Friday, August 31, 2007

The Perfect Storm

Consecration in Kenya widens a religious rift - The Boston Globe: "NAIROBI - Delivering a blistering rebuke to the Episcopal Church for its support of gay and lesbian rights, spiritual leaders representing tens of millions of Anglican Christians from around the world gathered here yesterday to consecrate two conservative American priests as bishops despite the opposition of the US church."

Why did this happen?

(1) The decline in religious belief and participation amongst affluent, educated individuals is global and was inevitable--not because religious belief is intellectually untenable but because the bulk of religious believers were never religious in the first place. They looked to religion to satisfy fundamentally secular needs, for pseudo-science, pseudo-technology and self-help programs and to the Church as an all-purpose community center, a charitable institution providing social services and opportunities for volunteer work and, in some cases, as a base for political empowerment. Specialized secular institutions meet these needs more effectively for affluent, educated individuals.

(2) Theologians lost their nerve and gutted theology. Unduly impressed by their worst enemies, Freud, Marx, Feuerbach and other Continental literati, they attempted to reconstruct Christianity as psychology, cultural critique and politics. They would retain the symbols and the groundlings would of course keep talking about "God" but they knew that God-talk was really about something quite different, metaphysics having been thoroughly discredited.

(3) Clergy, worried about the declining prestige of religion (and their profession) and about declining religious participation (see (1)), secularized the Church. Second-guessing the market they tried to promote the Church as a purveyor of secular goods, represented themselves as political activists or members of the "helping professions," and adopted ChurchSpeak, an idiom compounded of psychobabble, pop Marxism and 1960s youth culture rhetoric that quickly became dated.

(4) In the Episcopal Church in particular, a hierarchal scheme inherited from a time when the clergy were the educated gentlemen of their parishes, leading and enlightening a semi-literate peasantry, remained intact. Clergy regarded themselves as enlightened liberal intellectuals in an especially favorable position to work for moral improvement, social change and political progress by inculcating the correct views on the role of women, care of the environment, sexual ethics and such which an increasingly self-selected conservative clientele found distasteful.

(5) Ambitious clerics in the Global South got in a position to exert political power within the Anglican Communion. They were sick of colonialism, sick of being a mission field, and only too happy to operate missions in the US.

Here was the Perfect Storm. By the early 21st century after 30 years of changes pushed by clergy on laypeople, who were either indifferent or positively hostile, there was something in the Episcopal Church for almost everyone not to like. The theologically orthodox deplored the Church's theological minimalism (see (2)); social conservatives hated its "political correctness" (see (4)); out-of-favor conservative clergy were angry about being professionally marginalized; silly asses like me couldn't stand the new Prayer Book and the liturgical style that went along with it; no one liked ChurchSpeak and everyone was irritated by the arrogance of liberal clergy promoting their agendas, absolutely convinced that they could get whatever they wanted by manipulating and "using psychology" on us ignorant, manipulatable laypeople and beating up clergy who wouldn't get on board.

Then there was the Wedge Issue: the ordination of openly-gay Bishop Robinson. This was supposed to be the grand, revolutionary gesture that would push the agenda through. Arrogance and stupidity: the rest is history.

But what would I have done if I could have run the Episcopal Church for the past 30 years, given that secularization is unstoppable and that a BIG decline in membership was inevitable for any denomination that catered for a disproportionately affluent, educated clientele? Mainly, I'd have done nothing--just stuck to my guns, maintained phoney-Gothic churches filled with dim religious light and Elizabethan liturgy. "We cater for a particular clientele and a particular taste--for Anglophiles and snobs, aesthetes, gay guys who like to dress up, agnostic mystics, wannabe Catholics who can't buy the dogmatism or authority, wannabe Orthodox who don't have the ethnic credentials, and English majors who like the Metaphysical Poets and T. S. Eliot. If you don't like it go somewhere else. There's nothing wrong with somewhere else or, for that matter, no where else. This is just what we do." Anglophiles, snobs, aesthetes, agnostic mystics and pretentious jackasses need love too.


John said...

The truth of the matter is that Christianity was never ever about Real God---it was/is the projection of the tribal ego, as is/are ALL religions.

Even at its best it was only half-baked---little more than self-consoling childish superstition with its primitive mommy-daddy "creator" (good-luck)god. And it never ever took the overwhelming reality of death into account.

By contrast Right Life only begins when the "meaning" and significance of death is fully understood. Until that understanding occurs, everything aspect of ones is saturated with a hell deep fear and trembling---everything and always---no exception. See for instance:


Plus critical essays on Christianity:


Anonymous said...

My, what an angry, bitter rant. And so accurate, too.

My own full disclosure: Several years ago I thought about taking up
Christianity. My reasons don't matter. I looked at the Episcopalians because, yes, I like tradition and liturgy, and because there seemed to be just enough wiggle room in the theology so
that I wouldn't have to have a complete map of Christian cacodoxy before I signed up. I meant to take it seriously, and I wanted to know what I would be getting into.

In addition to reading some of the standard sources, I started reading The Blogs. In about 2002.

Oh my.

At first I thought it was just progs v. trads.

Then maybe Appolonians v. Dionysians (hat tip to MacLeish).

Then maybe Pharisees v. Samaritans (couldn't find the disciples anywhere).

Then Red- v. Blue-state social politics.

Then finally, just more of us talking monkeys doing what we do.

In the lyrics of Don Henley:

No shame, no solution,
no remorse, no retribution.
Just people selling t-shirts.
Just opportunity to participate
in the pathetic little circus.
And winning.

Now, it's just another train wreck that one can't stop watching.

And sadly, your analysis seems at least as good as any other I've seen.

Just Passing By