Monday, May 15, 2017

Chapter 8: Preparing for Hard Labor

St. Benedict was known for the phrase: ora et labora, prayer and work.  The Benedictines can teach us a thing or two about work, the subject of this chapter.

The modern world sees work in the wrong light: we both undervalue it, seeking to get rid of it, by automation or otherwise; and overvalue it, by spending too much time working, forgetting why we labor in the first place.  For the Benedictines: "A monk learns to do the task given to him for the greater glory of God and for the support of the community of believers."

Our secular culture not only values work incorrectly, it also seeks to enforce its rigid views of work on the rest of society.  Specifically, companies that fail to toe the line in regards to the dogma of the sexual revolution may find themselves in court.  Moreover, Dreher prophesies: "Public school teachers, college professors, doctors, and lawyers will all face tremendous pressure to capitulate to this ideology as a condition of employment."  He cautions Christian students to carefully consider what employment may entail in the years to come before embarking on a particular field of study.

He also abjures us to be prudent in choosing which hill to die on.  The cause of religious liberty will be bolstered if those who claim it do so with good reason--and behave with charity.  This may not be enough, but our aim should be about more than winning in court.  As St. Teresa of Calcutta said: "God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful."

Therefore, we ought to be bold.   In so doing, we may be able to gain time for religious liberty.  Here, I think Dreher sells his case short.  For two thousand years, Christians have given up their lives for the Gospel.  It is no small thing to lose one's job, but we should draw strength from the many courageous saints who underwent far tougher trials.  Besides, as Tertullian famously noted, the blood of the martyrs was seed for the Church.  Who is to say that the endurance of Christians under persecution may not again pay dividends?

In the meantime, Dreher extols us to be entrepreneurial.  If corporations decide to expel the heretics, we will need to work for smaller firms who will respect our right to retain private beliefs so long as we are valuable employees.  We can take advantage of the Internet to peddle our wares to like-minded people across the country or even the world.

There's nothing wrong with this advice, but I think this shows a misreading of MacIntrye.  Eking out a living on the web might be the best thing for one's family.  It's hard to see how it fits at all with "the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness."  On the contrary, for all the Internet has given us--such as the ability to discuss this book with a friend who lives hours away--it's integral to the liquid modernity Dreher elsewhere rightly decries.  This is just scraping by until Benedict comes along.

He also insists that we buy Christian, even if it costs more.  He notes that we should build Christian employment networks.  If someone is fired from a job, he should be able to turn to his church community to get him back on his feet.  Our parishes will need to be more than places of worship; they should provide support for all aspects of Christian living.

Dreher counsels us to rediscover the trades.  This is more to my liking, and I think closer in line with MacIntyre's vision.  This section focuses on the die setters of Elk County, Pennsylvania.  Work is good, land is cheap, and there is a classical Catholic school starting up nearby.  Sam MacDonald, a resident of Elk County who recently returned from D.C. where he was a journalist,  claims: "Industrialism is the new agrarianism.  It's not back to the land, but back to the trades."  Okay, so maybe not entirely in line with MacIntyre, but at least it's not office work.

Lastly, we need to prepare to be poorer and more marginalized.  We need to serve God first, even if it means giving up a bigger paycheck.  Hopefully, we're already prioritizing faith and family over the McMansion with the pool and the brand new luxury car.  (You hear that Rhen?)  "Given how much Americans have come to rely on middle-class comfort, freedom and stability, Christians will be sorely tempted to say or do anything asked of us to hold on to what we have."  But "that is the way of spiritual death."

Dreher's advice in this chapter is sound, but I wish he had thought bigger.  There's a conservatism to his project which keeps popping up.  It's not a dig on his book per se; indeed, his value is less that of guru and more that he's figuring this out like the rest of us.  But it gives one the impression of a holding pattern.  The medievals were capable of sustaining institutions like the guilds for centuries on end; we'll be fortunate to retain the same occupation--forget employer--over our lifetime.  It's unreasonable to expect Dreher to solve this, but I don't think he plumbs the depths of the absurdity of work in the modern world.  

Of course, since I'm a computer programmer, I can't exactly cast aspersions.  In any event, the next chapter examines Eros and the new Christian counterculture.


Doom said...

Quite good. I haven't read all of these chapter reviews, but this one is very good. I have been talking to parents, about getting their sons into the trades. Even here I am usually rebuffed. Many want their sons, even daughters, to go into professions. I try to point out that most won't make it into real professions, even if they happen to get a degree. Well, I try.

I know, if I had sons, I would be training them at home. Woodworking and construction, plumbing, electrical... both electric and hand tools... and teaching them on into heavy maths and functional sciences. Though too, having them to simple manual labor, like digging minor trenches, tending gardens, and such. Fantasy, at this point, but...

Benedictines, you say? Though aren't most of the orders rather work oriented? I don't know that, I had just always thought that most monasteries and nunneries had to be, to some extent, self-sufficient? Nice review. I'll have to go back and look at some of your other material. Good day.

Rhen Hoehn said...

Rediscovering the trades seems advantageous on multiple levels.

Given that most kids are shipped off to college to become knowledge workers, the trades have been generally frowned upon for a while now. There is a lot of opportunity for employment there, and will be for a long time to come. Just try getting your car in for repair on short notice (ugh) and you will find that we could probably double the number of mechanics in the country and still keep them all busy.

Trades workers are also, probably, less susceptible to cultural pressures in the workplace than knowledge workers. This probably depends on the trade to some extent, but who cares about the personal philosophy of the die setter?