On a clear day a man with a little imagination can quite easily see a lot of problems. In the first place, we have the war in Viet Nam. No one seems to know whether we should go all the way in or get all the way out. The whole situation gets particularly tight when a member of one’s own family is involved, and more and more people are learning this. It is a rather shaking experience to watch some of our splendid eighteen-year-old boys heading for who knows what.

In the second place, there is the population explosion. By the year 2000, the population we are told, will have doubled again. I have heard it said (what magazine do you read?) that in 100 years there will be standing room only. There are solutions to this that are problems in themselves, such as the Pill, which raises questions about the new morality (another problem), and—worse—nuclear war or a plague. And there is always the possibility, however distant, of famine, even if we can discover how to use our resources (including those still hidden away in the depths of the sea) for new kinds of food we haven’t even thought about yet. Then there is a thing called the cycle of life: we have the problem not only of how to get food into people but also of how to get the waste products back into the soil again. Meanwhile we foul up our streams and blaspheme our natural beauties.

If, as William Temple and Douglas MacArthur both said, “All our problems are theological ones,” then we have the unhappy situation of theology running wild in all directions. Where do we turn for light? Who are the experts? What magazine do you read? Meanwhile the sources of news and information are affected by special pleading, the love of money, freedom from moral restraint, and all of Bacon’s idols.

It is refreshing, when we turn to another problem, to find a first-class mind at work and able to produce a book breaking new ground with intelligence, enthusiasm, and bits and pieces of good humor. Robert Lee, a professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary, has written a first-rate book on the problem of leisure, which grows, I imagine, out of another problem, automation. I recommend Religion and Leisure in America (Abingdon, 1966) as helpful and enjoyable, a rare combination. Professor Lee knows what he is talking about.

Just last week I caught myself giving some advice to a student about summer employment. I thought it would be good for him to learn how to do a good day’s work under the pressure of a demanding job. This sort of thing ought to prepare him for life. The only trouble is that I am not sure this is the sort of life he ought to be preparing for. Americans have always had a kind of gospel of hard work. We have been suspicious of people who have had a lot of leisure, afraid of the softening of the character of a man who doesn’t work for a living. But how can we prepare a young person for a day we cannot clearly foresee?

I have it on good authority that automation has reached the place already where, if it were rationally used, we would immediately have 14,000,000 unemployed. We have been crying out against any kind of socialism that takes care of a man from the cradle to the grave. Yet thinking men are suggesting that we may well move into the day when people can go from the cradle to the grave—on public support, I presume—without ever having been gainfully employed in useful work. Perhaps my advice to the young person should have been that he spend his summer in leisure learning how to use it.

Historically the gospel of hard work has not always prevailed. I think I can say that in ancient Greece the assumption was that the great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle could justly lead a life of leisure because (1) they rested on a slave base where the work was done, and (2) they used their leisure for creative thinking. We feel that there is no apology required for Praxiteles, Aristophanes, or Pericles. The Golden Age of Greece was golden because the leisure class was highly creative in the arts, philosophy, and government. It was assumed that this was the sort of thing that a gentleman did with his time.

The leisure class in the courts of France, however, was something else again, and illustrated a way in which leisure can be degrading. But we can pass another judgment on the nobility of Great Britain. There was a good bit of riding to hounds, gaming, and gambling; but there also arose a high sense of noblesse oblige. A man of leisure was expected to find opportunity to serve in public life. The best schools of England have been called “public schools,” not because the public attended or supported them, but because it was there that men were expected to train for public service.

Professor Lee approaches the basic question of leisure time from two directions. One, all the available evidence seems to point to the fact that the machine will become our slave base, thus replacing the slaves of ancient cultures and giving leisure to the masses instead of to some small aristocracy. Two, the masses of men thus released (and they will not be able to evade the issue by “moonlighting”) will then have to discover the uses of leisure. These uses may be creative ones in the arts, in public service, or even in the appreciation of such things. Or they may degenerate into the “bread and circus” pursuits of declining Rome.

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The present is a clue to the future, and one gets the impression that not all men—indeed, not the masses of men—are prepared to use their leisure for something beyond the increase of entertainment. The continuation of this leisure and the population explosion will raise the problem of how all the masses of men can spend their leisure simply “enjoying” life. Will there be enough highways and stadiums and lakes and motor boats for everyone? Will the expansion of leisure be a degenerating experience or a creative one?

Now is the time to think about these things, and Lee is one of the first thinkers in the field. He examines the question of leisure in width, in depth, in length, and in time. And when he comes to time, he opens up the theological resources for leisure. Personally, I give three cheers for his treatment of the Puritans and four cheers for his treatment of the Sabbath tradition.

Perhaps the Sabbath tradition is the key to the whole business. If you don’t know what to do with a Sunday afternoon, or if you run a school or summer camp and don’t know what to do with the kids, then you see clearly, very clearly, what all this leisure is going to mean. To some people, eternal life is what the Bible calls the Sabbath rest. If we don’t know how to use leisure, all that Sabbath could be hell instead of heaven.

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