Losing and gaining our religion

4 05 2009

church

More thoughts on American religiosity

(Somehow, I think that I have written this post before, so maybe this is a throw-away. Feel free to not read it and go about your business. There is not much new here.)

Those who had one of the more clever statistics professors in college will no doubt know the quip: “There are lies, damn lies… and then there are statistics.” This can no doubt be our reaction when we read the latest Pew Forum survey on the numbers of Americans leaving the confessions of their childhood. The long and the short of it is that while Americans in general tend to be a shifty bunch, American Catholics have the most wanderlust when it comes to what they believe. Ten percent of the American population consists of ex-Catholics, and this can no doubt be proven both from quantitative and anecdotal evidence that no doubt many of my readers can provide. According to many sources, the only thing holding up the Catholic Church in this country demographically is immigration, but even that is a shaky source since immigrants tend to also migrate from their religious roots once they get to this country.

There are of course the naysayers: those who say that while the mass migration from the Catholic Church reduces our numbers, those few who come in increase the quality of the Church. To those people I can only say that the Church, if we read the Gospels closely, is really a numbers game. The importance is not the quality of the people coming in, but rather how many come in. It doesn’t matter if they have doctorates, have read all of the apologetics materials available through EWTN, or sign on the dotted line of every single Catholic doctrine. If that were the case, St. Francis Xavier was wasting his time baptizing those thousands of neophytes that he probably had precious little time to evangelize. Or those friars in Mexico who made sure that the only thing needed for an indigenous person to be baptized was that he know the basic prayers in whatever language. The Church is a hospital, not an elitist political party that needs well-formed militant cadre. As much as we would like to complain about the quality of the Christian population, we must remember that in the end the salvation of souls may not look pretty, just as hospitals and doctors’ offices can be rather bloody and unsightly places. That’s just the nature of the business.

Having been one of these part-time religious migrants, I can say that there is much to be said for staying in the confession of one’s youth in a consumerist society such as our own. It was blogger Daniel Mitsui, in a post on his page that I can no longer find, (if he is reading this he can perhaps post it for us) who said that even if family tradition is not the best reason for maintaining one’s childhood religious practice, it is still a really good one. In the American context, the self-centered spectacle of the altar call has taken off due to the proliferation of various electronic media. This cannot help but color any type of religious conversion: it all comes down to a matter of choice where the autonomous individual is sovereign. Unlike in the early Church, there are no serious consequences for breaking with the mainline religion of our society, primarily due to the fact that no such religion exists. The chosing of one’s religion thus can be reduced to factors of aesthetic, social, and intellectual taste. To think that the tales of such conversions have any metahistorical importance borders on narcissism. It assumes that, in such a complicated set of historical and cultural factors, the individual is more than competent to make the right choice, and those who don’t make the same decisions are trapped in classic existential mauvais foi.

Even if I know the Catholic Church is the true Church, I am very reluctant to play the apologetics game because I think such a game hurts all of the players involved. If we are merely trying to peddle Catholicism as “the better product”, I simply do not see how we can win, and I think that those “damn lies” called statistics are backing me up on this one. As long as we play by the rules of the consumerist game, evangelical “megachurch” Protestantism will run circles around us since it was created in an atmosphere that thinks in blurbs and soundbites. Catholicism, on the other hand, is a religion based on tradition, stability, and hierarchy; it thinks in terms of centuries, not minutes. In an age where people have little patience for the wisdom of history, it is no wonder that American people are trickling out of the Catholic Church in significant numbers. We live in an age when people think the study of history is a waste of time.

On the other hand, such commercialization of religion can lead to a fundamentalism that is akin to the “loyalty to the brand” of modern capitalism. Just as today’s kids need to wear all of the newest gear, have all the latest songs on their MP3 player, or know all of the latest jargon, so the fundamentalist will seek religious fulfillment through affiliation with the “correct form” of his religion. This will mean devotion to certain figures (the Pope, certain bishops, spiritual writers), certain causes (pro-life issues, cultural issues, etc.), and certain outward ceremonial or aesthetic phenomena (the Latin Mass, liturgical dancing, etc). A jargon will also develop, as well as a general attitude of “us vs. them”. Even within their own confession, they seek to austracize people they feel aren’t “with it”, who may not have all of their i’s dotted and t’s crossed, and who feel more ambivalent about “the team” than they do. There arises a perfectionism and an exclusionism that blurs the line between ideology and faith.

