Smartphones and The “Undoing” of Society

In the American Conservative today Rod Dreher shares a post from one of his readers. It is about how he or she views the connection children have to smart phones in a small town in Germany:

Smart Phones & The Invisible Cord

A reader who lives in a small town in Germany writes:

Children nowadays are connected to an invisible cord that is yanked once in a while. It is terrible to see how completely normal children change once they have access to smart phones. Not all of them but quite a few. The ones that don’t have any (like my son) are relentlessly bullied. I have been seriously thinking about sending my son to a catholic private school but it is to far away. I also don´t know whether it would help. As you write many Christians don´t understand the menace that smart phones pose and therefore don´t restrict the usage. Especially the less educated think having smart phones will help their kids navigate the future world. Sometimes I could cry so sad is all that.

Take a family I know. The father is a good mechanic who will always find a job.The mother is a simple sales woman. Their son will be none of that. He has a smart phone since he is 9 and completely glued to it. His thumb is probably able to do amazing swipe gestures but that is all he learns. Academically he is a disaster. The worst is that when he grows up he will not be able to do anything with his hands except swiping as he never does anything else. He will be totally useless in every sense of the world. What makes my blood boil is that there are thousands and thousands out there like that. And nobody telling people the truth.

What the parent states is not off the mark. Children who are not allowed to have their own phone or tablet at a very young age are seen as outsiders. Parents who don’t want to enable an this powerful attachment in children have to constantly fend off a subtle, nagging pressure from society around them too. Your kid is squirming and making noise at a restaurant? Why not sedate them with the glow of your phone, right? Counter-cultural parents would answer “because we have a much bigger goal for these kids than simply keeping them still and quiet while peace and comfort is being met for the adults”.

“Aw, cute! Look, Zander is becoming more indifferent to everything and every person around him!”

Coincidentally, it is also Rod Dreher who states in his book Crunchy Cons that too often our society is focused on what technology can do, but rarely contemplates what technology “un-does”. This is a great point. There are unintended consequences to everything. Of course, some downsides are obviously worth the benefit or can be mitigated through adjusting other habits. For instance, having automobiles and public transportation obviously helps people get around quickly. We are able to do more things in less time and more comfortably–this is a clear upside. However, this also means we get less natural exercise than humans did many generations ago. The benefit of cars is widely considered, however, to outweigh this side effect. Also, people are able to mitigate the effects by jogging or joining a gym. This is an obvious unintended consequence. There is no debating the physical change to our collective lifestyle from automobiles. Not all side effects are obvious, physical ones though. Some are mental, emotional, or spiritual.

Today we have smart phones which can accomplish an amazing array of tasks and have an endless amount of options to satisfy our craving for entertainment. With my iPhone, I can deposit checks, send messages, get news updates, see photos, listen to music, set my thermostat, lock my doors, and much more. But what do these devices undo? I think it’s more clear what these devices undo in children and teenagers than adults who were not raised on them (although some adults seem to have entirely adopted a lifestyle of digital device attachment).

Indeed the destructive content internet-enabled devices can deliver to the senses of a young child is problematic but even more devastating (as the person above goes on to state) is the effect of technology on the formation of the brain and social skills. That is, the immoderate use is an even larger risk than the possible content that one could be viewed on that very device. People are increasingly becoming detached not only from the people around them but of the natural world they live in. A good number of people are making the decision to stop living in ‘3D’ in order to experience the world artificially through a two-dimensional screen. When all children know is the screen in front of them, they set out, day-by-day (with the help of their parents), to circumvent their God-given talents which correlate with the world around them. It’s no wonder why, as we have technology that can do more and more, people can do less and less. When the main avenue (by far) for correspondence is text message and social media, children, in their formative most years, never learn how to properly speak to one another or socialize in a meaningful way. This is one of the reasons I find so funny the main argument against homeschooling children, that they won’t be properly socialized. Aside from the many examples of how well socialized most home-schooled children are, the idea that the mainstream school system full of kids who cannot socialize outside of a digital world (or even well or virtuously within the digital world) will be better for social integration is comical. The New York Times equates technology substituting for drug use among teens. CBS reports on how psychologists are connecting the addiction of smartphones and Snapchat (for teens) to the hormones the brain releases which make people anxious when they are not checking their devices. The articles coming out on the science of what is going on are endless.

