History, Hope & iPhones

Robert P. Imbelli

I have long admired Andrew J. Bacevich’s writings. His style is limpid and often eloquent. His analyses are penetrating and challenging. One does not read him without seriously reconsidering one’s own views. His recent essay “Selling Our Souls” (Commonweal, August 12) is no exception. One need not be a teacher to smile with recognition at his description of the way young people treat their mobile devices: “The smartphone has become an amulet. It is a sacred object to be held and caressed and constantly attended to.”

Yet the thrust of the essay leads less to delight than to dismay. For, drawing upon Henry Adams’s classic symbols, the Virgin and the Dynamo, Bacevich paints an altogether bleak portrait of our postmodern predicament. His depiction of the plight of advanced capitalist societies, the United States in particular, resounds like a quasi-liturgical renunciation. America’s works and pomp resemble ancient idolatries in new and more alluring vesture. The denizens of the information age “in the guise of exercising freedom…engage in a form of idolatry.”

Bacevich’s conjuring of the “ominous forces” abroad in the land seems bereft of any hope of exorcism. The church no longer provides a “bulwark against the disorders afflicting the age.” Moreover, his is no mere harangue against a “dishonored and discredited” institution. Bacevich detects a much...

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.