking of good, i.e. a greater injustice and thus, not all issues are on the same moral plane—prioritizing cannot be relative. This is ever more difficult to address when these two temptations are manifest on either side of the political spectrum with one side emphasizing opposition to abortion and “family values” and the other side seeking to find “common ground” on abortion behind pro-choice rhetoric and emphasizing Christian influence on all the “other issues.”
It is clear that these challenges are deeply entrenched in contemporary culture; this is especially true in American culture and the evident fruit of the sexual revolution. All of these matters require daily commitment, particularly in family relations which is the broken institution at the heart of all these moral crises. The mission of the Catholic laity is to build a “Culture of Life” by living a good moral life, promoting family values, living out one’s personal vocation in the service of the common good, engaging the political sphere, performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and dialoguing with people of other religious and political perspectives. As Pope John Paul II so rightfully declared:
“It is your task to reveal the true meaning of life where hatred, neglect or selfishness threaten to take over the world. Faced with today’s problems and disappointments, many people will try to escape from their responsibility. Escape in selfishness, escape in sexual pleasure, escape in drugs, escape in violence, escape in indifference and cynical attitudes. I propose to you the option of love, which is opposite of escape.”
The more I personally engage my non-Catholic neighbors, the more I notice the profound philosophical differences that exist between us. I made note of this in an earlier post on the state of the pro-life movement on the political left—where all issues are morally equal and the cultural acceptance of moral relativism hindered more substantial progress. This philosophic difference has been hammered by Ryan Harkins in his analysis of American cultural perspective on sexuality in comparison to Catholic anthropology and sexual morality in his latest posts. “As long no one gets hurts” is a prevalent attitude that is irreconcilable with Christianity. There is yet another disturbing mentality in America that asserts that a life that would require greater acceptance, love, and care is considered useless, or seen as an intolerable burden that is rejected in one way or another. This is truly manifest in the acceptance of killing to solve social problems is increasingly characteristic of American society and our public policy—from the unborn, to criminals, or someone of ill health or old age.
We forget that our policies are shaped by our culture and that ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are terms in need of redemption. We live in a culture that in many ways lacks God. There is neither justice nor hope without God. The world needs God. Pope Benedict XVI so beautifully put the Catholic understanding of this God:
“‘He will come with vengeance’ (Isaiah 35:4). We can easily suppose how the people imagined that vengeance. But the prophet himself goes on to reveal what it really is: the healing goodness of God. The definitive explanation of the prophet’s word is to be found in the one who died on the cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate. His ‘vengeance’ is the cross: a ‘no’ to violence and a ‘love to the end.’ This is the God we need.”
One of the things I love most about our country is that it is not a state built to give expression to a particular “nationality” in the sense that swept the world like an plague in the 19th and 20th centuries. Our country shares a set of political ideals and cultural touchstones, but it is also a glorious mix of different traditions which we, as a nation of immigrants, have brought with us and continued to develop here.
In honor of which — and because it seemed to me that perhaps we could use a “getting to know each other” thread around here — I take the liberty of cross posting the following from my personal blog:
The feast of the nativity of Our Lord has traditionally been a time for feasting and the gathering of family and friends. And since taste and smell are powerful hooks for memory, many of us have intense connections to various Christmas foods and drinks. The other holiday here in the US which is heavily food-centric is Thanksgiving, yet with a few familial variations, the Thanksgiving food palette is pretty well defined. Christmas food traditions, however, are pretty various.
When one reads 19th century British literature, one of the constant sources of tension is as to who is “a gentleman”. As used in this context, it was a term that applied not merely to manners and honor, but to economic status. A gentleman was not “in trade”. He did not have “a job”. He might own estates which he oversaw, though if he actively worked them his case became much weaker (“gentleman farmer” was more often a term of dismissal as approbation.) He might be a clergyman or a doctor (but not a surgeon — cutting flesh and sawing bone was not manual for a “gentleman.) He might be a military officer. But generally to be a “gentleman” one was expected to live off one’s investments and devote one’s time to either society or unpaid accomplishments. Many accomplishments in fields ranging from literature to philosophy to economics to science during the time period were the work of “gentlemen” who pursued these fields as “hobbies”.
I don’t think this was necessarily a good or healthy attitude towards work, but it’s interesting to me that in the modern US we have nearly diametrically opposed social/economic prejudices. The idle rich could not be more scorned, and it is the object of everyone to claim membership in the “middle class” and ideally to claim “working class roots” as well.
Everyone seems to have their own idea of what it is that the GOP lacks these days. Kathleen Parker seems to think that the big problem is its lack of a columnist with the prose style, intellectual rigor and cultural sensibilities of a Maureen Dowd — and in her most recent Washington Post column she tries to fill that void. [HT: Cranky Conservative]
As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.
Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.
I’m bathing in holy water as I type.
To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh.
Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth — as long as we’re setting ourselves free — is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.
Tito and Donald have instituted a worthy tradition of posting music on the weekends here at American Catholic, and so as the weekend winds to a close I thought I would attempt by own contribution to the genre, though with a characteristically analytical slant.
I’m not sure how it is that one can say that a piece of music “sounds like” a particular country. And yet some pieces of music very clearly have a regional tone. For instance, Vaughan Williams orchestral music simply sounds like English countryside.
While I don’t think I could describe what it is that makes something sound American, the following are some of the most American-sounding pieces of music that I know of.
Jerome Moross received an Oscar nomination for the score he wrote for Big Country, the outstanding 1958 western staring Gregory Peck, Charleton Heston and Burl Ives.
The movie itself is very much worth watching, and the score is one of my favorite movie scores. This video illustrates the main theme with scenes from the movie.
To speak of American “materialism” is…both an understatement and a misstatement. The material goods that historically have been the symbols which elsewhere separated men from one another have become, under American conditions, symbols which hold men together. From the moment of our rising in the morning, the breakfast food we eat, the coffee we drink, the automobile we drive to work–all these and nearly all the things we consume become thin, but not negligible, bonds with thousands of other Americans. — Daniel J. Boorstin
What’s wrong with American culture? This question has become prominent in Christian circles as the moral course of the United States becomes more and more frightening. The answer, in one respect, lies in the materialism of the American people. This is not materialism, in the philosophical sense, where all that exists is matter and one denies the existence of God — though that sort of materialism easily establishes this second sort. This materialism is the fruit of avarice and greed. It’s a common mentality — we’re all guilty of it — that we don’t really care about things per se; we know who we are without our possessions. Our sense of self is not bound to the material world. Of all the so-called “-isms” of our time, none has ever been more misunderstood, more criticized, and more relevant than materialism. Who but fools and the occasional nutty libertarian rise to its defense? It’s safe to say that while materialism may not be the most shallow of all the “-isms” plaguing the world, it certainly is among those that have triumphed.
Now that America is post-Election 2008, the news media and political pundits — as well as both the Democratic and Republican parties — busy themselves with a host of questions. What went wrong? What went right? What could we have done differently? How can loss ground be made up in the 2010 Midterm Elections and again in the 2012 Presidential Elections? In many ways, people are baffled by the outcome of this election. A few people claimed that there was no way Barack Obama could win as he is the most liberal candidate to run for the United States’ highest-ranking office. Obama not only won, he carried the three major swing states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida and topped it off by turning Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia from “red” to “blue.” Clinton made the argument in the primary season that no Democrat since 1916 has made it to Pennsylvania Avenue without winning West Virginia. Obama didn’t carry West Virginia. It isn’t conclusive yet, but it seems that he even loss Missouri by a small margin — a state virtually no president (except one) has made it to the White House without winning for over a century.