It seems that one of the most thematic struggles of 21st century American life is the search for community. And the younger generations are where it seems to be particularly prevalent.
American life has changed and changed quickly. Hyper-mobility causes people to move all over the place (and not just once), the internet helps people be everywhere but nowhere at the same time, and busyness can root out good, relationship-building downtime. Normal American life has become fragmented and isolating. In short, a natural, organic sense of community, which takes place, permanence and time is challenged.
So younger generations are hungry for community.
More broadly, the “princes of the powers of the air” today seem to have launched – on the backs of capitalism, socialism, consumerism, technologism and secularity – a noxious spirit of anonymity. Like in WWI when gas was slowly but menacingly sprayed out over no-man’s-land into the opposing trench, this spirit is creeping over the globe. It goes hand in hand with Pope Francis’ famous “globalization of indifference”. The dictatorial hand of Hell invades and seduces us into viewing the world in largely economic, mechanized ways, with most of our quality time spent on screens, most of our transportation happening in metal boxes that conceal the person within and most of our interactions happening through systems instead of through people.
The devil is always banally predictable. Of course, there is nothing that the devil hates more than personality itself. That’s what God is! Satan wants to rip the face off of everything. He wants to turn everything into homogenized, numerical lumps of thing. In all of our acts and thoughts, he wants to tempt us toward choosing against personhood. This is essentially what sin is; but this can also be born out in our lives in non-sinful ways that nonetheless cloud our vision of God, who is Personality Itself.
Satan cries and slobbers at no longer being able to inhabit distance, that is to say at no longer being a person… A personality empty because undone of his own person, Satan attempts to undo us of what makes us person…
Thus, in inflicting temptation, Satan tries to disfigure the person in man… temptation consists in the confrontation between a negative personality [Satan], negative because already murderous of his own person, and a person who doubts his own personality: in temptation, a person fights to empty a personality of his person. (Jean-Luc Marion)
This is why we need the culture of encounter. A true encounter has occurred when, through the gas of anonymity and estrangement, personality is experienced and shared. A community starts to happen when there is a common place, permanence and time, when encounter can become the norm. Then and only then can our deepest needs be met. Then can I bear the weight of my own mystery, rejoice in the presence of my friends and be transformed in love.
We live in an age of anonymity. Has there ever been a harder time and place to develop a culture of encounter – a true sense of community – than in the 21st century West? And unfortunately, the gas discussed above has infiltrated the Catholic Church in the States. Despite what happens on the altar, most parishes aren’t known for vibrant communal life. So, what can we do to create this sense of community in our time? This is a great question for our age. At the very least, it takes place + permanence + time + Spirit.
There is something that brings community like nothing else in life, though. Mission. We’ll discuss that in the next post.