Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World (2010)

After reading Torture and Eucharist, I needed a refresher in After Virtue. Wilson’s Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World gave me that refresher and more.

Wilson lays out the central themes of After Virtue, applying them to the church and to Christian theology. He thus divides his book by the following chapters: Living with Our History, Fragmented Worlds, The Failure of the Enlightenment Project, Resisting the Nietzschean Temptation, Recovering Tradition, The New Monasticism.

He begins with the notion of “history-as-argument.” The church lives its tradition in the midst of the world for the world. The living of a lived tradition offers an “extended argument” as to the truth of that tradition.

Next, Wilson lays out the notion of fragmented worlds. For understanding MacIntyre and After Virtue, the notion of fragmentation is most helpful. We do not, according to MacIntyre and Wilson, live in a pluarlist world. Instead, we live fragmented world. Drawing on MacIntyre’s hypothetical world where people use the many scientific formulas and procedures but without understanding that they combine to create a consistent system, Wilson shows how the world has become a moral inconsistency. The Enlightment Project neglected Aristotelian notions of practices, virtues, and telos (i.e., the end or goal) in favor of morality based on “reason alone.”

As chapter 3 relates, MacIntyre shows how the Enlightenment Project had to fail. According to After Virtue, Aristotelian ethics grounds (1) where we are; (2) where we should be; and (3) how to get from where we are to where we should be. According to MacIntyre and Wilson, the Enlightenment cut out the second item above. The Enlightenment offered us an explanation of where we are and how to get to be where we should be. However, by sloughing off telos, the Enlightenment lost any way to coherently explain where we should be. So, Enlightenment thinkers came up with lots of options upon which to base morality, saying that in the end, it would be left to each individual to choose the morally correct choice. That choice is tricky without a notion of where to aim, a telos for which to strive.

The Nietzschean Temptation, then, suggests that life must be reduced either to morality or power. Since morality cannot be coherent under the Enlightenment Project, the will to power is left, according to Nietzsche. “This Nietzschean will to power is not the will of the individual, but rather is that of a larger, impersonal reality that marks and ultimately controls all life” (43). If there is no basis for morality, then there’s just power.

If, however, we won’t fall prey to the Nietzschean Temptation, then we must, according to MacIntyre and Wilson, choose the Aristolelian story. That means recapturing a telos for morality. This is only done by habituation of good practices to form a character that is consistent with our telos. Practice and virtue are needed to overcome the fragmentation of our world.

Wilson concludes his book with a discussion of New Monasticism, a term taken from MacIntyre’s call for a new St. Benedict. He says that based on the argument outlined far, far too simplistically above, the New Monasticism will have four features: “a recovery of the telos of this world that is revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ;” an orientation that’s “for the whole people of God. That is,…it will also not divide the people of God into religious and secular “vocations” (60); discipline (61); and a desire for “deep theological reflection and commitment” (62). These seem like four things that the whole of the church needs.

So, we need to recapture a desire to orient everything we do toward the telos of the Gospel proclamation and the Kingdom of God, discerning the spirits for what is godly and what is caesarly. We need to see that each of us has a part to play in the body of Christ. We need to understand that growing toward our telos will be an ongoing process that requires disciplined process. And we need to study and spend time with God everyday.

May we have the course to do meditate on these four marks of the New Monasticism for the good for the whole body.

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