The Conservative Blog for Peace pointed out to me a comment by a “Sicilian Woman” who was raised Catholic, fell away, and came back in a somewhat confused search for religious stability. In my own comment on this elsewhere, I wrote the following:

Even if my own formation is pretty thorough, and I read St. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine for my own fun and edification, I really dislike the “religious hive mind” that plagues much of modern religiosity, a mentality that, for better or for worse, my immediate family doesn’t share. Such a hive mind is fed by the Internet, on-line discussion fora, Facebook, etc.

I think her approach is not ideal, but it is a fresh and honest one. There is something quite inhuman in the rhetoric of those who want to chastise “bad Catholics”. It sort of reminds me of that scene in the Simpsons where the preacher holds up the Bible and says, “according to this we can’t even go to the bathroom”. There is a way to read Christian doctrine and asceticism that would make this the case.

Christianity is hard, and we all suck at it. Before we get on other people’s cases, we should look to our own peccadillos first and figure out if they are really better than the sins of “lax Catholics”. Chances are, they probably aren’t. And chances are, our own triumphalist rhetoric is merely a cover-up for some very deep and destructive doubts.

After writing this, I began to think of the “liberal priests” of my youth, those who I tend to think about now with little sympathy or affection. I always thought that they were “wishy-washy”, unorthodox, and causing all of the problems in the Church. I still think that is the case to a great extent. But I am beginning to feel a bit of sympathy for them, even for their liberalism. We live in a time where belief is hard, where many things that we once took for granted are going up in smoke. This may be a self-absorbed thing to say, but from where I am standing, a Catholic who says that he has absolutely no problems with the belief and praxis of the Church is either slow-witted or lying. For that reason, everyone falling in line and tuning into the “hive mind” is not a panacea: it is a pipe dream. Maybe we all are a little unorthodox. I know I am. The trick is, at least for me, to never codify your own views against those of the Church. That is what we all need to do, and it is no easy task.


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40 responses

15 05 2009
FrGregACCA

Lucian: Not sure Marx paid very much attention to THAT dialectic, one of his shortcomings, actually.

14 05 2009
Lucian

sometimes it is the trees that are important, sometimes the forest.

The Marxist dialectic relationship between individual and society. 8) — Just kiddin`… πŸ˜€

14 05 2009
diane

Father Greg, I’m not sure Franky Schaeffer has exactly mellowed. “Gone completely off the deep end” might be more accurate, LOL!

14 05 2009
FrGregACCA

Lucian: sometimes it is the trees that are important, sometimes the forest. Here, it seems to be a little bit of both.

13 05 2009
Lucian

there are exceptions, of course

Why,… of course! 😐

Well, Father, as I’ve once heard it said in a light-teeny-TV-series: it’s not the ‘big picture’ that counts in life, but those cherished little moments.

P.S.: Oh, yeah: and I also like(d) Pope John Paul the Second very very much (You know, besides the usual non-Arthuro-Vasquez-ian, non-bourgeois, non-Ochlophobic, American, Protestant, teen-age, TV-wisdom) — go figure!

13 05 2009
FrGregACCA

Lucian, as I said, there are exceptions, of course; however, I have long followed the careers of a number of former Protestants, Evangelicals Anglicans, to whom my statement clearly applies. The most obvious example, I think, is Frank Schaeffer (Fr. Stephen Freeman as well.)

13 05 2009
Lucian

The South is where Catholicism is thriving

You sure ’bout that, Diane? 8) πŸ˜€

Orthodoxy will do that

Don’t You believe him!! 😐

13 05 2009
diane

LOL, Perry and Daniel claim it was “Origenism.” I’m too dumb to have a clue what that means….

13 05 2009
FrGregACCA

Origen???? Origen??? Origen was an EASTERN dude.

Maybe they meant Tertullian…

13 05 2009
FrGregACCA

LOL. Anselm. It was defintely Anselm πŸ˜‰

13 05 2009
diane

Fr. Greg….

“Mellow” probably isn’t the best word, but I can’t offhand think of the mot juste to express: “Person A no longer tells me I’m ‘graceless,’ claims my church is utterly evil, or spends all his/her time insisting that the West went completely off the rails at the time of [take your pick]: (a) Origen; (b) Augustine; (c) Anselm; (d) the Evil Franks.”