Equally troubling and sad is that society is raising a generation who aren’t aware of the natural beauty (or human suffering) around them. When one is always looking down at a screen, they cannot look up to all that is around, let alone God. Children need to play outside. They need to touch worms and get on their hands and knees to push toys through the grass in their yard. They need to look up at birds scattering from a tree against the background of clouds in the sky and think about it before they even have the words to describe what they are seeing. They need to hear thunder rolling in and smell the rain as it fills the street. These experiences are a few of nearly infinite are extremely important. Not only are experiences like this what good childhood memories are made of (who has great memories of a game they played on an iPad) it makes them aware of the tangible world surrounding themselves. It helps them put themselves into the proper context of creation, illustrating to them both their priceless dignity and the fact that they are part of a world much larger than themselves. These children are more likely to appreciate the mountains and oceans on vacation.

Children with these experiences are more likely to grow up with a desire to use our natural resources responsibly, in a truly conservative manner. They are more likely to create beautiful things: art, architecture, literature, crafts and more. They are more likely to have a healthy attitude towards animals and where they fit in in the natural order. These children are more likely to grow up loving fresh food and the joy which accompanies cooking with their own hands, perhaps even raising or growing the food themselves. These young people are more likely to grow up knowing what they are able to accomplish with their hands (along with their own limitations) around the house when something needs to be fixed. Pretty much, these children will be more likely able to understand the big picture: what it means to live a good life.

Are you a parent who is dismayed by the state of the prevailing culture? If so, commit to nurturing a truly counter-cultural household. Revolt against how popular culture expects you to raise children. Don’t allow for digital devices until a certain age and then have rules on how these devices can and cannot be used. Expect more from your children in how they interact with other people and the world around them. Not only will true joy and beauty begin to flourish in your household and beyond, but the future of society depends on it. ☩

Update: There is a follow up post on The American Conservative about smartphone use contributing to drastic changes among the post-Millennial generation.

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I Have Cried Out to You, O Lord!

Update: I wrote the choir/music director telling him how beautiful the choir always is but was especially for this (it’s important to compliment the good aspects of your parish often so people know they are doing a great job…don’t be shy!).  He responded with heartfelt appreciation and said how he thinks it’s funny many people ask for the De Profundis at their wedding which then he and the pastor need to explain why it wouldn’t be appropriate because it would be like saying “Lord, save me from the abyss of suffering that I’m going to enter after marrying this person.” HAH!


That which is beautiful is often written about on this blog, including music. As a true fan of all music genres (from the Philadelphia Philharmonic to Phish) I appreciate music which is perfect for the given situation. This, of course, means no pop music at Mass just as acappela would be poorly suited for exercise. Catholicism has perhaps the richest claim to music heritage in the world and formed some of the greatest composers man has ever heard.

Being Catholic, it’s a shame more parishes don’t dig deeper (or at all) into the treasure trove of sacred music available to them for music within the Mass. Too often parishes opt for (wannabe) pop music or banal 1970’s hymns. Luckily more parishes are reclaiming their lineage of transcendent sacred music…music which opens the soul and fixates one’s gaze up towards heaven.  Luckily I go to a parish which cares about such things.

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During the collect at Mass, the very talented choir, in the newly painted choir loft and nave, launched into a rendition of Antonio Salieri’s (1750-1825) De Profundis (Psalm 130). Me, being relatively new revert, was not familiar with it. It was one of the most moving pieces of music I have ever heard in a church. It highlighted the importance of sacred music at Mass; the effect was an immediate openness to prayer. It’s known that the three marks of divinity, God, is that which is beautiful, good, or truthful and it was as if angels carried down this beautiful mark of God themselves like a silk rope connecting heaven and earth. Forgive me for the hyperbole but the amount this penitential psalm moved me is hard to convey. I was reflective the entire day because of it, it helped transform the entire Sunday into something beautiful.

