Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Sabbath World: Everyone's least favorite subject: rules and why we need them.

The Slate Book Club deals with a surprising topic that bears listening in on: The Sabbath World: Everyone's least favorite subject: rules and why we need them.

It runs at least six exchanges but reminds us again that God's commandments have a way of reasserting themselves in unexpected places. Here's a brief quote that I loved:

"And now I want to end by talking about everyone's least favorite subject: rules, and why we need them. Everyone always asks me why I wrote this book, and I always give feel-good answers about this or that missing from my life, but the truth is—and I think I'm honest about this in the book, even if I weasel out of it in conversation—what was really missing from my life were rules. What I was really sick of was knee-jerk libertarianism, my own as much as everyone else's. If we don't have rules, we don't have a Sabbath, or anything like it. The rules are onerous, and they must be continually rethought, re-debated, and re-legislated to keep pace with our kaleidoscopic mores, but without them we have no institutions, no customs, no shape to our time. Even the early Christians, however antinomian they may have been at first, figured that out pretty quickly.

"Let me put it another way: If we as a society don't collectively set aside time for social activities—for leisure, for family, for the building of community, for weird nonutilitarian pursuits—and protect that time against encroachment, we won't have any. We need rules (which, by the way, can be customs; they don't have to be laws) to teach us the tricky but essential distinction between time spent advancing ourselves and our mastery over the world, and time spent on one another. Perhaps that means taking care of our garden, as it did on the Sundays of Mary's childhood, or perhaps just being in one another's company, time that yields no profit other than pleasure and an enlarged quantity of love in the world."

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