Christian religious observance is being undermined by commercialism. Taking just one example, more people are working on Christmas than ever before. While I understand the need for health and emergency staff to work on holidays (of course, with extra compensation), I am shocked by how many non-essential services such as restaurants and stores are open during the holidays. And yes, it is often the case that those who must work on the holidays are in low-paying service jobs.
The decline in the observance of holidays as days of rest from paid labor is part of capitalism's tendency to subject all of human life to economic calculation and the demands of capital. When Christianity was the dominant cultural force in Europe during the Middle Ages, peasants and artisans actually had ample holiday time. Workers sometimes had as much as one-third of the year off. Medieval farmers and artisans had more vacation time than their modern counterparts.
Despite predictions that leisure time would increase in advanced societies, Americans and Western Europeans are seeing their leisure time scaled back under neoliberalism. The eight-hour workday and other victories won by the labor movement are being demolished while workers are harangued by capitalists and their lackeys in the government and media about the need to stay competitive in the global economy.
Amintore Fanfani, in his seminal work Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism, described how the capitalist state reduced the influence of Christianity and other forces that might impede the rationalization of society along capitalist lines. As Fanfani wrote:
"The one endeavor of capitalism has been to emancipate itself from ideas, or institutions based upon ideas, that impeded the economic rationalization of life." (Fanfani 1934: 92).Interestingly, Fanfani goes on to described the Soviet Union as the final realization of capitalist civilization, writing:
"It may seem a paradox, but the most technically perfect economic realization of capitalistic civilization is the Soviet system, in which all private and public efforts have only one end: the economic rationalization of the whole of life, to the point of abolishing private property and the family and of attempting the destruction of all religious ideals that might threaten such materialistic rationalization. Russia has carried the rationalizing experiment of capitalism to its logical conclusion." (Fanfani 1934: 92).In opposition to both capitalism and communism, Fanfani presents the Church as the entity that has, throughout history, sought to protect society from domination by purely economic forces.
"In the Middle Ages, by supporting the intervention of public bodies in economic life as a check to individual activity and to defend the interests of society as a whole; in our own time, by calling for State intervention for the same reasons, the Church has remained faithful to her anti-capitalistic ethics. Both during the predominance of the medieval guild system, and during that of capitalism, the Church, and those Catholics that listened to her voice, set or sought to set bounds not lawfully to be overstepped to the course of economic life — even at the cost of a sacrifice of mechanical and technical progress, which in the Catholic conception of society, has never been identical with civilization."(Fanfani 1934: 126).Thus, we can see that sacrificing the leisure time of workers to the demands of the capitalist market is antithetical to the Catholic conception of society, which places certain non-economic values above purely economic ones, even if it may reduce competitiveness or technical progress or some other material aspect of life. From a Catholic perspective, those who insist on market fundamentalism are making the same mistake as followers of Marxist communism. This mistake is the reduction of all politics, and indeed all of human life, to economics.
Therefore, we should not be surprised when Pope Francis discusses the need for workers to have plenty of leisure time, a sentiment also shared by his immediate predecessor. It is not a coincidence that the decline of Christian influence in the West has led to an erosion of working conditions for Western workers. Without a strong, countervailing philosophical force to stand in its way, capital can simply run over whatever feeble opposition secularists manage to put up. By separating Christianity and economics, we have allowed ourselves to be ruled by the high priests of Mammon.
Fanfani, Amintore. Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism. 1934. Reprint. (Norfolk, VA.: IHS Press, 2003).