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Friday, January 6, 2012

Reality versus Modernity

When we talk about healing the human soul, particularly when it comes to the approaches ‘traditionally used,’ the word ‘modern’ or ‘latest’ does tend to pop up.  We like to think that the newest must be the best: the 2012 model of a car is going to be better than the 1978 version, right?  Surely, technology has changed in the intervening years, and so material objects have improved (except in those cases where ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’ is invoked).

So, this means that ‘modern’ is better, right?  Well, not necessarily.  A great deal of what we think of as ‘modern’ is more or less a ‘fashion.’  The idea of what is modern is different from era to era, even year to year.  I remember in the 1980’s when everyone shaved off their sideburns and cut their hair to sport the new ‘preppie’ style.  If you had long hair (the fashion of the 1970’s for those too young to remember) you were ‘behind.’  Outdated.  Not as good as those who were keeping up with the latest trends.

Collect enough of these trends, and you have a definition of modernity.  Right now, its all about computers and the internet and cell phones.  Music is synthesized to the point that our entertainers rarely can record a record with their raw voices: they need computerized reprocessing of their voices in order for us to better enjoy their music.

When it comes to religion, nowhere is this thinking more prevalent than in popular religion.  Americans have religious fads going back to the circuit preachers of the 18th century and tent revivals of the 19th century.  Modernity is exciting!  It gets people whipped up.

The problem with modernity is that it keeps aging.  Like I mentioned before, the long hair of the 1970’s was a modern movement during that time, but time progressed and fashions change.

Even modern medicine goes through ‘fads.’  Consider the leech: once used to cure all kinds of ailments, they fell into disfavor and were expelled from ‘modern medicine,’ only to find their way back.  Psychology and counseling has always had its fads.

But, humanity is humanity.  Our DNA does not radically change from one decade to the next, and neither do our problems: this is why the Ten Commandments are still ‘relevant’ in our society.  They speak out against a reality: man tends to sin, and sin has not changed.

Sure, modernity has given us all kinds of new ways to sin (think about the internet), yet it has not really changed the underlying causes.  The reality of humanity is something which is not susceptible to modern fashions.  It runs far deeper.  This is why modernity and reality are often two different things: temporary versus permanent.

So, in tackling human problems, modernity is only helpful so long as we want to understand the context of one’s acting out.  But, the reality of human spiritual illness is something that can be approached with something ‘ancient’ or, more accurately I believe, something ‘timeless.’  We do not need the latest fashion trends in medicine or psychology, though these may be helpful in small ways, since the one thing for sure we can count on: these modern approaches will soon change and be replaced by newer data and discoveries.

Science and medicine is in constant upheaval, in large part because we like to think of them as facts when most of the time scientists are still guessing.  They have some things pretty good, but other topics are still in flux.  When it comes to the treatment of addiction, the scientific community is still guessing (see my previous posting on the DSM-5).

The approach of the Orthodox Church is a timeless one.  Repentance is not a fashion, and neither is the knowledge of God’s grace and mercy.  Fashionable people have a new trend, called atheism.  It is relatively new, and all the rage in Europe (particularly in the northern reaches).  The latest fashion demands an approach to sobriety that does not involve God.

The 12 Steps are relatively ‘new’ in their present expression, but their principles came from this timeless approach of the Church.  Repentance, conversion, and healing are nothing new to humanity.  The Old Testament has spoken of them for thousands of years.

We must be cautious about not confusing modernity with reality, nor tangle up passing theories for known quantities.  Modernity is often a passing fad, but what is real endures.

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