Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Real Christian community vs. pseudo-intimacy

In his second book, Where Have You Gone, Michelangelo? The Loss of Soul in Catholic Culture, the great Thomas Day (the explainer of American Catholicism, old and new, good and bad, to Anglo-Catholic alumni) nails why I don't like the new religion:
The trouble is, "intimacy" (for the intimate ones) and "corporate worship" (for everybody) repel one another.
Eureka! An epiphany. Not only is the new putative Catholicism from 45 years ago protestantized, hiding or denying parts of the faith (it's about God's presence in the community, not bread or wine), but actually all its seeming "warmth" (low churchmanship, church in the round, "the sign of peace") the studied informality, the fake friendliness trying to recapture a utopian "early church" (which historically it isn't, as even the New Testament says), is only creating a club, even a clique, reducing the church to the people you like. (Not just liberalized parishes but "small groups" and "intentional communities"; remember those?) Of course it's great when church people are friendly, but this is different, self-congratulatory. The real inclusivity, for people who don't get invited to parties, with problems that aren't fun to be around to make you feel good for trying to help (showing off fake charity, from political correctness to transcript and résumé-polishing), real "Christian community," is in the traditional rites as they evolved historically, just like for everybody else. "The Catholic Church: here comes everybody," people who know they're sinners and go to confession, not "My friends and I are living saints, working for justice and peace, not like YOU."

No wonder people left the church. Plus, normal people have real "community" with family, friends, etc., so they don't need or want the hokey, pseudo-religious kind. The churchy "cool kids" aren't really cool.

So if the church isn't an "in crowd" of the self-styled "cool kids," why be proud of being Catholic, as Day describes in the first chapter, in 1964? (The siege aspect and "the church will never change its essentials" were right; the trouble is when they become the only thing, which anybody acquainted with traditional Catholicism knows they're not: the love of Jesus, mysterious devotions, etc.) Isn't that a club too? Anybody can abuse religion (good old spiritual pride or Tartuffery), but the answer here is "elementary": being Catholic is submitting to something bigger than yourself. God, history, ceremony. The new religion is really mirror worship, narcissism. All about how nice supposedly the priest (facing the congregation like a performer), the congregation, the music group, et al. are. (So I guess the socially impaired aren't among the elect; they're among the damned.) Which is really why liberals didn't like the old religion (past tense; they're all old now), including the teachings of the church, which Vatican II upheld; the old religion distracted from that: "get out of my light." They sort of know the traditional music and ceremonial are better, so they attack it as "elitist."

The old religion ISN'T "elitist"; it doesn't talk down to the downtrodden. Rather, if it's good enough for the king and the bishop in his cathedral, it's good enough for you. Even if you're uncool, you too can share in great things. Such as the life of the world to come.

By the way, Day mentions a late liturgist from Notre Dame, Mark Searle, who liked the Melkite parish in town: another romanticized small parish, plus "East good, West bad" hypocrisy (evil when we do it; cool when the Byzantines do it — a mentality that turned me off trying to live in the Christian East).

Photo: Sometime after Middle America lost in 1973. Ironically, being Episcopalian at the time spared me most of this: eastward-facing early Communion service with thous and thees.

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