Christian, Culture, philosophy

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

leisure culture

Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper. Originally published in 1952. 145 pages.

This book had been on my reading list for several years, but kept getting pushed down the queue. Thankfully, a friend of mine was reading it recently, and as she referenced what she gleaned, my interest in it was piqued enough that it moved to the top of my reading list. Before I offer my thoughts on this thoughtful book of essays, I’ll share the Goodreads promotional description of the book:

One of the most important philosophy titles published in the twentieth century, Josef Pieper’s Leisure: the Basis of Culture is more significant, even more crucial, today than it was when it first appeared fifty years ago. Pieper shows that the Greeks understood and valued leisure, as did the medieval Europeans. He points out that religion can be born only in leisure – a leisure that allows time for the contemplation of the nature of God. Leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture.

He maintains that our bourgeois world of total labor has vanquished leisure, and issues a startling warning: Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for nonactivity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture – and ourselves.

These astonishing essays contradict all our pragmatic and puritanical conceptions about labor and leisure; Josef Pieper demolishes the twentieth-century cult of “work” as he predicts its destructive consequences.

This is book is a collection of essays exploring the meaning, significance, and implications of leisure on the soul of a culture. As I read it, I needed to keep that in the forefront of my mind. Rather than each chapter building upon the one prior, many of the ideas in the various essays overlapped. Once I was able to adjust to that, it was much more engaging and enjoyable to me. I was inspired on many levels as I read it.

In a culture as results oriented and productivity obsessed as ours, where the idea of the “Protestant work ethic” is etched into all of our DNA (even the most irreligious), Pieper offers a revolutionary thought:

The original meaning of the concept of “leisure” has practically been forgotten in today’s leisure-less culture of “total work”: in order to win our way to a real understanding of leisure, we must confront the contradiction that rises from our overemphasis on that world of work.

[…]

The very fact of this difference, of our inability to recover the original meaning of “leisure,” will strike us all the more when we realize how extensively the opposing idea of “work” has invaded and taken over the whole realm of human action and of human existence as a whole.

At first glance I questioned whether or not our culture, which seems thoroughly obsessed with being entertained, could ever be described as “leisure-less”. However, as I continued to read Pieper’s understanding and definition of leisure based on historical writings and philosophies, the situation became clearer. More than culture on a constant search for leisure, we are most accurately described as one in the grip of a sort of acedia; chiefly characterized by spiritual apathy and mental sloth.

The opposite of acedia is not the industrious spirit of the daily effort to make a living, but rather the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God — of Love, that is, from which arises that special freshness of action, which would never be confused by anyone [who has] any experience with the narrow activity of the “workaholic.”

[…]

Leisure, then, is a condition of the soul — (and we must firmly keep this assumption, since leisure is not necessarily present in all the external things like “breaks,” “time off,” “weekend,” “vacation,” and so on — it is a condition of the soul) — leisure is precisely the counterpoise to the image for the “worker.”

The most fascinating bit of information that remained with me from this little book was the realization that the word leisure itself has its etymological roots in the word we translate today as learning, or more accurately, school. Whether one learns in most modern schools is a topic for another day, but it becomes abundantly clear that leisure, rather than an opportunity to engage in idle disconnection from work, was originally an opportunity to refresh our souls and expand our minds. Pieper put it this way:

Leisure is a form of that stillness that is necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear. Such stillness is not mere soundlessness or a dead muteness; it means, rather, that the soul’s power, as real, of responding to the real — a co-respondence, eternally established in nature — has not yet descended into words. Leisure is the disposition of perceptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion — in the real.

Given our recent discussion here on the reality of leisure as something other than idleness or physical rest, having the added building block of Josef Pieper’s insights about the effects of leisure on the soul was an welcome addition.

I would give it 5 stars but there were moments when it took me longer than usually to piece together the direction in which Pieper was headed. Whether this was a result of my stunted post modern ability to focus or his writing style I do not know. Nevertheless, because of it I am giving this book

4 out of 5 stars.

