Add an ‘S’ as a test

I started doing this several years ago. It is surprising how often it reveals something that significantly alters the perception of the topic. When a complex topic is overly simplified it actually makes it more confusing and becomes less helpful. Topics that are appropriately complex and multifaceted are not served by being pressed down or made mono.

Two historic examples and then some contemporary ones:

The Industrial Revolution, according to historians like John Merriman, was actually three industrial revolutions.

  • The first was an agricultural revolution which allowed people to grow more, which encouraged a bigger population and thus all the surplus labor that would be needed.
  • The second was inventions that impacted small groups of workers, like the cotton gin.
  • Then came the big one that generally gets all the headlines with big industry and coal burning factories.

The name ‘the industrial revolution’ is a bit of a misnomer that lumps these three together. They actually happened progressively over quite a long period of time.

The same happens with the ‘Protestant Reformation’. Most people don’t know that Luther and Zwingli were kind of up to two different things and that later Calvin came in (initially as a Lutheran) and then there were at least three little reformations. Then there was England’s Anglican movement that was doing its own thing, and the Anabaptists. That is 5 reformation movements.

When it comes to religions, it is often appropriate to add an ‘s’.

When we lump together the Jewish religion or the Jewish perspective, we may be overlooking the fact that there are three huge branches within Judaism, as well as many other splinters. There is a Reformed Judaism, a Conservative, and an Orthodox. They are very different from each other. You also have secular expressions of Judaism (cultural or ethnic).

Islam is the same way – there are over 80 ‘denominations’ of Islam. So when we say “Muslims _____” we may want to be careful and be more specific by adding a plural mentality and saying “some types of Muslims ______”.

Even within Christianity there are God knows how many different kinds of Christianity. So to say that “Christians believe ______” is more than challenging. It may be misleading.

There are several Judaisms, several types of Islams, and multiple Christian perspectives.

Sometimes people say things like “the Biblical Worldview” as if there is only one. There are actually many worldviews that informed Scripture. Certainly the view of those who wandered in the desert in the Exodus story had a different view of the world than Paul the cosmopolitan Roman citizen of Jewish descent. And one can clearly see that what Paul wrote in Romans 13 to submit to governments because they do God’s work was a different worldview than the person who wrote Revelation and called Rome ‘Babylon’ and a ‘whore who is drunk on the blood of that nations’. There are many examples that I could use but the important thing to note is that there are many worldviews in the Bible.

You also see this misnomer in the phrase “the early church”.  Books like The Emergence of the Early Church and The Churches the Apostles Left Behind help expose just how many  competing/complimentary groups were in the mix. What most people mean by use of the phase ‘the early church’ is the proto-orthodox notion of those whose views eventually won out.

It also helps out pastorally. It is so tempting to be prescriptive and formulaic in ministry – whether it is the advice we give or the way that we conceptualize the world and its workings. Let me give just 3 examples from the past month:

  • People have kids for all sorts of reasons. Starting a family can be motivated by several different impulses. Some parents view is as ‘legacy’ issue, for others it is an obligation. For some it is duty, for some it is a ‘gift’. Some parents didn’t know that it was an option not to procreate. For some there is a fascination with making something from your own body (I am quoting here) or seeing what a being that was half-them and half-their spouse would look like.

Dealing with family dynamics and expectations, then, is not a one-size-fits-all matter.

  • The same can be said for abortion. Women terminate pregnancies for so many different reasons. I get upset when I hear opponents of abortion painting with a brush that is so broad that a supremely complex issue gets boiled down to a single point and then used as a battering ram.

Motivations and factors both need to be addressed in the plural.

  • Missions is another topic that requires complexity. It is inaccurate to talk about ‘missions’ and mean one thing.  It is astounding how many different reasons people have for becoming missionaries. It is also significant to clarify the type or kind of missions one is engaged in. At minimum there are 3: compassion motivated missions, colonial type missions, and salvation (anti-hell) driven missions.

There is much more to said on this one (especially historically) but at minimum we need to be clear when we are talking about missionaries that both their drive and their tactics can vary widely. complexity

SO many examples could be used: ‘black’ voters, the female perspective, sexuality/celibacy, American ____, etc. Once you start adding an ‘s’ you will see more and more areas where it is applicable.

When you put this all together you see that just adding an ‘s’ as a test can help address the inherent complexity within an issue by more accurately reflecting its intrinsic multiplicity. We will also discover important themes where it is not appropriate and that will allow us to appreciate those unique topics even more.

I’m interested in your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

 

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Postmodern Suffering on Twitter

Peter Heltzel – protestant activist, friend of Randy Woodley, author of Resurrection City, and upcoming podcast guest – posed a question on Twitter yesterday:

What does postmodernity mean for those who suffer?

Friend of the podcast, Anthony Smith addressed one aspect when he tweeted “black folks been postmodern since 1619. We’ve always rendered incredulous european metanarratives.”

I have been thinking about how one would possibly address that question in 140 characters. Here is what I came up with:

4 things postmodernity undermines: colonial certainty, enlightenment epistemology, scientific reductive approaches & capitalist confidence.

I would love to hear what you might tweet in order to answer Heltzel’s question. Answers longer than 140 characters will not be discounted … but responses within the format will be given bonus points.

 

In case you are wondering about Dr. Heltzel,  he is director of the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary. He is quoted in the linked article as saying:

“Corporate leaders, Wall Street financiers, real estate developers and insurance executives are already in conversation. We need to improvise with the religious traditions in our faith communities to create the conditions through which we can collaborate for justice as we build a deeper community.”

I’m looking forward to his visit to the podcast.

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For a Church to Come with Peter Blum

Peter Blum is the author of For a Church to Come: Experiments in Postmodern Theory and Anabaptist Thought. He chats with Callid for a conversation about how post-modern thought inform and interacts with the Christian tradition and the Quaker/Mennonite/Anabaptist persuasion.  Blum_Peter

We have 3 copies of Blum’s book to give away! Just go to the main page and click on the Speak-Pipe link on the right hand of the page. Leave us a message and your name will be put into the Randomizer XP4000 (one of Tripp’s Lakers hats) and 3 winners will be selected.

 

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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Subverting the Norm LIVE and in 3-D

This is a ruckus selection of audio from the HomeBrewed Christianity live event at the Subverting the Norm 2 conference last weekend. Rushmore_Poster_rev0

It begins with Barry Taylor and the Band then moves on to 4 toasts offered in honor of the 4 faces on our Mt. Rushmore style Radical Theology poster for the event. Hegel, Tillich, Derrida and Caputo are toasted by Kirsten Gerdes, Tripp Fuller, Jack Caputo and Peter Rollins.

