I’m still at Villanova, attending classes in the Humanities department. Yesterday, in a class about Society, I listened as the students talked about a book of ethics written by Herbert McCabe, OP, a Dominican philosopher. A line from McCabe’s book jumped out at me:
Community is not founded upon law; rather, law is founded upon community.
Ponder that line for a minute with reference to contemporary America, and you’ll be well into the MacIntyrean weeds. The shared beliefs that are necessary for a real community scarcely exist. “Community” as most of us experience it today is little more than a collection of atomized individuals who live in the same geographical location. This has consequences for lawmaking, and for respect for authority.
Consider, then, this passage from MacIntyre’s After Virtue, posted to Addenda, the Mars Hill Audio Journal blog. Excerpt:
[M]odern politics cannot be a matter of genuine moral consensus. And it is not. Modern politics is civil war carried on by other means. . . .
[P]atriotism cannot be what it was because we lack in the fullest sense a patria . . . . [T]he practice of patriotism as a virtue is in advanced societies no longer possible in the way that it once was. In any society where government does not express or represent the moral community of the citizens, but is instead a set of institutional arrangements for imposing a bureaucratized unity on a society which lacks genuine moral consensus, the nature of political obligation becomes systematically unclear. Patriotism is or was a virtue founded on attachment primarily to a political and moral community and only secondarily to the government of that community; but it is characteristically exercised in discharging responsibility to and in such government. When however the relationship of government to the moral community is put in question both by the changed nature of government and the lack of moral consensus in the society, it becomes difficult any longer to have any clear, simple and teachable conception of patriotism. Loyalty to my country, to my community—which remains unalterably a central virtue — becomes detached from obedience to the government which happens to rule me.
As long as we’re in MacIntopia, take a look at this post also on Addenda. It’s an excerpt from a 2014 book by Francisco Javier Martínez Fernández, in which he argues that the Church (= all Christians) in secular modernity:
[A] Church that understands itself and reality through the prevailing categories of secular modernity (whether in their postmodern or Enlightenment form, or merely constituted as reactions to either of these) is doomed to disappear. Or at any rate, it will undergo such a metamorphosis that its continuity with ‘historical’ Christianity would be broken (indeed, it has in part already been broken). . . . Moreover, a Church that uses secular categories is incapable of having a productive and sincere encounter with people of other religious and cultural traditions. To the extent that it adapts itself to the categories of secular modernity, it takes on the precise role that modernity assigns to it; insofar as it embraces this role, the Church can only dissolve, or else be an instrument of violence and division. In order to meet every man and every woman in a way that allows all of us—Christians and non-Christians—to grow in our common humanity, the Church must free itself from the categories of modernity and recover its identity from within its own particular tradition.
The Church only exists in concrete cultural forms, on which the encounter with Christ—which from the beginning has always occurred in concrete cultural form—has had varying degrees of impact. This encounter can be the determining factor of the human experience, or it can remain merely a partial or marginal aspect thereof. The task of Christian education consists entirely of helping people pass from the latter condition to the former. For people in the latter situation, the categories determining Christian life continue to be those of the surrounding culture. And those categories will influence and weigh on the thought of individuals and peoples depending on how decisive the encounter with the Risen and Living Christ, Center and Lord of the cosmos and of history, has been in determining their self-awareness and awareness of reality.
The author says that if Christians accept the categories of secular modernity, then “either the Church accepts its role as a cultural leftover from the past, or it must dissolve into the surrounding society.” Read the whole thing.
What is the alternative? I would say the Benedict Option. Years ago on the Journal, host Ken Myers interviewed D.H. Williams, a patristics scholar now at Baylor. Williams said in his interview, about the early Church:
“In the process of teaching, or catechizing new Christians, it was taken with great seriousness that the commitment that they were making was a corporate one, and an exclusive one. And that it entailed a body of meaning that in many ways was inviting them to become members of a counterculture, from the one in which they had converted from. And even the catechetical process itself begins to raise important questions about the church as culture. That you are de facto encouraging the new Christian to learn a new vocabulary, a new sense of what is the highest, the good, and the beautiful; that there really are true things and false things; that there really are certain moral lines to be drawn in the sand, and that you may struggle with these, and part of the struggle is very good.”
We are going to have to do something very much like that with the Benedict Option.
By the way, if this line of critique interests you, you really should subscribe to the Journal, which is the single most helpful guide to understanding the role of faith and culture in secular modernity. Journal founder, editor, and host Ken Myers and I are going to engage together at Georgetown’s October 10 Benedict Option event. Follow @benedictoption on Twitter to keep up with news of the happening.