Deo gratias for the liturgical revival that is happening across the country and all that comes with it, including our ever-so rich history of beautiful music!

Listen to a similar rendition, although this video doesn’t do any justice to experiencing it live while the Mass is happening in front of you:

Latin
De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuæ intendentes
in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

English
From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities, who, O Lord, shall stand?
For with you is forgiveness; and because of your law, I stood by you, Lord.
My soul has stood by his word.
My soul has hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch, even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

In Defense of Beauty

It’s said that the three marks of the divine–that which is transcendent–is beauty, goodness, and truth. That which is beautiful, good, or truthful points towards God. This is why Catholic churches have traditionally been built with rich artwork and soaring architecture.

Modern society is at battle with these marks of transcendence. Not only is popular culture seeking to make goodness and truth relative, it also seeks to destroy beauty in favor of efficiency. We see examples of this with the literal destruction of beauty in Catholic churches across the country: high altars ripped down, intricate altar rails thrown away, detailed stained glass imagery replaced by abstract colors, beautiful vestments replaced by schlocky polyester sheets, and many more examples. Secular life has many examples too; most modern buildings favor high-efficiency materials to produce cookie-cutter strip malls dotting our roads, deep and meaningful music, artwork, and literature exists but seems to be harder and harder to find. Gone are the days when someone who cherished authentic beauty in society is to be regarded civilized.

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The soul’s longing for beauty may be hard to easily satisfy in today’s world but those who seek to live a counter-cultural, authentic, better and joyful life need to try. One must ask of everything surrounding their life, “does this reflect goodness, truth, or beauty”? It’s not the most efficient way of living, but it does produce better results. This point is reflected over and over by Rod Dreher in his book Crunchy Cons, “beauty is more important than efficiency”:

Appreciation of aesthetic quality–that is, beauty–is not a luxury, but key to the good life

In my now-heightened awareness of the lack of beauty plaguing both our churches and culture, I found the recent article by Paul Krause particularly edifying. He more eloquently states the same point while citing ancient thinkers such as Cicero and Platinus and their impact on classic Christian philosophy. These notions were once obvious to Christians. This unfortunately is no longer.

What’s hopeful, however, is the recent “re-renovations” of previously destroyed churches, the formation of architectural firms specializing in traditional beauty, and priests interested in offering reverent Masses (especially the TLM).

Quoting only parts from A Defense of Beauty and Excellence from the Classical Tradition (emphases mine):

There are many serious problems facing moderns, but one of the most troubling—and worrying—is the loss and degradation of beauty, not just in the arts, but in society as a whole. Classical Greek philosophy, to which Catholic philosophy largely inherited and preserved, maintained that beauty and morality were intertwined with one another. When Christianity began to spread, the Christian encounter with Greek philosophy was largely positive. However, over the last two centuries, the widening chasm between aesthetics and virtue, and the postmodern assertion that aesthetics is oppressive (and therefore needing deconstruction), has brought immeasurable harm to culture and society.

Culture means life. And for life to be truly flourishing in a teleological sense, Greek, Roman, traditional Jewish and Christian philosophy, always affirmed beauty as an integral aspect of the good life. In his masterpiece, Enneads, Plotinus opened his most famous section—on beauty—by writing, “Beauty addresses itself chiefly to sight; but there is a beauty for the hearing too, as in certain combinations of words and in all kinds of music, for melodies and cadences are beautiful; and minds that lift themselves above the realm of sense to a higher order are aware of beauty in the conduct of life, in actions, in character, in the pursuits of the intellect; and there is the beauty of the virtues. What loftier beauty there may be, yet, our argument will bring to light.”

