Sunday select

The loss of Christendom

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. Hauerwas is one of a handful of Protestants who can still stir my Orthodox soul.

Evangelicals who by some accounts (see below) are grieving their loss of political power should take heart at this, too. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Make a virtue of necessity.

Futile persuasion

… you can’t fact-check, plead, or argue a person out of a conspiracy, because you’re trying to fact-check, plead, and argue them out of their community.

David French, Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations

The great Evangelical collapse

Why

This is something I never thought I’d say. According to this landscape report, there are more Americans who are white mainline protestants (16%) than there are Americans who are white evangelicals (14%).

What accounts for this? There is no new big influx into the mainline churches. Most of their gain seems to be coming from those who had left the mainline community for the evangelical community years ago, but who are simply returning to the church of their upbringing.

The decline of white evangelicals seems mostly to result from the larger changing demographics of America. This is obvious. There is an irreversible change from a white majority to a plurality of ethnicities in the country. This is happening no matter what one thinks about immigration or voting policies.

But there is another factor that has contributed to the decline. When Dean Kelly wrote his book in 1972, the evangelical community was focussed upon concrete “Biblical lifestyle issues.” Since then, the focus has broadened to involvement in political, partisan issues and the “culture wars” — the very sort of involvement that Kelly had blamed for mainline decline 50 years before.

Now it seems that the chickens have come home to roost. The Pew report of 2019 observed that it was just because of explicit political partisanship that many young adults are leaving the evangelical community, most likely landing squarely in the “unaffiliated” category.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias, the cost of partisanship

Wherefore

In addition to shrinking as a share of the population, white evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the United States, with a median age of 56. “It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”

… white evangelicals probably aren’t wrong to fear that their children are getting away from them. As their numbers have shrunk and as they’ve grown more at odds with younger Americans, said Jones, “that has led to this bigger sense of being under attack, a kind of visceral defensive posture, that we saw President Trump really leveraging.”

I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so. It didn’t take long for the cocky optimism of Generation Joshua to give way to the nihilism of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.

Michelle Goldberg, ‌The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It

I wouldn’t bet too much on Goldberg’s construal of QAnon, but she may have gotten into it (for professional reasons only) more deeply than I.

Hymns, east and west

As I approached the Orthodox Church almost 25 year ago, I was astonished at how different it was in “feel” from anything I’d previously encountered. Timothy (Now Bishop Kallistos) Ware provides a glimpse:

Orthodox feel thoroughly at home in the language of the great Latin hymn by Venantius Fortunatus (530 – 609), Pange lingua, which hails the Cross as an emblem of victory: Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle, Sing the ending of the fray; Now above the Cross, our trophy, Sound the loud triumphal lay: Tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, As a victim won the day. They feel equally at home in that other hymn by Fortunatus, Vexilla regis: Fulfilled is all that David told In true prophetic song of old: Among the nations God, said he, Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree. But Orthodox feel less happy about compositions of the later Middle Ages such as Stabat Mater: For His people’s sins, in anguish, There she saw the victim languish, Bleed in torments, bleed and die: Saw the Lord’s anointed taken; Saw her Child in death forsaken; Heard His last expiring cry.

The Orthodox Church

Expounding that glimpse is above my pay grade, but I’m pretty confident that it reflects a non-Anselmian view of atonement by us Orthodox (which is also a reason why most Protestant writers on religion leave me cold).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

UPDATE: A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.

Anytown Ecumenical High

It’s been a while since I blogged, but I found an old draft, never completed, and dusted it off.

Back in my Calvinist days, and when I had a child of school-age, I thought how wonderful it would be for there to be an ecumenical Christian high school in town as we had some hesitancy about sending our son to a Catholic High School (particularly since the local Catholic High School had a reputation for binge drinking with parental connivance).

Even apart from the existence of that Catholic High School, I had no idea how impossible or unacceptably minimalist the Christian standards of such a high school would be if it attempted to take in every Christian tradition (with or without Roman Catholicism). Even excluding merely cultural Christians, there’s not much in common.

Here’s a playful stab at the statement of beliefs:

