Christendom, Modernity, Postmodernity, and What Comes Next, Part 2

On Tuesday, I posted the first half of a description of how I would characterize a periodization of history broken into Christendom, modernity, postmodernity, and what comes next.  This post completes that description.

Let me reiterate my three caveats: 1. All of my answers for “what comes next” are just guesses.  Since it comes next, it’s only partially here now and thus hard to discern.  2. I’m using the definition of postmodernity from last week that sees it as a transitional period between modernity and what comes next (though the answers also draw on postmodernity as critique).  In many cases, there will be a lot of overlap between the answers for postmodernity and one of those other two periods.  3. The answers below are brief and therefore simplistic.  If you’d like to see me elaborate on a question, indicate that in the comments.

Where is history going?

Christendom: The world is likely going to decay and fall apart.  People should work hard to prevent that from happening.

Modernity: The world is on a path toward ever greater progress.  People should get on board with the progress train.

Postmodernity: We can’t say where history is going because such an answer depends on metanarratives, and all metanarratives should be distrusted.

What comes next: The world is becoming an ever more globally connected and networked place.

How should government be organized and what is its role?

Christendom: Government should be in the hands of kings and nobility.  Government is for reinforcing social hierarchy and protecting all from violence.  The role of government is fairly limited (mostly taxes and war) and the amount of bureaucracy needed to carry out its functions is small.

Modernity: Government should be in the hands of nation-states, which increasingly (but not always!) became democratic.  Government is for the general good of those governed (at least rhetorically, if not in fact).  The role of government is much expanded, including not only taxes and war, but also the regulation of increasing areas of the economy and personal life.  As the role of government expands, an increasing amount of bureaucracy is needed to carry out the functions of government.

Postmodernity: The form and role of government are pretty much the same as in modernity.  However, rather than being seen as for the general good, governments are an arena in which competing interest groups can assert their claims and try to achieve power.

What comes next: I’m not sure yet.  Postmodernity’s move toward fragmentation and decentralization makes me wonder if government will increasingly be provided on a decentralized basis with many government functions subcontracted out.  If what comes next is as communal as I think it will be, government may also increasingly be in the form of communal norms agreed to by all who seek membership in the community and enforced by communal gatekeepers (think about how Wikipedia works).  It also seems like there will be a shifting of power away from the nation state toward either more global or more local authorities.

How should the church be organized?

Christendom: The church is universal.  It is also hierarchical, with bishops, monks, and increasingly scholars as competing sources of hierarchical power.

Modernity: The church is national or denominational.  Catholicism continues to centralize.  Among Protestants, more organizational models proliferate, from episcopal through congregational.  Many of these models vest authority in ministers or associations of ministers.  Denominations frequently embrace democracy, at least in principle.  Many denominations evolve bureaucratic structures to carry out various forms of Christian work.

Postmodernity: Organization is overrated.  Denominations aren’t relevant.  Instead, individual megachurches successfully market themselves to particular markets and provide a comprehensive set of services and ministries for members.

What comes next: I see no reason to believe that organizational diversity will decrease in the future.  I do think that parachurch organizations, church networks, and ad-hoc groups of churches will be increasingly important and take on some of the roles previously played by denominations.

What should the relationship be between churches and the state?

Christendom: There should be a close relationship, with church and state supporting each other and both working to create a stable society.

Modernity: While states support of churches still exists, increasingly the church and state are seen as separate realms, and this separation is seen as a good thing.

Postmodernity: Separation of church and state still exists, but religious forces have increasingly important political consequences.

What comes next: I’m not sure how this question will be answered yet, but I think it’s one with very important consequences for religion, government, and the prospects for peace.

How should civil society be organized?

Christendom: Non-church, non-state groups are organized by ascription, based on set characteristics of people.  For instance, guilds form around occupation and kin networks are formed through birth and marriage.

Modernity: Non-church, non-state groups are organized according to the voluntary principle.  Individuals can choose for themselves which groups to participate in.  Groups are then organized into formal and increasingly bureaucratic organizations.

Postmodernity: Formal organizations are just a way for some to assert power over others.  Do your own thing.  Or join groups based on shared identity: racial, ethnic, sexual, political, etc.  Competing interest groups ensure that no one group dominates society.

What comes next: My guess here is that non-church, non-state groups will increasingly be organized along social network models.  These models preserve the voluntary component from modernity, but are less likely to have the same sort of formal structure.  Groups may also become more ad-hoc or project-based.

What are the important forms of communication?

Christendom: Face-to-face communication; handwritten books and letters.

Modernity: Printing! Face-to-face communication and handwritten letters don’t go away though the variety of information communicated in these ways is less because there are other avenues available.

Postmodernity: TV!  Printing doesn’t go away.  Face-to-face communication doesn’t go away, but the type of information being communicated directly person-to-person is much more limited than in Christendom.

What comes next: The internet!  TV and printing don’t go away, nor does face-to-face communication.  Of course, there may arise new forms of communication I am not yet able to foresee, which would change everything.

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