Note: Beginning tomorrow (3/6/2019), I will be logged out of WordPress until at least 4/22/2019. It is my sincere prayer and desire that those of you who commemorate the Lenten and Easter seasons have blessed, worshipful celebrations.

 

Culture, philosophy, politics, videos

Thomas Sowell Invites Us to Think.

I am currently reading Thomas Sowell’s latest release, Discrimination and Disparities. I feel completely comfortable saying that Dr. Sowell is one of the greatest economic and political commentators of the 21st century. He has an unrelenting commitment to the truth and his insistence on looking at the logical conclusion of ideas makes him a rare breed among commentators of the day.

The fact that a thing sounds good, compassionate, or helpful must -according to Sowell, and I agree- be held up against empirical, factual information to determine if it is indeed going to produce the results promised. Usually, utopian intentions turn out to be little more than a Super Highway to Hell (I ripped that from Sowell).

He recently sat down with Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report to do an interview discussing his life, life’s work, and this new book.  Below is the 46 minute interview in its entirety. He mentions the propensity of so many people to spout off with very little idea of what they are talking about. Good stuff, worth the 3/4 of an hour:

Have a great weekend!

Culture, educational, nonfiction, philosophy

Digital Minimalism

digital minmalism

Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport. Published February 5, 2019. Hardcover, 304 pages.

This highly anticipated new release from Cal Newport arrived at my doorstep promptly on February 5, and I read through it at a speed which is highly uncharacteristic for me. That might mean that my anticipation propelled the momentum of my study, but I suspect it is best attributed to Newport’s engaging tone. It also helps that the topic he is covering is a hot topic of the day.

It seems every where you look, you can find discussions of the perils of social media, online distraction, and the lurching menace of the world’s largest technology companies as they encroach into every area of our lives, making privacy rare and more zealously guarded by many, such as this woman who disconnected from all services connected to the “big 5” tech giants. It is into this atmosphere that Cal Newport actually manages to offer a fresh perspective.

I hesitate to say that he offers a new perspective, because he doesn’t. He actually draws on the wisdom of those who have gone before, beginning with Aristotle and moving forward to more modern minds such as Wendell Berry. I am a great admirer of Wendell Berry, so the invoking of his unique and uncommon wisdom made this book all the more alluring to me.

Newport doesn’t use an abundance of pages offering tips on how to better manage your online life (although he does present a few). Neither does he use his megaphone to condemn any and all social media. Instead,  he calmly and methodically makes his case for a more intentional way of living, using an engaging and conversational tone. When he finishes, the reader is left to draw her own conclusions about the value or disadvantages of technology and online distractions in her life.

The best and most compelling arguments in the book are in the chapter dedicated to the importance of high quality leisure.  In this chapter, we find a most concise and piercing synopsis of why the subject of leisure, along with the role of the Internet in our daily lives, are such vital issues to confront. While discussing an example of a man whose time without access to the constant connection of the Internet, Newport notes that the man wasn’t missing any one specific digital activity. Rather, he was most uncomfortable with the general lack of access he was used to. Here is the linchpin of his presentation:

The more I study this topic, the more it becomes clear to me that low-quality digital distractions play a more important role in people’s lives than they imagine. In recent years, as the boundary between work and life blends, jobs become more demanding, and community traditions degrade, more and more people are failing to cultivate the high-quality leisure lives that Aristotle identifies as crucial for human happiness. This leaves a void that would be near unbearable if confronted, but that can be ignored with the help of digital noise. It’s now easy to fill the gaps between work and caring for your family and sleep by pulling out a smartphone or tablet, and numbing yourself with mindless swiping and tapping. p.168

Newport doesn’t assert that this instinct is a a new thing, of course. If it were he wouldn’t be able to draw on Aristotle in his quest for solutions. Whether through drinking, television, or any other number of alternatives, man has always been tempted to revert to low-level distractions to divert ourselves from the pain of physical, emotional, and spiritual realities we’d rather not face. The difference today of course, is that it is so much easier to avoid these realities than in times past. Our comfortable, easy physical existence makes us ripe to be mined by the masters of the new attention economy.

