Is the bare minimum enough?

I have mentioned the Mike Judge film Office Space once before here when reviewing his film Idiocracy and I shall have to do a deeper dive into the film at some stage. Perhaps after the next time I watch it. For this post, I’m taking a memorable scene to work into a religious angle. The scene involving an employee requirement to wear bits of “flair” in a restaurant is posted below for context.

“Flair” are silly badges pinned to various parts of the uniform to go with the folksy vibe of the restaurant. This may be overexplaining the obvious but the audience is supposed to sympathise with Jennifer Aniston’s character Joanna. She has met the minimum requirement but her pedant of a boss is not happy with the bare minimum. What I want to consider is whether he is wrong for asking a bit more than the minimum? Would it have been so difficult for her to have put a bit more effort? My sympathies certainly lie where the director intended them to but when thinking it through further, I wonder if her employer doesn’t have a point. 

As this started with work, let us consider this further. Job requirements tend to be clear but anyone who takes pride in what they do is likely going to do more than the bare minimum. Those more motivated by ambition are also generally going to put more than the minimum in what they do. And switching to the customer’s point-of-view, most people are going to expect more than the bare minimum when they’re spending money. When we get a haircut, it is nice if the barber or hairdresser is well-dressed and friendly. It is also nice to sit in a chair that isn’t covered in other people’s hair. We expect basic manners even though they aren’t necessarily related to product delivery. We also like our appliances or furniture to be a little bit better than functional. I could go on but I think I’ve made my point here.

Switching now to religion which is relevant as we are in the season of Lent — the most important penitential season on the Christian calendar. Most religions have a very clear and basic set of requirements of belief and practice. This can (and does) change becoming more austere or as in recent times, far more lax. The requirements of the Catholic Church during Lent used to allow no meat, egg or dairy for the entirety of Lent. There was also at one stage fasting until 3pm every day. The Easter Orthodox churches remain strict but the modern Catholic has to do little more than Catholics used to do throughout the year — abstain from meat on Friday and do some very easy fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. 

Additionally, it is during Lent and the Easter season where there are two yearly sacramental requirements. That is to go to confession during Lent and receive communion once during the Easter season. Most Catholics are particularly enthusiastic about the latter; almost never missing an opportunity. That the fasting requirements have been reduced to only an our before receiving probably helps. It is really absurd to describe it as fasting at all. Along with this, attending Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of obligation unless sick or travelling and obedience to the church in all matters of faith and morals are all that is required to be a Catholic in good standing. It is pretty hard to get many priests to say (particularly the latter two) nowadays but it remains true. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church sets out the following precepts (some of which were covered above):

1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
3. You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season.
4. You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.
5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.

Anyone familiar with the life of even one Saint knows that nobody should be setting the bar this low though. We are encouraged to go to confession more than once a year and monthly confession is often recommended and we are also supposed to immediately head to a confessional if we have (or suspect we have) committed a mortal sin. And daily prayer, Bible reading and various devotions are also strongly encouraged. 

Every year I struggle with what to do for Lent. I have done the more traditional fasts and self-imposed some very difficult penance. Generally, I try to abstain from meat for the entirety of Lent — certainly all Fridays as well as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On the latter two I have practiced black fasts for the last five years. Last year and this year too, I have given myself an easier time but I always feel obligated to do more than what is required. 

I should note here that I am not trying to talk myself up. I have struggled with keeping this up and failed with promises and commitments I’ve made many times. I also know many Catholics who are much better people than I who are far less severe. What makes it difficult is actually the lack of consistency among Catholics. It is hard to know who is doing what which makes events that coincide with the season hard to plan for. You also don’t want to appear rude if offered a meal during Lent because they have served meat and many other little problems like this. 

To bring things back to where they started, the bare minimum is not what we should aim for in religion or really any part of life. We should always be looking to do better than this. In the long run, doing the bare minimum often has the opposite affect. It ends up being a race to the bottom where people get more and more lax. This is precisely what has happened in the church which I mentioned in a similar post last year. 

Taking more time and care with your religious life. Doing extra prayers and devotions. Giving more, asking less etc. aren’t bad. Putting on a few extra pieces of flair without being told to, isn’t much of an ask either.

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