Puts all heaven in a rage.
For the first time in years, I ate out at this place called White Fence Farm. It bills itself as a "Family Friendly Restaurant," complete with a petting zoo, playground, and pass-around platters at the dinner table. The food is excellent. But there are quite a few things there that inspire shivers of suspicion.
First, there's an air of self-satisfied self-righteousness. One sign on the way in says "Prayer may not be allowed in school, but it's welcome at our tables." Then there's the Southron Plantation style in the decor. An elderly statue of a manservant greets you as you enter the door to the dining area, looking just like one of those houseslaves from old movies, with the only difference being that the statue is white. There is a cage of peacocks and peahens, which makes one want to rewrite that Blake line about which caged bird sets heaven in a rage. There is a very large gift shop that has a live band, of all things, playing country tunes on a modest stage, behind which runs a tubeslide for the kiddies. But what particularly caught my eye was a small pamphlet of just four pages.
It's funny enough on the first three pages. The cover has a moneybag, a sizable stack of large coins, and two stacks of bills each wrapped with a small paper, looking fresh from the bank. It is titled: The Secret of How To Make Money.
Open the page, and in giant letters one reads:
"GO TO WORK!"
I grin a bit at that. But when I check out the back of the pamphlet, I find a truly odd exhortation to labor:
If you are poor…work.
If you are rich…continue to work.
If you are burdened with seemingly unfair responsibilities…work.
If you are happy…keep right on working.
Idleness gives room for doubts and fears.
If disappointments come…work.
If sorrow overwhelms you, and loved ones are not true…work.
When faith falters, and reason fails…just work.
When dreams are shattered and hope seems dead…work.
Work as if your life was in peril.
It really is.
No matter what ails you…work.
Work faithfully…work with faith.
Work is the greatest remedy available.
Work will cure both mental and physical afflictions.
Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do which must be done whether you like it or not.
Being forced to work, and forced to do your best will breed in you temperance, self-control, contentment, diligence, strength of will, character, and a hundred other virtues which the idle will never know.
As the dining area is in the style of a Southern aristocrat's mansion, such comments are particularly incongruent. Such aristocrats, especially those who admired the ancient Greeks, tended to look down on labor as something one's slaves did. The presentation of work as a panacea--indeed, an opiate!--is quite laughable. Of its list of virtues, only temperance fits into the classical schema, and that is a virtue which even the pagans praised. Oddly enough, work is presented as instrumental and not dignified in itself; normally one's highest praises are reserved for something of inherent value, and not for what the thing does for you. The kind of labor praised here has no liturgical character. I do not think there is any room in this mindset for the Benedictine saying, "laborare est orare," to work is to pray, nor is there room for contemplation in general. It's all Martha and no Mary, but even its Marthaness is circumscribed and incomplete.
The line "Idleness gives room for doubts and fears." strikes me as one of the oddest points in the encomium. For one, sometimes fears and doubts are a sign that things are truly out of whack. For another, St. John tells us that it is perfect love, and not work, that drives out all fear.
And lastly, there is no sense of tragedy "at work" here. It is as though diligent labor puts the strumpet Fortuna on permanent vacation. That is the Baconian project, but I don't think it realistic, and it's not ideal in any case.
I know Michael Novak has been trying to defend capitalist labor systems against foes and arguments both real and imaginary. He's trying to baptize capitalism, but he seems to ignore that sometimes capitalist structures have their own sort of baptism they'd like Christianity to undergo. I think this poem touches on a key problem with Novak's enterprise. Sacred things are not to be put up for sale. That is why prostitution, in its physical and virtual forms, so offends the Christian imagination. However, labor is precisely the thing that is on sale in the contemporary marketplace. I don't see any particular way out of the situation short of monasticism, but Novak's encomia to the status quo indicate he doesn't even realize the difficulty.
Though the food is terrible, I think Casa Bonita is a far more "family friendly" local restaurant. Faux-mexican indoor plazas beat white split-rail fences. Not that I'm going to go all Holden Caufield and whine about Stepford phoniness, but cliffdivers, fire juggling, indoor waterfalls, gorilla chases and mariachi bands beat petting zoos and white-bread country music any day. If only they had a church facade on their fake plazas...