April 4, 2010

The Believing Modern

Justin Katz

Given the day, and the surprising amount of interest displayed, 'round here, in conversation of religion's clash with modernity and postmodernity, current editor Joseph Bottum's first publication in First Things, back in 1994, merits some consideration:

We were all of us raised as moderns, however, and even as I write these words, my own modernness rises up to make me blush. To speak about doom and retribution, about the godless present age, is to sound distinctly premodern, distinctly dated, distinctly benighted and reactionary. It is to sound like the anti-humanistic enemy against whom modernity has campaigned for three hundred years. And I ought to blush, for I profit fully from the modern. I drive my car, keep iced tea in my refrigerator, get my vaccinations, use my computer, turn on my air conditioner in the summer heat. ...

I choose the phrase "to hold knowledge" deliberately, for the massive scientific advance of modernity reveals how easy it is to discover facts, and modernity's collapse reveals how hard it is to hold knowledge. We have an apparatus for discovery unrivaled by the ages, yet every new fact means less than the previously discovered one, for we lack what turns facts to knowledge: the information of what the facts are for. ...

Three hundred years of this attack [on ancient faith] have created in believers an attitude both deeply defensive and deeply conservative. But the defensiveness springs from the attempt by believers to defend their belief against a "progressive" philosophy that is already rejected intellectually by nearly all cultural commentators, and, I suspect, despised intuitively by nearly all young people in America. Believers should not become entangled in the defense of modern times. This is the key—the postmodern attack on modernity is right: without God, essences are the will to power. Without God, every attempt to call something true or beautiful or good is actually an attempt to compel other people to agree.

It's an interesting point. The modern person of traditionalist faith agrees with the Enlightenment modernist that reality has a coherence, a narrative, but also agrees with the post-modernist that the removal of God from the plot leaves only the arbitrary intentions of power-hungry animals.

Given some of the topical matters that we've been discussing, such as drugs and sex, I'd been thinking how clear it is that secular leftists support freedoms that make the individual vulnerable, but revile freedoms that allow the individual to shore up his influence or to develop firm self-contained communities. The druggie must be free, for example, to numb his sense of reality with drugs, but the businessman must not be free to determine that druggies impede the efficiency of his company. Conveniently, we can observe, those who express their freedom in self-destructive ways require a third-party guarantor — the state — to whom they must allocate power.

I'd also been thinking that those who decry inequity of class as a call to arms invariably disclaim the existence of a God and a larger purpose — a larger personal existence — such that the have nots can only be bitter that they've drawn short straws for their measly few decades of life, while others live as kings and queens. There are essentially two ways to battle those circumstances: Again, allocate power to some champion (the state) that will take from the rich and give to the poor, or redefine meaning and the successful life in a way that the bullies and leeches cannot touch. Indeed, the stronger their assault, the greater the reward.

The sorts of people who seek power for themselves by stoking grievance in others cannot stick their strings into such a worldview, which makes it dangerous. And so it is. Those vested in the power of earthly days can only be threatened by the promise of resurrection and the strong confidence of immortal souls.

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>>>thinking how clear it is that secular leftists support freedoms that make the individual vulnerable, but revile freedoms that allow the individual to shore up his influence

Freedoms are freedoms - you must know about free will??? Freedom to get very drunk, I'm sure, is a universally supported freedom, as is the freedom to let giant corporations feed you fatty foots to make you sick and fat.

I don't support making those illegal, do you?

Well, then you are acting hypocritically - you are, in effect, blessing the drug that the church blesses and frowning on another natural sacrament (pot, for instance) which others feel they enjoy.

Mind you, I don't enjoy either very much, but for you to decide FOR ME AND OTHERS exactly what makes us vulnerable, while obviously supporting the "freedoms" of businesses to influence us in various dangerous ways (advertising) is quite foolish.

I think I made a mistake calling you a thinker. You are not. You have conclusions and then you simple contort the same stable of words to come to them!

That is not thinking. These are the rants of an ideologue. Now, if that is not a bad word for you, then simply wear it. If, however, you believe in the concept of open mindedness, you should look just a little outside that box.

Now having known you, my first guess would be that you are a "dry drunk" or have another condition which causes that narrow and authoritarian view of life.

I'm frankly amazed that you seem to think that some Authority dictates what is a "good" high or herb or substance, and what is not....AND, that authority seems to be the Church and Corporate America!
Weird, IMHO.

I guess you and your brethren are as far from being libertarian as possible! Heck, even most Republicans have given up on the War on Drugs, etc. - usually for two reasons - one, they get high themselves - and two, they can't afford the billions spent fighting it and keeping millions in jail.

Justin, time to step into the new century. Keeping things away from people does not stop them from doing them. If you want proof, go to Amsterdam where pot and hash are smoked in coffee shops, yet the population as a whole has LESS drug users.

