Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In defense of cultural religion

I wrote this in one of the comboxes at the American Conservative website. Also, take this link to an oustanding article on religion and working class America:

Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is huge because it’s what most people want and it is easier from the Evangelical churches to give it to them than more tradition and rule-bound Catholic Church can (or even the Orthodox). Are you not the least-bit curious to the fact that the religions which best hold its membership in modern times in the U.S. (Evangelicals and Mormons) are the exact same ones that are uniquely American creations compared to the traditional Protestant and Catholic religions?

People throw out the world “Evangelical” all the time and I agree the term is useless when some wish to describe it to certain political views. It’s more a style of religion that is less concerned about tradition and rules and more about the emotive and the personal and yes, the simple. And it’s very flexible and can fit into whatever you wish it to be for yourself, the most individualist of nations. For nation founded in the rejection of aristocracy and high churchism, it is not surprising a religion that is the least hierarchal and the least institutionalized would be the most popular among American Christians? Many may not like this but once again they seem to keep forgetting they live in the “Good Old US of A” and keep forgetting or don’t realize the affect it has on religious development. Ask yourself why you don’t see the same kind of loose style of Christianity in Western Europe with the same kind of institutional problems? Over there, the “nones” are the ones that dominate.

If the current trends remain unaltered as stated in the article, then what you are going to have is an even more polarized society than now largely between the secular and the Evangelical and the rest trampled on in the middle between the two. But I would think that many would agree it is the Evangelical church which would have the easiest time accommodating itself to the secular society given its less structured form. Again, it may well be MTD but if one’s tax exemption is at stake for the big, expensive megachurch, then it will carry on unassumingly and for those who no desire to fight “culture wars” it will simply drop the subject. This may disappoint those who, like Leftist radical saw the workers, on the Right who see churchgoers as the new proletariat put their intellectual theories into practice. But a generation of such leaders and followers is passing and what is coming up is not interested in cutting itself off from the broader society into Benedictine ghettos because it lives and breathes off the society as it exists today. As people have noted, you break down ethnic neighborhoods and local economies, you’re going to have wrecked churches left in its wake and people seeking spiritual comfort wherever they can find it (Tim Pawlenty and I would imagine John Kasich are the best example of this). Ergo, Catholic to Evangelical.

For all those criticizing “Cultural Catholics” just remember that Mormonism is a culture too, is much as it is a religion, and culture is what makes religion as much as what one believes in the Bible. It’s much easier for a cultural Catholic to go back to church if they have fallen away but haven’t found a new religion because they know what to expect. What may be routine to you and what seem “sacrament factory” to others is just simply a way of life, a structure to anarchic world. Is that so bad? When your charismatic pastor to your mega-church in the exurbs dies and his successor if that isn’t quite as “colorful” or has different ideas, then what? There’s something solid about knowing what has been is always still there even if you’re not around as much as you once were. Those attacking “ethnic churches” (especially on the Orthodox side where those churches are the bulwarks of those communities) ask yourself how the process of creating a uniquely American Orthodox church without any kind of foreign influence is going?

I understand the frustrations of those Catholics tired of all the liturgical tinkering. The Novus Ordos mass works well and beautiful in its simple form too but such simplicity unfortunately worked against it when certain pastors wanted to be “with it” to evangelicalize. You can’t have bongo drums and guitars in a Latin Mass, it’s impossible. But the problems with the Catholic Church go a lot deeper than just Mass style, wouldn’t you all agree? An establishment church torn by scandal, divided between the pious and the those seeking to accommodate for themselves, between the political and the apolitical, between the rule-bound and those hoping for a breakthrough spiritually, is a church which isn’t in a very strong position in the United States right now and will probably take generations to recover itself even if there are fewer members (although I believe immigration levels, especially from Africa and Asia will keep itself numbers up more than perhaps people believe).

All I know is this: if Joe Biden says his rosary a lot more than I do, then I’m not going to view one’s faith based on their political positions. If that makes me “cultural” so be it. I’m a Catholic first before I am a “conservative.”

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