Liquid Modernity

From Rev. Jeremy Simons, Cathedral Chaplain
September 10, 2018

With Bryn Athyn Church’s Semi-Annual Meeting coming up next week, as well as the launch of a new school year, I have naturally been thinking about modernism and postmodernism.

I recently heard about a similar concept, called “liquid modernity.” Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article about it:

 “Zygmunt Bauman, who introduced the idea of liquid modernity, wrote that its characteristics are about the individual, namely increasing feelings of uncertainty and the privatization of ambivalence. It is a kind of chaotic continuation of modernity, where a person can shift from one social position to another in a fluid manner. Nomadism becomes a general trait of the ‘liquid modern’ man as he flows through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and sometimes more—such as political or sexual orientation—excluding himself from traditional networks of support, while also freeing himself from the restrictions or requirements those networks impose.”

The traditional modernist sees organizations as the way to improve the world. So for example, we may support the United States, the Republican party, the General Church, the Academy, and Bryn Athyn Church as the way to make the world, and our own lives, better. We therefore join them, attend their events, volunteer our time, support them financially, defend their reputation, and do what we can to build them up.

Postmodernism is seen as the inverse of that, with people focusing on the weaknesses of these modern organizations, and so being reluctant to join or take part, and instead going their own way.

But this way of seeing it – liquid modernity – is a slightly different take. We are just as socially oriented as ever and have just as great a need for community. But our allegiances are continually shifting. I am especially struck by the statement about a person “excluding himself from traditional networks of support, while also freeing himself from the restrictions or requirements those networks impose.”

The weakness of this approach seems obvious to me. It makes me more inclined to support our beloved community and church, even while acknowledging that all organizations have shortcomings. A stable and loyal population is immensely valuable to a community and enables it to play its role to its members, neighbors, and the wider community for the benefit of everyone.

This says to me that it is good to take part, show up, volunteer, contribute and make our voices heard. I look forward to what this year will bring to our church.


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