They seemed to be having some kind of rock concert down at the riverfront at noon Thursday, as I did some banking by shanks mare. Then I realized it was the National Day of Prayer event, as celebrated by people who must pray much, much differently than I can.
When I calmed down a bit, I prayed my own way walking back to the office. America needs it, not least because of who and what constitutes the dominant Christian image in the U.S.
I join the faithful (i.e., a bunch of repentant sinners) every Sunday, and often in between, praying:
- For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all.
- For the President and all civil authorities of this country, and for those serving in its Armed Forces.
- For this city, for every city and countryside, and for the faithful dwelling in them.
- For favorable weather, for an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful times.
- Etc., including for the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls and for pardon and remission of our sins and transgressions.
But I have a problem with standing in the corners of the streets or making broad my phylacteries, and enlarging the borders of my garments. I guess it would be otherwise if I were a Bible-believing Christian, but alas, my roots are 1600 years deeper than King James.
I stumbled via FirstLinks onto a blog entry titled Christian Formation and the Cost of the Culture Wars. I think I might have read it for that title even if the blog from which it came were not named “A Queer Calling,” but that was the blog name, and if you’ve followed this blog for long, you’ll know that I’m fascinated, in this time of turmoil about sexuality and marriage, by the stories of observant Christians who experience same-sex attraction – celibate ones in particular – so I simply had to mark the entry for reading when I had a chance:
About five years ago, I taught a course called Christian Beliefs at a Catholic university. During each class period, we would discuss a different topic that connected in some way to the ideas presented in the Nicene Creed. On the first day of class that semester, I gave the students index cards and asked that each fill his/her entire card, front and back, with as many responses to the following question as possible: “What do Christians believe?” …
As I perused these index cards last week, I was taken back to the shock I experienced as a second-year teacher reading the responses my class had provided … When asked “What do Christians believe?” almost every student in the class included at least two of the following on his/her list:
- “Christians believe gay people are going to hell.”
- “Christians believe gay people are sinners.”
- “Christians believe gay people are pedophiles and shouldn’t be priests.”
- “Christians believe that if you’re gay, you can’t have sex.”
- “Christians believe that you have to choose to be straight if you love God.”
- “Christians believe abortion is a sin.”
- “Christians believe abortion is murder.”
- “Christians believe in protecting unborn babies.”
- “Christians believe you have to be pro-life.”
- “Christians believe you have to vote pro-life.”
Most students who listed two or more of the above had written perhaps one other statement of belief on their index cards. One responded, “I know Christians don’t like gay people or women, but that’s all I ever learned in Christian school. I don’t know what else to list.” Another produced only four items on her card, indicating that Christians believe in Jesus as savior, gay people as sinners, abortion as murder, and Genesis 1 as a literal account of a six-day creation. …
At the beginning of the next class session, I initiated a discussion about the responses … [W]hat I heard surprised and saddened me. I heard stories of students who were taught to say a few words for the unborn every night at bedtime prayers but had no idea how to describe the Holy Spirit, students whose high school religion courses had covered morality backwards and forwards but had never touched on Scripture or Church history, students who had attended Catholic school since kindergarten but had no idea that Jesus was God until they had read the first chapter of our course textbook, and students who were becoming (or had already become) so disenchanted with the shallow messages they were receiving at church that they were considering leaving Christianity entirely. It became clear that my students hadn’t blown off the assignment at all. In fact, they had taken it very seriously, and many had articulated carefully all the tenets of Christianity they had ever known.
I handed each group a copy of the Nicene Creed and explained that for the rest of the semester, all our readings would center on theological exploration of different parts of that statement of faith. I asked groups to spend a few minutes looking through the Creed and jotting down some questions they had about what they read. It didn’t take me long to see how eager most of the class was to learn …
The fact that such a reality is possible in a classroom filled with students raised in the Church makes me gravely worried for the future of Christianity. It becomes clearer to me every semester that we as a Church have misplaced our priorities ….
I find the account appalling but plausible. This is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’s success, and it’s demonic because nobody ever matures spiritually on prissy moralism and tribal enmity. Dare I say that this is how Screwtape and Wormwood are working today? Of course I do!
I poked around some of their other blog entries and found them consistently thoughtful. One described finding and living her celibate vocation as like flying in a plane as you build it.
I think I get that. The Churches I have been in have not been strong on any positive vision of the “unmarried state” (outside the monastery, which was unthinkable in the churches I was part of for 3/4 of my life).
I’m now follower #42 via Feedly.
In a nutshell:
I think evangelicalism is destined to die of its own success and it will go the way of mainstream Protestantism because … it depends far too much on charismatic pastors, and charisma will only take you so far. Evangelicalism is constantly under the burden of re-inventing the wheel and you just get tired. For example, I’m a big advocate of Morning Prayer. I love Morning Prayer. We do the same thing every morning. We don’t have to make it up. We know we’re going to say these prayers. We know we’re going to join in reading of the psalm. We’re going to have these Scripture readings. I mean, there’s much to be said for Christianity as repetition and I think evangelicalism doesn’t have enough repetition in a way that will form Christians to survive in a world that constantly tempts us to always think we have to do something new.
“I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music.” So wrote Charles Darwin, conceding that his mind seemed “to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts” causing “the atrophy of that part of the brain alone on which the higher tastes depend”.
Emma Darwin sagely noted that this impoverishment of aesthetic sense affected her husband’s understanding of faith: “May not the habit in scientific pursuits of believing nothing till it is proved, influence your mind too much in other things which cannot be proved in the same way & which if true are likely to be above our comprehension.”
Recovering this sense of the sacred for a secularised culture is Scruton’s purpose: “The real question for religion in our time is not how to excise the sacred, but how to rediscover it.” In answering this question Scruton advances on ground covered more prosaically by Francis Spufford in his book Unapologetic, namely the “how it feels” of religious experience.
Wouldn’t you like to live in a place like this? I never rode a bus to school. It was about 0.7 miles away, and we, like the kids in Lakewood, OH, walked or rode bikes to school. (Exception: after an ice storm, a near neighbor gave us a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh.)
Actually, the density of Lakewood in general appeals to me. But my hometown is my home, and it’s not Lakewood.
(H/T Jonathan Coppage)
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)