Monday, July 16

Now With 25% More Opiate!

GEE, I dunno, Ross. Can the Times be saved?
IN 1998, John Shelby Spong, then the reliably controversial Episcopal bishop of Newark, published a book entitled “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Spong was a uniquely radical figure — during his career, he dismissed almost every element of traditional Christian faith as so much superstition —

So did the 19th century German Protestant theologians, Ross. And they were right. Demonstrably right. 

You can't be a learned member of 21st century society and insist that half the Old Testament was written by Moses, nor that there's any evidence at all of Jesus Christ, historical carpenter, that the Gospels are contemporary eyewitness accounts, that every species on earth is fixed for eternity and is descended from two parents, that the world is 6000 years old, for that matter, nor that the whole structure one refers to as "Christianity" is anything other than a collection of tales and beliefs which have been shaped to suit their times and political expedience for a couple hundred centuries now. Sorry. You can't. You can get a job at the New York Times, but you can't justify a bit of it in reasonable or rational terms.
but most recent leaders of the Episcopal Church have shared his premise. Thus their church has spent the last several decades changing and then changing some more, from a sedate pillar of the WASP establishment into one of the most self-consciously progressive Christian bodies in the United States.

As a result, today the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict XVI suddenly adopted every reform ever urged on the Vatican by liberal pundits and theologians.

Apart from the ones which are specific to Catholicism, like "no more using young acolytes' rectums as snooker tables."
It still has priests and bishops, altars and stained-glass windows. But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.

Ross, let's just remember who started this argument, shall we?

For starters, among people who are currently able to sit up and take nourishment, the only ones willing to speak of the whole of Christendom as a two-thousand-year-old monolith free of contretemps and spray-painted graffito until the Sixties ruined it for everyone are people like you: Americans of a religio-authoritarian bent who, just for starters, have to ignore 50% of their fellow religionists in order to make the claim.
Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.

I'm not an Episcopalian, but so far as I can recall their sex scandals have been of the "O, Lord, they've got homasexyuls in their midsts and they're not even stoning them!" type rather than the "forcible serial boy buggery by priests who are then shielded by the Church hierarchy" sort. So I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt, and believe that the pronouncements of their theologians and councils have been designed to answer questions of belief, not as a marketing campaign to hook the much desired 18-29 demo. 

Which, by the way, I have no idea where, or if, it's going to church, but I'm pretty sure it isn't buying gayness as a ticket to Hell and contraception as the moral equivalent of murder. Not in overwhelming numbers, anyway.

But where's the Catholic Church in America over this period? Well, for one thing, it rather notoriously counts every American with an Italian, Irish, or Hispanic surname as one of its own, in perpetuity. And still, the only reason it shows a net growth is the rise of the Hispanic population, which is, to be sure, giving it a lot more miracles involving tree sap and burned toast than it used to have. Which may count for something, but it's not moral authority. 

The number one growing "Christian" cult in America is Mormonism. Mormons, you'll forgive me cutting Gordo's Knot here, aren't Christian. The fastest growing religion in America is Wicca. What their marketing strategy is I don't know. 
This decline is the latest chapter in a story dating to the 1960s. The trends unleashed in that era — not only the sexual revolution, but also consumerism and materialism, multiculturalism and relativism — threw all of American Christianity into crisis, and ushered in decades of debate over how to keep the nation’s churches relevant and vital.

Let's just throw all the cards over. It's extremely unattractive in the Rapidly Aging Young to hear them still mouthing their parents' inanities. You wanna blame The Sixties for the evils of sex, respect for ethnic and cultural distinctions, and "relativism", which is religio-authoritarianspeak for "calling out people in High places for hypocrisy"? Go ahead. But "consumerism and materialism"? For fuck's sake, those people were anti-consumerist and anti-materialist. For one thing, they were too busy fuckin'. 

