On orthodoxy and community

Rod Dreher is concerned about the relationship between orthodoxy and the current emphasis on community within the church in  Christianity without Orthodoxy, in doing so he perhaps has two questions in mind.

First, there is the matter of practice,

How do you decide right from wrong on a controversial church teaching? . . . How do you determine that now is the time for you to stay when a divisive issue comes up in the church community, or when the line has been breached, and your understanding of truth requires you to leave on principle?

In his southern context, the question of race (and Jim Crow) lurk right below the surface, if that. And then there is a second, not-quite-the-same question, one certainly more global in nature:

We are so accustomed in our culture to not applying reason to religious experience, to only thinking of it in terms of emotional resonance, that to draw those lines seems somehow, well, un-Christian to many. How any religion survives the loss of a sense of the need for orthodoxy, I don’t know.

Both questions are rather protestant in nature, the former being the classic practice flowing from conviction (typically biblical). The latter one would appear to imagine the existence of a common orthodoxy, expressed across very diverse traditions. A fundamentalism, if you will (we differ but we all believe the same core truths). A more honest approach may be to acknowledge that what the Eastern church means by “orthodoxy” is not the same as what Rome means, let alone what an Evangelical may believe. This would be a functional definition of orthodoxy rather than a specifically theological one.

Of course, Dreher could be thinking of the more specific and normative meaning of orthodoxy as that practiced by the Eastern church (aka the Orthodox Church).

As to the relationship of orthodoxy and community, the relationship is surely dialectic. Orthodoxy explains what the community is about, it interprets the historical experience with God. The shape of the community  expresses some convictional norm, an orthodoxy at least of culture if not of theology/ideology. These convictions may be expressed explicitly in statements, and more often or in parallel, by narratives — the stories we tell about where we have come and how we got here.

In similar fashion, the practice of the community reflects or exegetes the convictions of the community. Hence the charges of dead orthodoxy or of hypocrisy when the practice of community appears at variance with the statements of formal orthodoxy or belief. What we state we believe exists as a hypothesis to be demonstrated in how we live. Practice and conviction walk together.

The Eugenic Future

Ross Douthat certainly opened a discussion with his column on eugenics, advances in testing, and abortion. Ed Kilgore is scathing, meanwhile Rod Dreher sees the threat and points to a (conservative) cultural solution. Scott McKnight simply lets it fall. I respond

While Douthat wants to see this through the grid of abortion, the more critical view would be to see this as an instance of economic choice. The decision on which children to have, how to engineer them presently looks as if it will be made as a market decision. How successful we can be in keeping genomic information out of the hands of parents remains to be seen. Spiritually, this turn to the self seems to be a far greater danger than the issue of abortion per se. Indeed, once the knowledge is easily available (and for now, thank heavens, it’s not), the decision about fetal life will not be one that can be prohibited, either because of private medicine or the availability of pro-choice jurisdictions. And that in turn only underscores that the issue at hand is deeply cultural in nature.

After all, we are far more likely to introduce a eugenics regime through the market than by some liberal cabal (per Douthat). The enemy is inside us, in our own culture.

Developing and supporting an alternate culture is “conservative” I suppose, however that should not be confused with the merely political. The task is deeply cultural, and one that cannot be settled simply by a reactionary turn, a pulling back. We need a healthy, organic, nurturing culture. Yeah, it’s going to take work.

Print Evaporates

Rod Dreher notes the shift of the Times-Picayune to a three-day schedule, per the Grand Rapids Press and MLive.

The cost of creating and distributing newspapers on newsprint makes them increasingly unviable as a business. This is the fault of changing technology and changing habits.

Newhouse did the same to the Times Picayune sister papers in Michigan. The business difficulty is that we are in a transition to new, digital financial models. Frankly, these are not worked out, save for fewer employees. At a community level, this is more troubling since the traditional oversight functions of newspapers gets pushed to the margins. When civic life becomes more opaque, when we are more in the dark, public activity and participation become threatened.

The other side is that shrinkage of coverage of all kinds opens the door to varieties of  new media outlets, a door-opening that will swing wider once financial models are better understood.

Home Schooled Athletes

Rod Dreher asks if education should be a la carte: Should home school athletes be able to participate on their local high school team? After all it made the New York Times.

I intuitively sympathize with the view that if you opt out, you’ve opted out, and have no right to expect anything.  I certainly do not. But I would also be grateful if the local school offered such options, not only because we might use them, but because it would mean going beyond what they have to do.

The answer in part would seem to come from a the role sports plays in the particular community, as well as how we generally understand sports in schools.

There are communities and sports (particularly football) where the sports program of the high school is seen as representing the whole community. Everyone goes out to watch the team; everyone cheers, etc. For communities and the select sports they celebrate (basketball would be the other obvious one), then making accommodation for the home schooler might make sense. Home schooled or not, on Friday night there is only one game in town.

In other sports, and in the schools I’m familiar with sports plays a somewhat different role. It functions as a reward for work in the school, no grades no play. The team is a place for development of young men and women in the context of their school. In this sense the sports teams are comparable to other extracurricular activities such as debate.

Along this same line, there is also a community aspect. It’s not just the student athlete that is engaged, it would be the parents. The Boosters group begins long before your son joins the team, starting at the science fairs, the PTA meetings the the little fund raisers you did together back in elementary or middle school. Sports is one more instance of this ongoing life, parents working together to support their children. Speaking as one on the inside of the high school, the homeschool student and parents could be on the outside. Welcome, but on the outside.

So I lean against having the home school student on the team. The team does not belong to the community so much as to the school. And if you are to represent your school, you finally need to be a part of that school. (Interestingly in our neighborhood, the local homeschool association actually provides sports teams, a marching band and debate.)