For Labor Day weekend, Peggy Noonan wrote a column pointing to the critical connection between the spiritual value of work and the moral strength of our culture. But as Greg Forster notes, her “search for a beacon of hope that can point us back toward the dignity of work, she neglects the church in favor of less promising possibilities.”
In her column, she argues that to restore dignity and hope to our culture, we need politicians who celebrate – sincerely, not as a focus-group-tested messaging gimmick – the extraordinary possibilities of work, enterprise, and entrepreneurship to transform our lives and our culture for the better. I think she’s right that politicians who did that would be a positive cultural force. However, turning to politicians as our primary cultural hope is a mistake.
As Willard pointed out, the very fact that we mostly turn to politicians to tell us what the good life is – and to provide it for us – is itself a sign that we’ve turned away from God. We will never get away from catastrophic political conflict as long as people turn mainly to politicians when they seek hope. Government has an important social role to play, of course, and not just in forbidding force and fraud – libertarianism is as much a false hope as socialism. But “the American character” will never recover until we look to pastors as our primary guides and teachers in building a culture (which includes the economic system) that provides hope, dignity, and flourishing.
Noonan herself laments that “the old priests used to say” that “to work is to pray.” Why then does she now look only for politicians to say it? Are there no more pastors? Are today’s pastors incapable of saying it, mired in a truncated vision of their role in our lives, permanently stricken with prophetic laryngitis? Or is it that we no longer believe pastors matter?