Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Christians and Modernity: A More Optimistic View

The St. Elizabeth of Hungary Theology Lecture Series is proceeding nicely. Here are some somewhat messy notes on Father Chrysostom Frank's lecture "The Politics of Liberty in a Postmodern Era":

Pre-moderns: trusted in authority passed down through tradition
Moderns: lost confidence in authority, confident in human reason
Post-moderns: maintain diffidence towards authority, but also have lost confidence in human reason.

Crisis of meaning: how do we ground meaning if transcendence removed? Father Chrysostom related a shocking story describing how some of his students at Regis U outright admitted that the only difference they saw between Mother Theresa's hospices for the dying and the concentration camps was personal preference.

At present, it is difficult to defend politics of liberty other than maintaining it is simply a personal preference.

Meaning is a problem only because we already have an intuitive sense of the fullness of the reality towards which we are being pulled. By searching for the infinite in the finite(as in the modernist project) we set ourselves up for failure and despair.

The death of the modern project is reawakening us to eternity; meaning can only be found in its relationship with the transcendent.

The central illumination of the modern age, what has emerged as a viable social and political order, is grounded on conviction that individual human being has inviolable liberty and dignity. That conviction is the spark of transcendent meaning on which Christianity and modernity can make common cause against the cynicism of postmodernity and the barbarities of political Islam. While only Christianity can best ground that meaning, Liberalism still having immanentist temptations, Christians nonetheless dismiss Liberalism at our peril.

Father Chrysostom expresses nervousness when Catholics on rare occasion bad-mouth liberty and the individual. From having lived in South Africa, and having spent time in post-Soviet Russia, his opinion is very understandable.

By way of further reading Father Chrysostom recommended the works of David Walsh, who has flown under my radar.

On the whole, the lecture was a very good summary of the history and philosophies involved. I don't think there was anything particularly new to me, yet its delivery was compact and far more hopeful than other examinations of the postmodern condition.

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