Matthew Sanders: Thoroughly Modern Silly: Modernists recycle philosophies, dress them up and shout down opponents

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18 2014 6:10 p.m. MST

Once again, a new generation of modernists falls prey to recycled arguments. Such philosophies regularly find friendly homes in the halls of academia, amidst media voices and in popular entertainment.

A collection of thoughts recently published by various local media recommends that the LDS Church should discard core beliefs and accept “modern reality.” It is yet another example of classical modernist assertions that religion needs to be retired, the family needs reform, and traditional morals are outdated.

Let me offer four points that reframe this philosophical shortfall.

1) Modernism is not new

The core doctrine of today’s modernists is that traditional ideals should be dismantled in favor of a “new” philosophy that aligns with the fluid desires of its followers. As a result, its followers tend to equate anything challenging traditional institutions or pressing boundaries of time-honored principles as “sophisticated and forward thinking.”

This naïve quest for modern sophisticates can be seen in Millie Dillmount, the central figure of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Set in the roaring 20s, the young girl “escapes” the confining influence of Kansas to pursue her dreams in “modern” New York only to find its promises empty altogether. In the parody, audiences delight in the ridiculousness of Millie and her peers who are repeatedly whipped about by fleeting modernist trends, fashion and popularity.

This folly is mirrored in a bevy of recent calls for faith-based institutions to catch up with the times. For instance, one local columnist recently called for the LDS Church to “modernize” its Word of Wisdom, which teaches abstinence from harmful substances like alcohol and tobacco. But what is modern about addiction?

The Centers for Disease Control reports that tobacco and alcohol abuse combine to cause more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. per year but also cost society $197 billion and $224 billion in economic losses per year, respectively. While tobacco abuse results in more deaths, alcohol maims the living in alarming ways — where its use accounts for two-thirds of violence toward “intimate partners,” addiction of babies and horrific traffic accidents.

For the life of me, I can’t find anything particularly “modern” about such tragedies. It is also ironic that modern scientific insight actually validates the LDS Church’s historic code of health.

Modernists have argued for excess in every society throughout history. There is nothing new or modern about relaxing social mores.

2) New isn’t always better

A student of history can easily identify recurring fads that draw followers into believing new is somehow better simply from its novelty.

Some seek to remove the moorings of societies’ most resilient organizations and replace them with new programs and standards for personal conduct, with either unknown benefit or likely negative consequences.

Modernism preaches excess as a fundamental doctrine, which runs headlong into traditional principles of self-governance and civic virtue. As we know, Rome famously feted the modernists of its day with lavish feasts and decadent parties. So, what is so new about indulgence and permissiveness, and where is the proof of its value to society?

Modernists purvey sexual permissiveness, all while ignoring the tsunami of sexually transmitted diseases infecting 10 million of our youths per year.

Some institutions should have our respect for their tenure and their resilience. Among the oldest are the family and religion. They have outlasted kingdoms, empires, states, collectives and fashions. They have weathered wars, epidemics, natural disasters and financial crisis. Yet they remain.

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