How Can the Church Respond to ‘Liquid Modernity’?

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

Patrick Gilger writes:

We now, and thankfully, live in a world in which women can vote, persons may no longer be property, and a serf owes the fruit of his labor to no Lord. Ours is a world in which we may set our own ends. Yet despite such rightly celebrated freedoms, there is one capacity that remains beyond the purview of individual persons: the capacity to construct a morally significant world. Which means, to the extent that it takes the individual as the object of its ministrations, purposive psychology cannot aid young people in providing for themselves what no individual can provide for her or himself: a morally significant world; a cosmos rather than a universe….

First, contemporary society seems to have lost belief in the dreams that originally drove modernity. We have grown cynical, finding it increasingly difficult to believe that the dissolving of corrupt and constraining social forms will pave the way for truly just ones….

Additionally, and this is the second point, because differentiation continues apace and new, smaller, more personalized, spheres of value are continually being produced, our public institutions have become increasingly fragile. And as they have these carriers of our capacity for common action have become less and less capable of sustaining even the provisional, constricted, sub-cosmic narratives found in solid modernity….

Liquid modernity is the term Bauman coins to describe a shared state, one in which each of us is individually free to choose any identity for ourselves—as long as we have the personal capacity to carry it off. And we can choose any purpose for our lives—any purpose, that is, that we can provide for ourselves. But no individual, regardless of capacity, can alone construct a collective good. For this a community is required. And it is the common action and common narration necessary for the construction of a cosmos that liquid modernity disempowers; seeks to deny us….

Young people today are awash in possible narratives, immersed in available practices. Loosed from their moorings, thousands of disembedded meaning fragments—in the form of advertisements, denominations, brands, self-help practices, workout regimes, Instagram influencers; the list could continue—fill the sea of our liquid modernity….

In other words, the prize of the competition in which, like it or not, we are always already engaged is not the minds of the young but their anxious hearts.

There is a consequence to the preceding. It is that, in such a set of circumstances, amidst such unchosen constraints, our task is not just to calm personal anxieties. It is to cobble together stable narrative-action packages, to help build local counter-liturgies both persuasive and strong enough to resist the liquid liturgies that treat persons as products, produce constitutive disruption and uncertainty, and profit from that production. It is to take, from the storehouse of our tradition, good things both new and old. It is nothing less than the task of capacitating a living Christianity….

I suggest that the Church’s proposed narratives ought to imitate the teachings of its founder, taking on the form of parables or metaphors rather than treatises or monologues. This is because parables do not coerce rational assent but invite the participation of the hearer. They leave space for the action of the free human precisely because of their ambiguity….

It remains true that young people need to be helped in the process of learning how to embed their autobiographical narratives within the social and cosmic narratives of the Church. This learning process is, in part, what new research in Catholic educational theory has begun to uncover and systematize. One example of such is given by Pat Manning in his recent volume Converting the Imagination. There he approaches education not as information-provision but as the cultivation of “pedagogical habits.” In addition to treating students more like apprentices than empty vaults for the storage of information, this approach to education as habit-capacitation includes the kind of stimulation and expansion of student’s imaginations that can pave the way for the embrace of, or embedding in, a larger narrative. It helps to facilitate the process of young people, in this case students, emplotting themselves in a wider story.

Still, it may seem that one thing may be lacking: a place where these narrative-action bundles, these shared stories and embodied practices, are made available. But this is how Manning understands the classroom, or, on a broader scale, Catholic educational institutions themselves. These micro- or meso-spaces can be understood in this light as “holding environments” in which it is possible, with the help of others, for groups of people to make the transition from rootless to rooted. I would, in conclusion, like to propose that we extend this model one step further. It is as a holding environment that, I suggest, the Church ought to understand itself and its role in our liquid modern age.

You can read the full article at Church Life Journal here.

A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Mark Shields

via the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life:

Georgetown University and the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life hosted this celebration of Shields’ life and legacy because he modeled the values at the heart of our work: civility and dialogue, respect and humor, human dignity and solidarity, a conviction that politics ought to serve the common good and the “least of these,” and faith that makes the world better. This gathering brought together his family, friends, colleagues, and admirers to remember, laugh, and reflect on the lessons of his life and work.

Pope Francis Backs Ukraine’s Defense

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Christopher White writes:

Pope Francis on Sept. 15 backed Ukraine’s right to defend itself from Russia’s violent, seven-month-long invasion, and, for the first time, appeared to lend his support to other countries that are supplying Ukrainians with arms and war material.

