Thursday, April 7, 2011

Modernism, Luddites, Catholicism, and Godzilla

I was thinking, yesterday, about:
  • How the word "modern" is generally used
  • "Modernism"
  • Godzilla (1956)

First, What "Modern" Means

When used as an adjective, it's taken to mean something like "contemporary," or "up-to-date:"

  • Belonging to the modern era; since the Middle Ages
  • Relating to a recently developed fashion or style
  • Characteristic of present-day
    • Art
    • Music
    • Literature
    • Architecture
  • Ahead of the times
  • When referring to a living language
    • The current stage in its development
    (Princeton's WordNet)

"Modernism" isn't All That Modern

The set of ideas and preferences we call Modernism isn't all that new any more:

  • A practice, usage, or expression peculiar to modern times
  • Often capitalized -
    • A tendency in theology to accommodate traditional religious teaching to contemporary thought
      • Especially to devalue supernatural elements
  • Modern artistic or literary philosophy and practice; especially
    • a self-conscious break with the past and a search for new forms of expression
Godzilla?! I'll get back to that 1956 movie.

Saying 'No' to Modernism

I've put a few links to what the Church has had to say about modernism at the end of this post. Like I've said before, I write with the full teaching authority of "some guy with a blog." I heartily recommend that you follow those links. It's not light reading - but I think it's worth it.

My take on Modernism - and this is an oversimplification - is: 'Modernism is believing that God doesn't matter, because that's supernatural stuff; and supernatural stuff isn't important. Or real.'

Using just 18 fairly simple words like that, maybe Modernism sounds silly. If I employed erudite prolixity in a learned publication, though: I might be able to make Modernism seem reasonable.

I won't, though: because I'm a practicing Catholic. I take Church teachings seriously. And I've given my word that I reject Modernism. It was part of an affirmation of faith, quite a few years ago.

Bottom line, the Catholic Church says modernism is a bad idea.1

Using "modern" technology? That's something else

Saying 'Okay' to Today

Back when I was growing up, folks of the 'good old-fashioned values' sort sometimes expressed concern over newfangled technology. Like the telephone and television.

There was the occasional joke about 'getting back to what God intended - the family spending their evenings listening to the radio.'

As for science? In quite a few circles, 'everybody knows' that:
  • Religious people don't approve of science
  • Scientific people don't approve of religion
I've discussed science, technology, and common sense before:
"I remember the trailing edge of a time when quite a few folks felt that Progress (capital "P") and science and technology would solve all of humanity's problems: ending poverty, tooth decay, ugliness, and wrinkled fabrics.

"A more recent fashion has been to think that we're pretty much doomed by science and technology and icky stuff like that. Maybe that's passing, along with nostalgia for the sixties...."
(October 30, 2010)
A person could, so far as I know, be a devout Catholic and not use any technology more sophisticated than fire and a sharpened stick. I wouldn't want to live that way: but I'm a blogger who has designed websites, and my son and son-in-law spent the weekend prototyping a small industrial robot.

I like what Information Age technology makes possible: but I don't think that 'good Catholics' have to be just like me.

Catholics aren't all alike: and that's the way we're supposed to be. (August 26, 2010)

You Name It, We Got It!

Another quote from an earlier post:
"...The way I've put it, sometimes, explaining Catholicism to my kids, is:
  • "You want rousing music?
    • "We got rousing music!
  • "You want quiet meditation?
    • "We got quiet meditation!
  • "You want ancient rites?
    • "We got ancient rites!
  • "You want polka with your Mass?
    • "We got polka with your Mass!
  • "You name it?
    • "We got it!
"Obviously, that isn't something you'll find in the official Catechism. But I think it's a fairly reasonable summary of what I've learned about Catholicism...."
(April 19, 2010)
The Catholic Church rejects modernism - but I've found nothing to indicate that we're suppose to pretend it's 1955, or any other presumed 'golden age.'

Rejecting Modernism is NOT Embracing Luddism

Odds are that you've run into a Luddite or two:

  • Any of a group of British workers who between 1811 and 1816 rioted and destroyed laborsaving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment
  • One who opposes technical or technological change
    (the Free Online Dictionary)
The idea is that Ned Ludd, an Englishman who made a living with his hands, broke weaving machines around 1779. The Industrial Revolution happened, anyway.

Luddism seems to be the idea that Ludd was right.

The word, "Modernism," sounds like "modern:" and the terms are related. But in rejecting Modernism, the Church isn't trying to enforce a sort of nostalgia.

I acknowledge that quite a few folks aren't comfortable with the technology that's been developed over the last century or so. This is a rapidly-changing part of history: and as I've said in another blog, change hurts. But change happens. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (January 23, 2011, January 18, 2011))

I think it makes more sense to find out how technology can help me better "know, love and serve God,"2 than spend the rest of my life wishing it was 50 years ago.


The point of this post is that the Catholic Church is opposed to modernism, the philosophy. We're not required or expected to live in the past.

As I recall, the shift in America from assuming that science and technology would solve all our problems, to assuming that it would kill us, happened around the '60s.

I don't think Godzilla (1956) caused this change. But I've gotten the impression that the 400-foot fire-breathing lizard is how quite a few folks see big-bad-technology these days, metaphorically speaking.

And yes, I know about atomic bombs and World War II. (December 17, 2010)

Me? I think that drinking sewage is a bad idea, that handling plutonium with care is a good idea, and that kittens are cute. But I do not think that knee-jerk Luddism is a sensible response to any crisis du jure. And that's another topic.

Related posts:

1 Modernism is a bad idea, but don't take my word for that:
  • "Pascendi Dominici Gregis"
    Encyclical of Pope Pius X on the Doctrines of the Modernists
    Pope Pius X (September 8, 1907)
Despite the impression I get from some folks, Vatican II didn't 'change all that.'

What did change is that Modernism wasn't quite so hot as a 'cutting edge' attitude, after the early 20th century:
Which explains why contemporary teaching doesn't put quite so much stress on it. You won't hear the Pope say much about intellectual fads of 2nd century Rome, either. Catholics don't deny the past - but we don't live in it, either.

2 That's from the Baltimore Catechism. My take:

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.