Tony Jones sat in for Bo Sanders in ‘the Practical Seat’  and you will be able to hear how wild things got as the evening progressed.  There was also a contest between Tripp’s two new brews: the Caputo Decon-structor Ale and the John Cobb #Faniac Ale.

If Radical Theology is something that interests you, make sure to sign up for the Summer Reading-Video Conference with Tripp and Pete called “High Gravity”.

Leave us some feedback about this episode by using the little microphone on the front page in the ‘Speak Pipe’.

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Our Theology Starts 100 Years Ago: an experiment

I want to throw something out and see if it has legs. I will be playing a character today – feel free to play along! 

My great-grandmother was born into a world that no longer exists in many ways.

I’m preparing a presentation for the Subverting the Norm Conference. I have been reviewing a book called Modern Christian Thought and I am haunted by the reality that there is something significant about the late 19th and early 20th. One-Room Schoolhouse

The world changed 100 years ago. The changes weren’t just technological and societal. The changes were in areas that deeply impact the realms of belief and the way that we live out faith in community.

As a constructive theologian who is getting ready to present to a group of radical theologians, I keep circling around this idea:

 

The way that we think about theology and engage our faith has been fundamentally altered in the last 100 years.  

I am tempted to say that we would be far better off if we just started theology at the turn of the 20th century.  In some ways, the way that we all approach the christian faith begins about 100 years ago.

  • Radio was becoming a technology for mass communication. Somewhere between 1909 and 1920 the medium emerged. 1920 sees the first public stations.
  • TV didn’t exist yet.
  •  Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.
  • 100 years ago – World War 1 had not started.
  • The Great Depression is almost 2 decades away. That is important because it wrecked 2 things that ruled up until that point in the American psyche: 1) the myth of perpetual growth & prosperity 2) the illusion of independence and not be inter-connected with other nations.
  • The 1906 Pentecostal Revival at Azusa Street was on the move.
  • 100 years the large of majority of American churches were preaching ‘post-millennial’ theology: that we would usher in the kingdom of God through societal improvement. 100 years later almost no one believes that.
  • In 1914 Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic and was arrested. A decade later she would do it again with success since venereal disease had become a reality for soldiers in WWI. By the 1930s legal victories would make contraception normative.
  • 1903 the Wright brother famously took flight. 1909 air travel began to go commercial.
  • 100 years ago the psychology of Sigmund Freud was starting to be popularized.
  • Movies were still a few years away.
  • Vatican II, Nuclear War, and the Internet were not even shadows to be hinted at – and those three have perhaps impacted the greatest number of humans as anything else on the list.

One Downside: 

In fact, there is only reason that I am hesitant to say that we would be far better off to just start theology at the turn of the 20th century. The reason for my hesitation is that matters of racism and the colonial legacy might be lost.

I would argue, however, that these concerns are accounted for in my 100 Year proposal because the implications of African slavery, First Nations genocide, and other historic legacies are so deeply embedded in the current structures that they show up continuously. *

Huge Upside:

It seems to me that those who are most into things from the 13th century (Aquinas) or 16th century (Calvin) or even the 19th (revivalism and holiness) are most prone to the ‘silo mentality’ that has then focused on ‘in house’ matters to the apparent neglect of the culture around them. I know that it is dangerous (and ill-advised) to paint with such a broad stroke but …

There is something self-satisfying when we get fascinated with a historical expression that tends to pull one into a more … I don’t know how to say it … internal place?

It’s not a lot different than when people get really into quilting, or tying flies, or video games. That becomes their big things, takes much of their thought energy and time. But in the end … it is just another thing. Like collecting Precious Moments figurines – it’s not harmful – it’s just not worthy to be the thing.   Like a kid so enthralled with playing in the sandbox being totally oblivious to world around.

It doesn’t pass the ‘so what’ test.

Conclusion:

Because the gospel is about incarnation, we are supposed to be the body of christ fully embodied in our time and place. That is how I read it.  So much has changed over the past 100 years that to not put all our energy into the world in which we live is the equivalent of  – at best fantasizing/day dreaming … and at worst to live in denial and prefer the fantasy.

I am growing suspicious that it is that stark.
The consequences are that dire.
The realities of our century are that severe.

It is why I’m growing suspicious that Radical Political Theology may be far more faithful an endeavor than attempts to recover a romanticized notion of something lost.

I don’t want to talk about Aristotle and neo-Platonism one more time. I don’t care about the Greek polis. It doesn’t matter how pre-moderns conceived of substance and essence. I don’t care how the Reformers argued about communion and baptism. It’s time to move on.

 

* There is no greater danger in them being lost anymore than they are now, nor is there much progress being made by our current approach which is white-washed simply by ‘look, I didn’t own any slaves and I didn’t steal any land – that has nothing to do with me.’ So I’m not sure how much the 17th 18th and 19th century are really helping us in matters of justice. 

 

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Doug Pagitt Radio: what is happening IN religion

I had the honor to be on Doug Pagitt Radio this morning. It was a great conversation with Doug and Victoria that centered about what is happening in religion.Web_Logo_lrg_wTagBubble

You can read the initial blog about religionand postmodern thought here.

Doug has the video on his website and on Itunes.

Here the video of the first segment. Here is the video of the second.

 

Doug has been on Homebrewed several times. Once talking about his books in the Inventive Age, and once chatting with Tripp about politics (in a post-debate debrief).

Check out Doug’s book on Amazon.

 

Most the conversation centered around my proposal that there are at least 5 things happening in religion:

  • Experience
  • Formation
  • Event
  • Mystery
  • Potentially Something Real

I would love to get your feedback on the interview. Brew on!   -Bo   [you can keep up with all my past posts on this page]

 

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what is happening IN religion – or when we talk about God

This weekend I will finish reading two books that we were given through the podcast (thank you publishers). The first is Peter Rollins new on The Idolatry of God and the second is Phil Snider’s Preaching After GodMP900405058

I have recently edited podcasts with both of these authors. [We put out the Phil Snider TNT this morning]

It is very clear to me that we have an emerging situation (trying not to say problem) on our hands. With the introduction of a new wave of postmodern or ‘radical’ theology [listen to the Caputo introduction here] – progressive and emergent christians are drinking in lots of innovative and challenging concepts about God that may not have a real God behind them.

This is fine IF the listener/reader knows what they are imbibing. What is increasingly concerning for Tripp and me is the consequence when people don’t know that the god of the 21st century philosophers is not exactly the god you hear about on Sunday morning.

