Recently, two Christian social critics—one Roman Catholic, the other Eastern Orthodox—tackled some of the problems that emerge from individualism in American culture.
Thomas Storck (“The Catholic Failure to Change America”) does so in light of the tradition of Catholic Church; his Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah (“Secularism and Depersonalization”) looks at the same intellectual territory as an Orthodox Christian. While both men have done a good job in explicating the negative consequences of individualism for the life of the Church—both East and West—and the larger society, they left unexamined the opportunity for human flourishing and growth in Christian holiness, implicit in American individualism.
If you have a moment, please read the whole thing and maybe leave a comment.
By Devon Herrick Filed under on November 8, 2013 with 11 comments
Consider two young people living together, each earning 200% of the FPL (about $22,980 annually). If that same couple were to marry, their combined household income would rise from 200% of the poverty level (individually) to 296% for a family of two. As individuals, the ObamaCare exchange would cap their premiums at no more than 6.3% of income; but as a couple their premiums would be capped at 9.4%. Their marriage penalty is $1,421 annually.
Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Oil on canvas. 76×64 cm. Britain, 1697. Source of Entry: Collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Most of the Acton Institute/Liberty Fund conference I attended emphasized the work of thinkers foundational to the contemporary views of social justice. This isn’t to say that the presentations and conversations weren’t critical in nature–they certainly were–but the point of our sessions was not for the speakers to present their own theories. A delightful exception was the session led by Nicholas Capaldi Legendre-Soulé Distinguished Chair in Business Ethics at Loyola University, New Orleans.
Capaldi began by outlining what he calls the two compelling narratives about social capital that have informed modernity from the Renaissance to the present day: John Locke’s liberty narrative and Jean Jacques Rousseau’s (and Marx’s) equality narrative. Though a narrative contains arguments and an appeal to facts, it is not an argument as such. Rather it is a commitment about how we will habitually engage the world of persons, events and things. For many Christian–including Orthodox Christians–such a focus might seem of little value since (so their thinking goes) neither narrative is Christian and so of no interest to those who are in Christ.
This way of thinking is more than unfortunate; it is self-deluding. The fact that neither narrative is explicitly Christian doesn’t mean that one or both of them don’t influence (for good or ill) the Church’s life. In fact, to the degree that we don’t come to a critical appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of the narratives that inform modernity, we are likely controlled by them in ways about which we unaware. Continue reading →
Several years ago, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre published a book exploring different and competing notions of, among other things, justice (Whose Justice? Which Rationality?). Based on my own experience one approach to resolving the conflict inherent in different models of justice is simply to ignore those models with whom we disagree. Alternatively, we can try and co-opt those other models trying to in someway make them our own.
Of the two approaches, the former is common among those Orthodox Christians who see the Church as in somehow isolated from the surrounding culture. Looking back at some of things I wrote as a graduate student in my mid to late 20’s this is was what I did. Becoming Orthodox meant that, again somehow, I could skip over the challenges of modernity. Of course I did this while obsessed with what I saw as modernity’s shortcomings and errors. In compassion for my younger self let me simply say this is an understandable if ultimately maladaptive strategy typical of youth. Less charitably it falls somewhere on the continuum between psychological neurosis and spiritual delusion.
The latter approach might seem to be a more mature and sophisticated way of dealing with the conflict. Unfortunately, and like my youthful neurosis, it’s aim is to resolve conflict not through reconciliation but through a leveling of intellectual disagreement. Often this takes the form of arguing that the other side doesn’t actually believe what it says it believes. Rather they actually believe what I believe even if they are confused about this. Happily I’m here to help correct this state of affairs.
Far better I think to acknowledge our differences even while we look for points of commonality however elusive and frail such agreement might be. For those looking for a system neat and tidy this is an unsatisfying response to intellectual or cultural conflict. And yet especially for Christians it is the only way that we can hope to remain faithful to both our own convictions and the inherent dignity of those with whom we find ourselves in disagreement. And, needless to say, if I am willing to sacrifice your dignity can the loss of my own be far behind? Continue reading →
David French, Senior Counsel at the American Center of Law and Justice, lists what he calls the “four quite seductive lies [that] play to our innate selfishness while convincing us that we’re also somehow brave and selfless.” He concludes by arguing that “The conservative project to reclaim culture – a far more important project than reclaiming the White House – has to relentlessly and creatively expose these lies while also demonstrating the attractiveness of true virtue. I fear we’re better at the former than the latter and thus succeed mainly in making people feel bad, not in inspiring them to do good.”
Here’s the last of my posts on the same-sex marriage debate. You can read parts one and two here and here.
Contemporary discussions about marriage (and sexuality more generally) have largely abandoned the conjugal model in favor of one that focuses on consent. We have seen a shift from a conversation rooted in human nature—and the moral norm of conformity or obedience to nature—to a radical emphasis on the will as the sole source of what is humanly meaningful. These are strong words on my part I know. And I don’t mean them to suggest that I would reject out of hand the consensual dimension of marriage. It is however to say that while consent is an element of the traditional, conjugal view of marriage, it is not the whole of it. We must attend not only to the human will but to human nature which is its proximate source.
The real social and pastoral problem is not same-sex marriage (SSM) but that both popular culture and many Christians have abandoned a morality based in human nature in favor of one based in the human will. Though serious the SSM debate is an adoption and application of a truncated view of marriage to the needs and desires of same-sex couples. The ease, indeed the eagerness, with which some Christians have taken up the cause of SSM would suggest that for a significant number of Christians the classical biblical and natural law understanding of marriage simply doesn’t matter. For all that they may affirm the Creed in matters of dogma, when it comes to matters of personal morality (and public policy) many otherwise orthodox Christians are estranged from, and even hostile to, their own moral tradition. Continue reading →
Helen Alvaré, a Professor of Law at George Mason University writes:
…according to the powers-that-be, supporting killing unborn human beings is “heroic,” supporting natural familial bonds for children is “demeaning,” and forcing religious employers to insure (and really to pay for) services for their employees that they cannot in good conscience support is “respecting religious freedom.”