WORK AND LEISURE IN
THE ROUND OF LIFE
Arthur M. Ross
These days it is fashionable to believe that the valuation of work as a central human activity has declined as leisure opportunities have increased along with economic development and real incomes. If one looks back through the long sweep of history, however, the opposite conclusion emerges. Work has never been so highly valued as in the current era.
The ancient Greeks and Romans thought of work as painful drudgery suitable only for slaves. The Hebrews regarded it as punishment for sin, and the early Christians deprecated acquisition and wealth. "Behold the fowls of the air," Jesus said, "for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them." During the Middle Ages, material pursuits continued to be viewed as the opposite of spiritual salvation. Nobility, clergy, and gentry abstained from labor, while there were scores of festivals and holy days for the commonality.
Only as economic activity began to quicken toward the end of the medieval period did the Catholic Church develop a more tolerant attitude toward worldly activity. But the basic reassessment came with the Protestant Reformation, which for the first time assigned a positive spiritual value to one's "calling." As capitalism came into full flower, socialistic critics and conservative defenders of the existing order found themselves in full agreement on the central importance of work.
Secular philosophies have become dominant in the twentieth