January 3, 2006

it's not all that interesting...

I just read this paragraph, which refers to the election of Pope Benedict, but which seems to me to fit a whole lot of things right now...

...If "progressive" Catholicism has no serious candidate, it's not because candidates are not available; it's more likely because the so-called progressive project, eager for the Catholic Church to make the same concessions to modernity that virtually every other non-fundamentalist Christian community has made since World War II, is exhausted. And if it is exhausted, it may be because, ultimately, it's not all that interesting, this business of deconstructing centuries of doctrine, liturgy, and moral teaching. That, in turn, may explain why the progressive project is infertile—unable to attract the brightest students in graduate schools of theology in the United States, for example... (From God's Choice : Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, by George Weigel.)

Not interesting. Exactly. It's like "art." For the last century and a half the idea has been that if we chuck out all things old, and all things restrictive or disciplined, our creativity will flourish. But actually just the opposite has happened. Art has become more and more boring. Somebody I read long ago said that it's almost impossible to make an ugly object by carving stone with a hammer and chisel. And if you are working with plastic it's hard to make a beautiful one.

My point isn't "anti-modern," however, but anti modernism, which is a sort of Party Line or "ism" that says what "modern" is supposed to be. Modernism may, long ago, have been the creation of free spirits at the cutting edge, but now it's a become a petty intellectual tyranny. A self-appointed group gets to say what's modern, and label anything else "old-fashioned" or reactionary. And what would be funny if it were not so destructive, is that the modernists themselves are now the reactionaries, defending old ideas against the tides of change.

There are lots of modern ideas and movements that are not "modern." As an example (from the same book) there's a cartoonish view of the Catholic Church pushed in the press, that divides it into reformers, and anti-reformers who want to push back the clock. One thing Weigel makes clear is that the real division is between two different flavors of reform that emerged from Vatican II. I may quote more about this soon, but I recommend Weigel's book.

Posted by John Weidner at January 3, 2006 7:04 AM
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