The best parts of this book are the chapters which chart the economics and psychology behind this new way of living, and later the importance of being careful of how we use our leisure. Most importantly, the reader is admonished of the importance of leisure activities that stretch us and grow us as human beings rather than viewing leisure as a time to indulge a mindless, vegetative state via screens.

As I read the examples given, I was reminded of the scene at our house on Super Bowl Sunday. Our kids -as they always do whether we have company or not- made great food, and turned on the set mainly for the purpose of ranking the commercials. There are two people in our house who know enough about football to sit through a game and maintain interest. I am one, and one of my daughters is another. My husband, having played high school football, knows the game, but is not at all interested in watching. My interest has steadily tanked in recent years as well.

While the girls watched commercials, and chattered in between, my husband was working on a project he started for me a couple of weeks ago but which has taken a lot longer than it might have if he hadn’t begun a new job this year. As he cut, sanded, measured and worked with his hands (I offered some help as well with staining), it was a prime example of what Digital Minimalism described. Rather than sit and watch the game, which would have drained the energy from someone like him, the time was spent doing something infinitely more satisfying. In the book, Newport referenced the difference between being able to point to something -anything- produced as a result of proficiency and effort being infinitely more satisfying than a nebulous number of likes in response to a saucy tweet or a photo of your plate at a trendy new restaurant.

In addition to stressing the importance of high-quality leisure, the book also emphasizes the importance of meaningful, in-person socialization. I especially appreciated those parts of the book.

In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport turns on a light rather than simply railing against the darkness. As more and more people awaken to the reality that their overly connected lives are out of control, they will be looking for constructive counsel and directions out of the digital wilderness. Digital Minimalism provides both of those and does it well.

4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

books for women, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, personal, philosophy, Uncategorized

My Final, Personal Conclusions of The Feminine Mystique

This is a more personal exposition, but because my Feminine Mystique posts may have been a jumble of ambiguity to those who wondered what I really think, I want to break it down a bit. I have learned the hard way that nothing goes without saying anymore. Everything which follows is offered from the perspective of my Christian worldview.

The book was pretty much what I expected. Liberals are quite predictable. They identify a thing that rightly needs to be addressed, and then offer a poison pill as the answer to the problem. Having had only secondary knowledge of the book mostly presented from the perspective of devoted feminists or devoted anti-feminists, I wanted to read it for myself. I’ve learned to mistrust the assertions of rabid ideologues.

What Friedan got right: It is silly and anti-Biblical to relegate women to a domain solely related to what they produce sexually. The notion that a woman is designed by God, filled with His Spirit, endowed with gifts, and no one except husband and kids is supposed to reap the benefit is nuts. When you look at Friedan’s source material, it’s easy to see that something had gone terrible wrong. After WWII, women reverted almost to a Disney Princess existence, where all of life -including attending college!- was about snagging a husband. Then upon marriage, nothing mattered but keeping the house perfectly clean and the husband perfectly happy. I’m all for clean houses and happy husbands, but stay with me.

What Friedan got terribly wrong -and feminists today, including Christian feminists get wrong- is this notion that women were unfulfilled at home because they were excluded from the greater world, and that the way to bridge that gap was to leave their homes and go to work. WRONG!

We can be homemakers, full time housewives, and make a difference in the world through the use of our gifts and talents. I will use my life as an example. I have been at home 24 years. When our older girls were in school, I volunteered at their school two mornings a week. I taught several struggling students how to read, offered them love and encouragement, and it only cost me three hours a week. My home was not neglected. This was before we entered the glorious years of homeschooling.

A Christian friend of mine from our neighborhood taught a parenting class in the school based on the book “Boundaries with Kids” and I helped facilitate it. I was on both the PTA and the SCA.  I served in the greeter’s ministry at our church two Sunday mornings per month, and authored and published the monthly newsletter for the helps ministry.

