Work, ‘to the exclusion of all else’

Do we live to work, or do we work to live? Dominic Bouck writes on North Dakota’s repeal of the state’s “blue laws:”

These laws, which made it illegal for retail stores to be open from midnight to noon on Sundays, used to be common throughout the country. But now, only some liquor stores are still subject to such constraints. Sunday rest for retail is a relic of the past.

Puritan theology certainly lurks behind these blue laws. But the principle that the state should ensure we have rest goes much deeper than narrow-minded prissiness. God’s rest on the seventh day was of great comfort to the Israelite slaves in Egypt, who knew not rest. … Today’s culture of slavery does not involve overlords cracking whips, but rather the irresistible urges of a consumer economy.

The 24-7 retail culture hurts our poor. Those who suffer most from the loss of blue laws are those conscripted into hourly wage jobs: the young, the impoverished, single mothers, and all those who struggle. …

As those who work in retail know, it’s not as simple as asking for different hours. … One of my high school students recently told me that she had to work at a retail store on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Her Thanksgiving dinner consisted of a Taco in a Bag (a Midwest recipe). The legal protection of Sunday rest helps the individual worker and preserves the family from the arms race that is our consumer society. …

As Josef Pieper wrote in Leisure, the Basis of Culture: “Of course the world of work begins to become—threatens to become—our only world, to the exclusion of all else. The demands of the working world grow ever more total, grasping ever more completely the whole of human existence.” We are made for more, yet society keeps ensuring us less. Christ said it best: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

People say “time is money” because they understand money to be the only meaningful type of value. But really, “time is value.” And we should be cautious about those around us who are too eager to help us obtain what is ultimately ephemeral in exchange for what is valuable.