Is there a danger in people reading a ‘how (not) to speak of god’ and then just quoting it from the pulpit like they would quote any other historical person?  Folks in the deconstruction camp are not real eager to answer this one.

I have some thoughts on the matter so I thought I would throw them out here for consideration.

 Intro: It is severely unhelpful to frame this in an either/or way. “Either God is X like the Bible/Creed/Tradition say OR Religion is the equivalent of Santa Clause &Tooth Fairy and we might as well all go home.”

That reductive approach is foolish and silly.  There is far too much going on in religion – and the Christian religion specifically – to say things like that.*

 I propose that there are – at least – 5 things happening IN the christian religion:

  • Experience
  • Formation
  • Event
  • Mystery
  • Potentially Something Real

Experience - People who were not raised in the faith convert and/or have crisis experiences that powerfully impact them.  People experience the presences of something they interpret as bigger than themselves.

We can talk about transcendence or phenomenology but what we can not deny is that people experience something in religion. As someone from a charismatic-evangelical background it is so clear to me that much of our talk about God and religion in progressive-emergent circles misses this very real component.

Is experience the whole story? NO! And those who reduce it down to that are equally as errant. It is not the main thing nor is it nothing. It does not account for everything but neither can it be dismissed outright.  People’s experience must factor into the equation.

At minimum do the Kantian thing and say that religious people’s experience is real but incomplete to understand the whole picture (noumenon) – like 6 blind people with their hands on different parts of the elephant – each thinking they are describing something unique: a tree (leg) a rope (tail) a wall (belly) and a giant leaf (ear) and an enormous snake (trunk).

 

Formation - I get in trouble for liking the post-liberal writing of George Lindbeck (Nature of Doctrine) but I think that this is exactly where it comes into play. The role that the christian tradition, sacred text and vocabulary plays is that forms us a people. It forms character within us as well as the way that we participate in community.

I am in dialogue with the work of Alasdair MacIntyre (After Virtue) for this very reason. While I disagree with his solution, I think that he is spot-on in his analysis and concern. Not only does our culture live in a chaotic time – but the very ethical assumption that would allow us to even HAVE the conversation have been eroded and now we can’t even debate! At least within the Christian church there is a common vocabulary. We may debate the definition of the terms but we have an arena in which to engage each other.

In this sense, the faith functions. As Elizabeth Johnson (She Who Is) is so good at pointing out: the words that we use function in our imagination, our communities and in the tradition.

 

Event - John Caputo (Weakness of God) and those who follow his Derridean ways prefer to speak of the name of God as an event. There is an event housed in the name of God the beckons us – we respond to this call … and are not that concerned wether there is a caller, or if we can know that there is one.

It is undeniable that something happens when God’s name is invoked. It triggers something in us. It calls for something from us. It makes some claim or demand to be dealt with differently than other words and concepts.

I like Caputo’s illumination of this shadow world. There is something deeply insightful about his explorations. Those who want to dismiss it because it isn’t enough on it’s own, are missing the point. Something happens if ‘God’ is invoked … and that would happen even if there were no ‘God’ per se because (as I said above) the concept functions. – it does something in us,

Voltaire said,”If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” That is because ‘god’ does something in us – demands something from us.  It maybe not ripping off our customers, it may get us through a tough time or help us to sleep at night – or even face the end of life with dignity. But in the name of God is an event that lays hold of us.

 

Mystery - I am fascinated with the apophatic tradition. I have no interest is appropriating it … but I am mesmerized by the fact that it even exists. Describing god by what she is not? Brilliant.

I also have been looking in historic understandings of analogy. Which works for me because I do not believe in univocal speech. When we call god ‘father’ we are using an analogy – god is like our best conception of father-liness … but it saying that is also included an understanding that God is not actually a father. Our use of the word is not a 1:1 equivalence.

Elizabeth Johnson challenged us over a year ago that every time we say ‘god’ that we must say it three times.  I do this every day now!

  • God beyond us.  This is that transcendent other or Kant’s noumenal real.
  • God within us. This is the experiential component.
  • God at work all around us. This could be the event.

When I say ‘god’ I always say God beyond me – within me – and at work all around me.

 Potentially Something Real - the final component in my 5 sided web is the possibility that there really is something to all of this – more than just phenomenon or imagination or tradition or vocabulary – and that the language of religion is at least getting some of it right.

If we don’t leave open the potential that something real is really happening – that a real god is actually acting – then we may be missing the biggest part of the puzzle and thus have an incomplete picture.

___________
Just because YOU haven’t thought of the multiplicity of layered meanings happening in the Christian expression doesn’t mean that it is an all or nothing game.Don’t be that person who says “If Santa Clause isn’t real, then Christmas isn’t worth celebrating”. Or “If Creation did not happened exactly like it is described in Genesis then the whole BIble is untrustworthy and unbelievable.”
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After MacIntyre

This is part of an article I wrote a while ago. I am posting it as background to my blog post “Radical Orthodoxy’s Fatal Flaw”.  It is not written in blog format but for anyone who is interested, I wanted to put it out there. 

Introduction

In After Virtue Alasdair MacIntyre puts forward a strong critique of moral philosophy and an even stronger proposal of a way forward by reclaiming the ancient Aristotelian formation proposed in the formation of virtue. MacIntyre says that we have “largely, if not entirely – lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality.”[1] His critique of modern analytical philosophy surpasses, initially, any address of the ‘right’ or the ‘good’ or even ‘justice’, instead focusing on the meaningless of those terms in the current context of philosophical address.

MacIntyre illustrates the futility of such debates but outlining the problem on three levels: First is that we have no “rational way of weighing the claims of one (argument) against another”. [2] Second, the arguments “purport to be impersonal rational arguments” that complicate “moral excellence and argument”.[3] Third, each disagreement has its own historical situation and “cannot be resolved, because no moral disagreements of that kind in any age, past, present, or future, can be resolved.”[4] This triangle limits the possibility that modern western philosophy can address any moral discrepancy. As MacIntyre has pointed out earlier:

What we posses … are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts that now lack those contexts from which their significance derived. We possess indeed simulacra of morality; we continue to use many of the key expressions. But we have – very largely, if not entirely – lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality.[5]

In response to this fragmented framework MacIntyre chooses instead to reclaim a notion of Aristotle’s approach to the formation of virtuous character within the context of community (polis).[6]  If within these communities character is formed by the “enacted narratives”[7] that allow the self to be formed and ones identity to emerge within the continuity (or discontinuity) of the self that is provided by a greater environment. According to MacIntyre “the self inhabits a character whose unity is given as the unity of a character.”[8] This happens within an embedded or situated environment in which a narrative may be lived out.

