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.


Quote of the Day

Pope Francis: “It is necessary to ask the heavenly father for the gift of healthy restlessness for today’s young people, the ability to not settle for a life without beauty, without color. If young people are not hungry for an authentic life, where will humanity end up?”


Quote of the Day

Bishop Daniel Flores: “The degrading disrespect with which immigrants are treated in this countrylike pawns in games of political showmanshipis a disgrace. Are we so drunk on our own power that we are blind to basic human dignity? Judgment on Christians who disrespect the poor will be most severe.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The Art of Choosing What to Do With Your Life by Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey: “Our educational system focuses obsessively on helping students take the next step. But it does not give them adequate assistance in thinking about the substance of the lives toward which they are advancing. Many institutions today have forgotten that liberal education itself was meant to teach the art of choosing, to train the young to use reason to decide which endeavors merit the investment of their lives.”

Making Pregnancy Safer by Jessica Keating Floyd: “Pro-life activists should not imagine that one can build an authentic culture of life without greater public investment in health care and social services. But pro-choice activists, politicians, and journalists should not pretend that the only way to protect women from life-threatening complications of pregnancy is to ensure that they have unrestricted access to elective abortion, or that we know more about the relative risks of abortion and pregnancy than we actually do. The sooner we come to terms with these realities and let the needs of vulnerable mothers and babies dictate our policies, the sooner we can do the important work of making pregnancy as safe in the United States as it is elsewhere in the world.”

‘A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy by David Leonhardt: “The makeup of the federal government reflects public opinion less closely than it once did. And the chance of a true constitutional crisis — in which the rightful winner of an election cannot take office — has risen substantially. That combination shows that American democracy has never faced a threat quite like the current one.”

Six months of war in Ukraine and the moral stakes are still high by Michael Sean Winters: “The battle in Ukraine is not only between Ukraine and Russia but between closedness and openness, between ethnic nationalism and cosmopolitanism, between “might makes right” and the messy, frustrating, complicated style of democracy that we in the West have built. The people of Ukraine are fighting for us, not just for themselves.”

Trump should fill Christians with rage. How come he doesn’t? Image without a caption by Michael Gerson: “Leaders in the Republican Party have fed, justified and exploited conservative Christians’ defensiveness in service to an aggressive, reactionary politics. This has included deadly mask and vaccine resistance, the discrediting of fair elections, baseless accusations of gay “grooming” in schools, the silencing of teaching about the United States’ history of racism, and (for some) a patently false belief that Godless conspiracies have taken hold of political institutions.”

Marriage is Increasingly an Institution of the Highly Religious: Why That Might Be a Problem by Brian J. Willoughby: “Marriage is slowly becoming an institution mostly utilized by the religious, who continue to view marriage as a symbolic representation of life-long commitment to one’s partner.”

How to Fix America’s Child-Pornography Crisis by David French: “America is in the grips of two kinds of child-pornography problems. The first involves the production of child pornography itself—the abuse of children photographed, filmed, and monetized. The second involves the remarkably early age at which children are now exposed to pornography, when they start to see the images that shape their minds and hearts.”

My Hopes and Fears for My Children as They Go Back to School by Tish Harrison Warren: “The new school year is also a time when, yet again, I must practice letting my kids go. A mentor of mine whose children are now adults told me that for each new stage they entered, he felt delight and joy, and at the exact same time, he grieved losing the stage before. This is the complex melody of parenting. From the time the cord is cut till your children grow into adults, parenthood is a long practice in loving deeply yet letting go. Over and over again.”

A Berkeley professor’s Senate testimony didn’t go how the left thinks it did by Megan McArdle: “In most of America, “Does a late-term fetus have value?” is a softball. And when Hawley leaped in to ask whether women are the ones who give birth — a question few Americans today would struggle with — she resorted to extended question-begging. That might be fine for a Berkeley classroom. But it just won’t do for a political debate in which the majority of voters disagree with you.”

Influencers are whitewashing Syria’s regime, with help from sponsors by Sophie Fullerton: “It’s clear these influencers don’t want to deal with the political and ethical implications of their travel. We can’t police people’s consciences. But we can question whether the companies sponsoring such tourism are violating the sanctions placed on the regime because of its human rights violations.”

There’s More Than One Way to Ban a Book by Pamela Paul: “We shouldn’t capitulate to any repressive forces, no matter where they emanate from on the political spectrum. Parents, schools and readers should demand access to all kinds of books, whether they personally approve of the content or not. For those on the illiberal left to conduct their own campaigns of censorship while bemoaning the book-burning impulses of the right is to violate the core tenets of liberalism. We’re better than this.”


Pope Francis Backs Ukraine’s Defense

Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash

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.”