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Archive for the tag “communitarianism”

Hijacking words: Urban Dictionary: Communitarianism

Having at one time been an editor of academic texts I am interested in words and meaning, and especially in the way words are sometimes used to obscure and confuse meaning rather than to communicate meaning. Words can sometimes be “hijacked” or “skunked”. They are hijacked when their meaning is twisted or perverted to mean something else. They are “skunked” when they are used by so many people to mean so many different things that you can never be sure what a person means by them unless they give a definition every time they use it. One example is “liberal” and “liberalism”, and that these words have been skunked can be clearly seen in the two preceding posts.

“Communitarian” and “communitarianism”, on the other hand, have apparently been hijacked, at least by some people. I’ve blogged about this before here and here.

Communitarianism is a fairly new word, but the concept was developed by Catholic anarchists like Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and Ammon Hennessy to distinguish Christian anthropology from modernist secular anthropologies like individualism and collectivism. Even though there wasn’t a specific word for it, the concept has been around at least as long as Christianity has, and I’ve described it, with quotations from Orthodox theologians, in Love is the measure: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker | Khanya.

I didn’t realise how bad it had got, however, until I read this: Urban Dictionary: Communitarianism:

Communitarianism

buy communitarianism mugs, tshirts and magnets

n. The belief that a society is greater than the sum of its parts, and that the members of an organization ought to work toward improving the organization. Often accused to be ‘communist’ or ‘fascist’.

Communitarianism is perceived to be evil because it opposes the individualistic doctrine of our society.

I find it difficult to see how anyone could take such a “definition” seriously. For a start, “accused to be” is illiterate. The correct English idiom is “accused of being”, and “accused to be” is a solecism. Anyone who writes English that badly is not competent to write dictionary definitions.

The next problem is that we are not told the identity of those who make these accusations, nor are we told the identity of those who “perceive it to be evil”, nor are we told which society is meant by “our” society. But I think it is safe to assume that those who make the accusations and perceive communitarianism in this way are as ignorant as the writer of the definition.

My attention was drawn to this in a blog post by James Highham, whose blog I read fairly regularly, and find interesting, though I don’t always agree with everything he says, and in this instance, of course, I emphatically disagree.

nourishing obscurity : Four Great Lies:

The Fourth Lie – the “third way” – is an attempt to bring people in by the back door to the dark side of the duality and it utilizes the First Lie to good effect. Thus we get “communitarianism”, perverting the concept of local community and having a vast number of federalist controlled local communities, each under the influence and rubber stamping power of a Common Purpose graduate. Leading beyond authority, i.e. assuming powers which are not yours to assume and being answerable only to the oligarchy in the centre.

The thought of Dorothy Day being part of an “oligarchy at the centre” really is too much.

Who is Glenn Beck?


I’d never heard of Glenn Beck until I began reading about him in blog posts by other people who had never heard of him until they read about him in e-mails or blog posts from other people who may have heard of him. But from what I’ve heard, he had been preaching a new gospel about some kind of false Christ.

Jim Forest, in the Netherlands, writes On Pilgrimage: Thank you, Glenn Beck:

I live a sheltered life, that is to say I watch very little TV. Until yesterday I had never heard of Glenn Beck. But when a friend in Kentucky sent me an e-mail asking if I was aware that Dorothy Day had been mentioned on Glenn Beck’s weekly TV show, I got curious. Via YouTube, I quickly discovered that Glenn Beck is more than willing to accuse anyone he doesn’t agree with of being a socialist, a communist, a marxist or a nazi, or even all four.

And Matt Stone, from Australia, writes Glenn Beck and Social Justice – Glocal Christianity:

Glenn Beck, an American radio and television host that I’d never heard of till this week, has set off a firestorm of web commentary after denouncing social justice as a ‘perversion of the gospel’. Well, what do I say to that? I’m lost for words.

It seems that Glenn Beck has mentioned Dorothy Day as a Marxist and someone Marxists knew, but whom he had never heard of. I suspect, however, that more Christians have heard of Dorothy Day than have ever heard of Glenn Beck. Glenn Beck also mentioned a book about Dorothy Day, which happens to have been written by Jim Forest, and that was why someone tipped Jim Forest off about the existence of Glenn Beck, hence his blog post. So it seems a suitable opportunity to mention the book and put it on my “to read” list: Love Is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day Love Is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest

Jim Forest is an Orthodox Christian, and bosser-up of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Dorothy Day was an American Roman Catholic who cared for the poor and homeless, and along with Peter Maurin and Amon Hennessy founded the Catholic Worker movement and developed the philosophy of Communitarianism, which is similar to that expounded in the UK by G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. So I’m sure Jim Forest’s biography of her is well worth reading.

Communication without community

In a recent post Bishop Alan’s Blog: Why ordination? Why today? Bishop Alan quotes an author, Eugene H. Peterson as saying:

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shop-keepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shop-keepers’ concerns — how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shop-keeping; religious shop-keeping, to be sure, but shop-keeping all the same… “A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,” says Martin Thornton, “but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.