12 05 2009
FrGregACCA

Diane, I’m sure there are exceptions all around to any such general statement, but yes, that is what I mean (althought I’m not sure that “mellow” is quite the right word, and I also think that there is a way of being non-ecumenical without being “rabid”).

12 05 2009
diane

Fr Greg, you have me intrigued. What do you mean, exactly? That Orthodox converts go through phases of rabid convertitis followed by mellowing?

I know a few Internet Orthodox who have never emerged from the “rabid convertitis” phase…but then, OTOH, I know more than a few (usually the more thoughtful folks) who did eventually mellow.

Alas, I know at least one person who started out very mellow, ecumenical, etc., and then became increasingly hard-line. Last time I wrote to him — just to ask how he was doing — he didn’t answer, which I took to mean that perhaps his priest didn’t want him so much as sharing a few pixels’ worth of cyberspace with the “heterodox,” LOL!

12 05 2009
FrGregACCA

“Hope this thread doesn’t die. I was really enjoying it β€” even apart from my utter shock (a pleasant shock!!) at seeing that Owen has apparently mellowed quite a bit lately, LOL!”

Orthodoxy will do that…

12 05 2009
diane

Hope this thread doesn’t die. I was really enjoying it — even apart from my utter shock (a pleasant shock!!) at seeing that Owen has apparently mellowed quite a bit lately, LOL!

I just wanted to add one thought. I think our sense of Catholicism’s alleged moribund state may depend very largely on where we live. In the northeast, for instance, it’s all doom and gloom and closed churches. Down here in the South, Catholicism is booming (and not entirely because of immigrants). We cannot ordain priests or build parishes fast enough.

That’s why friends of mine are trying to build a seminary here (with the bishop’s OK): tedeumfoundation.org

The South is where Catholicism is thriving — and, while we are leaching members to evangelicalism, we are also gaining converts galore.

11 05 2009
diane

Thinking of my own future children, I think we have to be frank that an absence of a traditional Catholic/ Orthodox / whatever culture will mean that the chances of them maintaining the religion they are raised with are quite grim.

As the mom of two teenage boys, let me say that this is where the “domestic church” plays a crucial role. I’m a very visual person, so, for me, the “domestic Church” basically means plastering our home with statues, icons, pictures of the Sacred Heart, etc. etc.

When I was a little girl growing up in an Irish Catholic ghetto in Dorchester, Mass., our next-door neighbor was an elderly lady whose apartment resembled a shrine — it was wall-to-wall Holy Cards. I used to play there a lot, banging on her piano and playing with her niece’s huge doll house. I truly believe that I am still Catholic today because of Katy Day’s apartment, which absolutely *oozed* “holy.”

6 05 2009
Leah

“The thing I’m wondering is where is the sharp disconnect between the wildly successful evangelization in the early years of the church and later in Japan and elsewhere and what is happening in modern secular societies. All these places hardly started as receptive to the Christian message yet people came in droves.”

The successful evangelization campaigns of the past occurred in societies that had no prior contact with Christianity and didn’t have pre-existing baggage to color their perceptions. In comparison, almost everyone in Europe and North America has some connection to Christianity, either by being exposed to it in some fashion or by being a member of some Christian church or sect. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the majority of Jews, even the secular ones, would never consider Christianity because of past persecution by individuals calling themselves Christians. Then you have various individuals who associate Christianity with imperialism and racism, because of the role of missionaries in aiding and abetting colonialization and the slave trade. For many in the West, Christianity isn’t this revolutionary, new philosophy that provides a new way of living and dying, it’s just rhetoric that props up an oppressive status quo. The emergence of mega-churches that look like malls, the use of powerpoints during sermons, and the Emergent Church movement are all essential attempts at re-branding what is to many a tarnished brand name. Plus, the Catholic Church has to compete with evangelicalism and pentecostalism. Establishing the Church in a particular place requires establishing a complex infrastructure, whereas all an evangelical has to do to set up shop is have a bible and enough space for a meeting.

6 05 2009
The Shepherd

The thing I’m wondering is where is the sharp disconnect between the wildly successful evangelization in the early years of the church and later in Japan and elsewhere and what is happening in modern secular societies. All these places hardly started as receptive to the Christian message yet people came in droves.