This stands in contrast to the deontological approach of those who look to Kant as well as the utilitarian approach made famous by John Stuart Mills and followed by Max Weber (who will be addressed in greater depth later in this paper). MacIntyre posits a teleological approach that looks to Aristotle for its framework. Both the Kantian and the utilitarian approach were doomed in MacIntyre’s opinion because they utilized an Enlightenment conception of morality of the self and were duly incoherent in their use of such language.  The Kantian (deontological) perspective looks to the concept of duty and intrinsic values to determine those courses of action that satisfy the injunction to observe some set of external notion of good. The utilitarian approach focused on behaviors that brought about the desired ends and the necessary means to accomplish them. Both schools fall short of MacIntyre’s concern to bring about the formation of virtuous character within the individual within their situated community. As Stanley Hauerwas states it:

Aristotle provided MacIntyre with an account of why our actions require a conception of an end as well as the social and political conditions necessary to sustain a life formed by the virtues constitutive of that end that is simple lacking in modern moral practice and theory.[9]

It is this formation within community that provides MacIntyre’s Aristotelian move. We are to imagine a community where a set of precepts is conceptualized as the virtues without which the good and the common life of the community cannot manifest. The telos can be conceived of as a narrative framework that a community embraces and employs, not as an end or merely for the result, but which embodies its values and brings about the good insofar as the community lives into the narrative. This is compatible with Dewey’s view of democracy (to be handled later in the paper) as more than simple majority rule but instead a “mode of associated living”[10] where individuals share responsibility in “forming and directing the activities of the group”[11] as they are in “harmony with the interest and good”[12] which the group shares in common.  Talisse sees this as a requirement of members “to embody a certain set of habits which both reflect common interests and enable individuals to act for the sake of the common good.”[13] This expectation allows the members to both be formed by virtuous expectation and to participate in bringing about those values of which the community has cultivated. The competencies are brought about by conditions embraced by the community and within which the individual has been formed by to participate in.

In his prologue to the 3rd edition of After Virtue, written on the 25th anniversary of publication, MacIntyre (sounding like Dewey) says that it is within “acts of imagination and questioning”[14] that members or a group would be able to navigate the difficulties of a situation or decision where there is disagreement with another group. Since there are no “neutral standards” available by which to judge the adequacies of any claim to truth, a rational agent my be able to determine a course of action and bring about a resolution where there is no clear standard by which to evaluate the superiority of one tradition over another. An awareness of our cultural chaos is vital. Hauerwas points out that we live in a ‘precarious’ moment:

Life in a world of moral fragments is always on the edge of violence, since there are no means to ensure that moral arguments in itself cans resolve our moral conflicts.”[15]

He goes on to say that it is little wonder we “hunger for absolutes in such a world” [16] that robs us of sense of self or security that we have. The individual as a rational agent, the unencumbered self, and free actor are all illusions outside of a radically situated history and story of formation and participation.

 

Decline and Fall

The picture that has been painted thus far is at best tenuous and at worst dire.  It would be unwise to proceed without asking the question “are we indeed in as great a predicament as MacIntyre believes that we are?” Is the situation as dire as has been presented? Are we morally and ethically in as a deep a quagmire as MacIntyre believes us to be? One needs look no farther than Hipsters and the Occupy movement to see the depths that we are in.

Rawls acknowledged (as does Sandel) that there is not only conflict over the Big Questions (as Talisse states it) in our political discourse but a suspect configuration of the moral questions and issues of power as to call into question whether they “constitute a consistent set.”  In fact, Rawls goes as far as to say despite “our conscious attempt to reason with each other”[17], that agreement is allusive and may only be reached though “oppression.”[18] This fractured and contentious societal situation is inflamed by (at least) three cultural elements: consumerism, globalization, and pluralism. The first is the disposition of individuals within a society, the second impacts the proximity of different communities, and the third affects the posture when approaching a disparate series of relationship for communities.

Consumerism is hyperbolized in an examination of Hipster ‘culture’ by Douglas Haddow entitled “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization”.[19] Haddow provides a vicious critique when he says:

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.[20]

 

It this both the dislocation of generational continuity and the isolation of consumerist aesthetics that are troubling about the brand obsessed and all too self-aware ironic sensibilities that alert one to the incredible disenchantment and disassociation of the youth culture. It is these very same consumerist influences and institutions that give rise to their embodied expression and vague angst that manifests in such irresponsible yet elaborate demonstrations of the Hipster’s intentionally senseless displays.

Perhaps more appropriate is Simon Critchley’s recent address of the separation of the people (in politics) and power.  Critchley borrows a powerful metaphor from Anglo-Polish social theorist Zygmunt Bauman set in an abandoned airplane with nothing but a previously recorded message to calm passengers fears. Critchley looks to this as the source of our current societal anxiety. Inherently we know that “ no one is in control: no God, no glorious leader, no benevolent dictator, nothing and no one. It’s even worse than the fantasy behind the Wizard of Oz and the Emperor’s New Clothes. There’s no wizard and no emperor.”[21] This feeling of quicksand is the erosion of knowing where our power has gone, knowing how things work and feeling as if power was actually possible with the people for which so many platitudes were lifted. Critchley points to this separation of the people from power, or over the knowledge of such power and how it is invested in the institutions of authority, that lands us in our current cultural malaise and constitutional quagmire.[22]

The reality of the contemporary societal movement is one of escalating and nearly indecipherable chaos, incommensurable solutions and seemingly incoherent voices all competing with no organized framework or agreed upon arena for putting forward any meaningful resolutions or even compromises. We see this in the religious, philosophical, moral, educational, political and economic spheres. It does appear that MacIntyre’s concern is justified and his analysis is rational.

 

No Culture is an Island

 

In chapter 9 of After Virtue, MacIntyre goes after the relatively unintelligible vocabulary in our modern situation that is nothing more than a series of remnants and fractured remainders from past systems and moral frameworks.

A key part of my thesis has been that modern moral utterance and practice can only be understood as a series of fragmented survivals from an older past and that the insoluble problems which they have generated for modern moral theorists will remain insoluble until this is well understood. What we need here is not only a philosophical acuteness but also the kind of vision which anthropologists at their best bring to the observation of other cultures, enabling them to identify survivals and unintelligibilities unperceived by those who inhabit those cultures.[23]

 

MacIntyre reinforces this foreignness motif by relaying a story from Captain Cook’s third voyage where he and his men landed on the Hawaiian Islands where they observed both sexual practices they found objectionable and gender segregation that they found perplexing. When they inquired as to why women did not eat the men, it was explained that this was taboo. The native word can also be translated ‘forbidden’. The perplexing development was when the Hawaiians could not explain why this practice was forbidden. MacIntyre points to this as an example of using a word that they did not understand that propped up practice they could not explain which was a remnant of a bygone era and was only held to in a fragmented system of cultural norms.  This would explain why King Kamehameha II was able to abolish the taboo laws just forty years later (1819) and “the lack of social consequences when he did.” [24]

MacIntyre then turns his attention to the problems in our modern moral context and points to the figure of Friedrich Nietzsche who he refers to as the Kamehameha of the European tradition. This is based on Nietzsche’s ability to expose “what purported to be appeals to objectivity were in fact expressions of subjective will” and the difficulties that these proposed for the moral philosophers.