And one of Bishop Alan’s blogging friends, Simple Massing Priest, responded to this thus:

I’ve said before that statistics only tell you what they tell you and that’s all they tell you. Thus statistics about average Sunday attendance or giving by members do tell you something about the vitality of a congregation. But what they’re telling isn’t always clear. And even when it’s clear, it may not be important.

If only we could find some discrete statistical way to quantify the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a community and in the lives of individuals.

He goes on, however, in another post Simple Massing Priest: The Great Heresy(ies) to say:

Historically, Catholic Christianity has always seen the collective expression of the Body of Christ – that is to say the Church – as important. While never denying the importance of individual faith, individual devotion and individual piety, a Christian is properly a Christian because they are part of Christ’s Body, the Church. To treat Christian faith as being an entirely individual undertaking – as seems altogether too common in some circles – is manifestly heretical. The Ethiopian eunuch came to believe as an individual, but it was baptism by Philip which grafted him into the Church. The lot fell on Matthias as an individual, but his Apostolic authority came from being ‘added to the eleven Apostles.’

Now, I agree that there is, as always, a polar opposite heresy – the heresy that would emphasize the collective to the exclusion, diminution and discarding of the individual. That heresy might take many forms, but it would certainly be a heresy.

Individualism and collectivism are both Western heresies, or perhaps I should say heresies of Western modernity. And they are both related to (and are perhaps the root of) the obsession with counting, and the idea that if things are not numerically quantifiable, they aren’t worth bothering with. Things must be “measurable”, and this is often used as a kind of label of approval. “Measurable” is an epithet tagged on to things to make us think that they must be good.

The Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras has a different take on it

In everyday speech we tend to distort the meaning of the word ‘person’. What we call ‘person’ or ‘personal’ designates rather more the individual. We have grown accustomed to regarding the terms ‘person’ and ‘individual’ as virtually synonymous, and we use the two indifferently to express the same thing. From one point of view, however, ‘person’ and ‘individual’ are opposite in meaning. The individual is the
denial or neglect of the distinctiveness of the person, the attempt to define human existence using the objective properties of man’s common nature, and quantitative
comparisons and analogies. Chiefly in the field of sociology and politics the human being is frequently identified with the idea of numerical individuality. Sometimes this rationalistic process of leveling out is considered progress, since it helps
to make the organization of society more efficient.

One manifestation of this, especially in America, is the failure to understand objections to attempts to expunge the inclusive use of the word “man” from our vocabulary. Some people insist that “man” must refer exclusively to males, and ought not, indeed cannot, include females.

They would demand that the word “man” be removed from a phrase like “reconciliation between God and man, and man and man” and replaced with some impersonal abstract collective term like “humanity”, and fail to see that this changes the meaning, and the reason they fail to see this is because they cannot see the distinction between individuals and persons.

In part this is because a a deficiency in the English language. Other languages have different terms for a person of either sex and a male person. Greek has anthropos and aner, Latin has homo and vir, Zulu has umuntu and indoda, but English has to make do with “man” and “man”. Zulu even has a saying umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu — “a person is a person because of people”. But because Western modernity prefers to see things that are quantifiable and countable, the idea that persons need communities in order to be persons at all seems quite alien. The Orthodox anthropology that Yannaras describes is communitarian rather than aligned with Western individualism or collectivism — and I’ve discussed the economic ramifications of that in another post.

However, another blogging friend, Dion’s random ramblings, writes about using social media:

Build a wide range of relationships. This is where twitter and facebook come in. The intention of these relationships is the create opportunities to interact around common interests and concerns, and particularly to drive traffic to my content! I cannot emphasize this last point strongly enough!

As should be apparent from my previous post, I have grave reservations about simply “driving traffic” without being concerned with the quality of the traffic. For example, on Blog Catalog I have 8 friends. They are people I have interacted with, either face-to-face or online. There are many more who have said that they want to be my “friend”, but they haven’t bothered to read any of my blogs. What kind of idea of friendship is this?

As one writer put it, we live in an age of communication without community. People say that they want to be our “friends”, but they don’t want to talk to us, or exchange ideas. A person is a person because of people, but in individual is an individual in isolation from other people. Occasionally feral children have been found, children that were lost and brought up by animals, and they find it very difficult to interact with other people. They may be individuals, but they find it very difficult to become persons till they have faces, and some people don’t seem to want to have faces. Faces have been replaced by “avatars” and “personas”.

Dorothy Day’s anarcho-Catholicism:the way of love

Dorothy Day rejected Western individualism and collectivism, and proposed a new way: communitarianism

clipped from www.speroforum.com

Dorothy Day – a radical pacifist who had been a member of the I.W.W., met Leon Trotsky, had an abortion, and raised a daughter as a divorced single mother – may be the next American canonized a saint in the Catholic Church.

November 29th marks the anniversary of the passing of Dorothy Day, the foundress of the Catholic Worker Movement.

In 1933, she founded the Catholic Worker movement with the itinerant French illegal immigrant Peter Maurin, a sort of modern Holy Fool in the mode of Saint Francis of Assisi.

