Culture Friday: The dignity of work

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Up next on the World and Everything in It: Culture Friday.

NICK EICHER, HOST: I saw a story online on Labor Day.

It could’ve been about the dignity of work, but it wasn’t.

The headline read, “‘Cosby Show’ actor Geoffrey Owens spotted bagging groceries at NJ Trader Joe’s.” Now, this was a Fox News online story.

The layout included a very unflattering photo of Geoffrey Owens, alongside a photo of his younger self, when he was a prime-time TV network star.

And the reason this was news was because the writer and the editor had to have assumed Owens was down and out. Clearly, Fox was shaming Owens for being heavy, sweaty, and working at a job that ought to be beneath him.

Fox even moved it on its social media accounts.

And that backfired.

And, this is newsworthy: Fox’s shaming provoked proper outrage on Twitter.

Listen to Geoffrey Owens’s response to it all.

OWENS: The fact that I as the guy from the Cosby Show was shamed about working at Trader Joe’s,  that story is going to move on, that’s going to pass, you know? But what I hope doesn’t pass is this new recognition now, this current sensitivity that people are feeling about work and about people working. I hope what continues to resonate is the idea that one job is not better than another. That a certain job might pay more, might have better benefits, it might look better on paper, but that essentially, one kind of work is not better, superior, than another kind of work and that we reevaluate that whole idea and we start just honoring the dignity of work and respecting the dignity of the working person.

It’s Culture Friday. John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and he joins me now.

John, good morning.


EICHER: Great tweet, I thought, from Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. He said, “We thought Dr. Huxtable was our role model, and we were wrong. Elvin is.” The reference there to Geoffrey Owens’s character on the Cosby Show. Good for Owens, right?

STONESTREET: Good for Owens and shame on Fox News. I saw that initially before — as soon as that article went up and I was just blown away by the shaming. It looked like something the National Enquirer or TMZ or one of those terrible paparazzi sites would do. I mean, what on Earth was Fox News doing? Shame on them.

I know that’s the news of choice for probably many of our listeners but that was ridiculous and that was a way of demeaning and demoralizing someone in a junior high-ish sort of way. And in a completely unChristian and unbiblical kind of way. There’s no human charity in that article, much less any sort of charity that’s based on a Christian understanding of the dignity of work. And, of course, as the story comes out what we find out is is that he picks up additional jobs that are flexible so that he can still pursue acting when the opportunities arise. And so good for him. I mean, good for him for not sitting around, not wasting, not waiting around.

And I’d say this: even if he was no longer acting at all and he was just bagging groceries, if he was bagging groceries and doing a great job at it, then God was glorified in that work because that’s what we understand from the biblical picture of what God created us for, which was to work. And that God wants to see his world, his disordered world made orderly. This is stuff that the reformers taught. My favorite poem on this is Gerard Manley Hopkins who said it’s not only going to communion that gives God glory, but so does work. A man with a dung fork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, he said, give God glory. God is so great that all things give him glory if we do it in his honor. And that’s really the biblical picture of work.

So I was disgusted by that article and good for him for being the sort of person who sees that it is part of life to work and it’s part of his human dignity and part of his responsibility to do the next thing and to do it well.

EICHER: John, let’s talk about the confirmation hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court hearing in the Senate. Now, I expect a good bit more theatrics before it’s all said and done.

But here’s the contrast I’d like for you to address: We have heard a lot about bipartisan comity at the funeral for Senator John McCain. We heard about how things would be so much better if we had more McCains and fewer people like Donald Trump in the body politic.

Republicans and Democrats, we heard, really can and should get along, and the bipartisanship of the McCain funeral just proves it.

And then, this confirmation hearing kicks off and it was fireworks like you have never seen before.

What do the theatrics in the Senate Judiciary Committee tell you about where we are culturally?

STONESTREET: Well, how much time do we have here? I think there’s a lot of things it tells us. But I think the primary thing that it tells us is that we’re far more concerned about virtue signaling than virtue itself. We are far more concerned about looking right than being right. We’re far more concerned about our side winning than our side being moral and virtuous and good. I mean, this was a dumpster fire traffic wreck. I mean, this was unbelievable. And especially, that was the great juxtaposition was up against the virtue signaling that went out from people on the right and the left and people, especially the media… I mean, even the fact that back just a few years ago John McCain was as bad as Donald Trump when he was running for president, according to much of the media, and now a few years later he’s the picture of virtue that we should all look to. And then to pretend like there had not been any incivility towards McCain from the left and then to turn around and — someone who is as kind of mainstream of a candidate as Kavanaugh, to spark that kind of orchestrated disorder. I mean, yeah, it was just — it was amazing.

Of course it also tells us about the deep divides. It’s one thing to be divided. It’s another thing when your divides define you as opposed to what you have in common. And, you know, people have been writing about can America survive this and can America survive that for a couple hundred years now, but it is worth asking the question if America can survive this level of disagreement on the fundamentals of what life is all about, and the fundamentals about what it means to be a citizen and so on.

Of course we also had this week the anonymous op-ed, which would have never been published by anyone on the New York Times if it were about anyone other than Donald Trump because you don’t publish anonymous op-eds. And whether that was virtue signaling or whatever. I don’t even know what that was, but the chaos that that creates. I mean, these are the kinds of things we read about in history books when we look back as incidents of this is the one that set it off or this is the one that set it off. And in reality it’s never the dropped cigarette that starts the forest fire, it’s the dry and non-humid context and environment and a lot of undergrowth. It’s the environment that’s already been set up that when the cigarette is dropped sparks the forest fire.

So we’re going to have a spark at some point and it seems to me we’re just piling up a lot of kindling for the sorts of stuff we read about in history. I hope I don’t sound too Gandalfian of the world’s coming to an end. But at the same time, this is a big deal in my view.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday, John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(Paula Lobo/ABC via AP) This image released by ABC shows co-host Robin Roberts, left, with “The Cosby Show” actor Geoffrey Owens during an interview on “Good Morning America,” Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in New York. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Culture Friday: The dignity of work

  1. Mathew Tubbs says:

    I appreciate the story about the dignity of work. I have two masters degrees, but found myself becoming a truck driver out of economic necessity. And, yet, my current job is a blessing in that I am able to go home every night and earn enough so that my wife can stay home with our one year old son.

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