Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 31:3 (September 1988) p. 329
The Leisure Crisis: A Biblical Perspective on Guilt-Free Leisure. By John Oswalt. Wheaton: Victor, 1987, 167 pp., n.p. paper.
This book has as its subtitle on the cover (though curiously not on the title page) “A Biblical Perspective on Guilt-Free Leisure,” which constitutes a fair summary of the book’s intent. In it Oswalt attempts to address the question, which he finds unique to this generation, “What do I do with my leisure time?” The issue at hand, he says, is not whether we fill our leisure hours but how we fill them.
The first thing he asserts is that leisure does not equal idleness but rather represents time in which we can do as we wish. In other words work may be seen as a means to an end (= living?), but leisure is what is done as an end in itself (= living?). The problem, he says, is that “most people have neither the training nor the inclination to use leisure in a civilizing way” (p. 23). Citing a study by S. B. Linder, Oswalt notes with some approbation Linder’s finding that time may be divided into five areas: (1) “specialized production time, the time when you are producing goods or services” (p. 27); (2) “personal work time,” devoted to time spent in the “maintenance of our bodies and possessions” (p. 28); (3) “consumption time,” in which “we are actually using goods and services”; (4) “time for the cultivation of the mind and spirit,” in which we develop our sense of aesthetics or devotional piety (p. 29); and (5) “idleness—doing absolutely nothing.”
The first thing Oswalt addresses is consumption. While consumption of goods gives a marked increase in pleasure up to a point, for most of us that point is reached rather quickly, and further expenditure results in a diminished degree of gain (p. 31). The second disquieting observation is that the high cost of service means that production time is cheaper than decision time, so less and less time is devoted to decisions (p. 33). But if our attitudes toward leisure time are not determined by consumption or reflective thinking, this leads to the question: Where do our attitudes come from? Oswalt has several suggestions: (1) “racial memory”—i.e., the information transmitted through the genes and chromosomes of the human race; (2) the influence of Scripture, in which work is extolled while idleness is rebuked; (3) the “Protestant work ethic,” wherein productive work acquires a nuance of duty; and (4) the “lack of ability to capitalize on leisure” because “we’ve not been taught… to become creative” (p. 46). Strangely (to me at least) Oswalt omits here something I have always seen as the primary factor in any feelings of guilt I have ever experienced over leisure: the extremely competitive nature of a capitalistic wester...
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