More…

[Plotinus stated] “Then again, all the virtues are a beauty of the soul, a beauty authentic beyond any of these others.”… As Plotinus explains, the ugly lacks a proper cultivation of reason, torn by lust and discord, lashes out and destroys beauty in the process—which also destroys harmony. It is interesting to note that Plotinus associated the ugly soul with the person preoccupied with only material things.

Catholics, best of all, understand the importance of the union of aesthetics with arête. Beauty, itself, demands a value judgement. There is nothing harsh or unfair with proclaiming this truth. That which is beautiful is good, and that which is ugly, as Plotinus recognized, is neither beautiful nor good. There are natural gradations of beauty. As Augustine explained, the gradations of beauty lift one up closer to Heaven and the Supreme Beauty that is God. This follows the insights of both Plato and Plotinus who recognized that the experience of even low beauty awakens an innate desire for greater beauty that drives one to greater excellence in search for beauty.

Cicero equally noted that people in their folly, are prone to destroy things beautiful and admirable. Nihilism is the end result of anti-intellectualism and relativism, not just the mere absence of values but the abject negation—destruction—of beauty and values.

The quote above is great. Relativism of beauty, truth, and goodness has an end result of not just the simple absence of each mark but a destruction of each. What did we see bishops and priests do in the 70’s? They didn’t just simply start making ugly new churches, they quite literally destroyed the beauty of old churches. The “art” that replaced traditional sacred art in many suburban parishes are kitschy felt banners and horrendously cheesy guitar music. Gross.

It is the inheritance of the classical marriage of aesthetics and moral excellence that had historically been a cornerstone of not just Catholic philosophy, but Western philosophy more generally—inspiring all aspects of culture: art, music, engineering, and literature, to reflect the highest excellence demanded of beauty itself. And in that beauty there exists an irresistible draw for the virtuous to defend all that is beautiful. The compulsion to defend the beautiful, itself, reflects the moral excellence of the person.

…in Confessions, Augustine stated that reading Virgil and Cicero had brought him to belief in God. Beauty is the brilliance of truth, and as Augustine said, “All truth belongs to God.” And we know where that road ultimately ends.

We all should start discerning what is beautiful in our homes and lives. Then we should slowly start surrounding our minds, bodies, and souls not only with what is truthful and good but also is beautiful. ☩

Signs of Hope: Catholic Hippies Getting Defensive and “Fussy” with New, Beautiful Parish Renovations

If you’re looking for a laugh, check out an article in the National “Catholic” Reporter (not to be confused with faithful Register) remarking on the opinion of Michael DeSanctis, a church building “consultant” and theology teacher. The entire article basically reads like that of a cornered, rabid raccoon. There is a stench of defensiveness because these holdovers haunting the turrets of the failed (and erroneously implemented) “reforms” of the Second Vatican Council are watching their utopia of a beige, frozen-in-the-1960s, kumbaya Catholicism slowly dissolve only 50 years later.

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Isn’t this where everyone pictures getting married?

Michael states that a major problem in the Catholic Church today is parishes “re-renovating” churches into making them actually look like Catholic churches again. Many of these dinosaurs–who came of age during the enlightened sexual revolution–cringe at the joyful, passionate, and polite undoing of their “renovations” of the 60’s and 70’s which really was just destruction: the removal of intricate altar rails, the painting over of sacred art, the removal of stained glass depicting saints, the carpeting over of marble or parquet floors, the removal of baptismal fonts, and much more. Read an abbreviated version below with my emphases and comments:

New clericalism is imposing old ways on modern church architecture

Church architecture has become a frontline of the liturgy wars as Catholic churches undergo re-renovations.

Restoration-minded pastors, most who came of age well after Vatican II, are ordering the changes. Gone are what they sometimes disparage as “Pizza Hut” churches. The goal is to restore tradition. They impose altar rails, the placement of the Blessed Sacrament near the altar, and use expensive marble on the floor to seal off the sanctuary area as a polished and exclusive arena for clerical liturgical action. Sometimes the choir gets relegated to a back loft, providing disembodied sound. In other parishes, circular seating arrangements are abandoned in favor of long rows of pews.

