Category Archives: modern culture

Retirement And Its Uses

What is Retirement?  In one sense, it is a wholly negative term, defined by what it is not.  As darkness is the absence of light, retirement is the absence of work (at least paid work).  A void in time, created for both positive and negative reasons.  The upside is that retirement, if properly prepared for, allows one to live without earning a paycheck.  Savings, Social Security, and pensions can combine to make paid work unnecessary. The negative is that the aging process can reduce or destroy the worker’s ability to continue working.

So retirement is the non-existence of the need to work for pay.   Some continue working in “retirement”, or past the “usual retirement age” defined by Social Security eligibility, for various reasons: poverty (lack of savings), avarice (desire to accumulate wealth beyond need), or because they enjoy their work, or boredom (“what else would I do all day?”).

The “what-else-would-I do-all-day?” folks make an interesting point.  What do retirees do with their time?

They seem busy, but if you ask them what they are busy doing, you get confused answers; they’re not sure why they are so busy, they just are. (Spare me your senility jokes.)

(An enterprising sociology professor should get a big government/NGO grant to study this. An army of clipboard-armed grad students following old people around all day, noting their every move, would certainly liven things up in Phoenix or Broward County.)

All joking aside, the use of time is an issue for everyone; but circumstances push it to the forefront for retirees.

Some clever person has observed that “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Time is a difficult thing to wrap one’s hands around.  In old age we have lots of time on our hands but very little time left on earth.  How does one deal with that?  We are told that time is relative, and anyone who has watched the last two minutes of an NFL or NBA game knows that to be true.

Some treat retirement as an extended vacation.  Others maximize social activities or hobbies.  The new-old (younger and healthier) retirees can turn it into a re-lived or re-imagined high school; their idols are restored classic cars from the 50’s and 60’s.  Retirement communities like The Villages in central Florida cater to all these themes.

So retirement can be like an extended vacation, an endless life of socializing after golf, or an eternal summer before their senior year.

Is there another way of looking at it?

Jewish theologian Abraham J. Heschel touched on an aspect of all this in his essay “The Sabbath: Holiness In Time”.  He posits a contrast between time and space.

“Judaism is a religion of time, aiming at the sanctification of time.

Every one of us occupies a portion of space…Yet no one possesses time.  We share time, we own space.

Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time… We suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look in its face… ”

For Heschel, the Sabbath is the focal point of the Jewish sense of holiness in time.  And while retirement is generally defined in negative terms (non-work), the Sabbath reverses this.

“The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath.  It is not an interlude, but the climax of living.  Three acts of God denoted the Seventh Day: He rested, He blessed, and He hallowed the Seventh Day (Genesis 2:2-3).”

(This may appear similar to the conception of our modern week-end.  As an old song* had it, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” But that image of the weekend is closer to the high school model than to the Sabbath. Still…)

If the workweek is for the Sabbath, could that mean that the working life is for the retirement?

Prior to the last century, and even now outside the prosperous industrial world, it was and is certainly not the case.  Retirement, if it happened at all, occurred when the worker was no longer of any use in gainful employment, becoming an economic  burden on his family (at best).

But here and now, retirement has expanded (even exploded) as a highly desirable, wealthy, and sustainable demographic.  Social Security in all developed countries provides an income floor.  Savings (often tax-sheltered) and private pensions add to the comfort level. The elderly are now, on average, among the most prosperous sectors of our society (there is, of course, a cohort of the elderly poor: but they do not predominate).  One has only to visit retirement communities in Florida, Arizona, or anywhere else warm, to see this.  Golf cart-accessible “villages”, boomer classic car gatherings (high school redux!), and second homes (for those who find Arizona too hot or Florida too muggy in summer) abound.

What’s wrong with that, one may ask? Nothing; but it is not the Sabbath.  It is not holy.

(Of course, modern retirement often resembles the customary modern secular sabbath, devoted to socializing and spectator sports.)

But can retirement be a time for awareness of and participation in the holiness of time?  If not “instead”, then at least “in addition”?  What would that look like?

Daily mass?  Morning and evening prayer?  Time with family?  Volunteering at the hospital, school, or food bank, to help those in need?

In fact, this describes the regular life of many good Catholics, even during their working years.  How much more so could retirement be?

Holiness in time: maybe  it isn’t just for Sundays anymore.

 

____________________

*1981 song by Canadian band Loverboy, containing the following:

Everybody’s working for the weekend

Everybody wants a little romance

Everybody’s goin’ off the deep end

Everybody needs a second chance,

The album was titled “Get Lucky”.

Three Small Thoughts With No Connection

What’s New?

What did Moses and Jesus bring into the world that was new?

Before the Bible, and especially before Jesus, what religion ever valued…

–the poor over the rich?

–the weak over the strong?

–the childish over the wise?

–the humble over the proud?

–mercy over strict justice?

This is most clear in the paganism of the ancient world. The values of mercy and humility are conspicuously absent in the writings of Greece and Rome. Their heroes and moral exemplars are all proud, rich, strong, and wise.  They NEVER said “Love your enemies”.

Tentative conclusion: Nietzsche was right to hate Jesus and the Jews, for they gave the world everything that he despised.

 

The Need to Know Sin

Why has the modern world lost God? Because we have decided that we are not sinners, and so we do not need Him.