Later, our entire family, led by my husband, served in our city’s men’s homeless shelter twice a month for over 10 years. We cooked for those men, served them, prayed with those men, and our children from earliest ages were right there with us. When our 4th and 5th children arrived, my life slowed down tremendously, but we still worked with the homeless although my role moved farther into administrative stuff through the outreach ministry until the two youngest were tall enough and coordinated enough to fill ice glasses and roll silverware. They were 4 and 6.

During the slower years, I started taking my babies with me to visit a couple of elderly widows in our subdivision, and boy did they love being able to play with my cute little babies!

Now we homeschool, but we also utilize a classical group two days a week. I teach a literature and writing class there in exchange for a tuition break. Again, no career, but I am contributing to a community. Not to worry though. My house is clean and my husband is happy.

Who in their right mind would say I hadn’t contributed to the world outside of my home? Who would claim that my contributions would have been greater if they were offered in the form of a career? Friedan certainly would, but a decent chunk of traditional Christian teachers of women might argue that I dedicated too much energy outside of my home, even though I was doing exactly as my husband directed, and even though my kids and home were well taken care of. Americans, including Christians, have almost completely abandoned the role of women as community builders. What better way to use our gifts?

This is why I get disturbed by and perturbed with people on both sides of this argument. One wants woman to abandon her home and the other wants to imprison her in it. Neither is what God intended.

Currently, I am considering classes to prepare me for what I hope is a book that serves as a much better Christian approach to femininity for a group of women who are by and large, in a very tough spot on these issues. Many of my females relations and friends, even those who love me dearly, view me as either highly privileged or very weak for situating my life so fully dependent on my husband.

You see, we don’t have these “to stay at home or not to stay at home” debates among black women. It is largely accepted that most black women cannot stay home. I want to talk about how we can change that for our daughters’ generation besides simply saying, “Marry a man of a different race!” which is basically the prescription being offered to single, childless black women right now. When I write it, I want it to be readable, hence school.

I thought it was only fair when I reviewed the book to be honest about the fact that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Acknowledging that Betty Friedan raised some very good questions isn’t to say I think her conclusions or prescriptions were correct.

 

Because I don’t.

books for women, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, philosophy, politics, Uncategorized

Blogging through The Feminine Mystique

feminine mystique

The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. Originally published in 1963. Hardcover. 592 pages.

In an effort to be less inclined to have strong opinions about things I know little about yet have the ability to know more about, I have decided  there are a few books I should read for myself. These are the books that are referred to frequently by people for ideological reasons to promote their agendas. The kinds of books where the sum total of the view being presented is forever cemented in our minds based on the 10 well worn quotes that we’ve all read hundred of times over the years.

One book I decided to read -and blog through- is Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. I don’t expect reading it to alter my perspective, conviction, or beliefs regarding feminism. In fact, I am certain that it won’t. The results on the experiment of radical feminism are in, and they speak for themselves.

What I am most interested in is dichotomous experiences to the women Friedan references (in her first two chapters, for instance) when compared to women in less pampered circumstances. I also want to see if Friedan noted how the Industrial Revolution, whatever it added standard of living in aggregate, drastically changed the nature of the domestic sphere and the intrinsic value it added to the bottom line in the years when our economy was more agrarian.

In other words, I want a full picture of the alignment of family life and life for women in the 1950s leading up to the time of the publication of The Feminine Mystique. Even a cursory bit of research reveals that family life for most Americans was a far cry from the television portrayal of The Andersons and The Cleavers. This was especially true for my parents and grandparents, yet we are constantly presented that narrative of the 1950s as indicative of mainstream America.

I have reasons for this interest which may or may not be revealed in 2019, but let’s see if there are any unheralded surprises -at least surprises to me- to be found in The Feminine Mystique.

