September 4, 2010


I got into a conversation the other day on the question of whether or not some of us Catholics, especially some religious and clergy, have absorbed (perhaps unwittingly) or even embraced a post-Christian theological mood.

It's a tough question, I think. I have written before about how I sometimes see religious relativism and indifferentism creeping into our Catholic life and discourse, especially in the form of the comfortable and civil theology of 'many paths to one (alleged) truth.' I have argued before that this must be resisted. For one thing, it doesn't stand up to sacred scripture. It also suggests that God is an incompetent revealer; what God reveals about himself cannot be understood on its own, because (for example) it is irreducibly bound into culture, patriarchy, language, etc. In the end then, because all "religions" (the problem of what counts as a religion is not asked) aim at some truth or transcendence which is imagined as a unity, God is ultimately unknowable. So we end up with a funny kind of relativistic, post-modern gnosticism which is so vague as to have almost no spiritual utility apart from helping us get along and avoid arguments while we strive to build up the kingdom of man.

But that's enough ranting. To get back to the original question raised by my friend, I think we have to be attentive to the language we use. Does our religious speech affirm the scandalous particularly of Christianity or does it slyly water it all down into generic terms? Do we say 'faith communities' instead of 'churches' so that we can hold up the political correctness of 'inclusivity?' When we say 'churches' are we saying what the Catholic Church means by this term, or are we also speaking (uncarefully) about Christian bodies that are properly not churches but 'ecclesial communities?' Do we use terms like 'minster' and 'ministry,' which have specific meanings in Catholic Christianity, in the generic sense of any religious service or work? Do we use generic spiritual language like 'growing in faith' and 'making meaning' rather than talk about holiness in Christ and proclaiming the Kingdom of God? Has Jesus Christ Himself begun to slip out of our speech, in favor of a generic 'god' or a 'spirit' which is whatever anybody wants him or her to be?

Let us discipline our speech, and resist the forces of relativism and indifferentism.


Pablo said...

This country was founded by believers in God. Our Fathers were Christian, therefore we must not be afraid to express ourselves.

Thom, sfo said...

I'm not one to stray too far out on a limb and disagree with you, as I have nothing but the utmost respect for you, but I do think that, perhaps, it is a little simplistic to say that those who use these "new" terms, labels, and descriptors that you referred to as "post-Christian." Time and time again over the millenia the Church has re-defined sometimes, and re-visited often, its curb appeal and the emphasis of its mission. I don't necessarily believe that simply reverting to "traditional" vocabulary will help the Church's witness one iota in this post-modern, western world in which we operate.

(FWIW, I think that that misguided idea is what is driving sooooo many of the "reformed" religious communities that seem to be springing up everyday, which in some cases bastardize the charism which has been the foundation of the tradition since its inception.)

Adoro said...

Father, I do agree with you and I think your observations here are spot-on. You've definitely taken a more philosophical approach to this, and in so doing, I think you've managed to bring in a pretty big picture.

Language has meaning; the words we use, the words we choose, have meaning.

In observing parishes in my local area, those that use the term "Catholic Community" tend to first look to "social justice" and rarely, if ever on their websites, refer to Jesus. "Eucharist" in those places is like "dinner and a show". I am not saying that is the attitude of ALL parishoners there, or even the Pastor, but those who form the leadership of the parish and put the title on the monolith out front, etc., have formed their community into their particular image.

Too often, I find people from such communities who are very uncomfortable with doctrine, who see Mass as primarily a social gathering having little to do with the worship owed to God.

These same attitudes are certainly found in parishes that use the word "Church", but, again, in observing the terms, those that still call themselves a "Church" seem a lot more likely to offer Confessions regularly, and more than 30 minutes on a Saturday! They tend to focus more on the worship aspect of Mass, the Sacrifice of Calvary, trying to ensure their service outside the walls flows from the love owed to God, therefore to become an overflow to others.

(I'm trying to say a lot here and probably fouling it up as what I'm trying to get at covers a LOT of ground!) short, I don't mean to generalize by any means. The prevailing attitudes are represented in language, and as we know, language is very powerful in forming those attitudes.

Mark in Spokane said...

The best antidote for post-Christian thought is...The Little Flowers of St. Francis!

Greg said...

A very thoughtful and thought provoking post. A subject deserving a dissertation.

My view may vary slightly as to the cause of post modernism in the Catholic faith...

I do not think it comes from a respect for other faiths ... I believe we step on dangerous ground when we judge the manner in which God reveals himself. Vatican II's Nostro Aetate spoke to this quite magnificently.

The actual post modern stealth influence has gone unnoticed — it is the intrusion of the discipline of psychology into the seminaries and the Church.

Psychology is based, almost exclusively on the atheist and materialistic assumption that man is solely a biological entity. No soul. No spirit.

And yet there are many who adopt the non-faith-based assertions of psychology in which it is claimed that psychology can be spiritual but not religious.

At a conference on faith and psychology a psychologist make that assertion. I responded, "How can you be spiritual if you do not believe in the existence of spirit?" The entire table inhaled a collective gasp — and understood the dilemma.

I believe the Church has to ask that question: How can we eagerly embrace into our midst a discipline that does not hold true basic premises upon which the faith stands?

I believe this is the portal through which post modern Christianity enters.

Sara said...

I am a new convert from a non Christian family and I have observed that some Catholics (and particularly some clergy) get more generic in their religious language upon learning that lots of the people I love are not part of the Church. I suppose I appreciate their good intentions but it seems misguided to me-- in a way that is pretty ignorant about the reality of what it means to leave my family's faith behind. Just my opinion.

Brother Charles said...

Sara: I resonate.