On sectarianism

22 08 2020

I was listening to Hare Krishna content while doing things around the house (as I am wont to do these days) and I listened to first a talk and then an interview with devotees from two different parts of the world. The first was by an initiating guru and sannyasi with a reputation for conservatism and orthodoxy. But this time, his line was more that, if people were really doing proselytism, in this case distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books, there would be less inner tension within ISKCON itself. Internal strife according to this reasoning isn’t an impediment for preaching to others, but rather it’s a product of not preaching and focusing on internal problems. The interview was with another devotee who seems to be coming from a less controversial position. He helps run a temple in Utah, of all places, and has nothing but praise for the Mormons around him, stating that the Mormon church even helped build their temple.

That would come as a shock to those who know Mormons primarily as young and energetic missionaries riding their bicycles down the street and distributing books door to door. But how much of religious angst is due to becoming more and more insular and to demographic contraction instead of expansion?

Inevitably, I turn to Catholicism, and I can’t imagine thinking that Catholicism, the church of St. Paul and St. Francis Xavier, is a church driven by proselytism in 2020. The traditionalist movement itself was founded in large part by the former head of the largest missionary order in the Catholic Church at the time, and of course I am talking about Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who participated in Vatican II as the Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. And as for the more liberal wings of the Church, they have almost renounced “evangelization” as a matter of principle.

Of course, John Paul II wanted to jump start evangelization, but with an utter lack of missionary vision (i.e. “What the heck would people be doing that for?”) as well as the inert mass that are average Catholics in the pew, of course the only two strong moods among Catholics today are indifference or outright hostility. Sectarianism is the fruit of institutional contraction: if people were actually doing something meaningful, they wouldn’t have the energy to focus on internal institutional strife.

You see it in the Catholic Church, you see it in ISKCON, and I imagine it’s everywhere.


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