- Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft
- Spengler drops a bomb
- Real Christian life
- The trade-in society
- What “conservatism” has meant of late
- 24-hour news coverage
One hundred years ago, the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies distinguished between Gemeinschaft, a shared community of meaning, and Gesellschaft, the marketplace and other modes of social organization we adopt to promote our interests and maximize utility. We can belong to a Gemeinschaft, but not a Gesellschaft.
Populism in Europe, and to a certain extent here in America, reflects the fact that in recent decades, our political cultures increasingly encourage us to see our common lives together as a form of Gesellschaft. All the major intellectual movements since the 1960s have been essentially critical, seeking to loosen the emotional claims an inherited Gemeinschaft makes on individuals. Postmodern culture in the West has redescribed traditional forms of belonging as bondage and subservience. At the same time, our political debates have become more technocratic, as if the great question of public life is which party will make us richer, healthier, and better able to satisfy our personal preferences.
(R.R. Reno, First Things February 2016) That Gesellschaft is our common life seems to me to be one of the tacit assumptions behind political horror at the possibility that some oddball, somewhere, might some day decline to do business with someone else — a deviancy so abhorrent that we cannot risk it by trusting the profit motive and the competitors ready and willing to do business with that “someone else.” We instead must legislate against it.
Spengler drops a bomb:
David P. Goldman, also known by his pen name, Spengler, has never been someone to mince his words about the dangers of radical Islam. Here’s what he has to say about the Trump-inspired idea of stopping Muslim immigration. “I never thought the day would come when I would admonish Americans to show understanding and forbearance towards Islam. In fact, Islam is neither a religion of violence nor a religion of peace: it is an ambiguous set of doctrines from which Muslims may choose peace or violence as they will. To penalize all Muslims for the actions of those Muslims who choose violence is as morally misguided as it is strategically stupid.”
Topically related to a recent blog item about worship songs is this about worship more comprehensively:
We are given the impression that real Christian life isn’t actually primarily about the worship of God. Worship is reduced to preparation for the “real” Christian life, which is about Christian character, helping people, etc. Thus, worship is where we sort of plug back into the charging station so that we can go out and do the “real” Christian stuff.
But what happens with this attitude is not an elevation of Christian life outside worship services but rather the degradation of worship. Worship is no longer the actualization of what it means to be Christian but merely a pit stop before we get back in the race.
Christianity is not reducible to activism. Worship doesn’t support witness. Witness supports worship.
(Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Is Witness More Important Than Worship?) I would be remiss were I not to quote Fr. Schmemann:
“[T]he basic religion that is being preached and accepted as the only means of overcoming secularism is in reality a surrender to secularism … For the surrender consists not in giving up creeds, traditions, symbols and customs (of all this the secular man, tired of his functional office, is sometimes extremely fond), but in accepting the very function of religion in terms of promoting the secular value of help, be it help in character building, peace of mind, or assurance of eternal salvation. It is in this “key” that religion is preached to, and accepted by, millions and millions of average believers today.”
(Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 1973)
I didn’t fully engage with the Orthodox life beyond Sunday liturgy and the Lenten fast until we began our tiny mission in Louisiana in early 2013. I was very sick then with chronic mononucleosis, and our new priest, Father Matthew, assigned me an intense prayer rule involving the Jesus Prayer. In the Orthodox tradition, one clears one’s mind, and keeps it clear, while one slowly, meditatively, says quietly some version of, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” The number of prayers Father Matthew assigned to me meant that I was praying silently and contemplatively an hour each day.
It was very, very difficult it first. I used to pray the rosary from time to time as a Catholic, and enjoyed it. In the rosary, you fix your imagination on particular events from the lives of Jesus and Mary. Orthodox prayer, though, takes the opposite approach: you clear your mind entirely, focusing only on the words. My mind races constantly, so you can imagine how hard it was to get myself into the proper mental place for this kind of prayer. There’s no way to learn how to do it but by doing it.
Later, after I was free of the disease and the spiritual and emotional anxieties that triggered it, I asked Father Matthew why he had given me such a strict prayer rule. “I had to get you out of your head,” he said.
Rod left the Roman Catholic Church burnt out from the child abuse scandals, but this column is full of tacit acknowledgement that much of what he later found in Orthodoxy was available in the Roman Church all along. He didn’t see it largely because he was “in his head.”
Exception: Orthodox worship would only have been available in the Eastern Rite, and Rod seems pretty clear that he preference for it is more than a matter of taste. Having never been Roman Catholic, I can only say that my impression is the same from limited exposure to the Post Vatican II Mass.
Even if you are Catholic or Orthodox, if you are an American, you grew up in a nominalist, non-sacramental culture, and this has affected your Christian faith more than you probably realize. It’s true for me.
Amen to that, Rod. We drag baggage into Orthodoxy. I’m grateful that the merciful God who loves mankind knows how to allow for our infirmities like that.
I first encountered Alan Jacobs in his role as English literature scholar, probably at Mars Hill Audio Journal or, perhaps, in the pages of First Things. But his interests, or his willingness to add his wisdom to the discussion, have expanded.
Monday’s offering at The American Conservative seems like one of his best, as he discusses the Trade-In Society: if your team is troubled, fire the coach; if your Church has called you on the carpet for bad behavior, ditch your Church; if you’re uncomfortable about something on campus and the administration doesn’t overturn heaven and earth to comfort you, demand that the administration be fired.
Don’t miss it.
Truth, even if you don’t like Trump (as I don’t):
[Trump’s] differences from establishment conservatism are part of his appeal. To understand that, it helps to consider what “really existing conservatism” has has meant to Americans over the past generation. The blunt truth is that the most important “conservative” project in recent memory was the Iraq war, which cost trillions, wrecked the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and set the Middle East aflame for what will probably be a generation. Programmatically, the war was the project of a Republican president and his administration. It was backed enthusiastically by National Review (see “Unpatriotic Conservatives,” linked above), but had its intellectual origins in the world of neoconservatism. Not coincidentally, Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz, editors of magazines which were agitating for war against Iraq long before 9/11, are probably the best known among NR‘s slate of Trump denouncers. In other words, as the United States still grapples with the chaotic aftermath of that Iraq invasion, NR and the rest of Conservatism Inc. unleash a verbal torrent claiming that Donald Trump is a threat to those concepts—“small government,” “the permanent things”—which true conservatives supposedly hold dear. It’s almost comical.
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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)