There was an interesting and frankly surprising article that appeared recently in the New York Times, written by Judith Warner entitled, Katie Couric Strikes a Blow for Sanity.
Ms. Warner begins by saying, "Katie Couric has done all of us a favor." What might that favor be you ask? As you may know, Katie Couric has joined CBS News as Anchor and Managing Editor of The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, making her the first female solo anchor of a major evening television network newscast in the United States.
However, this is not the "favor" that Ms. Warner is referring to. When recently asked by reporters if she would travel to Iraq, Ms. Couric said she would NOT, "because a single mother of two had no business taking such risks in a chaotic war zone." The fact is, dozens of journalists have been killed or seriously injured in Iraq since the war began. Ms. Warner writes, "By unapologetically putting the well-being of her two daughters above her career, Couric has made an important - and very unusual - statement." Ms. Warner continues by saying, "Today, most white-collar professions require nearly limitless devotion, and ambitious people find it almost impossible to say no to unreasonable work demands."
I could not agree more! Ms. Warner is addressing the systematic destruction of the barrier between the demands of the marketplace or career and the obligations of family. The shield which once existed between the marketplace and family is gone. The marketplace now reigns supreme and therefore if family and marketplace come into conflict the family is expected to give way as if this is only natural.
Unfortunately within a culture so driven by consumerism this is natural! Consumerism, which is a philosophical juggernaut in American culture, produces a cultural mindset which idealizes "lifestyle." This artificially constructed lifestyle comes to us through media, advertising and entertainment and can unwittingly become the object and aim of our lives. In other words, we can assume an idea of what our lives should be and look like based on the imaging and messages constructed by Madison Avenue. These do not represent real life and worse they only emphasize the external - the right car; the right home; the right wife; the right body and so on and so forth. This would explain the American obsession with appearance and style because these are the prevailing values that we rely on to judge people.
Where the consumerist vision is adopted as the principle measurement for life satisfaction and meaning, career will always supersede family. To those inculcated in consumerism they naturally believe that the best way they can serve their family is by providing material goods or the "right" lifestyle. But life, in reality, is about much more than appearances and possessions - at least it should be!
Without debating the details of Katie Couric's commitment to or notions of motherhood, on this point she is absolutely correct and I applaud her stand. She has drawn a line and a quite reasonable line I might add, despite criticism from many of her peers. Ms. Warner concludes by saying, "If enough women - and men - insisted that their families were as important as their jobs, maybe the culture would slowly change."
If being a columnist for the New York Times did not give you a clue then the fact that Judith Warner co-authored a book with Howard Dean should make you realize that Ms. Warner is no social conservative. Nonetheless Ms. Warner, along with a number of liberal minded thinkers, recognizes the deleterious effect of oppressive consumerism on the American family - a fact that too many conservatives and Christians do not see or are not willing to change.
This is an area where Christians can demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to even the intellectual elite by joining in rational critique and rejection of consumerist values. Christians more so than anyone else should be the first to point out that material goods, temporal pleasures and the right "image" can never be the object of a truly human existence.
More practically Christians should examine their own lives and carefully analyze their commitment to career and vocation and its relationship to their roles as spouse and parent and ultimately their relationship to God and His purposes for their lives. The Christian should be willing to forgo a promotion, for example, if such a promotion promises to alter the priorities of God, family and work. Sure, this may mean less money but you are modeling the appropriate hierarchy that these priorities hold in your life - not only for your family but those around you as well.
What about companies that ask employees to routinely travel on Sunday's or work weekends and holidays? (According to the Bureau of Labor, 32.8 percent of all full-time employees worked on weekends and holidays.) What if every professing Christian suggested [respectfully] reasonable boundaries between home and office to their employers? Would such suggestions be met with termination? Or instead, would Christians be asserting a truth that may actually inspire others and stop the continued intrusion of the marketplace into the private sphere of family? There is no doubt that such actions might place you squarely in the path of the cultural milieu and you may even be crushed in the process. However, complicity in the world's way of life that very practically undermines one's devotion to God and family is not an option for one who follows Christ!
*Originally posted August 8, 2006.
Copyright S. Michael Craven 2006
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org.
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.