Posted by: Stuart at April 4, 2010 6:44 PM

>>>or redefine meaning and the successful life in a way that the bullies and leeches cannot touch

That's been to story of the Church for hundreds and hundreds of years! Life sucks, so get used to it and slave for the rich man or king. Then, when you die miserably, everything will be A-OK.

Anyone who buys that myth is a fool. A fool.

Sure, a person should understand reality and their possibilities. But at the same time, accepting injustice here because it will end at your death is so - irreligious.

I have met and worked with many of your Catholic Brethren and they don't feel the same way!

I guess you are a member of the Glen Beck School of anti-social justice Cathoics, a new cult for sure. Oh, except Beck is a Mormon!

So, be happy don't worry and live horribly now knowing you are gonna float on clouds later. Me? I'll try to make the best of what I am dealt here...

Posted by: Stuart at April 4, 2010 6:51 PM


Its being Easter, I'm going to reply on your continued half-readings and imputations of beliefs that I don't hold just one more time.

I have not advocated banning drugs, particularly pot. Indeed, I've stated that I'm pretty much ambivalence. Perhaps in your world ambivalence is the emotion of a zealot, on an issue, but that would be very peculiar.

What I've said is that I think a certain limited society (specifically a state) should have the liberty of self definition to the extent that it can opt, through democratic means, to disallow the use of any narcotic substances of its choosing. My two essential requirements, for such a society, is that residents must be permitted to work to change the law (through, e.g., freedom of speech) and to leave.

For my own state, I am (as I said) pretty much ambivalent and am apt to question poor logic on either side as it occurs to me to do so. You are imagining me as somebody that I am not.

Similarly, your second comment, above misses the mark. Even if you think logically, from your point of view, it should be clear. I spend a great deal of time and effort battling those whom I perceive to be the oppressors. Agree or disagree, you should be able to see that to be objectively true. Obviously, I do not believe we should treat religion as an opiate and simply ignore the world. (That's one of the reasons I'm a Catholic.)

My argument, to reflect your terms, is that, given the unpredictability of life, and the existence of forces much greater than us with which we must contend, we should seek to live our lives such that it simply isn't possible to die miserably, because we've learned to find meaning and purpose in all aspects of life.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 4, 2010 7:01 PM

Why is Stuart so contrary?
And who in the hell eats "fatty foots"?
Aha,a foot fetishist.
Stuart,you sly devil....

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 4, 2010 7:58 PM

Justin, you fail to address the millions of people those "democratic means" have thrown into jail and the affect of that on our society. That is not a small thing!

Contrary, Joe? Heck, you must not be reading Justins rants. Just when everyone else in the US, including Republicans, Libertarians and Independents, is finally understanding the failure of "democratically illegal" relatively safe substances, Justin tells us this is a bad thing! Freedom, in his writing, is a bad thing - that is, the majority of people get to decide - in his view at the ballot box - whether or not your freedoms are acceptable!

That is a very far out stance! Try running that by some of your libertarian tea party friends!

Here is the real deal. There is nothing more precious than the freedom of the mind and of the individual. This basic human right should only be restricted when it is absolutely needed to be.

Yet Justin is actually pushing for MORE government and more laws. Sure, the government should not PUSH harmful things (like they do gambling in RI, etc.), but at the same time it is not their job to make it illegal if it is a generally safe substance. If they have concerns about the effects on society (which is questionable it itself, given the high moral actions of pols), then they should tax it and regulate it and educate people about it - and/or treat addiction of it as a disease. PERIOD.

I previously said Justin was a liberal, I take that back!

Learning to keep your hands and guns (government enforces drug laws with guns) off others heads is probably difficult for those set in their ways. It's just so easy for Rush Limbaugh to call for life sentences for drug dealers - while himself taking 50-100 doses of pain pills daily.

According to political tests, I am a left leaning Libertarian, and I wear that banner proudly. I think that the individual, family and society can make and enforce certain behaviors - without jackbooted police and crime syndicates (both empowered by strict drug laws) being heavily involved.

Posted by: Stuart at April 4, 2010 8:50 PM

And there you go. Failing to take up Stuart's cause is by definition taking the other side to the extent of supporting authoritarianism. Thus does the flag of "freedom" come to justify jackboots on those who decry them on the other foot.

I'll give you this much: I'm not a libertarian, although I do lean that way from time to time.

Be that as it may, life's too short spend more than a passing moment every few weeks arguing with the likes of you.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 4, 2010 9:03 PM

Jesus was charged by the religious leaders of his day, brought to trial in front of the ruling civil authority, and via collusion of church and state was lawfully (if unjustly) tried, legally (if unjustly) sentenced and properly (if unjustly) executed. It is amazing that Katz does not or cannot see these very plain facts and goes on his merry way throwing brickbats at the civil authorities, but never mentioning the churchmen that called Jesus before Caesar's authority in the first place. The religious leaders demanded the death sentence from Rome. Rome complied. All tidily legal.