In any case there is certainly a large element of the absurd in the whole thing.

6 05 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Owen,

Thinking of my own future children, I think we have to be frank that an absence of a traditional Catholic/ Orthodox / whatever culture will mean that the chances of them maintaining the religion they are raised with are quite grim. Say what you want about “closed-minded” societies where you were shunned for not going with the general religious flow, but under normal conditions, that is how people tend maintain the beliefs of the ancestors. Gawking at pictures of the Pope in his fancy new robes, or debating essence/energy distinctions in God on erudite Internet fora are for the few and eccentric. As I have said in the past, these things are also manifestly unhealthy. But in a sense it is the only way that many isolated people will get any sort of religious comradery, be it in their small, scattered Orthodox parishes or the wasteland of the white-bread, “Catholic-lite” suburban parish.

Saying things like, “what we need are more saints” may sound pious and oh-so-correct, but it is like planning to build castles in the clouds. You only get saints if you get believers, and you only get believers if you have a captive audience. Secularism makes a capitve audience virtually impossible.

In this climate, we all have to chose, but let us not get carried away. Of course I want people to convert to the Catholic Church. My underlying problem has always been: “which one?” Can I tell a random Baptist person on the Internet to show up at his random Catholic church and ask to convert? More like “caveat emptor”. In some cases, the priest there won’t even let him convert, or at least discourage him. Do I then say to the person, “go to X Catholic Church and ask for Father So-and-So since he is faithful to the Magisterium”. What does that make everyone else? Or do I do as some Internet Catholics and bitch and moan about the Church in America and say, “it’s okay, because I am loyal to my German shepherd”. Talk about being delusional, and borderline Gnostic. I am more than happy to say when looking at the Catholic Church, “this is from God, and I have to accept it”. But can I say that to my hypothetical Baptist? In spite of my “high ecclesiology”, I am not going to try to bullshit people saying that the grass is greener over here and Catholicism doesn’t have the structural problems of other confessions. Humanly speaking, its problems are far worse.

My own goal has always been to at least recover what it means to just be a human being. If I can give my kids a sense of what the good, true, and beautiful are, maybe they have a shot at being good Christians. I have seen it too many times in “orthodox” families: shoving religion down their throat can only go so far, especially with males. Maybe it is time to focus more on the foundation before we start gazing at the floor, the walls, and the ceiling.

6 05 2009
ochlophobist

One time, when I was working at a theological bookstore, one of my coworkers asked the (then Lutheran) theologian Bruce Marshall why he did not convert to Catholicism, given a number of his stated positions on various matters.

Marshall replied that he was following the advice of Rahner, who had said that one should not convert until he was certain that his current communion was not the Church. Marshall said that he was not yet certain that his Lutheran church was not the Church. Apparently he either gained that certainty or gave up on Rahner’s advice.

But even those sorts of “certainties,” when found on a popular apologetics level, are being bought and sold today. We Orthodox have our pop apologists who issue forth their bullet point arguments for us and against all the thems. One sees these in glossy paperbacks. The form is no different from the apologetic form these folks used as Evangelicals. They were certain then too.

I was not absolutely certain of the truth of the Orthodox faith when I converted, but I was willing to assent to it. Even though I hesitated for 10 years before conversion, there was still the sense of “let’s try this on for size.” Perhaps my children will try something else, and their children something else, as the cafeteria gets bigger and bigger.

6 05 2009
ochlophobist

Thanks all for your comments.

Arturo,

One of the advantages that I think the RCC, for all of its modern problems, has, it that there is a spirit there, at your typical neighborhood Mass anyway, of “this is from God, take it or leave it.” Unless one is an ardent Trad, one can more or less accept this from parish to parish – even those Trads still in communion with Rome can often bite their tongues and suffer through the mess in front of them.