 

 

Christian, Church history, Culture, nonfiction, philosophy, politics

Hippies of the Religious Right

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Hippies of the Religious Right: From the counter-culture of Jerry Garcia to the Subculture of Jerry Falwell. By Preston Shires. Originally published in 2007. 287 pages.

You can tell an awful a lot about a man based solely on when he was born. Or at least, that’s what I read somewhere once, although I can’t tell you where even though I just spent 5 minutes clicking about trying to find it. Nevertheless, I believe there is a large grain of truth to the sentiment, and it strikes at the heart of what Preston Shires discusses in his book, Hippies of the Religious Right.

If I understand him correctly, Shires is exploring the culture and expression of belief in the young generation of the 1960s, many of whom became the devoutly religious and politically active in what was referred to from the late 1980s and onward as the “religious right”. That spirit of activism, coupled with the importance of the individual  are ideas of the 1960s with its rebellion from stilted, politically correct, hypocritical religious practices, gave way to a generation of Christians determined to be open, authentic, and inclusive in their faith.

It’s normal to be liberal when you’re young and grow increasingly conservative as you age. I read that somewhere also, but having lived it and witnessed in others, I can safely attest to the veracity of the statement. Given that, it makes sense that as the hippies of the 60s who never really abandoned faith in Christianity as the one true way grew up, they would return to the fold bringing with them what *worked* from 60s activist culture.

In a nutshell, Shires contends that:

Ever since the coming of the Jesus Freaks, born of the generation gap and rebellion against the technocratic establishment, evangelicalism has been injected with an activist fervor that encompasses the whole of life. That activism and commitment stimulated and nurtured the Christian Right. p.209

He continues the thoughts:

The greatest irony of the traditional interpretation of the Christian Right as a negative reaction to the sixties’ counterculture is that most evangelicals agreed with such a definition in the late 1970s ans still agree with it today. And with this understanding, they confidently stand dismissive of the sixties’ counterculture. But if it had not been for the counterculture, there may never have been a Christian Right, because the counter culture gave to evangelicalism the rebellious spirit, the youthful activists, and the committed voters it so needed. p.210

In other words, large swaths of the mainstream church were lukewarm (like Laodicea, I suppose), lacking any kind of real fervor or alternative to the greater corrupted society. Enter sixties’ radicalism.

I appreciated the pains Shires went to to present his arguments with as little ideological interjection or pontificating as possible. He made it clear early on the book that he would not be doing so, and he kept his oath. He leaves it to the reader to make their own decision about the rightness or wrongness of the conclusions he has drawn.

I am of two minds on the matter myself. On the one hand, I agree completely that the seeds of the religious right as we have come to know it were not only planted by the 60’s counterculture, but were nurtured and watered by the young people most influenced by that culture. What I’m not sure of is whether that was ultimately a good thing. The potholes along that roadway as a means of spreading the gospel have proven to be wide and deep, disabling the journeys of many earnest Christ seekers along the way.

Preston Shires definitely gives his readers a lot to think about. It’s a good book, although the tone is very academic and studious. If you’re interested in reading it, be warned that it’s not a quick conversational read. It really is written for those of us who are sincerely interested in the topic.

4 out of 5 Stars

Related:

 

 

 

 

coming from where I'm from, Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails, parenting, philosophy

Corrupting language and education is a political strategy.

Words, their meanings, evolution, and usage are a subject of endless interest to me. Hardly a day passes when I don’t hear or read a word used in ways that are not only incorrect, but defy the actual meaning of the word in insidious ways. The topic emerges with such frequency in conversations in our home that our 12-year-old has taken to making jokes about it at my expense. This is a story worth retelling, so I will.

I mentioned previously that we read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a part of this semester’s literature course. The kids mostly read the book independently, but at particular intervals, we’d sit together and use the chapters as an opportunity for them to listen to me read, with appropriate intonations and emphasis so that they could fully appreciate the story and language. While I read, they also read long in their personal copies of the book. Yes, we procure three copies of every book their literature teacher assigns them.

