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Brilliant – Archbishop Chaput on Catholics and the sexularist culture September 21, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Dallas Diocese, Ecumenism, foolishness, General Catholic, North Deanery, sickness, Society.

The really good Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver wrote a long piece for First Things relating the decline and fall of the American Christian culture, its replacement with consumerist secularism (and, increasingly, paganism) – tying it together by noting that the final ascendency of secularism over the protestant culture formerly most dominant occurred just around the time Catholics stepped out from the cultural shadows and more into the mainstream:

 The late Christopher Lasch argued that modern consumer capitalism breeds and needs a “culture of narcissism”—i.e., a citizenry of weak, self-absorbed, needy personalities—in order to sustain itself. Christian Smith put it somewhat differently when he wrote that, in modern capitalism, labor “is mobile as needed, consumers purchase what is promoted, workers perform as demanded, managers execute as expected—and profits flow. And what the Torah, or the Pope, or Jesus may say in opposition is not relevant, because those are private matters” [emphasis in original].

My point here is neither to defend nor criticize our economic system. Others are much better equipped to do that than I am. My point is that “I shop, therefore I am” is not a good premise for life in a democratic society like the United States. Our country depends for its survival on an engaged, literate electorate gathered around commonly held ideals. But the practical, pastoral reality facing the Gospel in America today is a human landscape shaped by advertising, an industry Pascal Bruckner described so well as a “smiling form of sorcery……”

Now, where do Catholics fit into this story?

The same Puritan worldview that informed John Winthrop’s homily so movingly, also reviled “Popery,” Catholic ritual and lingering “Romish” influences in England’s established Anglican Church. The Catholic Church was widely seen as Revelation’s Whore of Babylon. Time passed, and the American religious landscape became more diverse. But the nation’s many different Protestant sects shared a common, foreign ogre in their perceptions of the Holy See—perceptions made worse by Rome’s distrust of democracy and religious liberty. As a result, Catholics in America faced harsh Protestant discrimination throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. This included occasional riots and even physical attacks on convents, churches and seminaries. Such is the history that made John F. Kennedy’s success seem so liberating.

The irony is that mainline American Protestantism had used up much of its moral and intellectual power by 1960. Secularizers had already crushed it in the war for the cultural high ground. In effect, after so many decades of struggle, Catholics arrived on America’s center stage just as management of the theater had changed hands — with the new owners even less friendly, but far shrewder and much more ambitious in their social and political goals, than the old ones. Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox, despite their many differences, share far more than divides them, beginning with Jesus Christ himself. They also share with Jews a belief in the God of Israel and a reverence for God’s Word in the Old Testament. But the gulf between belief and unbelief, or belief and disinterest, is vastly wider.

In the years since Kennedy’s election, Vatican II and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s, two generations of citizens have grown to maturity. The world is a different place. America is a different place—and in some ways, a far more troubling one. We can’t change history, though we need to remember and understand it. But we can only blame outside factors for our present realities up to a point. As Catholics, like so many other American Christians, we have too often made our country what it is through our appetite for success, our self-delusion, our eagerness to fit in, our vanity, our compromises, our self-absorption and our tepid faith…..

In the name of tolerance and pluralism, we have forgotten why and how we began as nation; and we have undermined our ability to ground our arguments in anything higher than our own sectarian opinions.

That’s less than half the piece, and the rest is important to read, so do yourself a favor and read the rest.  About that bit in red – Archbishop Chaput is touching on a pet theory of mine regarding Vatican II.  I don’t think it radical to say that Vatican II was especially oriented towards ecumenism.  The documents produced some novelties in Catholic doctrine in order to try to make efforts at Christian unity easier – at least, that was the great hope of the time.  I have read stories describing a certain sense of panic in the Church during the mid-century years, a sense among many in the hierarchy that the Church had sort of lost, or was losing, alot of the arguments within Christianity, and desperately needed to change in order to be “relevant.”  I’m not sure what drove that thinking, but I think, looking back on the past 60-70 years, those Church leaders were basically fooled by a protestantism at high water, with as much influence as it was ever going to have.  And the receeding of that water has been fantastically quick, even as protestantism continues to fragment into tinier and tinier fragments.  There were hundreds of protestant sects in 1960 – today there are tens of thousands.  With the growing “house church” and “emerging church” movements, protestant sects will soon number in the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, each with no guiding Authority and each believing a little bit differently than the next.  How is one eccumenical with that?  And how is one ecumenical with dying mainstream protestant sects that are chucking core Christian doctrines overboard in an attempt to stay (barf) “relevant.”

It is doubly ironic that, as Chaput notes, just at the moment when American Catholicism was poised to challenge for the mantle of leadership in an American Christian culture, not only did the culture radically change, with sexularism (not mispelled) becoming triumphant, but with Catholicism itself radically changing and with the laity being told that so many of their old, and often cherished, beliefs and practices were now obsolete, backwards, and harmful to their growth in the Faith.  It was a double whammy which has shattered the native born American membership in the Church, which is 1/3 smaller than it was in 1970.

There’s a good book on this subject if you want to dig deeper – The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.  I don’t agree with all the author’s conclusions, but it’s a pretty good read.

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