“To defend oneself is not only licit, it is also an expression of love toward one’s homeland,” Francis told reporters during the seven-and-a-half hour flight back to Rome following a three-day trip to Kazakhstan.

Francis characterized the decision of other nations to supply arms to Ukraine as a “political” calculation that “may be morally acceptable” under the right conditions. But he cautioned: “It can be immoral if done with the intentions of making more war.”

Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for September 2022: For the Abolition of the Death Penalty

“Each day, there is a growing “NO” to the death penalty around the world. For the Church, this is a sign of hope. From a legal point of view, it is not necessary. Society can effectively repress crime without definitively depriving the offenders of the possibility of redeeming themselves. Always, in every legal sentence, there must be a window of hope. Capital punishment offers no justice to victims, but rather encourages revenge. And it prevents any possibility of undoing a possible miscarriage of justice. Additionally, the death penalty is morally inadmissible, for it destroys the most important gift we have received: life. Let us not forget that, up to the very last moment, a person can convert and change. And in the light of the Gospel, the death penalty is unacceptable. The commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” refers to both the innocent and the guilty. I, therefore, call on all people of goodwill to mobilize for the abolition of the death penalty throughout the world. Let us pray that the death penalty, which attacks the dignity of the human person, may be legally abolished in every country.”

Chicago Train Stop Named for Sister Jean

via the AP:

Loyola University’s Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt got some Chicago hardware with her name on it for her 103rd birthday.

School, city and state leaders celebrated Sunday with the Catholic nun who became something of a folk hero as chaplain for the Loyola men’s basketball team that reached the NCAA Final Four in 2018.

A highlight was the renaming in her honor of the Chicago train station plaza at the Loyola campus. Students and visitors will pass by a large sign marking it as “Home of the World Famous Sister Jean!”

Loyola officials praised Sister Jean, who was dressed in school colors of maroon and gold, as a mentor to generations of students.

Marijuana and Hallucinogen Use Soars Among Young Adults

via the NY Times:

Marijuana and hallucinogen use among young adults reached an all-time record last year after having leveled off during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to federal survey data.

The findings, part of the government’s annual survey of drug use among young Americans, also found that nicotine vaping and excessive alcohol consumption continued to climb in 2021 after a brief pause. Another worrying trend among young people, ages 19 to 30: mounting consumption of alcoholic beverages suffused with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis….

The survey found that 43 percent in the 19-30 age group had used cannabis 20 or more times over the previous month, up from 34 percent. In 2011, that figure was 29 percent. Daily marijuana consumption also jumped significantly, to 11 percent from 6 percent in 2011….

Not surprisingly, the surge in marijuana use has been occurring in tandem with a rise in the number of states that have legalized recreational use — 19 in the past decade. (Another 13 states allow the medical use of cannabis.) Experts say the normalization of marijuana has helped persuade many young people that it is harmless.

A similar dynamic, experts say, is also at play with psychedelics. The use of hallucinogens had been stable for decades, but in 2021, 8 percent of young adults reported using psychedelics compared with 3 percent in 2011, a record high since the category was first surveyed in 1988.

Canada’s Disturbing Euthanasia Laws

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via the AP:

Human rights advocates say the country’s regulations lack necessary safeguards, devalue the lives of disabled people and are prompting doctors and health workers to suggest the procedure to those who might not otherwise consider it.

Equally troubling, advocates say, are instances in which people have sought to be killed because they weren’t getting adequate government support to live.

Canada is set to expand euthanasia access next year, but these advocates say the system warrants further scrutiny now.

Euthanasia “cannot be a default for Canada’s failure to fulfill its human rights obligations,” said Marie-Claude Landry, the head of its Human Rights Commission.

Landry said she shares the “grave concern” voiced last year by three U.N. human rights experts, who wrote that Canada’s euthanasia law appeared to violate the agency’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They said the law had a “discriminatory impact” on disabled people and was inconsistent with Canada’s obligations to uphold international human rights standards.

Tim Stainton, director of the Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship at the University of British Columbia, described Canada’s law as “probably the biggest existential threat to disabled people since the Nazis’ program in Germany in the 1930s.”

During his recent trip to Canada, Pope Francis blasted what he has labeled the culture of waste that considers elderly and disabled people disposable. “We need to learn how to listen to the pain” of the poor and most marginalized, Francis said, lamenting the “patients who, in place of affection, are administered death.”