Friday, January 12, 2007


This is my contribution to a conversation on loneliness and transience in the modern world begun by Fr. Stephen and continued by Trevor.

I think the natural state of man is to live in an organic community, complete with a fully integrated culture and religion. And it's all given, not chosen - that's really the key.

But the project of modernism was to undermine the patriarchal institutions that embody culture - the family, the church, and the community - in order to establish a new order based on individual freedom. All power was pushed to the extreme ends of the spectrum - to the central government at one end and the lone individual at the other end. The values of this new "culture" (to use the term loosely) - wealth, sex, power, and freedom - are diametrically opposed to the Benedictine vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. Without community, there is no discipline.

The minions of Satan on Madison Avenue have joined the founding radicals in promoting the modern lifestyle of individualism and alienation because it creates new marketing opportunities. A culture of people living disciplined Benedictine lives, on the other hand, would be the bane of modern consumerism. (I said something similar in a letter to First Things a decade ago.)

Today churches find themselves in the unnatural position of having to exist without being integrated into a local culture or community. Many churches - especially Orthodox and Anglo-Catholic parishes - respond by creating a community coterminous with the church and maintaining a culture (preferably inherited, but in convert parishes more likely created) within the church.

In the same way that Benedictine monasteries preserved the remnants of ancient culture within their walls through the Dark Ages, perhaps the churches must now preserve the remnants of community until our culture recovers from the devastation of the Modern Age.


Anonymous said...

Satan's US HQ may be on Madison Ave, but he has plenty of branch offices. :) American Christianity both mainstream & pietist accepts worldly optimism as a given. And when decent churches try to maintain a real community, it tends to be contingent on "details." (Think Anglo-catholicism's "Yes, Father" mentality.)

It mght nice to see if there's any research on how the ordinary pre-Constantine laity coped with a tolerant but alien culture.

take are,


Anonymous said...

If God gives life, and Satan death, shouldn't we be encouraged when we witness that so many more souls are living in our world compared to the world of Constantine (just 300M)?

What a trust He gives us to be PART of this world and the many many people.

I find Madison Ave slanted towards low IQ (below 120) under age 30 individuals. Never a problem for me.

But it brings up a point, how does the church address the reality that 85% or more people lack the gift of abstract thought, IQ<120, and therefore don't want to know "why" but rather "tell me what to do"?


Roland said...

I was referring to Satan specifically in his role as Tempter - a role in which Madison Avenue does its best to emulate him, doing his bidding, even if unconsciously.

Madison Avenue, however, like most Americans, is lazy. It goes after the easiest targets, who are disproportionately young and stupid. But it also has a long-term interest in promoting individualism and undermining community. The strong values and personal identity that one can draw from a strong community are likely to make one less susceptible to the advertising profession's come-ons.