Essay / Culture

A Brief Defense of Modern Times

For some reason, a big group of those I know and like hate the modern world. They are almost cranky about it, like old men who always are going on about the good old days. Oddly enough, most of the writers I read that I intensely dislike also hate the modern world. They keep going on about the future they are about to create. They scare me even more.Such unanimity is disturbing for there is much to like about the modern world. In fact, the complaints are generally written by people who would not be in their positions of authority without the modern world. They are from families that pre-modern cultures would not have allowed an education. Most would have died from dread diseases in infancy or childhood. They did not partly due to the science that only modernity could have allowed to flourish.Of course saying so may finish me off with Christian academics, but since I am not an academic, thank God, just a teacher, and hope to be judged a Christian by a higher authority I am not overly worried.Lately some cranky evangelicals have taken after modernity in a movement they call “radical Orthodoxy.” It is not very radical, being mostly confined to University folk (the group least likely to write a great book, start a great movement, or create great art) and to boutique churches inhabited by same.There are obvious problems in our culture. These problems may undue it and may in fact have already undone it. This is a cause for mourning and prayer for revival and not for joy. Why?Capitalism has been on the whole good for people. Let us all agree that greed is bad and that the quest for “things” as the Great Good of human life is a horrid evil. Let us also agree that such notions are not confined to nations driven by capitalism.However, let us also agree that there is no special virtue in being poor, just the protection afforded by having less power. Less powerful people cannot manifest their wickedness and so have some aid in seeking virtue. However, the best man (it seems to me) is the man who is rich, even was born rich, and has chosen to find virtue in any case. He has great power in the material world and uses it for good ends.That may consist of giving all his money away (as some I have known have done) or it may consist of living well and helping others to do the same. Some of the greediest folk I have know have been poor and most of the rich I have known have been quite noble.Capitalism, as an economic idea, is not a fit basis for totally organizing a life or a culture, but it is a great tool for doing what it does well: creating wealth and distributing it widely. To cite just one benefit of capitalism: now nearly anyone who wants to do so can go to college as a result of it. These colleges may often be poor, but a genuine education is available in them. This is a good thing and has produced many well read and interesting folk.Only persons who have never lived in a place not renewed by capitalism can fail to see its virtues. It has produced widely available medicine and care for more humans than ever. Comparing year book pictures of poor Americans today to pictures of even immediate ancestors illuminates all the dental and optical work now available! As one who needed thick glasses, now made thin and light by the technology enabled by capitalism, I know that the benefits are not just part of vanity!Modern medicine, a product of our times, is also a good thing. My wife would have died in childbirth and my first son with her if not for modern medicine. We live longer and more healthy lives than ever and yet seem almost frantic to find the downside of this. It may yet be used in a monstrous manner, and I am happy to warn of this, but who would rid ourselves of it as a whole?Even nature is cleaner in places where capitalism flourishes despite also holding human populations that could not be imagined without it. Our air is more pure than in ancient London and our water less foul with millions more people leading better lives.Free markets are also the best system for allowing human freedom. It is all well and good to mock Locke and sneer at the Founding Fathers. Does anyone in the all knowing Christian establishment have a better idea? I am a patriot, because it is in the nature of men to love their own people. I also am a patriot because I know of no system in the history of humankind that has given justice and rights to more people than our own.I am fond of the republics and constitutional monarchies of the West (with some personal preference for the latter). They work and they protect the rights of real people. Most of the nations of the world would be better if they had such a system and in fact are better off when they adopt it. As India proves it is the pre-modern that stands most in the way of human happiness at this level.I love the past and learn from it. However, there is no going back to it and there is no good reason to do so in any case. It is easy to convince the young that the “system” stinks and to fill them with superior feelings about the new age that they will bring on society. It is harder to actually improve anything. I am with Teddy Roosevelt in thinking that the Reformers in the system, men of affairs who must make deals, do more good than the utopians muckraking in the University system.If I am not overly worried about the “consistency” or the details and the theory behind it, then this is not due to a hatred of learning, but a dislike of the so called intellectuals who worry more about the ideas history than its impact on the folks. There are the folk who worried that in door plumbing would destroy the culture of West Virginia, but who themselves had never used an outdoor toliet in winter. Meanwhile, they did destroy our noble culture by their hatred of patriotism, Christianity, and free markets.The least interesting people I know are “libertarians” or “socialists” or “Christian academics” who will not let a system that mostly benefits people last because it contradicts some idea in their theories of what would bring on utopia. There is nothing more hypocritical than seeing a Christian academic, protected by American might from pre-moderns who would kill him for his faith, using the internet, created by American free markets and government, to propagate his hatred of modernity. The alternative proposed by such ideologues is always parasitic and impractical, since it can exist only in tiny University circles. There it exists only because businessmen are convinced to cleanse their money to keep assaults on themselves alive. This is the great