One of the things it is important to do while studying classic books is guard against those which are slightly abridged or in which the language has been tweaked to be easier on the modern ear. I am very careful of that, and as I read a particular passage where Mark Twain referred to females as a sex, our 12-year-old stopped me and said, “Wait. My book says gender”. When I asked her to read the passage for me from her version, she smiled and said, “Nah, it says ‘sex’, I was just messing with you.” Touché, young one.

This changing of language, and the redefining of words in ways that our grandparents wouldn’t recognize is common, normal and mostly seen as harmless. For most of my life, I thought so too. That was before I came to realize that the evolution of language has not only accelerated, but has rapidly watered down the desire to think critically rather than simply emoting. Because I am short on time and also desire to leave openings for you all to fill any gaping holes in my argument, here are just a few examples of linguistic evolution that are not only frequent in occurrence but also shockingly unquestioned, even among the sharpest tools in the shed.

  • Sex, which is most accurately and classically defined as one of the two biological classifications assigned to male and female creatures, has been shifted to reference coitus or sexual intercourse and it has been replaced by the word gender, which changes male and female from biological realities to subjective identifications. Even I have to make a conscious effort to avoid the ambiguous gender when I really mean sex.
  • A matriarch is a mother who is the head of her family, household or tribe, and a patriarch is a father who is the head of his family, household, or tribe, but patriarchy is suddenly “the patriarchy, defined as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are abused and excluded from power. Hmmm.
  • Health insurance, rather than understood as a type of insurance coverage which  covers medical and surgical expenses for a policy holder, has now been shifted and  defined as health care, which is more accurately and classically understood to mean doing the things which maintain and improve one’s physical and mental health. Ergo, you can be perfectly healthy, doing healthful things, but without health insurance, there is no health care*. Marginalized groups have higher percentages of members without “health care”. So we should look at what it means to be marginalized.
  •  Things and people which are marginalized are treated as insignificant or peripheral, and forgotten or abused as a result. At least, that’s the correct and accurate definition of marginalize. Today however, if you are a part of a minority group, you are hereby and forever labeled as marginalized because everyone is permanently slotted into the caste to which they belonged in 1950 America. This satisfies agendas of the current power brokers in education establishments and media. Even if you enjoy whole months of designated to your celebration, and every conceivable legislative policy is amended for your protection, you must be perpetually protected and elevated in status -by force if necessary. Marginalization has its privileges. The greater the number of marginalized groups you belong to, the more you need to be protected because….
  • Intersectionality. This one is so new my browser put the squiggly red line under it, even though it is ubiquitous in academia and grievance industry propaganda. I know how it works in practice, but I’m still working out the intricacies of its use so I’ll just offer the official definition. My dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Standard application of intersectionality means that my combination of race, sex, and class, categorizes me as part of a marginalized group with no privileges at all (using the class I was born in rather than the class my zip code and husband’s career has placed us in). There’s even a rubric to tell me how marginalized I am!  I’m in a bad way, let me tell you! It sounds ridiculous, but consider that this is how the majority of Americans are being educated. Which brings me to my last word for today.
  • Education, which long, long ago was defined as an enterprise of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, form the manners and habits, and fit youths for usefulness in their future stations has now been reduced to mean to go to school*.  School has become a convenient place to check off countless arbitrary boxes for the purpose of securing corporate employment. Fitness for future stations such as citizen, volunteer, spouse, parent, mentor, clergy or even logical thinker, is no longer included in our definition of education although these are all future stations to which most people aspire. That one can attend school for a full 17 years and yet be uneducated in ways that truly matter hardly occurs to anyone before the age of 30, when the extent our ignorance rushes in like a flood.

Just a few thoughts on linguistic evolution and why we must be ever so careful of how we educate our children. The transitions of today have profound implications on not only the people they become, but the world they have to live in.

* I realize that health insurance and health care are considered strongly correlated, as are schooling and education. Rather than flippantly dismiss that with “correlation does not equal causation”, I’ll just note that often our definitions of “healthy” and “educated” are the real issues.