In The Good Life, David McCarthy's vision of middle class Christianity focuses on how our loves for people, places, and things find their fulfillment in the love of God. McCarthy contrasts this ordering to God with our consumerist economy that marginalizes our relationships, closes our homes, and enslaves us to things.
Part one of McCarthy's book focuses on relationships. He argues that our culture fosters superficial relationships, ones we can extract ourselves from with relative ease, whose boundaries are clearly defined (i.e., contractual), or that do not impinge upon our self-interest or autonomy. These kinds of relationships are necessary to make people and companies flexible enough to focus on the pursuit of profit. In contrast, McCarthy believes that true love of people, what we call friendship, entails sustaining a common world-view. This task makes relationships binding, demanding, and disruptive. It moves relationships from the private realm of enjoyment to the public realm of common concern and thereby value our relationships over the concerns of the market.
In part two, McCarthy states how we should approach the places we inhabit, like our homes, churches, and nation. He believes that Christians should make these places welcoming of strangers. Hence, homes should be ready for the uninvited guest. Money can be spent on church buildings in order to make everyone feel welcome. Nations should avoid self-aggrandizement that marginalizes and kills those from other countries. This openness, McCarthy contends, is at odds with the pressures the market economy exerts. The economy isolates us by replacing our openness to the stranger with openness to new goods (that will "improve life" or "save time") or to more work (that will provide us with more money for more goods).
McCarthy argues for the importance of things in part three. He thinks that our economy presents two attitudes toward things: we are to acquire them and we are to remain detached from them. The economy grows by people buying more, hence the attitude of acquiring. But to buy more stuff, we have to be willing to replace the stuff we already have, hence the attitude of detachment. Instead, McCarthy believes things and our production of things through work should bind us to others. Objects have meaning only when they have a place in our lives, relationships, and world, only when we are attached to them. Hence the role of things is to connect us to one another. The same is true for work. The work we do should foster our interdependence and awareness of this interdependence.
In the last part of the book, McCarthy takes the major themes of the first three parts of the book and organizes them around the Nicene Creed. We are reminded of being open to the neighbor, stranger, and enemy when we profess belief in God the Father of all. Our profession of faith in the incarnation and the mission of the Holy Spirit points to the fact that we are called to be transformed through our interaction with this world. The belief in the Church recalls our commitment to forgiveness, and the resurrection of the body is a pointed reminder of the way our appetites shape who we become.
McCarthy's book is an important and insightful reminder of the values to which we unwittingly commit ourselves that are in contrast to our Christian convictions. The market economy is so pervasive that we often assume that isolation and detachment is the norm instead of openness to and love of neighbors, strangers, and enemies. Although written for a wide audience (e.g., short chapters, no footnotes, examples drawn from family life), the book would be a very interesting Christian ethics text. Instead of gravitating to ethical issues like abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell research, the book addresses topics that more of us face in our daily life and more often shape who we become.