My hesitation with this analogy is tempered by my acceptance of its results. The hesitation, however, is that this may be a case of comparing philosophical apples to proverbial oranges. The Hawaiians were fine to participate in these social norms and to dutifully observe the taboos as there were handed down through tradition. The occasion of Cook’s arrival introduced an alien paradigm that examined the structures behind the taboo laws and found them wanting. It was the introduction of this foreign element that exposed ultimate lack of coherence, which predicated the dissembling of the taboo laws. Nietzsche, however, is not a foreigner to the intellectual atmosphere that he is exposing and his thinking is not the introduction of alien elements. In this sense, there is a hesitancy to allow this comparison to go uncontested – though ultimately the effect is much the same. The difference, however, is that Nietzsche is a both a result of the existing tradition as well as a critic of it. That seems significant for ultimately resolving the incongruence of the very forms and structures that were under review.

My hesitancy is, in the end, minor when compared to the overall result that comes from the analogy. My thinking is helped by those such as Hauerwas who agree with the diagnosis by saying  “our problem is that we live amid fragments of past moralities each, with good reason. Competing for our loyalty.” [25] We are, however, not simply post-modern islanders participating in and existing within an isolated inheritance. We are more like floating communities tied together by threads from our respective pasts and under constant exposure to new investigations by foreign expeditions.[26] Our era of inter-national, multi-cultural and trans-cultural global connectivity has resulted in a multiplicity where no tradition or community exists in the kind of isolation that allows for stability and continuity. It is within this context that our formation of virtuous agents must conceive of frameworks and embodied practices must be incubated.  That is no easy task.

The critique of Nietzsche, in this environment, has great merit then.  Nietzsche’s “Ubermensh – the man who transcends, finds his good nowhere in the social world to date” but only within himself and the law that he dictates and “his own new table of virtues.”[27] As one trapped within a society devoid of intrinsic meaning, he goes it alone and is responsible to make something out of it. The past means little to the great man who morality of society is from an archaic age – often disguising the real motive of power and a false claim to objectivity. In this landscape, his descendants would participate in political reform as merely a “final attempt to escape from its own consequences.” [28] This is a bleak picture and to what Hauerwas alludes when he picks up the critique:

“Modern moral philosophy become part of the problem, for its stress on autonomy, like its corresponding attempt to free ethics from history, produces people incapable of living lives that have narrative coherence.” [29]

MacIntyre (and those who follow him) are looking for a different approach that does not ignore either the formulations of the past nor the real awareness of the situated embeddeness of any proposed expression. This is why MacIntyre pits Nietzsche and the tradition of liberal individualism against the Aristotelian tradition.[30]

 

St. Benedict

MacIntyre closes his book with St. Benedict. This figure in referenced only one other time in After Virtue (p. 185) where he is paired with the likes of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Theresa along with Engels, Marx and Trotsky as “exemplars of certain of the virtues as I understand them”. [31] It is not in this list that my contention comes but in the final sentence of the book where MacIntyre says that we are waiting for another – albeit different kind – of St. Benedict.

The author looks to the time when virtues were able to survive the dark ages and laments that in our time, however, “the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.” [32] It is here that my hope in the project fades. As persuasive as MacIntyre’s appeal has been and as comprehensive as his grasp and address of historical figures is, it is the assessment of both our postmodern landscape and the resulting needed move that comes up wanting. Benedict and his Orders existed within framework of Christendom that spanned time periods both before and after his influence. We stand at a precipice of a different kind of boundary that does not share the continuity that Benedict’s did. Thus, even if a new “very different”[33] Benedict figure were to emerge it would be unimaginable that such a figure’s work would be formulated or transmitted in any way that would be recognizable for the comparison. In fairness, MacIntyre somewhat addressed this concern in 2007 with the 25th anniversary of After Virtue in a new prologue for the 3rd edition. He explains:

Benedict’s greatness lay in making possible a quite new kind of institution, that of the monastery of prayer, learning, and labor, in which and around which communities could not only survive, but flourish, in a period of social and cultural darkness.[34]

The appeal of such a character would indeed be spectacular and, for the reasons stated, their work would be somewhat unprecedented. Outside of the existing continuity experienced by the original Benedict, this new set of rules would bridge gaps unimaginable to the original.

Pluralism

Whereas Benedict was embedded within a tradition and reformulated the practices of a tradition, the new pluralistic Benedict would necessarily be inter-traditional at best or non-traditional at worst and would thus be no sort of Benedict due simply to the radical disparity of the environment from which she emerged and the absence of a institutional mechanism that Benedict employed. A new Benedict within any tradition would therefore not being comparable to the original for the need and the application would be so radically disparate. If a new thinker/leader/organizer were to emerge from our modern context the program would be, one would have to imagine, outside of a historical tradition/expression and would necessarily manifest as a new school of religion altogether. If one was to employ a comparable rule to the Benedictine in our pluralistic age, it would exist either within an established institutional framework and thus not provide the same role as the original or would be appropriately pluralistic and thus not similar at all in function to the original within its (and subsequent) era.  At that point, it would be providing a very different service to the formation of virtuous beings that existed outside of established institutional silos of belief.

Here is where John Dewey and the Communitarian critics prove valuable. To put their approach in perspective, it is valuable to consider MacIntyre’s engagement of Max Weber. In chapter 6 and 7 of After Virtue, the author addresses the ideas of efficiency and bureaucracy in the work of Weber. The virtue must be more that simply the outcomes desired in any given moment or organization. Those “short-term results”[35] can be manipulated to bring about any desired ends and it is here that both the expert and the notion of effectiveness fall short.  The bureaucracy of Weber’s theory “adjusts means to ends”[36] and justifies the activity of the bureaucrat by their ability to employ a body of knowledge as an expert in bringing about greater efficiency. MacIntyre sees this as both the inheritance and the inherent virus of the enlightenment virus.