skill of the academy, Christian or otherwise. It attacks a thing it asks for money and gets it.In fact, much of the rot of our time comes from folk hostile to modern ideas. The nonsense of post-modernism, now so passe that only evangelical academics can believe it, at one time bid fair to make the academy even more useless than it had been earlier. The worship of any one area of the modern (science, republican government, medicine, free markets) at the expense of the idea that produced them, Christianity, is also pre-modern. Christianity could produce great goods in all these areas, because our religion kept them from becoming idols. The pre-modern made economics or politics or science “divine” and so could make no progress.I believe in free markets, science and and all her methods, and human rights because I am a Christian. Some Christians claim this means I worship free markets or my nation and that they are idols to me. In fact, the men I know least likely to worship their nation are the greatest patriots. Serving in Iraq means you see how nutty government can be, but it also shows you the high ideals that fallen humans are trying, however imperfectly to put in place. Like the World War II G.I. you come to love our nation and its wars for liberty while laughing that in the details it is SNAFU.Just as the true lover is not blinded to the faults of the beloved, so the lover of nations and of men is not blind to their evils. We can think a system good in its way for this time (until a better is found for men!) without thinking it is the chief end of men.I am glad to live in this nation, but know that the City of Man is just a resting place until coming to the City of God. However, only the mad or the arrogant try to live in the City of God without being sullied by the City of Man. Someday, one hopes soon, Christ will return and the duality of this world will be healed. This cannot be done for now so sane men must live with a duality and even an inconsistency that God allows in this present time.In a world where evil exists, the pacifist and the person who will not be a patriot betray the oppressed. If America brings free markets and a republic to Iraq, then most of the folk there will be better off. We will make mistakes in this noble calling. The critics would make their fantastic notions of the perfect the enemy of the good and so help no one. They would live in a Heaven where evil is no more and the duality of the world healed now, but force the people of the Middle East to live in hell now.There is no real duality. All in the end will be Good, True, and Beautiful, but it is not so now. The world is bent and twisted.To say that it can be otherwise now, even in the present Church, is to mock God’s plan. It is not so as the events of the newspaper prove. All men are fallen. Duality is allowed to continue between truth and error (what is called faith/reason by some), beauty and ugliness, and good and evil. Even those who war against the bad must recognize that the duality is in their own hearts and fight against it. It is the best part of modernity that it recognizes that we must live with this duality and make the best of it. It is modernity that best waits for heaven in the age to come while trying to soften the harsh reality of this present age.There is no place in the Universe that is not God’s. There is no sphere where His rule is not to be found in the end, but in this present Age God has allowed His erring children to distance themselves from Him. Our distance is so great that our politics, religion, art, education, indeed every part of life seem secular and cut off from the Divine. To an extent they are so cut off and an attempt to heal the breach fully this side of Paradise is hubris and folly. It is doing what God Himself will not do.Instead, we are called to heal what we can while recognizing that this duality, even this seeming secularisms must be accepted for now. There is no split between faith and reason. Faith is reasonable and reason requires faith. However, in the shadow of the Fall there will be seeming reason (or science) which is really folly that is cut off from God, even in Churchmen. The wheat will be mixed with the tares and we are not able to rid ourselves of the tares without destroying the wheat. A sane man will accept the existence of both, the secular and the sacred, in all his dealings for he knows this duality is part of his own heart. He trusts in the grace of God to deliver his soul from evil, but he does not trust his own wisdom to purge any sphere, even the visible Church, from all evil.He knows that to do so would be like Gandalf wresting control of the One Ring and attempting to purge the world of Evil. Great evil would be done by the good until the good itself would become loathsome and vile.We see the faults of this land and speak firmly against it, but know that it is still our land where God has placed us. We stand firmly against the abuse of freedom, but refuse to take away freedom of choice that God Himself gave man in Eden. The critics of modern times, the so called radically Orthodox, are themselves so swollen with their own ideas that they cannot worship in the Church as it isSo the next time you hear the “modern world” and its ideas attacked sit quietly and then leave. Laugh if you can. Go on enjoying rights given to you by God and confirmed (as best they could) by modern thinkers like Burke and Locke. Go on voting. Press for reform. Refuse to be reduced to a consumer, but enjoy the things you do consume. Fight racism and injustice, but be glad for a system that allows you to do it. Fight government where it has gotten too big so that it transgresses liberty and vote for more government where liberty has turned to abuse. Thank God that you were born at this time when men are more free, with more ability to do good, than at any other time.Finally, be really counter-cultural if you are in the Academy (or like I am are tempted by its vices). Bless a businessman who is just and fair. Refuse to hate the rich as a “class.” Honor government leaders, including the President. Say a good word for the Founders. Bless a government school teacher and help a home school mom. Join a church with strong doctrinal ties and learn them. Refuse to think yourself capable of creating an entire counter-culture. Until you learn to love the people you wish to serve, do not even try to “preach at” them. Learn the virtue of being content and happy. Only after that allow your natural (and good) desire to reform to cause you to speak out.

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