You can get away with this sort of shit preaching to the choir, but you're not supposed to get away with it on the Times Op-Ed pages. Mainline Protestant churches have seen their attendance tumble in the past twenty years. So have Southern Baptists. Religious people have gone Full Snake Handler, Turpentine Drinker, Faith Healer, and Jesus Did To Ride A Dinosaur. This may be important information if you're the local Serpents and Solvents distributor, but as to what it means theologically, let alone as a measure of whether Ross Douthat's sex-repugnance is the New Normal: nothing. 

Is your own Church supposed to be above this, because it can excommunicate the faithless, the doubtful, and the sass-mouthed? The current regime may be hard-line conservative, but its moral authority with its own people is dropping like the Collection plate take at your local Second Presbyterian, and its claim to the moral high ground is gone for everyone else. How much longer do you think you can ignore that?


Jonathan said...

As a progressive Christian, let me just say, that your analysis is both dead on target and laugh out loud funny. Dying to adhere to your beliefs seems a bit more of a Christlike like than the bread and circus of the prosperity gospel or the hatred and magical craziness of spirit warrior evangelicals.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

How much longer do you think you can ignore that?

As long as the NYT keeps paying his worthless ass.

Fearguth said...

How unlikely would you say it is that Brother Douthat has never read Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus? Uh-huh, that's what I think, too.

TM said...

The problem seems pretty straightforward to me. Most rational people leave religion altogether. A few with a fondness for community and ritual life hang on as progressive Christians, but that's a small group of folk, and they're completely overshadowed in the world of religion.

Most of the people still religious in this day and age like their preferred brand of insanity undiluted.

The Episcopal church is like a scotch and soda, but the good folks have a hankering for fresh 'stilled moonshine. What's a church to do?

Fiddlin' Bill said...

What a surprise, he ends up bashing the Sixties. Well, how does he square that with the fact that in the Sixties America had a living, breathing, walking and talking Christian moral authority of the first order--Martin Luther King, Jr. And America, in 1968, murdered this Christian man. And, Mr. Douthat, you should go listen to Nina Simone's "The King of Love is Dead" for about the next two days, and perhaps then you will come to understand to some small extent what a complete idiot and fool and servant of evil you really are. Meanwhile--thanks as usual Mr. Riley. Right on the money.

anotherbozo said...

Riley, correct the typo in "Jesus Did To[o] Ride A Dinosaur." It's a favorite children's book of the home-schooled, after all.

What is with the Times's hiring these retards? They finally got rid of Bill Kristol, only to hire Douthat? I hate masochistic libruls.

Douthat was on "UP with Chris Hayes" and wasn't kicked in the nuts. Hayes is too much the gentleman, smiled while he shoe-horned in corrections of fact while Douthat spouted on. Hayes may be another masochist, CTTOI.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, the snooker line

That was funny

Tommy said...

Seriously. I almost spit out my drink. That wins the internet for today.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to lecture on Jesus you might want to read up on the Historical Jesus and on the Jesus Seminar.

Anonymous said...

Every time I read Ross Douthat, I feel a sudden need to go read Slacktivist as a palate cleanser.

I'm an atheist, but I hail from a very Catholic extended family--and the worst thing about Douthat is that, other than his half-crotchety, half-world-weary old man mask, he's just not that unusual. I'll spot you the odd Jesuit, but in my experience the average lay Catholic knows substantially less about the Bible and the history of the Church than I know about neurobiology.

Shovonie said...

Roman Catholicism has lost huge numbers, hasn't it? Just in the last couple decades, not to mention since the Reformation.
Oh, well. Ross can stay a virgin until he finds some poor lady willing to sleep with him without contraception and have a dozen of his babies, and we can just hope that he keeps his bogus job long enough to pay for parochial school tuition.

He's such a sad fella. He's like a throwback to a young George Will, whose obsession with the 60s at least made some sense, as Will was alive then and justifiably seethed with resentment for having to wear a bow tie while everyone else was having sex.