In American Orthodoxy, I don’t know how possible this approach is. The various camps of trad, baptidox, sort of mainliner OCA of the St. Vlad’s sort, GOArch with an organ, and so forth – these all assume that their Orthodox expression is the expression, and they are, well, trying to sell it. They also often reject the Orthodoxy of those whose expressions are far from theirs as being an authentic Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church in America today is a competition between groups that are marketing themselves. I understand that there is some of this in the American RCC as well, but it does not feel as integrated a psychosis as it does in American Orthodoxy. My brother in law is getting Chrismated soon. His Antiochian priest would not allow his rebaptism (he was baptized by a Nashota House grad Anglo-Catholic priest in an Episcopal Church as an infant in the early 70s). His fiancΓ© has spent quite a bit of time in Greece and Romania, and is well aware of the complications that occur when a convert does not come into the Church via Baptism. In America, this issue is one of many that cause a convert to have to choose, even within Orthodoxy – for my brother in law could go to another Orthodox parish and be rebaptized. The whole situation is so disgustingly full of consumer choice. I was received by Chrismation, and I am kind of glad that when that happened I did not know about all the complications I know about now (as you know, I cannot now enter the nave of many monasteries on Athos, and cannot commune at the Ephraimite monasteries here).

Leah,

Your point about the lack of shunning is a good one. I have gone quite far from the Baptist church of my upbringing, and my parents (though it irritates my mother) don’t make much of a fuss about it. I see them most days, and we get along fine. Frankly, this lack of shunning assumes a sort of radical ecumenism. I take my parent’s commitment to their Baptist faith less seriously because they do so little to shun my rejection of it.

At the same time, I really wonder what I would do if one of my daughter’s left Orthodoxy. I doubt I would behave much differently than my parents have toward me.

6 05 2009
Leah

Traditional religious cultures are also maintained by harsh sanctions imposed against apostasizers. For example, although a great deal of time and energy was spent trying to evangelize Jews in medieval Europe, these efforts were never very successful. Aside from theological and historical factors, one reason must have been the precarious situation that a convert would have faced. Becoming Christian would have required abandoning your family, friends, and entire way of life forever to face an unknown fate in the wider world. The situation is similar to modern individuals leaving Amish or Haredi communities; once you leave, you really can’t go back, because you’re not part of the group any longer.

Even as recently as 50 years ago or so, it was common for Catholics to shun members of their families who got divorced or married outside the Church. This is what happened to Kathleen Kennedy when she announced her intentions to marry the divorced Anglican Peter Wentworth-FitzWilliam. When she and FitzWilliam died in a plane crash while trying to get Joseph Kennedy’s blessing, Rose Kennedy took it as a sign that God was punishing her daughter for her illicit nuptial plans. Consequently, Joseph, Sr. was the only Kennedy represented at the funeral. Can anyone imagine such a thing happening today, when invalid marriages seem to be the norm rather than the exception? Today, when an adult child leaves the Church, the parents might sigh and then pray to St. Monica, but it’s highly unlikely that the offender would be permanently banned from family gatherings. While a lot of ink is spilled fretting about reclaiming Catholic identity, very little is spent figuring out how to re-establish the norms that kept said identity in place in the past.

5 05 2009
Sophia Marsden

Sorry for going a bit mad there… lol

5 05 2009
Adrian

I wonder if Mother Angelica prays to the Powerful Hand…

5 05 2009
not sure where to put this here or in OBOB - Christian Forums

[…] in OBOB Today I read two articles. One is by a Catholic who’s blog I regularly read and enjoy: Losing and gaining our religion Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity The other was on a website sent to me by someone from the Orthodox Church in Lampeter: To convert […]

5 05 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Of course, it needs to be pointed out that a lot of people convert in this country because they marry into a particular confession.

5 05 2009
Sophia Marsden

If everyone on the wrong side of the schism, whichever side that is, goes to hell, because, you are quite right, religion was about culture and geography…

Does that… make sense to you? Either Cyril of Tyrov is in hell or St. Thomas More is? Etc.?

I think if I died right now I would probably go to hell, otherwise why would the devil be so insistent that I should give up to despair and kill myself?

But that doesn’t make it any easier to work out what to do.

5 05 2009
random Orthodox chick

From my own experience, peddling Orthodoxy in the spiritual marketplace we have today has never quite sat well with me, but I’ve always asked myself: ”What can we do? This is how we are talking to people in their own language. There are many (!) consequences with this, but it’s better than nothing (right?).”

I converted to Orthodoxy (and still without my catchy bumpersticker), but hey, black Protestantism was getting less traditional Baptist and more Word of Faith/’prosperity gospel’ in my area, so as much as I love my grandma…

5 05 2009
Arturo Vasquez

I really am not saying these things to put people down. It really is just to make people realize that for about 75% of Christian history, and even moreso recently, religious decisions were far from an individual choice. Culture, politics and geography determined what church you would belong to, and what religion you would practice. The way religion is shaped now is based solely on individual preference and taste.