The notion of virtuous person is not to simply  ‘do as you are told’ but to be an individual embedded within a community who has been formed in such a way as to embody that virtue which is intrinsic to one’s orientation. To default to a notion of an omnipotent manager/knower is a devolution from that notion of a responsible actor so prized by MacIntyre. The Aristotelian conception of an agent acting within and formed by a collection (polis) is not found in deferring to the expertise of a bureaucratic manager focused on utilitarian efficiency. The gap, as MacIntyre points out, between “the generalized notion of effectiveness and the actual behavior [sic] that is open to managers”[37] is not what it is purported to be. What if, he asks, this quality widely imputed was largely lacking outside of its imputation?

MacIntyre’s questioning of the notion of ‘expertise’ brings to mind an insight that Slovoj Zizek recently brought in his appearance at the LA Library (ALOUD) event for his book Living in the End Times. Zizek questions the role of the modern university to form thinkers by telling a story about a forum he was invited to where an administrator at a prominent University lamented the lack of useful wisdom coming from these institutions.   The utilitarian administrator said that in moments of crisis, such as riots and civil emergencies, they needed ‘experts’ to tell them how to manage the crowd, control this, and handle that. Zizek bristled and said that what the University was responsible for was those who know how to question the questions that had delivered us into the mess originally. We don’t need experts to tell us how to ‘handle’ the situation as much as people who are formed by an ability to question the present answers as well as the initial questions themselves.  

With this in mind, I want to turn to the notion of democracy that John Dewey and those who inherited his concepts put forward. This understanding of “democracy as a ‘great community’ of shared values” conceptualizes politics as a “project of continually re-creating the public”.[1] This understanding is predicated on a conception of the democratic process in which citizens participate in a “shared cooperative undertaking of self-government as all levels of social association”.[2] This shared understanding requires citizens to participate in inquiry into collective problems as a ‘way of life’. This entails more than voting as it looks to participants to extend their participation in every engagement that is collective – the home, the neighborhood, and the workplace, etc. The rub, as Talisse articulates it, comes in the engagement of pluralism as both a vocabulary word and a concept. While, the author admits, that Deweyan notions of democracy may be fond of the word pluralism, the concept is somewhat untenable for those who hold to a Deweyan concept of democracy or, as outlined in this paper, a notion of virtue as articulated by MacIntyre.

Addressing the ‘nature of disagreement over Big Questions’, Talisse states that:

Pluralism is the thesis that at least some, and perhaps many, of these disagreements are inevitable, irresolvable, non-contingent, and, in a word, permanent… endemic to the human condition.[3]

These are irreconcilable conflicts and are not merely surface or apparent differences of opinion or perspective.   So while those who promote a Deweyan version of democracy may use the word ‘pluralism’ they are more likely to be expressing a brand of inclusive motives that seek to involve an openness to other views “within a framework of democratic community”.[4]  This is not exactly pluralism in Talisse’s view. It is the posture of inclusion toward those who have conceded the initial aims of the collective project but who hold to deferring avenues of address.

Deweyan democrats typically mean the prima facie commitments to the inclusion of all voices and viewpoints in the fallibilist, experimentalist project of democratic self-government through melioristic social intelligence. [5]

This is not pluralism in the common conception of the term – and certainly not as the term was utilized above. Those who hold a Deweyan notion of democracy require, at some level, an agreement to the basic of tenets of inquiry and participation in addressing difficulties. Deweyan, in this sense, cannot accommodate those who hold to pre-conceived convictions dogmatically, those who refuse to participate in the process and those who see no need to inquire at all. These go against the basic tenets of fallibility and experimentalism that are “at the heart of the inquiry”.[6]  As Talisse points out, these commitments are rooted in the particular notion of public education and the role of citizens and intellectuals in that public life.

MacIntyre, while not addressing pluralism directly (which might be an anachronistic expectation) does address the “falsity of relativism” that is manifest in our modern inability to come to some sort of resolution of difficulties and challenges that our societies face. Distancing himself from the liberalism versus communitarian debate, MacIntyre – who does not see himself as a communitarian – says that he sees no value in community as such, pointing out that some types of community have been nastily oppressive.[7] He points out that conservative views and the liberal positions that they purport to oppose so vehemently are both foreign to the project of After Virtue.  What he is interested in instead is a tradition that regenerates the virtues “in everyday life” by plain people in a “variety of practices”[8] that allows them to “question the dominant modes of moral and social discourse and the institutions that find their expression in those modes.” [9] It is precisely this expectation which holds so much promise for the project specifically within the modern morass that created such a moral quagmire and the inability to, in the end, resolve in any meaningful way the disparate views that result in the deep political divides and culture gulfs between camps. In fact, the lack of some agreed upon framework prevents even meaningful dialogue to be possible on the issues.

In the prologue to the 3rd edition, MacIntyre address several changes that his later work accounted for in the response (objection) to the initial work. The first was an appeal to Aristotelian virtues with an account of Aristotle’s metaphysical biology.[10] By accounting for his Aquinas awakening he was able to address this in a new way (noting the changes that would be required since Aristotle’s biology is not wholly acceptable) by stating:

It is only because human beings have an end towards which they are directed by reason of their specific nature, that practices, traditions and the like are able to function as they do. [11]

The second adjustment was not only metaphysical but also biological – even if it was not an Aristotelian one.[12] He admits that we are “inescapably inhabitants” of advanced modernity and bear its “social and cultural marks”.[13] This kind of inquiry he is proposing in only possible after the development of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This is an important admission because of the inescapable historical “situatedness of all enquiry”. [14]  There are no impersonal standards or uncontestable values that one might appeal to in order to resolve moral disagreements rationally. It is here that MacIntyre holds to the original claim that it is only in an approach “whose beliefs and presuppositions were articulated in their classical form by Aristotle” that we may mediate the moral dilemmas that we are faced with in late modernity.

 

Conclusion

MacIntyre’s address of the modern philosophical situation is astute. He outlines the utter corruption of emotive individualism and its resulting paralysis for societal institutions and cultural interactions. While I have registered my minor hesitancies associated with utilizing historical characters like King Kamehameha II or St. Benedict, one must acknowledge that his assessment is thorough and that his proposal is substantive. I have placed them in conversation with two thinkers on education and formation in order to flesh out the possibilities of MacIntyre’s project for both congregational and educational needs. While the scope of this paper did not call for (or allow) an experimental curriculum to be developed, one can easily imagine the fledgling framework for such an endeavor. Pairing the reclaimed Aristotelian notion of virtues with a Deweyan approach to democracy or a Post-Liberal conception of community formation, as outlined in George Lindbeck’s The Nature Of Doctrine, opens the door to possibilities for communities of formation.

