REV. JOHN A. PERRICONE, Ph.D., Fordham University; Executive Director, Christi Fideles.
Perricone, Rev. John A. (1999) “Catholic Theology of Work and Worship,” St. John’s Law Review: Vol. 73: Iss. 3, Article 10.
In Frederick Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra1 , Zarathustra is asked about his happiness. He replies, “Do I then strive after happiness? I strive after my work.”‘ In this phrase, Nietzsche correctly identified one of the extremes in which modernity conceives the nature of man: Man is his work.
The unfortunate result of this conception of man is that work does not furnish happiness. Happiness is the result of reposing in the possession of an end or purpose, which here is always being striven for, but never achieved. Since God alone is that which gives life purpose, absent God purposefulness vanishes. Modernity has exiled God from its world. Work is performed for its own sake and carries no gratification.
It will require the honesty of philosophers like John Paul Sartre, who proclaimed life’s absurdity, to make finally explicit the full consequences of society bereft of God. In such a society interests are merely economic, and those interests alone rise to relevancy as moral considerations. All else are matters of personal taste, and per the ancient adage, “de gustibus non disputandum.”2
The present state of affairs confirms this societal downfall. Scolding editorials are written by indignant pundits enraged that Americans would dare take issue with a philandering chief executive who, after all, is diligently performing his job, stretching the Dow Jones to a dizzying ten-thousand.
This kind of society works only for the sake of work and does little to examine how the work is achieved. Its work never sees anything beyond itself. It is self-referential and, therefore, self-defeating. It fails to recognize that work is not the end for which man exists, for if it is, man exists without an end. Nietzsche understood this all too well and expressed the dilemma through the pathetic expression of Zarathustra, “Do I then strive after happiness? I strive after my work.”
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1 FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA 364 (Thomas Common trans., 6th ed. 1967).
2 “There ought to be no argument about tastes.”