Open Thread: What do you understand by the term “public life”?

I am writing a paper for my Faith and Dominant American Culture class and I need input from Catholics (or even Christians from other denominations) as to what they understand by the term “public life.” Why do I need the input? I need to get an idea of where Catholics stand with regard to the “public”: how do they understand it? How do they approach it? You can take whatever angle or approach you want. Basically, when you think of the “public” or the “public life”, what comes to mind first? Also, how do you personally feel about the “public” or “public life”?

I will be posting my final paper here in May. Please feel free to share your thoughts! Thanks in advance!

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  • Sounds like a great class!

  • jonathanjones02

    Humans, regardless of the veneer they adopt, are born into an inherently social environment. This is beautiful yet also dangerous.

    We have a crisis of the repudiation of life, first through hedonism and the “realization” of self before the very difficult work of family and child-rearing. In the West, the elderly outnumber the young. This is disaster. All veneers, all economic and social arrangements, must confront a time in which the next generation failed come forth. All is a part of society, built ideally by the intact family, and all social institutions depend upon the conduct of society, often but not always led by its elites, who on average are of higher cognitive ability and as such carry a great deal of responsbility. The “public” is all around us, stemming from our social arrangments which cannot be “escaped.”

    The public is birth and death, law and custom, sex, money, status. It is the inherent drive of humanity and social arrangments of cooperation. It should be hoped that through the accumulated wisdom of the public, through the family and the community, that the tempting imaginations of evil and self-pleasure can be tamed. This is the task of a public life.

  • jb

    Hmm.. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time or effort giving much thought to “public life.” However, my knee-jerk response is that the “public” is that which is shared in common, as opposed to the private.
    This would include politics, media, legal and juridical matters, intra and inter community relations (I’m thinking here especially of race relations and things of the sort, which is a big deal in post-Katrina NoLa), issues of medical care and education, etc. Of course this list is not extensive.

    I think that our “role” as Church in the public is to be the leaven. To infuse into the natural reason of the public life and consciousness of the community the Wisdom which draws from an understanding of the Supernatural Divine Reason. This requires an emphasis on dialogue rather than authoritarian impositions.

    Often times when I personally think of “public life” I find myself shaking my head in disappointment or disgust at the corruption in politics, the perversion and sensationalism in media, the race/culture/status biases which permeate and breed discrimination, etc. But more often that not I am most disappointed in Catholics who fail to be true leaven and identify more closely with their secular comfort zone than with their CAtholicism.

    However, upon further thought, I would also add that the Liturgy is part of the “public life,” along with Corpus Christi processions, candle light vigils, etc.

    My thoughts are pretty scattered, and it is time to teach. Make whatever sense you can out of my comments.

  • Public life, huh? Well, I think of it in mostly hostile ways. It seems to be a product of a privatized sense of identity in which parse out our lives according to our public or our private self.

    But, it does seem to describe the discourse that happens in the space that is bigger and more relevant to a large audience. In other words, it is the discourse of the square, the plaza, the cafe and so on. This does seem to be a relevant difference to the discourse of the bedroom, the confessional, and so on…

    Hope this helps!

  • M.Z.
  • When I think public life I think of this dichotomy between public and private lives: That public is something that you have to/are inclined to share with others such as politicians giving speeches and private life being that part you’re not inclined to share.

    I think drawing the line is difficult for me because I reject the dichotomy is represents, usually used by those seeking to divorce one from the other for gain (ie politicians having affairs or saying they’re pro-abortion Catholics, celebrities who want to feed the rumor mill for fame, etc).

    This happens on with less famous people too, as many try to rigidly separate their identities with their job, rather than embracing a totality of the human person.

    It’s a tricky topic, one that this comment shows I’m not worthy of undertaking. Good luck, Katerina!