In the Catholic Church especially, particularly since Vatican II, there is much talk of a Christian convert “entering into full communion with the Catholic Church”. I think that is a repugnant idea. People should only enter the Church because their immortal soul is at risk; there is little talk now of our “separated brethren” being in peril of burning in Hell for all eternity because of their heresy and schism. If that is not the case, what is the point in converting, really? Why aren’t there convert blogs saying, “boy when I was a Protestant, I was on a one way trip to perdition”? In this sense, such conversions can only be discerned as being purely a matter of purely personal taste and intellectual fancy. At most, it makes Jesus happier, it draws me closer to Him, but salvation… “we don’t talk in those terms anymore”.

5 05 2009
Sophia Marsden

What do you do if your parents are chaos magicians?
What if you just want to be a Christian, but you have to face up, entirely against your will, to all this “choice”?

5 05 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Of this, I have written before here. I am sorry I have to refer you to another post, but a drawn out response would take more time than I am willing to commit now. Sorry.

5 05 2009
Adrian

Taylor Marshall?

5 05 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Owen,

I think most religious cultures are dead or moribund. When I speak of these things, I speak of the Catholic Church first and foremost. And Leah is right: there is no hard and fast formula. The most you can do is avoid the stronger elements of the “consumerist” aspect of it. The main thing is to realize that our issues may not be the issues of people in the thirteenth century, or the third century, or even the “early Church”, whenever that was. People on the Internet tend to think that if they bring up St. Basil the Great, whatever St. Basil thought of heresy is exactly what I think it is. My heretics are his heretics, my Faith is his Faith; I believe just how he believes, etc. Read the fine print, and there are going to be a lot of things that could never pass that test. We believe differently. We live in a different world, and such archaeological arguments, whether used vis a vis liturgy, doctrine, church governance, etc. often have a questionable agenda written all over them.

In Catholicism, this is most evident. Continuity and discontinuity are written all over it. In some ways, the discontinuity is obvious: liturgy in a vulgar tongue, lay Eucharistic ministers, hideous churches, etc. But the continuities are also astounding, and that is why the average Catholic is not really perturbed by them. The general hyper-clericalization from the Counter-Reformation is still there, but just in a different form, with Vatican II’s lay ministries serving as a clericalization of the laity. The average Catholic still expects to be in and out of church in a little under an hour. The clergy is as it has always been, etc. For the average Joe Catholic, contracepting, never going to Confession, etc., the Church is still just something you take for granted. For the Internet traditionalist or conservative blogger, it is a mess, and we have “lost so much”, though 95% of people in the pew didn’t really notice.

There are only personal, and not general answers to any of these questions. Personally, I don’t expect the Church to serve me 100% of what I believe, because I don’t think that any of it is at all clear. Communion is a very lonely thing. If I were to try to find the Church that I thought was what the real Apostolic Church would be like, I would end up getting ordained by an Old Catholic bishop and starting my own petite-eglise. But that is not the point. One should expect the Church to be just like the society we live in, and perhaps like our own inner psyche, because God knows I am one messed up person in that sense.

My own approach, and it can’t be for everyone, is that I look at the Church and I think to myself: “this is from God, take it or leave it”. That is the best way to avoid consumerism, and also to realize that picking the “right Church” is only the first step to fixing yourself. And realize that all of the stuff you think may be essential may be just that: what you think, and that’s it.

Do I think Baptists should just stay Baptists? Part of me does, but then again I know better. Do I think that when a Baptist converts he should start a blog even before he is received in the Church to say how great Catholicism is… I think that is a bit narcissistic. People need to realize that this isn’t a product, and they shouldn’t mouth off about theology as if it were just a matter of repeating a few slogans. That I feel is quite corrosive. It may work for megachurch Gospel frisbee Christianity, but perhaps converts in this country should give up the public altar calls and just focus on “learning the ropes” of Catholic history, doctrine, and culture before writing the blog about it.