The story itself is an argument for separation of church and state.

Posted by: OldTimeLefy at April 4, 2010 10:43 PM

"If, however, you believe in the concept of open mindedness, you should look just a little outside that box."

By definition, a completely open mind is a completely empty mind. Everyone must have some unshakeable principles.

Old time Lefty:
"The religious leaders demanded the death sentence from Rome. Rome complied. All tidily legal."

OTL you left out "I wash my hands of the blood of this innocent man". Now, that says a lot about government. Exercise your fiat, then claim no responsibility.

It seems clear that the Church of Rome is in for tough times. At this point comments on its theology are only a distraction. Bankruptcy is not beyond comprehension.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 4, 2010 10:57 PM

Stuart-you need to take a liitle time out from preaching your philosophy and learn reading comprehension.
I'v mentioned a few times that I'm not involved with the Tea Party.I do agree with many of their ideas,but I'm not on board with Colleen Connelly's ego trip and homage to Steve Laffey.
I just don't understand why,in your opinion,everything American is second place to the rest of the world.
If you're so successful,you can't be so disdainful of your homeland because that's just low class.
From now on,don't decide who my associates are unless I've said so-it's not like you're a psychic.
I often avoid religious/ethical arguments because it solves nothing-just a lot of mental masturbation.My view of existence is simple and not that interesting taht I need to keep repeating it.
I prefer to deal with issues that are amenable to real solutions.Quantifiable issues,is what I gues they are.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 5, 2010 12:14 AM

>>>Everyone must have some unshakeable principles.

The Golden Rule. The Sermon on the Mount.
Period. Faust, do we really need more than that.

The open mind then weighs the scales against those - as to what is worse....a person smoking and selling pot, or putting that person in an institution for years where they get raped by other men, stabbed and learn much more criminal behavior? These are easy choices in my book....if you consider the Golden Rule.

As to those who perform rape, child abuse and real violence on others, those you lock up - period. No excuses.....other than complete mental illness, in which case they just might go in a different locked down institution.

Joe, I'm starting to wonder if you have a chip on your shoulder. You obviously have various opinions - all over the map - on various subjects, as it should be. I don't, nor would I, accuse you of being a far right kook.

Justin, on the other hand, exhibits most of the bad tendencies of the right and the tea party without also accepting the more reasonable ones......he acts like a strict partisan and authoritarian - something those of us who have Jewish backgrounds naturally rebel against (we saw enough of that in Germany and elsewhere).

Posted by: Stuart at April 5, 2010 9:52 AM

Stuart-I don't know if I have a chip on my shoulder-I know I sound like it at times-I'm not diplomatic.
Now you've just said you were of Jewish background,and previously of Italian Catholic background.I've met Italian Jews,but which is it,Stu?Of course you could be of mixed background-that would apply to most of my family,actually,particularly the generations following mine.
And,yes,my opinions are all over the map.I call it as I see it.I'm not looking to make new friends.The ones I have are really good ones.I hope I am to them also.
In Israel,where Jews have power,they are just as authoritarian as anyone else.No "people"are special in this world-all can be seduced by power.
If we were really different,we couldn't reproduce healthy kids by mixing,but the opposite seems to be true.Mendel knew hybrids were heartier.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 5, 2010 1:19 PM

Ah, my lineage........
Large Italian family on my mothers side - Catholic, of course, most from the Naples area.

Fathers side came over from Russia before WWII, got out due to sensing trouble.....or at least some of them got out. My grandfather came over at 14 years old and didn't speak the language here (spoke Yiddish and Russian). He ended up in the clothing business - made maternity dresses!

My dad got in big trouble for going out with the my mom and they had to elope to get married

So, yes, I'm a mutt. I have been in more synagogues, though, than churches...and my children were raised in my religion, which might be labeled Hippie-Buddhist......just be good!

Posted by: Stuart at April 5, 2010 8:14 PM

Stuart-I guess my challenge to your self-identity isssue on a thread above is moot.
I had some static about marrying my wife,and she about marrying me.We made it plain that we really didn't give a damn.You can be sure it wasn't our dads who were ethnocentric.
Fortunately in my son and daughter's generation my wife and I minded our business,only hoping there would be good relationships.
I still don't think you reside in RI.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 5, 2010 9:07 PM

Your comment about "washing one's hands" is totally irrelevant to the point of separating church and state. Remember, the religious leaders paid blood money to Judas and walked away scott free. You only look with one eye.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at April 6, 2010 8:43 AM