Those misguided pastors, if only they came of age during V2, then they would know the damage they are causing! I like how they are “imposing” the placement tabernacles near the altar. Isn’t Rome require the tabernacle be close to the altar (if not centered under the crucifix where it should be)? Why is this so controversial? I also laugh at him saying the choir gets “relegated” to the back loft. It’s actually called the “choir loft”, you know, where the choir is supposed to be. And the “disembodied” sound should sound disembodied quite literally, it should remind us of angels singing.

“Architecture is how we express our liturgy,” DeSanctis recently told NCR in a phone interview, noting that the generation of post-Vatican II priests routinely came out of the sanctuary to interact with their parishioners during liturgy. They built churches with a focus on circular design, to bring the congregation closer together, as well lowered the altar to bring the priest closer to the congregation.

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Everyone is a priest and Father is just one of us!

First off, again, I am pretty certain that, according to GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal), priests are not supposed to “interact” with the congregation outside of distributing the Eucharist. What does he want these priests to do exactly? What exactly does he assume the purpose of Mass is?

But that has changed with the emergence of many younger clergy, schooled in seminary with the thought of Pope Benedict, who re-emphasized clerical distinctions. Across the country, DeSanctis has noticed how many pastors are redesigning the suburban churches built in the 1960s and ’70s with a focus on priestly action.

It’s pretty obvious the disdain for young, faithful Catholics, isn’t it? Sorry that nearly all the Millennials who engaged in the Church right now care about beauty, liturgy, and “distinctions” between clergy and laity. One of the biggest problems of the past 50 years has been the erosion of these distinctions. Many priests came to understand their holy vocation as just another day job (contributing to many behaving very badly) which devastated the number of men interested in the priesthood. It’s not about “priestly action”, it’s about offering the Mass for the congregation, something they can’t do.

In his article, DeSanctis offers a defense for the much-maligned modernist suburban church, with its focus on nurturing community. He begins with St. Jude the Apostle Church in Erie, a product of postwar Catholicism. It is a modernist structure with a distinctive summit cross, built to be “a place of worship completely at home in the modern world.” St. Jude’s, he notes, fit into the modern suburban American landscape, and that was its strength…

However, that model has changed. St. Jude’s has undergone a re-renovation in recent years.

Elaborate candles now serve as boundaries to mark off the sanctuary from the pews. The altar area has now been transformed by marble, visually setting itself off. The new architecture, intended to recapture traditional elements, has a “look at me” clerical mindset, writes DeSanctis.

The sanctuary and pews (nave) are indeed very distinct places and it should be obvious. The altar should be noticeable since that is where the sacrifice of the Mass takes place. And “traditional elements” do not exist for their own glory. The goal of soaring ceilings of artwork and masonry is to direct our gaze towards heaven and the glory of God. It is also to help us see beauty in the world, beyond the mundane and temporal imagery of carpeting, abstract stained glass, and solid-green polyester vestments.

He notes that such changes are examples of “fussy territoriality” expressed through physical changes made by “a wave of priests intent on undoing the achievements of their immediate predecessors, a generation or two of men animated by the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”

Church architecture needs to bring clergy and laity together, notes DeSanctis

Hmmm, who exactly is acting fussy here? And, again, mentioning those awful young priests. Can’t all priests just be old? Can we stop ordaining new priests all together? Their passion for Catholicism is really just messing everything up! The whole problem with this mindset is they are so concerned by their human achievement rather than serving Mother Church. This is why we have visible musicians performing at Mass, priests packing sermons with laugh lines and clapping after Mass. The whole problem is that our worship has been of ourselves; the priest too often looks at the congregation and praises them while the congregation looks back at the priest and laughs or claps. It’s circular entertainment rather than vertical worship.


Quite a funny article because you can smell the defensiveness which means things are going in the right direction. In 500 years, I expect the years between 1960-2030 to be just an odd historical blip on our 2,000+ year timeline. ☩