While the focus of this engagement has been largely conceptual and societal, it opens the door to examine both the existing structures of institutional frameworks (that may be deontological or utilitarian in orientation) and their philosophical underpinnings – that may be stated or not. Within a liberal democracy, whether conservative or liberal by label, the epistemology and the inherent individualism are unavoidable. Pair that with an unquestioned capitalist–consumerist paradigm then add in an increasingly pluralist perspective and MacIntyre’s project looks formidable for consideration.

The danger, of course, is that ‘community’ will be defined too narrowly as individual congregations, which will predictably retreat into ecclesiastical silos who play Wittgensteinian word games within their own walls. Community, then, must be defined within its societal framework as an integrated part of the whole – hopefully incorporated in an integral way that includes both political (public) and educational realities. The Aristotelian notion did and MacIntyre is not being merely sentimental in his attempt to reclaim it. Nor is he being romantic when looks to Aquinas or Benedict for inspiration and clarification. Admittedly, our pluralistic and post-modern era puts forward new challenges and unique obstacles for MacIntyre’s project but his assessment of the situation is sound and his proposal is substantive. There is real possibility for MacIntyre’s desire to reclaim the Aristotelian notion of virtue formation within embedded communities that are appropriately and historically situated.



[1] Gary Dorrien, “Obama’s Communitarianism,” Huffington Post, March 4, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-dorrien/obama-community-organizing_b_1319946.html.

[2] Talisse, “Can Democracy Be a Way of Life? Deweyan Democracy and the Problem of Pluralism (Robert Talisse) – Academia.edu,” 1.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid., 12.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 13.

[7] MacIntyre, “After Virtue,” xiv.

[8] Among which he names “families, households, schools, clinics, and local forms of political community.

[9] MacIntyre, “After Virtue,” xv.

[10] Terry Eagleton has a fascinating take on the essential component of biology “To say that morality is basically a biological affair is to say that, like everything else about us, it is rooted ultimately in the body. As Alasdair Maclntyre observes, `Human identity is primarily, even if not only, bodily and therefore animal identity’. It is the mortal, fragile, suffering, ecstatic, needy, dependent, desirous, compassionate body which furnishes the basis of all moral thought. Moral thought puts the body back into our discourse.” Terry Eagleton, After Theory (Basic Books, 2004), Kindle Locations 1668–1671.

[11] MacIntyre, “After Virtue,” xi.

[12] Dewey had similar concerns about some aspects of the antiquated worldview that Aristotle inhabited. The classification of slaves and designations of  ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ as well others should not been seen as a wholesale permission to disregard Aristotelian notions altogether. John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (Macmillan, 1916), 296–297.

[13] MacIntyre, “After Virtue,” xi.

[14] Ibid., xii.



[1] Alasdair C. MacIntyre, “After Virtue”, Third ed. (University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 2.

[2] Alasdair C. MacIntyre, After Virtue: a Study in Moral Theory (University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 8.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Ibid., 11.

[5] Ibid., 2.

[6] MacIntyre, “After Virtue,” xi.

[7] MacIntyre, After Virtue, 202.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Stanley Hauerwas, “The Virtues of Alasdair MacIntrye”, October 2007, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/09/004-the-virtues-of-alasdair-macintyre-6.

[10] John Dewey, Jo Ann Boydston, and Sidney Hook, The Middle Works of John Dewey, Volume 9, 1899-1924: Democracy and Education, 1916 (SIU Press, 2008), 93.

[11] John Dewey, Jo Ann Boydston, and James Gouinlock, The Later Works of John Dewey, Volume 2, 1925 – 1953: 1925-1927, Essays, Reviews, Miscellany, and The Public and Its Problems (SIU Press, 2008), 327.

[12] Ibid., 328.

[13] Robert B. Talisse, “Can Democracy Be a Way of Life? Deweyan Democracy and the Problem of Pluralism (Robert Talisse) – Academia.edu”, n.d., 8, http://vanderbilt.academia.edu/RobertTalisse/Papers/664461/Can_democracy_be_a_way_of_life_Deweyan_democracy_and_the_problem_of_pluralism.

[14] MacIntyre, “After Virtue,” xiii.

[15] Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (SCM Press, 2003), 5.

[16] Ibid., 6.

[17] John Rawls, Political Liberalism (Columbia University Press, 2005), 55.

[18] Ibid., 37.

[19] The subtitle of this article says “We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality. “

[20] Douglas Haddow, “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization | Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters”, n.d., http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/79/hipster.html.

[21] Simon Critchley, “Occupy’s Perfect Storm | Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters”, n.d., http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/101/occupy-perfect-storm.html.

[22] Critchley goes on to say that “the Occupy movement is fascinating from the standpoint of the separation of politics and power and is particularly fascinating to the student of Athenian democracy, with its focus on the ekklesia, the general assembly, and the boule or council”. – Tying in the Aristotelian virtue that is the subject of this paper.

[23] MacIntyre, After Virtue, 105.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 4.

[26] The objection may seem insignificant on the surface, but as one exploring post-colonial critiques, it seems noteworthy that Neitzche is a native born son to western philosophical thought and his examination is its native tongue. The language and the thought employed is inherently western philosophical making it an examination from within and not a foreign introduction of questioning from without.

[27] MacIntyre, After Virtue, 239.

[28] Ibid., 259.

[29] Hauerwas, “The Virtues of Alasdair MacIntrye.”

[30] MacIntyre, After Virtue, 243.

[31] Ibid., 185.

[32] Ibid., 245.

[33] Ibid.

[34] MacIntyre, “After Virtue,” xvi.

[35] MacIntyre, After Virtue, 72.

[36] Ibid., 82.

[37] Ibid., 72.

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Radical Orthodoxy’s Fatal Flaw

It does not take long, when listening to John Milbank, to discover the fatal flaw.

 Milbank says “The only choice in our time is between religion and nihilism”.

Into a plural, multiple, diverse 21st century, RO comes marching in with a old-school binary!  From sentence one, as a listener, you start thinking “yeah, that thing you said might be true … IF there is only an either-or option. But if there are layers, any nuance, multiple factors, complexity or any number of other variations … then your argument breaks down pretty quickly. Your proposal only stands up IF your initial simplistic framing of the issue is adopted. ” [like when Milbank calls all of post-modernism a footnote to Nietzsche

When Milbank says that a purely secular society is untenable… it’s a no-brainer! Of course that would be true. Duh. Only … that’s not exactly the reality we are dealing with.

Of course, the sentence takes on wholly new meaning inside RO’s binary.

I could say the same sentence – but would mean that secular society it is integrated, infused, marbled, or mixed with religion and expired religious forms so thoroughly that it forms a multiplicity of bricolage pluralities or something like that. 

