April 7, 2011

Industrial Age crack-up...

I've been a poor blogger lately partly because of some other things I've been writing. I'm going to try out a bit of the other stuff on the blog here, and you may feel free to criticize...

This is from some developing thoughts on the Catholic Church as an institution which, among many other institutions, is facing challenges because we are moving from the Industrial Age into the Information Age. [NOTE: I'm intentionally neglecting spiritual factors, and treating the Church here as just another organization. This is, of course, just part of the story, and not the most interesting part.]

We are entering a new age, sometimes called the Information Age, and lots of older groups and institutions and models are changing or dying. Including many Catholic entities.

It is very important to realize that many of the things we think of as typically Catholic were in fact invented in the last century or two, in response to the new possibilities and new wealth opened up by the growth of industry.

For instance we lament the ongoing collapse of the great orders of religious sisters who used to teach and nurse. The truth is that the Church existed for 18 centuries in which female religious were far fewer than male. Those orders and their tasks were mostly innovations from the time of Queen Victoria! The 19th and early 20th centuries were when mass education and mass access to hospitals were invented. The Industrial Age both made them possible, and required them, in order to have a higher quality of workers and managers. The Church was inventing them, and secular institutions and Protestant churches were busy inventing the same things at exactly the same time.

And both the church and the secular world staffed these burgeoning new institutions with large numbers of women. Women who typically lived lives dedicated to service, usually with some degree of poverty, and often without marrying. In other words, poverty, chastity and obedience!

Look at this picture. What does it make you think of? It is in fact purely secular; the young woman is a Red Cross nurse of the time of WWI. (This is a painting by the Swedish artist Carl Larsson, of his daughter Suzanne.) School teachers of the time often had a somewhat similar flavor—we've all heard of the prim starched spinster schoolmarm.

The industrial Age gave us our public school systems, and also what we now think of as a "normal"� Catholic parish, with attached school and convent.

And these models all started breaking down at the same time! Breaking down along with many other Industrial Age institutions.

My father was on the board of trustees of a hospital when I was young. (St Jude, in Fullerton, CA.) And, some time around the early 60's, they were having trouble with some very unhappy nurses. He told me that the board had realized with a bit of shock that they were paying their nurses less than their janitors! That was the old model, and it wasn't going to work anymore. Changes had to be made.

The timing? I don't remember precisely, but it was roughly the same time as the Second Vatican Council! And simultaneous with that, the teaching profession was changing drastically. Men were taking up teaching in ever larger numbers, and expecting wages that would support families. That was the time of the unwise decisions to have a Department of Education, and to allow the creation of teacher's unions.

So, much as I might like to criticize liberal folly (and there was an appalling lot of it) for deconstructing the orders of sisters, I suspect that much that happened in the second half of the 20th Century was going to happen one way or another no matter what the Church did.
Posted by John Weidner at April 7, 2011 7:57 PM
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