However politically heterodox Dorothy Day was, she was always religiously orthodox, saying, “When it comes to labor and politics, I am inclined to be sympathetic to the left, but when it comes to the Catholic Church, then I am far to the right.”

blog it

The author of this article on Dorothy Day has his own blog The Western Confucian, where you can also leave comments.

November Synchroblog: money and the church

The theme for this month’s Synchroblog is Money and the Church.

I have posted my contribution this month at The Church and Money on my Khanya blog.

Here are the links to all the contributions:

The Check That Controls at Igneous Quill
Pushing The Camel: Why there might be more rich people in Heaven than in your local Church at Fernando’s desk
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz at Hello Said Jenelle
Zaque at Johnny Beloved
Walking with the Camels at Calacirian
Greed and Bitterness: Why Nobody’s Got it Right About Money and The Church at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Wealth Amidst Powers at Theocity
Money and the Church: A Fulltime Story at The Pursuit
But I Gave at Church at The Assembling of the Church
Moving Out of Jesus Neighborhood at Be the Revolution
Money and the Church: why the big fuss? at Mike’s Musings
Coffee Hour Morality at One Hand Clapping
Bling Bling in the Holy of Holies at In Reba’s World
Magazinial Outreach at Decompressing Faith
Money’s too tight to mention at Out of the Cocoon
Bullshit at The Agent B Files
The Bourgeois Elephant in the Missional/Emergent Living Room at Headspace
When the Church Gives at Payneful Memories
Who, or What, Do You Worship at at Charis Shalom
Greed at Hollow Again
Silver and Gold Have We – Oops! at Subversive Influence
The Church and Money at Khanya
Tithe Schmithe at Discombobula

Anthropology – individualism, collectivism or communitarianism

A conservative blog for peace quotes, with apparent approval, an article that denounces communitarians as boring, bossy and fascist.

The mind boggles!

When I hear the word “communitarian” the first person who springs to mind is Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement, and anyone less boring, bossy and fascist I cannot imagine.

What is communitarianism?

To quote the Catholic Worker movement

We are working for the Communitarian revolution to oppose both the rugged individualism of the capitalist era, and the collectivism of the Communist revolution. We are working for the Personalist revolution because we believe in the dignity of man, the temple of the Holy Ghost, so beloved by God that He sent His son to take upon Himself our sins and die an ignominious and disgraceful death for us. We are Personalists because we believe that man , a person, a creature of body and soul, is greater than the State, of which as an individual he is a part. We are personalists because we oppose the vesting of all authority in the hands of the state instead of in the hands of Christ the King. We are Personalists because we believe in free will, and not in the economic determinism of the Communist philosophy.

If one sets aside the rather overblown rhetoric, this is not all that much different from the Zulu proverb frequently quoted as an example of ubuntu: “umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu” — a person is a person because of people.

There have been a few reported cases of children who have been separated from their parents at an early age, and raised by wild animals, but in spite of the romantic legend of Romulus and Remus, such children usually find it very difficult to relate to other human beings, and are very deficient in personal development.

This is also similar to Orthodox anthropology — see, for example, the following books, passim:

  • Vlachos, Hierotheos. 1999. The person in the Orthodox tradition. Nafpaktos: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery. ISBN: 960-7070-40-2
  • Yannaras, Christos. 1984. The freedom of morality. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. ISBN: 0-88141-028-4

 

Dorothy Day -- advocate of communitarianism

Dorothy Day — advocate of communitarianism

The young fogey often advocates libertarianism, as does the author he quotes. As far as I have been able to ascertain, libertarianism is liberalism on steroids, and libertarians are liberals with attitude. In other words, libertarians have turned liberalism from a political idea for governing a country into an ideology and a complete worldview. I must admit, however, that Stanley Fish has attempted to turn liberalism into such an ideology. Even though I can see what he is getting at, I am in fundamental disagreement with his thesis.

Liberals tend to see things in terms of practical politics, rather than a complete worldview. I was, briefly, a member of the Liberal Party of South Africa, at a time when its vision of a nonracial democratic South Africa was under extreme pressure from the government of the day. The Liberal Party had members of just about every racial and religious group in South Africa. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, pagans and Secular Humanists joined together in a common enterprise. Their theology and their anthropology, their understandings of human nature, may have been very different, but in spite of the differences, they were able to join in a common political vision of the kind of society they wanted South Africa to be — with freedom, justice, the rule of law, and a nonracial democracy in which all citizens would have a say in the government of the country.

Libertaranism, on the other hand, if I have correctly understood the article cited by the Young Fogey, seeks to impose a much wider worldview, and one that, as far as I can see, is essentially antithetical to a Christian one, in many ways as much so as the Communist worldview. It is based on a view of man that is fundamentally at odds with Orthodox Christian anthropology.

As Christians we have a model, the Holy Trinity, which is neither individualist nor collectivist. The persons of the Holy Trinity are neither three individuals, nor a collective. But libertarianism begins to look like a heresy.

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