Then again, what is all of that, anyway? There lies the problem. Many think they are only presenting the product of Catholicism, and in reality they are creating it just like a roundtable of marketers. In many ways, my own intellectual project when I post prayers to a head of garlic is to say that no, that is not what it looks like. In a sense, it is the dialectical Socratic method in the guise of religious and cultural anthropology. The Catholicism being peddled in the post-Vatican II church is a new creature with many heads, many of them not at all traditional. Liturgical dancers, liberation theologians, von Balthasar thumpers, the Papa Ratzinger Fan Club, and mantilla-ed Lefebvrist women with their noses buried in a missal… all of them are about as traditional as the microwavable T.V. dinner. There is another side, and in a lot of ways, I believe more in my folk saints and curanderos than I believe in Vatican II, the traditional Mass, and the clergy. I am not leaving the Church, but I am not taking it sitting down either. If I don’t know the answer, at least I can let other voices speak.

5 05 2009
Athanasius

Arturo,

I think you make good points in general. Some Catholics, particularly neo-cons and certain trads, act as though those who do not know doctrine are somehow less Catholic than they. The Church is not about mere quality, but to bring the most possible into the ark of salvation.

However, you seem to approach the threshold of disparaging knowledge of the faith. While God gives all men the necessary graces to find salvation, a layman is required to learn as much about the faith as he can according to his state in life. Thus the illiterate peasant in Latin America, or in medieval Europe was not required to know all propositions of the faith. He was however required to assent to them when taught to him by the magisterium, as he is today.

Unless I misread you, you seem to suggest that this is not necessary at all, that all which matters is some kind of folk spirituality. Is that correct?

5 05 2009
Leah

Ochlophobist,

If you want my two cents (and you might not), I would say that religion is a commodity for almost everybody, even if a they are not a middle-class white American. The traditional religious cultures that have been discussed here exist in a world in which there is very little mobility, both in terms of physical place and ideas. The demise of the Catholic ghetto was echoed by the disappearance of the Lower East Side, Harlem, and other ethnically based neighborhoods. Even in a place like Nigeria, there appears to be a lot of turnover in terms of religion as the consumer can choose between various types of Christianity, Islam, and traditional animism (also in several flavors, depending on your tribe). The question you pose is complicated, and I don’t think that there is a set answer. To me, it seems like most attempts at maintaining traditionalist religious communities, regardless of type, are more like reconstructions rather than continuous traditions.

4 05 2009
ochlophobist

Arturo,

This is a beautiful post. One of the most worthwhile pixel reflections I have ever read.

It leaves me torn.

I grew up in the altar-call revivalist traditions you mention – but even these, in my childhood, were as I experienced them worlds away from the intensity of individualist choice one finds in megachurch entertainments today. I was coerced into going up for my first altar call by my mother, who told my that my father’s career might suffer if I did not ‘go forward’ (my dad was the pastor), and reminded me of the long line of Baptists and free churchmen I came from, telling me that a decision against ‘going forward’ was a rejection of the family, and the faith of my ancestors. In hick Baptist culture, responding to an altar call is something of a communal event, it is an entrance into the fellowship of the believing community. There is, or can be, a familial warmth to it.

But that religious culture is dead. It has been replaced by heavily marketed pop worship forms, and Left Behind books and movies, and trinkets sold at ‘Christian Bookstores’ and 5 minute a day devotional Bibles, and so forth.

Thus I would ask you, when you come from a Christian tradition that essentially no longer exists, what can you do with integrity? Where can you go? Is there a way, a fashion, a manner, in which a White American with at least, say, middle class potential, can choose a religion without being a consumer? Can I be Orthodox, or Catholic, without consuming a marketed religious commodity?

I know that we have disagreed on many things in the past, and I have been an ass to you on many pixeled occasions, but I would very much appreciate your thoughts with regard to my questions. This is an issue I struggle with greatly.

4 05 2009
FrGregACCA

The Church is indeed a hospital; of course, the “doctors” are also themselves “patients,” which can make things extremely interesting (as in, the inmates are running the asylum).

The Church is also a school (see above).

Finally, while the Church is not a political party (although there are those, on the left as well as the right, who regret that), it does require a well-formed militant cadre: we call them Saints.

4 05 2009
4 05 2009
Lucian

(And without apostrophizing ourselves while at it…) πŸ˜‰

4 05 2009
Lucian

You mean, we shouldn’t apostrophize people, but only people that apostrophize other people, right? πŸ˜€

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