We do not sin so we do not need forgiveness.  We are basically good people, so we do not need help to become better. We are innocent, so we do not fear judgement.

The “triumph of the therapeutic” outlook (see P. Rieff) has convinced us that we do not sin, but only make mistakes. We embrace the view that all we enjoy and everything we like to do must be good. We can proudly boast “I have no regrets!” without blushing or laughing at ourselves.

We do not search for God (or even understand why others would do so) for two reasons. Some do not feel the need for divine help. Others feel the need, but are unwilling to accept any help that includes a list of “Thou shalt not’s”.

Without a sense of sin and our own sinfulness, how can we ever find God? Or even begin the search?

 

The Wisdom of Sancho Panza

It is hard to admit that I had to grow old before I could begin to grow up. But it is true. I had been so full of myself that I had no room for God or even for other people who loved me. I had to learn to empty myself first. That has meant learning humility, above all. It has been a hard lesson for me, after a lifetime in which soaring self-esteem seemed to be my natural state.

Finally, I begin to see my own smallness in the world, paired somehow with the greatness I share with each of us as creatures made in the image of God.

In Don Quixote, Cervantes has his picaresque character Sancho Panza observe that “everyone is as God has made him, and oftentimes a great deal worse”.  In my case, he is right.

 

Slobs (and Snobs) in Church and Society

In Crisis Magazine today, Chilton Williamson Jr. has published a thought-provoking article about people dressing down for mass (“In the Image of Slob”). Like him, I notice a lot of shorts, tee shirts, and flip-flops; and I also notice my tendency to feel judgmental about this, and I try to re-route my thinking, being glad that they are in church at all. (The “snob” in the title is obviously me.)

After he read it, my friend Mister Moleman re-posted an essay from 2001 by noted deep-thinker Charles Murray, entitled “Prole Models; America’s Elites take their cues from the underclass“, putting the issue in the perspective of the disintegration of our society.

Both are well worth reading.

Who Would Have Known…It Would Get This Bad?

Anthony Esolen, writing in the always valuable Crisis Magazine, has put his brilliant pen to list the stark litany of horrors which would have been unthinkable until quite recently.  “Who would have known, as recently as thirty years ago,” just how destructive the sexual revolution would be to all we hold dear: society, marriage, family, childhood innocence, truth?

The immediate trigger of this litany is the Drag-Queen story time for kids at the public library (even in once-conservative Nashua, NH).

Read the whole thing.  Esolen’s is the voice of Isaiah or Jeremiah.  Painful to read, necessary to heed.

Why “Mother’s” Day? Why not Parent #1 Day?

[As usual, my friend Hans Moleman (at mistermoleman.com) has made a good and timely point: in an age when the benefits of motherhood have been scientifically and legally debunked, refuted, and declared non-existent, why do we still celebrate “Mother’s” Day?]

It is time to put an end to this outrage.  “Mother’s” Day is an abhorrent, anachronistic vestige of heterosexist oppression.  In barely concealed homophobic code, it implies that a child needs and/or benefits from having a mother, and that motherhood is something other than an outdated social construct.

Sure, motherhood may have been revered in the Dark Ages.  But as Enlightenment has spread across the land in recent years, social scientists and learned judges have patiently explained to us that “mothers” are now quite redundant.

Wise judges such as Vaughn Walker, ruling that the voters of California have no right to decide so important a question, wrote:

“The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment… The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology…Children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted, and having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted.”

See?  It is “accepted beyond serious debate”.  As Al Gore likes to say, the debate is over, we know all we need to know.

The judge did admit that things were different in the Dark Ages: “When California became a state in 1850, marriage was understood to require a husband and a wife.”  But, as they say in California, that was then and this is now.  (On retiring soon after ruling against Prop 8, Judge Walker said ““I have done my part.”  Indeed he has.)

The Iowa Supreme Court was equally patient in dismissing the folly of mother-fixation.

“The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.

There you have it.  This whole motherhood thing is just a stereotype.

And think of the emotional pain inflicted.  Every “M-word” Day is a gross offense to the self-esteem of gay male couples who are thinking about raising children.

It reminds one of a heart-breaking episode from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.  Stan, a young rebel with gender issues, announces that he wants to have a baby:

Stan (also known as Loretta): It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.

Reg:  But you can’t have babies.

Stan:  Don’t you oppress me.

Reg: Where’s the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?

Well, Reg, modern science has finally come up with effective gestation boxes, so Stan’s dream (actually Loretta’s dream) can now come true. And the courts have said that gay adoption is OK, because all that a child needs is “parents”.

So we can leave this motherhood fetish back in ancient Judea where it belongs.

The obvious thing to do is to rename the holiday.  Federal and state governments are quickly replacing the anachronistic “Mother” and “Father” lines on government forms and birth certificates with the more sensitive “Parent #1” and “Parent #2”.

The calendar can and should do the same thing.  May 11 is Parent #1 Day, with Parent #2 to be celebrated later.  (Don’t get me started on the whole “Fatherhood” outrage.  That can wait until P2 Day.)

Boycott Hallmark until they correct this archaic macro-aggression against the differently gendered parent!

Reminder: Did you call your Parent #1 today?