Some half-remembered blogger had touted this book, A Secular Age by Charles Taylor, and I took his advice and got a copy (using his Amazon link to payback that’s a weak form of thanks). Anyhow, the book is excellent. It is a dense read, but filled with an astounding number of surprisingly resonant ideas about this age and its origins. In this book, Mr Taylor proposes an interesting feature list which describes Reform (including Reformation, counter-Reformation) as well as the modern progressive movement. All (?) modern attempts at Reform include the following features:
- They are activist. they seek effective measures to re-order society.
- They are uniformizing. They attempt to apply a single model or schema to everything and everybody; attempt to eliminate anomolies and so on.
- They are homogenizing. Although they still operate in societies based on differences of rank, their general tendency is to reduce differences.
- They are “rationalizing” in Weber’s double sense, that is they not only involve an increased use of instrumental reason in the very process of activist reform as well as in designing some of the ends of reform but they also try to order society by a coherent set of rules.
This does not supply a standard for the Catholic/Orthodox split, however it does describe the actions of the Reformers and the counter-Reformation actions. I would also argue, peripherally that it also serves to describe a great deal of secular/non-ecclesiastic reform.
It seems to me one way to accomplish ecumenical motion is to undermine the basis of Reformation … for it is indeed, from my perspective a very flawed on which to base theological, social, and political change.
A point by point rebuttal and refusal of the reformers methods and motives listed above follow. I hope to propose a model for a counter-counter-Reformation, on a new model, which may in turn, one would hope offer a possibility of reversing the mistakes which followed the Reformation movements.
Activism is in a real sense a non-Christian model of action. Rowan Williams in his book discusses the notion that we should act as resident alien. Martyrdom and martyrdom narrative in the first 2 centuries were in a real sense a affirmation of our resident alien status. After Constantine and legalization of Christianity and the cessation (in the main part) of Christianity, this resident alien motion transformed to the monastic aescetic movement. Jesus in his counter-Temple movement did not use activist, active and direct methods and ideas in countering and changing the world. He used His example and counter-narrative. It should be recalled that the key point of martydom is not death, but witness.
Uniformizing and Homgenizing
The Reformation (and its counter) gave rise to defining creedal boundaries in Christian community. The “We believe … ” cited in uniform unity is an essential feature of the reformers methods. Yet men and women are each of us different. Insisting on uniformity does essential violence to this notion. Homogenization is similar to the unformization in push. The point being, people are wildly different in their individual gifts. Homogenization and its reverse, stratification, in their extreme examples are inhuman and deadly. The problem with homogenization and uniformization all are driven by a drive to simplify. Creedal doctrine does violence by simplification of the incomprehensible to the simple. Orthodoxy in the first millenia avoided confessional definitions of belief. The creed and a series of statements countering specific heresies allowed for more freedom in personal and local belief.
In late antiquity the late patristic writers as well as some of the Greek thinkers (non-Christian) of that era viewed reason alone as an incomplete tool. The mind they argued must be supplemented by the heart. One’s heart and and mind working in concert was the way to approach and find truths, social, political, and perhaps theological. Cold reason was not the tool to be applied, but reason working in concert with your heart, your soul, your emotions if you will. Dostoevsky noted (and I undoubtedly misquote), “Beauty will save the world.” Not reason. Not logic. Beauty. So to this, we begin with a rhetorical question, “How did beauty fit in the reformers vision?” To cite an obvious example, Marxism as practiced in the former Soviet Union was clearly wrong … as it was not beautiful. However, neither is today’s modern Western world … it’s just not as obviously grey and blecherous.
So where can we go? I don’t have the imagination tonight to be able to reduce this to a set 4 point counter-proposal. However, I’d offer the following suggestions:
- If it’s simple. It’s wrong. Dividing racial differences into Black/White/Other is simplifying and does necessary violence to the notion that there is such a thing as White or Black in the first place. Within both White and Black there are a hundred (if not thousand) unique ethnic identities which take primary import on the personal level. In the Bottom Billion, it is noted that there are no simple solutions to the problems of the poor in the world. No single or group of simple slogans will work. Each case or country would be best served by a unique mix of policies and programs tailored to their needs. And as their needs change, year by year, so will the solutions required.
- a priori rejection of non-uniformity or non-homogeneity (or the reverse) should be rejected in fact, should raise our suspicions. It might be better in general to raise boundaries at the edges and permit within as was done long ago, instead of defining what it is best to do or how to live.
- Eschew a dependence solely on logic and reason. Rational exercise has its place, but it should not be thought a higher thing than the heart. If modern mathematics can be driven by the notion of beauty as a principle of deciding correctness and the path to take, why not politics or even more obvious … matters ecclessial?