  1. Human life began better than it is now. Human disobedience is what made things worse. Go ask your respective clergy whether “better” and “worse” are predominately moral, mortal, ontological or something else.
  2. There followed maybe four millennia, maybe more. A people called Jews emerged and were called God’s chosen people. Go ask your respective clergy what continuing relevance they have, if any, to the Christian story.
  3. There was a man, who also was God, named Jesus, who came from the Jews to fix our problem. Go ask your respective clergy how His coming had something to do with saving us from our problem.
  4. Jesus’ mother was a virgin. Go ask your respective clergy whether she remained a virgin or whether that would be creepy and subversive of the sexiness we so dearly love.
  5. Without having sinned or committed any capital offense, Jesus nevertheless was crucified some 2000 years ago. We all agree that this was very important, but we can’t entirely agree why. Go ask your respective clergy what Jesus’ crucifixion has to do with saving us from our problem.
  6. Early Sunday after His Crucifixion, this Jesus came back to life, not just a little but totally.We all agree that this was very important. It foreshadows that we won’t stay dead forever, at least if we’re Christians. Go ask your respective clergy whether, beyond that foreshadowing, that just proved Jesus really was God or whether it had something more to do with saving us from our problem.
  7. 40 days later, Jesus left us in something called Ascension in churches that care about things like that. Go ask your respective clergy whether that’s important in saving us from our problem. Extra credit: Ask your clergy why you don’t commemorate it if it’s important but you don’t commemorate it.
  8. After he went away, somebody sent something or someone called the Holy Spirit. Go ask your respective clergy whether it was God the Father from whom He/it proceeded or whether it was from both from the Father and the Son.
  9. While we’re on this Father and Son and Holy Spirit business, go ask your respective clergy to explain the Trinity to you. Watch this video first and you can have fun playing “Name That Heresy” with most clergy.
  10. After that the Church grew. Go ask your respective clergy whether it grew on the basis of the Old Testament, the teaching of the Apostles (written and oral), the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament  that hadn’t been written yet, none of the above, all of the above, or what?
  11. The early Church worshiped rather formally as did the Jews of the Synagogue. Or they sat around on the floor, strumming harps and spontaneously bursting into choruses like Kum-Ba-Ya or “Our God is an Awesome God” in Aeolian mode and Aramaic language. Go ask your respective clergy how the early church worshiped.
  12. The Church had and has somewhere between one and seven or more ordinances, sacraments, mysteries, or whatever you call them. Go ask your respective clergy how many, what you call them, why that particular number.
  13. The Church soon had or didn’t have Bishops and a structure that extended beyond individual congregations. Go ask your respective clergy how the early Church was governed.
  14. One becomes a “Christian” (an encomium) by asking Jesus into his or her heart. Or one becomes a “Christian” (a fact that has little or nothing to do with being nice and middle class or even acting like a Christian) by baptism. Yeah, go ask your Clergy. Sheesh!
  15. Around the time of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century, God dropped the ball, the Church got seduced by secular power, and nothing more good happened until Martin Luther. Or there were always true Christians, who basically were Baptists, but history and fake Christians have suppressed that fact. Or the Church was one and not corrupt until the Bishop of Rome started putting on airs and eventually tore the Church. Or the Church was one and not corrupt until the other four Patriarchs decided to rebel against the Pope in Rome, who everybody knew was the penultimate boss of the whole Church (second only to Christ, whose vicar the Pope was), and thus those rebellious Patriarchs eventually tore the Church. Or something. Go ask your respective clergy.
  16. Someday, Jesus is coming back one or more times. Go ask your respective clergy why He’s coming back and whether He’s coming back once, twice, or multiple times, and whether any of those will be a secret (except for the tantalizingly suspicious disappearance of every Fundamental, King-James-Bible-Believing Baptist in the world).

I think you’ve got the idea by now. And I haven’t even touched on what the school’s sports teams pious nickname would be, whether and what Christian symbols would be allowed, or other thorny issues.

Jesus’ desire that we all may be one is not faring all that well. Go ask your pastor how it can possibly be God’s will that His Church fall into such cacophony.

Or maybe the Church is faring just fine, but “we” is narrower than everybody who says “Jesus” with a little fervor.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Liturgy, mimesis, humus

I went to a symposium over the weekend, the intimidating theme of which was For I Am Holy: The Command to Be Like God.

Like God?!

But this was my fifth year. I have people who are becoming like family to me. I wanted to see them.

Boy, am I glad I went.

There were no formulae. Holiness formulae can only turn us into delusional, self-righteous Church Lady prigs.

So the emphasis was how the liturgy and encountering great literature (sometimes with holy protagonists) and practicing humility at the most “humus” level can shape us toward holiness.

The Eighth Day Symposia are always ecumenical in the sense that the three main speakers are Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. The commonality comes from moderate to deep knowledge of the Church Fathers.

Christians are divided. This is a fact. We have been since the schism between East and West at the turn of the first millennium and since the Protestant Reformations in the sixteenth century. This is a tragedy. That’s why we believe we have a duty to facilitate a dialogue of love and truth, one that acknowledges our real differences, but one that also seeks to achieve a common mind so we can stand reunited in the One who is the Truth.

There is a separate Florovsky-Newman week to focus on our differences. I’ve never been to one, but I think that’s going to change.

Eighth Day Institute is mutually and enthusiastically supportive of Eighth Day Books, a Christian bibliophile’s “happiest place on earth.”

EDB has just published a paper catalog for the first time in eight years. Get one before they’re gone!

* * * * *

All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Nothing happened

Somehow, a day passed without anything notable happening.

Well, nothing notable and edifying came to my attention.

The sky continued to fall down around Baton Rouge (here endeth my cryptic allusion, which some of you will get), and some Polish Catholics, with the help of a Jesuit priest, did a profane rap nuptial mass (6:23 pm November 1) that sets back the possibility of Orthodox/Catholic ecumenism by about 25 years.

So I’m going to step back to yesterday’s Performance Today, which reminded me of an earlier encounter (via From the Top) with Gateways Music Festival, a concept surpassingly wonderful, which I’ll let you encounter for yourself, without further ado.

Be edified.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

 

Not singing Kumbaya (and other bracing things)

  1. Not singing Kumbaya;
  2. Left vs. Right;
  3. Stupid disruption;
  4. May the Mad Twitter King block dissent?;
  5. One of The Greats;
  6. How Federalism (sorta) works;
  7. Sacred Cows;
  8. When the fullness of the time had come

Continue reading “Not singing Kumbaya (and other bracing things)”

Tuesday, 9/8/15

  1. Kim Davis fatigue
  2. Fox News Conservatism
  3. A nation buried within another
  4. Ted Cruz lie update
  5. How best to do charity
  6. Define “evangelical,” please
  7. Evangelical modernists (but I repeat myself)
  8. What the Monday holiday was all about

Continue reading “Tuesday, 9/8/15”