Posts for Tag: modernism

The transmutation of faith into some surrogate

... [T]he modern demand for total, factual, and impersonal objectivity presents serious difficulties for one whose object of study is the faith in which one puts one’s trust and to which one has dedicated one’s life....

... [A] Christian might stay in academe and dissimulate belief. Such people are no doubt more numerous than those who get out of academe for ascetical purpose. They remain in academe and are worn down by it. Being worn down is often imperceptible in its slowness; it usually involves a transmutation of faith into one or more surrogates such as scholarship for its own sake, ideological distractions, or some form of involvement in activist causes of a political nature. The transmutation of faith into some surrogate is often accompanied, furthermore, by symptoms typical of transitions from one mode of life to another—symptoms of release, exhilaration, and freedom, a sense of new power, and feelings of having been “reborn.” The transmutation is thus easily perceived as a conversion. And so it is, for conversion is a two-way street; whichever direction one takes produces largely the same feelings in the moving subject. One often encounters students who came to a seminary seeking less ordination than faith, only to discover counseling or social action as faith surrogates. One even encounters colleagues who at some point rise, as it seems, above faith only to vanish into therapy, eastern religions, another marriage, or some new ideology. Such folks, worn down by the unmanageable welter of modern academe, and dissimulating faith all the while in order to appear respectable, finally succumb to the lure of works which occupy but do not save. As Walker Percy says, they began by blowing their minds and end by blow-drying their hair. They leave us with neither insight nor faith, but with trivia of a certain passing interest.

Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 12-13.

No longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display

While fashion is a medium of expression for my individuality, it is also inescapably relational, almost parasitic: "The space of fashion is one in which we sustain a language together of signs and meanings, which is constantly changing, but which at any moment is the background needed to give our gestures the sense they have" .... This is no longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display—another way of "being-with" in which "a host of urban monads hover on the boundary between solipsism and communication" .... This breeds a new kind of self-consciousness: "My loud remarks and gestures are overtly addressed only to my immediate companions, my family group is sedately walking, engaged in our own Sunday outing, but all the time we are aware of this common space that we are building, in which the messages that cross take their meaning" .... In other words, we all behave now like thirteen-year-old girls.

It is these spaces of mutual display, Taylor argues, that are most prone to being colonized by consumer culture, so that "consumer culture, expressivism and spaces of mutual display connect in our world to produce their own kind of synergy" .... "The language of self-definition is defined in the spaces of mutual display, which have now gone meta-topical; they relate us to prestigious centres of style-creation, usually in rich and power nations and milieux. And this language is the object of constant attempted manipulation by large corporations" .... Indeed, this construction of a consumer identity—which has to feel like it's chosen (consider the illusion of noncomformity in the case of the suburban skater kid whose mom buys him the $150 board blazoned with "anarchy" symbols)—trumps other identities, especially collective identities like citizenship or religious affiliation. "One could argue that for many young people today, certain styles, which they enjoy and display in their more immediate circle, but which are defined through the media, in relation to admired stars—or even products—occupy a bigger place in their sense of self, and that this has tended to displace in importance the sense of belonging to large scale collective agencies, like nations, not to speak of churches, political parties, agencies of advocacy, and the like"....

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 86–7. Smith is citing Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 2007).

Forgetting our inheritance

A classical inheritance is all around us, recognized or unrecognized. Yet there has been no period since the Renaissance which is as intent on forgetting the classical past as today. The images and language that flooded the minds of previous generations now need a guidebook. A painting of a classical myth must have an explanation on its museum label, every classical reference in a poem needs a footnote. What for centuries was the foundation of Western culture, a shared resource of the imagination, has been systematically uprooted in modern educational systems across the West, with inevitable consequences for public culture. Modernity has come to mean amnesia—amnesia about the past, about cultural tradition, about the passions and interests of our own history. Like adolescents who believe themselves the first to discover swear-words and sex, and who can only stare with incomprehension at their parents' desires, modern culture finds it hard to notice that it is forgetting its inheritance.

Simon Goldhill. Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 2.