Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Listening Heart: The Decline of Vocation I

[Number five in a series]

Probably the toughest thing for me as a writer is finding a "hook to hang" my post on. I know things I want to write about - but the topics are either too large or I simply do not know how to proceed. Thankfully, folks are nice enough to provide those hooks for me. The blessing this time was provided by these comments about my writing:

I have read through your last two diaries and continually see you commenting on the thoughts and beliefs of others. Do you have any "original" thoughts are beliefs of "your own" that do not simply leave it up to others to form your opinions?
and later

What I would most like to hear from you is the same thing. A diary of your OWN beliefs without one single quote from any place except your own heart.
This idea that we have our own ideas, from our own heart, that we should "be true to" is the core of the philosophical counter positions to the idea of vocation, or calling:

  1. "The idea of a call implies an agent outside of the one who is subject to the call."
  2. "The summons is often against the will of the one who is called into service."
  3. the calling involves in almost every case hardships that must be overcome in order to answer the summons.
  4. from the point of view of answering to the summons, the greatest danger appears not in this kind of resistance, but in the possibility of being diverted or distracted from the goal.
I quoted this in the last post:

Precisely the point of vocatio is that you don't choose. And this is precisely why and how the idea jars against conventional modern sentiment, the sentiment that since the Enlightenment has succeeded in making a primary virtue of self-determination. "What is Enlightenment?" asked Immanuel Kant. It is the capacity "to use one's intelligence without being guided by another." "Have courage to use your own intelligence! is therefore the motto of the enlightenment". Thus stand side by side, in unmistakable opposition, two ideas of the way one lives in the world. One is that of attentive listening to the guidance of another, whether of a wise guide, or tradition, or of God. The other is the notion of the self-determined "free" man, who without listening to another, becomes the master of his own soul.
Now it is difficult to know how to proceed. There are two themes, highly interrelated, that underlie the rest of the book:

  • First, that community (and the type of community) is key to the differences between modern western culture and a culture rooted in vocation

  • Second, that modern western culture requires the severing of folks from vocation - and its attachment to family, tradition, religion, etc. - in order to build a culture rooted in production and conquest.
Let's start with:

Organic Society vs. Organized Society
1 Corinthians 12:12-27: For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it.
This is not just a "religious view" of the Body of Christ - this is a view of the pre-modern nature of organic, and primarily agrarian societies:

  1. they were not based on independence of individuals; but the interdependence of members
  2. they were not based on the equality of their members, but their differences
Conyers points out that modern society, organized in almost mechanical terms, requires "equality" and "independence" to create the interchangeable parts for the machinery that is modern life. The organic society presented by Paul requires different parts with different functions - called together into an organic whole to fulfill a transcendent function under a unifying outside, and greater, good or force. In an organic society, each person is indispensable; while in modern society, organized like a machine, each individual is interchangeable because if all individuals are equal, each will do just as well. Or, at least, those are the ideals - and the reason to create a culture of alienated and isolated individuals whose ties to the land, family, faith, or indeed anything but the state and/or the company, are broken. Conyers:

Since the sixteenth century, the state has become a new kind of community. It is not a true nation, since it is made up generally of many nations, although there is a dominant national culture. Its influence then arises from the fact that it is organized in a way that dissolves what is organic and to some extent voluntary. It should not be surprising then that the concepts of "vocation" and the concept of vocation as it is embedded in the liberal arts has subsided in the public consciousness. Organizations do not need such ideas or experiences, but organic communities do. And it should not be surprising that modernity has been marked by the exaggeration of the freedoms of the individual, the alienation of the person, the dissolution of families, and a culture of pathological loneliness: for these features are in the very design of the organized society which replaces the organic society.
The second point above is continued with "The Decline of Vocation II"

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly