A couple of years ago, I wrote a provocative piece on my experiences with Eastern Orthodoxy in this country. In it, I wrote that in my past encounters with Orthodoxy, what I usually found was a boutique religion for the white middle class, or alternatively, an ethnic church closed off from the rest of society, and not much else in between. In terms of the former, the most likely suspect to convert to Orthodoxy is a (usually white) religious maverick who wants to re-discover the “New Testament Church” as founded by Jesus Christ without the “popish” baggage that Roman Catholicism has to offer. Compared to the suburban white-washed suburban mega-parishes and the “supersitious” masses of the Latino barrio parish, Orthodoxy seems to have all of it i’s dotted and t’s crossed. There is, of course, the presence of the ethnic Orthodox, who often don’t come to Divine Liturgy on time or only grace the shadow of the church for a baptism or wedding, but they are a small price to pay for being in a church that doesn’t have “idolatrous” statues or the “Filioque” (that sum of all errors). The convert can thus enjoy his “true religion” detached from all of the cultural baggage of the “old country”. He may even seek refuge in an old, long fogotten past, being nostalgic for an “Orthodox Western Europe” that never was.
My own religious project since I wrote that polemical essay two years ago has changed substantially. It is very easy to find out what the Church says about itself. One only need look at such books as Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma or a similar book to find out what you should believe. That is the religious center of the Faith; the safe region, the core of what the clergy say is to believed by all. But what role, if any, does the periphery hold; what is the role of belief that grows spontaneously outside of the control of the “official Church”? And what relation, if any, does the official Church have with these beliefs? Living in the 21st century, and having passed through the paradigm shifts of early modernity, it is very easy to dismiss half of the things that our grandparents believed in as superstition or remnants of a pagan past. My nagging suspicion, however, is that without these things that were at the periphery ( or underground, unofficial, or quasi-forbidden), the center cannot hold. The death of the religious imagination of our forefathers is leading to the death of religion itself.
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