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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bleak Christianity


I've added Contra Niche to the blogroll. There seems to be a growing number of "non-affiliated" Christians who look at the Catholic Church, look at Orthodoxy, look at the perpetually-splintering Protestant sects, and figure they can't do any worse just reading the Bible and praying their private devotions at home.

God knows there is plenty wrong with establishment Christendom. The Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies seem perplexed about the world since at least 1000 A.D. The Western Church prostrates herself shamelessly before universalist social democracy as the apparent successor to the Holy Roman Empire. The Eastern Church clings to the ecclesiology of its glory days in Late Antiquity. The Protestant sects splinter and splinter, even as they wield enormous global influence from the tithes of American suburbanites, who themselves are riding a tide of artificial prosperity that globalism is about to smash.

All of these branches of Christendom are extraordinarily myopic. Catholics wring their hands over the immigrants and poor who will, frankly, destroy their host societies. The Orthodox bog down in their arcane jurisdictional disputes and incomprehension of a world where people pick up and move whenever they feel like it. And the Protestants stuff free food into the faces of Africans and Asians while rallying against higher capital gains taxes and transfer payments to their fellow Americans. (Not that anybody would be so racist and provincial to broach the concept of 'fellow Americans.')

Christendom has passed through her Apostolic age, as the men taught by Christ and the men who were taught by the men who were taught by Christ transmitted the Gospel. There was the age of persecution under the pagan kingdoms and empires. Then the age of asceticism and long, golden age of theology, as Christianity triumphed in the civilized world.

Incredibly, with churches on every street corner and the most catholic, the most orthodox, the most scholarly and rigorous Christianity available to everyone in the whole wide world with a few keystrokes, I still hear that the cure to all that ails us is evangelism, evangelism and more evangelism.

To which I respond, get effing real.

Christianity is utterly transparent at this point. We don't meet in the catacombs, we don't shoo the non-initiates out when we begin to recite the Creed. Anybody wanting to find out about the Christian faith can contact me, anybody in my blogroll, any number of their neighbors, or just walk to any church within a stone's throw of their present GPS coordinates. If such people by some chance have yet never heard of the Christian faith, they will find pastors who will drop everything they are doing to tell them whatever they need in order to convert to Christianity.

The age of evangelism is over. The Church is fading because she frankly offers nothing to people that any other positive, purportedly compassionate movement--such as political liberalism--does not. The Church thrived under the pagans and the Bolsheviks by virtue of the contrast between her charitable practices and the godless brutality of the ruling regimes. Now, the secular state provides the poor with all the food, clothing, shelter and medical care they need. The poor now manifest the sins of the Biblical rich; secular capitalism generates sufficient tax revenue such that the poor need not even ponder marriage when deciding to reproduce. All that's left for the Church to do is lecture the well-nourished, sheltered and medicated citizenry on the need to curb their sexuality. Really? Or what--Hell?

The religious orders that are doing well these days seem to be the ones that are trying to knock the sharp corners off life for their adherents. For example, in exchange for being an Amish or Hasidic male, you get a job, a definite place in the community's pecking order, and a decent-looking wife who'll have sex with you, bear your children and keep your house. Likewise, Amish and Hasidic females get a guaranteed provider, standing in the community, a reprieve from the status games and career ambitions that occupy the lives of non-Amish and non-Hasidic women, and nuclear and extended family to keep you busy to the end of your days.

Until the Church can offer that sort of arrangement, then from the perspective of the world it's just a lifestyle and ideological choice among innumerable others.

13 comments:

Ingemar said...

"then from the perspective of the world it's just a lifestyle and ideological choice among innumerable others."

From an alcoholic's perspective, sobriety is a dull, dreary existence.

If the world doesn't want what the Church offers, it can literally go to Hell.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I suppose that's a good attitude, except we've got clergy and buildings to pay for.

And look at things from the reverse perspective: the Church doesn't offer what the world needs. What use is a Church which functions only as a redoubt for middle-aged intellectuals who like arcane theology and elaborate liturgies?

August said...

Thanks, Anti-Gnostic.

Ingemar, your statement is only true if the Church offers what God set it down to offer. Should she offer something else, then God is the God of the living. He's made it so the weeds will grow in the cracks of this dead civilization.

Chris said...

In order for the church to become relevant again on a wide scale, there will to be a massive re ordering of the way we do things. Akin to a collapse. When you are depending on the Mongol Horde to do your outreach for you, your model of spreading the good news is broken very badly indeed

The Anti-Gnostic said...

In order for the church to become relevant again on a wide scale, there will to be a massive re ordering of the way we do things. Akin to a collapse.

Or - maybe we just rock along with cheap energy and the Pax Americana. Nuclear power surges ahead as the Left finally realizes no way out of its dilemma. The American dollar remains the world's reserve currency thanks to the US entrepreneurial powerhouse and no credible threat to its military.

The State feeds the hungry and shelters the homeless. Corporate America provides employment and entertainment. The useless are paid not to work. Scarcity--the ancient curse of Adam--is practically eliminated.

What then?

Chris said...

