June 2, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

It’s the nature of the human beast

Do you ever wonder where all the great men have gone? In my high school yearbook, the phrase accompanying the picture of a rather conceited boy read, “All the great men are dead, and I don’t feel too well myself.”

But, aside from jokes, don’t you really wonder? Where are the FDR’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s, the Dorothy Day’s and Mother Teresa’s now, when we need them as never before?

Probably people have been wondering this very thing since time began. I’m sure earlier generations complained there were no more Founding Father types, or even Eleanor Roosevelts to bail them out of the human condition. And before them, no great prophets or popes or kings like they had in the good old days.

And how about what’s happened to work, or the lack of it? In early civilizations, slaves did all the menial stuff, followed by serfs in medieval times. Those who worked did only as much as was necessary, with no rewards except food and a roof over their heads. The rest of the guys played, managed their fortunes and dabbled in politics and war.

With the Industrial Revolution came the idea that work should be a major part of everyone’s life, including the upper class. Things people used to do just to exist, such as tending the sick, cooking, harvesting crops or building houses, were elevated in importance, along with doing business and working with machines.

That’s when unions and corporations, capitalism and socialism, came into play.

Which brings up another conundrum: where are the philanthropic giants of industry and the noble champions of the common laboring man who used to appear regularly on the American scene?

Television views of Donald Trump pronouncing, “You’re fired!” and Luddite protesters rioting at World Trade Organization meetings pale in comparison.

Leisure ain’t what it used to be, either. Romans snacked and drank wine on their day off while watching gladiators fight wild animals and torture Christians. Later, frolickers baited bears, watched cockfights and knocked each other off horses at high speed. Still later, there were picnics and music and various sports to take up spare time until today, when there’s so much leisure time we find it necessary to waste it online or on a cell phone.

We have to wonder about religious practice sometimes, too. Galileo took a bad rap, the Inquisition flourished, the Protestant Reformation happened, and widespread clergy sexual abuse was revealed. All this in the very same Church in which the Holy Spirit moved St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and innumerable other holy people to believe and propagate the faith, not to mention inspiring Vatican II.

Since children have been with us since Cain and Abel, you’d think we’d be consistent at least in that department all these years, but think again. From extra hands on the farm/factory scene, to miniature Victorian adults and lately, to pampered models of self-esteem, these are some of the ways we’ve regarded children over centuries. And yet, they’ve always been kids!

What can we say about all these inconsistencies? Only that the God who gave us free will and a goal must have a terrific sense of humor.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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