Sunday, May 22, 2005

Who I’m listening to
Dr Frank Senn: Back to the future with post-post-modern religion
A rather high-church Lutheran pastor, liturgist, head of a Lutheran order of pastors (rather like the Anglo-Catholic Society of the Holy Cross) and a nice fellow (got to talk to him after his lecture), he describes the Catholic religion as we practise it liturgically as ‘pre-modern’, based on revelation and giving God the worship due him. Then there was the didacticism of the modern way of worship, shifting the purpose from worshipping God for his own sake to getting a message across to the congregation, the thinking behind both much of Protestantism and the wrongheaded liturgical revisionism of the last century. And he describes affective (thanks for that word, Paul Goings), emotion-fuelled religious revivals as reactions against that cold didacticism (and the obvious failures of modernity such as totalitarianism and modern war), from the Great Awakening to Pentecostalism and its newer variants today such as the ‘praise service’, and the ‘emergent church’ phenom. Modernity was about religion’s usefulness in building up society (which of course opens up a possible abuse of religion — propping up the state at the expense of truth, etc.) but in a way this is a return to the true, pre-modern approach. In their reaction against it and the subsequent seeking of the mystical, Dr Senn says, the Pentecostals and Catholics actually have something in common!

He says that the modern approach has a ‘meta-narrative’ — passing down the message of a shared culture is the point. (He doesn’t say it but in a sense of course that’s also true of our pre-modern religion even though it might be secondary.) Post-modernism, he says, hasn’t got that.

Anyway, this disillusionment with modernity may be what can draw post-modern people to the Catholic faith. (A sign that this might already be happening is the Anglo-American convert boomlet to Eastern Orthodoxy over the past 20 years.) One of the best comments comes from Paul: let’s promote the faith not as retrograde but as ‘post-post-modern’!

He also describes us as countercultural but I don’t entirely agree: that’s true only relative to the culture right now. Our culture and our meta-narrative are what I call the historic Catholic mainstream.

And he admits that ‘contemporary Christian music’ sucks (only he said it in a nicer, soft-spoken Midwestern way!) — inferior to secular rock music.

In his talk Dr Senn brought up some parallels I and some friends had thought of before. As friend of the blog Jennifer has observed, to change one’s religious affiliation is itself a modern or perhaps post-modern thing to do, even if it’s to a traditional religion.

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