I knew at the top that defenders of RO will say this is too easy a dismissal. One sentence in and I’m already shaking my head in disagreement.  I would counter however that – whether you use a foundational analogy or DNA one – when something is predicated on bad material,  you don’t have to explore too long to see that it is corrupted or warped – and functionally unusable.

                               The First Problem Leads to a Second

Once the initial binary is adopted, a consequential effect is offered as a solution. RO thinks that the answer is to go back. Back to Aquinas – to the middle ages when theology was ‘queen of the sciences’. It doesn’t stop there!  Going back to Aquinas necessarily means going back Aristotle when greek society was organized into communities called polis.

Many within RO want to see the church re-claim that polis identity. One of RO’s favorite thinkers is Alasdair MacIntyre (famous for his book After Virtue). MacIntyre chooses to reclaim a notion of Aristotle’s approach to the formation of virtuous character within the context of community (polis).  Within these communities character is formed by the “enacted narratives” that allows the self to be formed and ones identity to emerge within the continuity (or discontinuity) of the self that is provided by a greater environment. This happens within an embedded or situated environment in which a narrative may be lived out.

I love MacIntyre. I have used his notion of character formation within community and I am rocked by his assessment of our contemporary moral morass. MacIntyre’s concern is justified and his analysis is right on.

In fact, there is only one thing I don’t agree with MacIntyre on – his solution.

MacIntyre closes his book with the character of St. Benedict. who is earlier paired with the likes of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Theresa along with Engels, Marx and Trotsky as “exemplars of certain of  the virtues as I understand them”.  In the final sentence of the book MacIntyre says that we are waiting for another – albeit different kind – of St. Benedict.

The author looks to the time when virtues were able to survive the dark ages and laments that in our time, however,

“the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.”

It is here that my hope in the project fades. Benedict and his Orders existed within framework of Christendom that spanned time periods both before and after his influence. We stand at a precipice of a different kind of boundary that does not share the continuity that Benedict’s did. Thus, even if a new “very different” Benedict figure were to emerge it would be unimaginable that such a figure’s work would be formulated or transmitted in any way that would be recognizable for the very comparison.

Whereas Benedict was embedded within a tradition and reformulated the practices of a tradition, the new pluralistic Benedict would necessarily be inter-traditional at best or non-traditional at worst and would thus be no sort of Benedict due simply to the radical disparity of the environment from which she emerged and the absence of an institutional mechanism that Benedict employed.

A new Benedict within any tradition would therefore not being comparable to the original for the need and the application would be so radically disparate. If a new thinker/leader/organizer were to emerge from our modern context the program would be, one would have to imagine, outside of a historical tradition/expression and would necessarily manifest as a new school of religion altogether.

If one was to employ a comparable rule to the Benedictine in our pluralistic age, it would exist either within an established institutional framework and thus not provide the same role as the original or would be appropriately pluralistic and thus not similar at all in function to the original within its (and subsequent) era.  At that point, it would be providing a very different service to the formation of virtuous beings that existed outside of established institutional silos of belief.

 I say it all the time: Christianity’s future is not to be found in Europe’s past.

Now I will go further and say that it only appears that going back is a solution – or even a possibility – if one accepts the simple binary initially.  RO’s proposal is fatally flawed from the outset.

__________________

If you are interested HERE is a link to part of an article I wrote about MacIntyre. I will not post it on the main page. This will be the only link to it.

_________________

Post-Script: I chose to not provide references for the quotes in order to avoid the easy ‘anecdotal’ dismissal from RO defenders.

*  In fairness, MacIntyre somewhat addressed this concern in 2007 with the 25th anniversary of After Virtue in a new prologue for the 3rd edition. He explains:

Benedict’s greatness lay in making possible a quite new kind of institution, that of the monastery of prayer, learning, and labor, in which and around which communities could not only survive, but flourish, in a period of social and cultural darkness.

“The appeal of such a character would indeed be spectacular and, for the reasons stated, their work would be somewhat unprecedented. Outside of the existing continuity experienced by the original Benedict, this new set of rules would bridge gaps unimaginable to the original.”  

 

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Is David Fitch right about the Church’s task?

This morning David Fitch tweeted this:

“The biggest task of today’s church is to undermine in its members the blase unexamined acceptance of secular assumptions for everyday life.”

I have been thinking about it all day. I’m not sure he is right on this one.

Now just to let you know where I am coming from:

When you put that all together, I am just not convinced of Fitch’s assertion. Here is why:

I am increasingly suspicious that secularism is both a consequence and a side effect of Christendom. It is the West’s Frankenstein if you will. We made it. Then it took on a life of its own – a life we don’t like very much and which damages our efforts and injures our cause.  I think we have to start there.

I agree with Fitch that there is a ‘unexamined acceptance” and would go even further and say that it results in an assumption that what we see is the way it is. That our current mechanisms of organization are final forms and that the ‘as-is’ structures come with a large measure of ‘giveness’.  Tripp often applies this capitalism, nation-states and democracy. I would tack on both denominations for the church and militarism for US America.

I am just not so sure that our main task is to undermine. Maybe that is where my hangup comes. I am leery of this approach because it seems like we are defaulting the ground rules in the initial move and framing the task in a conceding first move.

I might be naive here but I am just not sure that the church needs to
A) give that much ground initially
B) frame her task in the negative.
I know it’s just so much one can do with a tweet but … there is something there that gives me caution.

So what is my constructive proposal?  I’m working on it.

I would want to frame it more like Stuart Murray does in the book Post-Christendom  and acknowledge that initial concession was early on with Constantinian Christianity. Then Christendom. Then Modernity.  With those three concessions we admit that the as-is nature of existing frameworks for both church and culture are thoroughly compromised and corrupted.

BECAUSE of that. We abandon the recuperation, rehabilitation, reclamation , and renovation projects (and mentality) all together! (all 4 faces of it).

It’s over man.  Let it go.

THEN we start new and in the positive. The 21st century provides fresh possibilities and opportunities IF ONLY we will let go the idea of getting back to something or getting something back. I know we never start from scratch – we never get back to square one. But …

I don’t want to be the undermining parasite ON the big organism. That is too small a task.  I want to partner with God in the healing of world (Tikkun Olum in Hebrew).  I want to participate in the development cosmic good – until then at least the common good. 

 Help me think this through! 

PostScript: now that I started down this “re” line I can’t stop coming up with words I want to flesh out further!
Restore: no
Re-imagine: yes
Represent: yes
Re-member: sure
Resurrect: ummmm not really
Reflect: probably

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