Even supposing the us can maintain it's present position as a majority non white country, the rest of the world is simply too unstable and the instability will travel throughout interconnected world.
The main difficulty the church faces at the present moment is that it is wedded to outmoded political, economic, and familial models.
The church must face facts, and deal with the world as it is. We might wish for the reunited empire, or holy russia, or the 19th century frontier America, but those places and times are gone. never to return.

Jim said...

"Until the Church can offer that sort of arrangement, then from the perspective of the world it's just a lifestyle and ideological choice among innumerable others."

I find this view odd. Shouldn't the church's importance be 100% determined by the Christian god's existence or lack thereof? I think the reason modern folks are less religious isn't that the state has stolen the church's traditional social role, it's that modernity has provided us with (a) science, so we know what the big orange thing in the sky is, infections aren't evil spirits, we don't actually have any kind of reliable evidence to suggest that a supernatural event has ever occurred, etc., and (b) a broader scope of world knowledge, which is to say, we now know that Christianity is just one of thousands and thousands of belief systems that have existed in world history, most of which copied each other's stories over time, and the evidence does not suggest there's any reason to prefer one over the other.

I've never commented here before. Your blog interests me, though I disagree with a lot of your opinions and your church posts go right over my head :)

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Jim - that is part of it. God has, from a materialist perspective, seemingly shrunk from a lot of phenomena. We know so much, and can wield power even over Nature. How relevant to such a world is this invisible God, much less this institution of His crazed adherents.

This is more an argument among theists which, as you suggest, is probably a shrinking number as well.

Trifon Kupanoff said...

Fifty or a hundred years ago the very foreign, seemingly irrelevant Church in North America didn't have any material compensation to offer to the droves of monolingual bourgeois WASPs that ended up joining it. The Church bears innumerable volumes of "arcane theology" for middle class, middle-aged folks to read and blather on about as they please. So what? Theology was made arcane by centuries of European alienation from traditional Christianity thanks to barbarism, schism, reformation, pietism, scholasticism, the Enlightenment and so on. The Church doesn't flourish by offering financial security or sexual fulfillment to would-be members. Sensual pleasure, offspring, and security have absolutely nothing to do with overcoming death.

Theology and life in the Church may be known as the Church has always said they can be known: only by personal participation and personal experience. The Church lives as a witness to life united to the God-man. That is, life free of existential despair because all the existential problems are solved in the Church. If the Church tries to be something else in the interest of self-preservation I fear what might come of it.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Theology and life in the Church may be known as the Church has always said they can be known: only by personal participation and personal experience. The Church lives as a witness to life united to the God-man. That is, life free of existential despair because all the existential problems are solved in the Church. If the Church tries to be something else in the interest of self-preservation I fear what might come of it.

All correct. But again, to look at the matter from others' perspectives, nobody would accuse the Amish or the Hasidim for not standing firm in their faith because operationally, they also act as a faith-based community to knock off the sharp edges of life for their members. Certainly this would be a legitimate expression of charity in the Abrahamic faiths. It would also be very familiar stuff to the early Church, as related in Paul's letters and in the Acts.

As we're all aware, modern society is just not set up for Christians to "be Orthodox" which, as we profess, is the only way to be Christian.

In a world of satiety, perversity and brutal competition (including the head-to-head economic competition which we encourage among our children with their prospective spouses), it seems a legitimate mission for the Church would be to assist her members via other than purely hortatory means in living an Orthodox life. This was one of Fr. John Peck's supposedly radical ideas.

Some parishes, I believe, will actually be formed specifically, in the old fashion, by purchasing land, building a chapel or Temple in the midst of it, and parishioners building or buying homes around it. The Church will be the center of their lives, and many will come from far and wide to experience their way of life.

Trifon Kupanoff said...

I guess I misunderstood what you were getting at in the original post. And it seems like Fr. John's vision of parish formation is already happening in some places. I think it's a great idea.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Glad to see you concur, Trifon. Yes - I have no desire to see the Church morph into a mega-church shopping mall.

Bumbling American said...

This is a great post that has stuck with me; sorry it took so long to dredge up this quote and post it. From Walker Percy:

"So decrepit and so abused is the language of the Judeo-Christian religions that it takes an effort to salvage them, the very words, from the husks and barnacles of meaning which have encrusted them over the centuries. Or else words can become slick as coins worn thin by usage and so devalued. One of the tasks of the saint is to renew language, to sing a new song. The novelist, no saint, has a humbler task. He must use every ounce of skill, cunning, humor, even irony, to deliver religion from the merely edifying.

"In these peculiar times, the word sin has been devalued to mean everything from slightly naughty excess (my sin was loving you) to such serious lapses as "emotional unfulfillment," the stunting of one's "growth as a person," and the loss of "intersubjective communication." The worst sin of all, according to a book I read about one's growth as a person, is the "failure of creativity."

"One reason the poet and novelist these days have a hankering for apocalypse, the end of the old world and the beginning of the new, is surely their sense that only then can language be renewed, by destroying the old and starting over. Things fall apart but words regain their value."