Thursday, December 25, 2014

Faith and Work

Amy Chua (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) and author-husband Jed Rubenfeld in their book The Triple Package wrote this, to me, significant passage:
Nietzsche--a man with a superiority complex if ever there was one--believed that all of Christianity was founded on a reverse superiority claim . . . exalting the poor and pitiable in order to destroy aristocratic civilization, ultimately replacing it with modern democracy and the equality of all mankind. (p. 182)
If Nietzsche was right, Christianity--especially Protestantism in the 16th through 19th centuries--helped separate the aristocracy from their subjects, aiding the bourgeoise and launching democratic revolutions. Faith in various forms underpins a value system of hard work, discipline, and postponement of gratification that any healthy democracy would seem to want.

In life, New York Timesman David Brooks writes, we experience “out of body” moments of such sheer beauty they help us realize we are but one small piece of something far grander; moments that draw us toward faith, love, a positive natural order. These moments are extremely important.

Yet Brooks emphasizes that
the main business of faith [is] living attentively every day. The faithful are trying to live in ways their creator loves. They are trying to turn moments of spontaneous consciousness into an ethos of strict conscience. They are using effervescent sensations of holiness to inspire concrete habits, moral practices and practical ways of living well.
Brooks quotes Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik to argue that living faith is an arduous task:
The pangs of searching and groping, the tortures of spiritual crises and exhausting treks of the soul purify and sanctify man, cleanse his thoughts, and purge them of the husks of superficiality and the dross of vulgarity. Out of these torments there emerges a new understanding of the world, a powerful spiritual enthusiasm that shakes the very foundations of man’s existence.
The discipline associated with faith is certainly a part of life for many who successfully reach the top, whether they believe in some god or an environmental consciousness that demands lifestyle rigor.

And faith or lack of it, as conservatives such as Charles Murray argue, helps explain the current gap between professional and lower class households. Another conservative, New York Timesman Ross Douthat, in fact tells us that
We may have a culture in which the working class is encouraged to imitate what are sold as key upper-class values — sexual permissiveness and self-fashioning, spirituality and emotivism — when really the upper class is also held together by a kind of secret traditionalism, without whose binding power family life ends up coming apart even faster.
The split between the values our national elite seems to advocate--a permissive “do what feels good”--and the hard work elite parents ask of their children is mirrored in the contrasting sell-buy perspectives that underpin free enterprise. Entrepreneurs rely on the most base forms of marketing to meet popular desires for instant gratification, but the “sell” side of those transactions calls for planning and hard work.

The same goes for the dichotomy between serious politicians on one hand, and the crude messaging to which they expect voters will respond on the other.  It's as if the elite truly believe “A sucker is born every minute.”

American democracy would be better off if we instead shared the upper class’s actual high valuation of work, discipline, and postponement of gratification--characteristics faith once underpinned.

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