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On Modernism

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Written by Basil on 11/14/2004 8:38 PM. Filed under:

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I guess I should just give up and be a modernist. On the LiveJournal of a fellow modernist, his grace Bishop Seraphim, I found a wonderful article about the Monks of New Skete, whom I will be visiting for the Thanksgiving liberty. I should warn you: That article is scandalous. Scandalous in the way monks have always scandalized the faithful. If you think otherwise, you should read more of the Desert Fathers and less of

On reading an excerpt of Why Does My Rabbit…?, I am forced to wonder, “Why is my modernism worthy of censure, but not yours?” Jesus had a word for inconsistency in the ways of religion.

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18 Responses to “On Modernism”

  1. alana Says:

    What’s so scandalous about it? Sounds pretty normal to me….

  2. basil Says:

    Alana, you must remember: You’ve been formed by the Monks more than you realize. A lot of what our community considers normal is actually downstream from New Skete and others like them.

    Here are some snippets that could scandalize, depending on your vision of what Orthodox monasticism “should be” :

    No hair shirts here. Birkenstocks and cords are the clothes of choice outside of church services. The monks prefer logging on to the Internet to flogging themselves. And the image of Medieval monks behind thick walls praying in seclusion for the salvation of mankind? Not here. While the monks certainly pray for the world’s salvation, they keep their doors open to all.

    “I look at the world today, and I see Christianity cheapened,” says Brother Dave, who counts Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi among his heroes. He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran minister who stood up to the tyranny of Nazi Germany and paid with his life. Bonhoeffer coined the term cheap grace, which described faith without actions and, more specifically, Christianity without a changed heart.

    The monks, back in the monastery, have since discarded their long, black habits. They decided in the early years in Cambridge they would try to look less, well, monkish in public.

    There are also very subtle implications, which one has to know New Skete to decipher. They can be hard on dogmatic types. I’m looking forward to having some arrogance beaten out of me during my visit.

  3. alana Says:

    Based solely on the article:

    Given the cultural context within which they arose, 1960’s countering the hippie culture, their choices make sense, but now almost seem blase (add accent mark in your imagination) because all the boomer hippie types are now graybeards in birkis and cords, no matter where they are to be found. Yawn.

    I’m disappointed that they are not, perhaps, more “cutting edge”, i.e. traditional. We all KNOW how to cruise the internet and go to church. We all KNOW how to go about our daily jobs, confession, repentance, striving for simplicity…my main thought is: how are these monks substantially different from me, and how is THIS a challenge for me as a layperson, other than the fact that they have access to daily coroporate prayer services, and I don’t, and the fact that their fast is perhaps stricter?

    I read the article, and thought to myself: Wow, that much built in time to read and study! Sign me up!

    Unless the article is leaving something huge out, it sounds just so…cushy. I mean…cheesecake and prayers…how much better does it get?

    I guess it might boil down to the question: What is monasticism, and how does it look in the American context? And perhaps these monks have done a great job with that. But as one who chafes in the “american context” and longs for something different, I dunno…Grace is good, I suppose. And hair shirts ARE itchy….

  4. basil Says:

    You might want to look at In the Spirit of Happiness to get a good idea of their vision of monasticism.

    To answer the question of what’s monastic about it: They are cenobites, which means they believe the dynamics of community are what is most productive of Christian character. Imagine the most annoying person you’ve ever known. Now imagine you live with them. You have different bedrooms (cells), but you share a shower, you eat meals together, you pray together, you work together. No matter what you do, you still find them annoying. No matter what they do, it’s annoying. And neither of you can leave, because your monastic vows keep you in the same Monastery. How you learn to love each other is what cenobitic monasticism is all about.

    I, too, think the culture is more in need of a monasticism that looks monastic. I agree with you there. OTOH, the ingrown subculture of Orthodoxy may be in need of monks who break people’s stereotypes. (Remember, the stuff that makes people mad isn’t in this article. ;-))

  5. Erich Says:

    Hehehe, I’m glad they were unhappy about the election results. If God doesn’t smite them, maybe he won’t smite me!

  6. alana Says:

    How, then, is a cynobetic community different from a family? …oh, yeah, I see….IT’S NOT! You see, the come out a cute and cuddly…or red and wrinkly, but then they manifest their very own personalities, idiosyncracies, and not only do you have to get along with them…they have to learn to get along with each other, while you learn to patiently guide them through the process.

    Birth control has done a serious disservice to the “monastic” spirit of the family, I say!

  7. basil Says:

    Alana, you’ve got it right on. Really, those are our two choices: family by marriage or family by monastic tonsure: either way it is a martyrdom. I’m not sure an extended period of time without one or the other sort of martyrdom is healthy.

  8. Erich Says:

    Feeling guilty Kevin?

  9. Karl Thienes Says:

    “Feeling guilty Kevin?”

    Probably not now…I think he’s got a steady girlfriend…or no?

  10. basil Says:

    Karl hits the nail on the head. Again.

  11. Josh Says:

    I’m jealous. Thanksgiving with the monks! I’m trying really hard right now to not turn green. You’ll have to let us know how your trip goes.
    Say hi to them for me.
    thanks for posting the article.)

  12. basil Says:

    Josh, will do.

  13. Erich Says:

    Why do you consider yourself a modernist? What is a modernist? I could define a modernist philosophy, form of gov’t, etc., but I’m not sure about a modernist person. Can there be such a thing?

  14. basil Says:

    Actually, I don’t consider myself a modernist. I’m being sarcastic. I consider myself a traditionalist. I dispute those fundamentalists who claim the name “traditionalist” for themselves. The Priest Theodore Pisarchuk calls them “hyper-Orthodox — you know who they are, right? They try to be more Orthodox than Jesus.” I reject that the hyper-Orthodox alone get to define what “traditionalist” means.

  15. Erich Says:

    Ah, I see. At this point, I fear defining myself.

  16. basil Says:

    I will say this: I believe without exception that Christians should engage their culture, not shrink from it. I’ve been researching in preparation for a post on a modern Orthodox understanding of Creation and the relation of the faith to science. I must admit, the difficulties involved in being a modern Orthodox Christian present formidable challenges. It would be easier to just take the Scriptures and the Fathers literally, and act like the Enlightenment had never happened and science meant simply knowledge, as it did for the ancients. That would be much easier.

    And quite lazy. The servants who took risks with their talents were rewarded; the lazy servant who took the easy path and buried his talent was condemned. Sofia. Proskomen.

  17. Victoria Says:

    Basil, when you do figure science out, let me know! I realized one day recently that I have managed to obtain 3 degrees in science *without ever having to consider what science is*. Tremendous failure in higher education, that.

  18. basil Says:

    Victoria, that is truly fascinating. And a bit disheartening, in terms of institutions of higher learning.