Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Church and the Black Swan


This was a grim week here at Secret Sun Central- a friend of my sons died in an accident and we attended his wake Thursday and my sons attended his funeral yesterday. He was one of the first friends my younger son made in this neighborhood. 

His family are the salt in the salt of the earth, a large and close-knit unit that I've always greatly admired. The kids all went to college, all got good jobs, all were active in sports and the community. People living the American Dream.

The turnout for the wake was astonishing. The parking lot for a large local church was filled- we had to improvise a spot. The receiving line wrapped around the enormous sanctuary. 

True to form, the family were solid, in good spirits, strong, gracious, warm and personable in their time of tragedy. I wasn't so much myself. I felt ashamed because I had a very hard time concealing my grief when talking to the family. But again, there they were; understanding, smiling, accommodating, stolid.

The family are devout Catholics, active in their local church. It appeared that a lot of the turnout for the wake were parishoners, coming to support a woman whom they love and value as an important member of the community. I couldn't help but think of the Roman era and how we are reliving it now, and how the love and support in a time of grief was such a powerful tool of persuasion in the spread of Chrisitianity.

Christianity wasn't alone in building bonds of community, of course. There was Judaism, which was an influential and widespread religion in Roman times. And you had a number of other religions, most notably that of the Mother Goddess Isis, which the Roman Church of today so resembles. 

But it struck me that in Roman times you had a powerful and evangelizing faith which atomized, rather than gathered. And that was the religion of cosmopolitanism, an umbrella under which all of the systems of disbelief such as Epicureanism and Stoicism coalesced. And of course, like today you also have Nü Atheism.

Nü Atheism is an adolescent movement. The adults who follow it have adolescent (or pre-adolescent) temperaments and personalities (Maher, Dawkins, Gervais, Myers etc) and it's grown in popularity since you have a large generational cohort reaching young adulthood and seeking to set themselves apart from their parents. But it's reactionary and petulant. A pose, not a philosophy.

The Christian churches helped it along by cynically allying themselves with partisan political interests of post-Cold War conservatism, ignoring that the so-called Mainline churches thought they too were surfing the crest of a wave by allying themselves with 60s liberalism. Didn't work out that way.

There are many in the Church who see this as a time of exile, many who see the current mood as a millennial shift, that the Church faces the same abyss the state cults of Rome did when Constantine began the process that brought the Church to power. This is absurd. Christianity is rising like wildfire in Africa and China, is reviving in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe and remains powerful in Latin America. 

It's in the graying, dying, shrinking precincts of Western Europe and North America where religion is in decline. 

Gee, you think there's a connection?

Many very conservative Christians (conservative theologically, that is) see this as a time of discipline for the Church, that God is punishing the Church for submitting itself to partisan and economic powers and neglecting its calling to evangelize and to serve the poor.

I don't know, it's no longer my fight. I left the Church for very complex and powerful reasons. Part of this was my disgust with the politics, with the aggressive partisanship of the 90s Southern Baptist and nondenominational ascendancy. I disdain Nü Atheism and its tributaries for the same reason, though in this case the politics are a mirror image. Same aggressive polarity, different party.

But I'm not one of those who are writing the Church's obituary. I think when the Millennials hit middle age they'll remember how nice it felt to be part of a community and will want to return to some kind of church. And to see the power of an institution that can provide such solace and support during the worst time of your life; well, what do the atheists have to counter that

Inevitably, the priest scandals come up, curiously often by the same people who ally themselves politically with people trying to mainstream pedophilia such as the BBC,  Salon.com and The Guardian. The priest abuse scandals were a total disgrace, there are no two ways about it. But at the same time the lion's share of the cases were decades old. Not that the damage is, however. The damage is often forever.

Yet he same people calling for the abolition of the Catholic Church because of the scandals and the cover-ups go suddenly silent when you point out that the worst of the Church's scandals are nothing in comparison to the sexual abuse of students committed by public school teachers. 

We are hearing cases seeming to pop up on a weekly -sometimes daily- basis from the public schools, and yet we don't see any movement from the Atheist movement to abolish the public schools. Why? Why the double standard? 

Science and math teachers especially commit rape, statutory rape and other forms of sexual abuse at alarming rates and yet the media seem to look the other way. 

Why?

It's a funny thing for me- I could never join the Catholic Church for reasons both personal and historical. But I respect it in many ways, as much as I decry its abuse of power. I'm not a joiner, I value my position as an outsider. But I do wonder if we're working backwards in a way, reliving late Rome but in reverse.  

I've written about the New Age, and how its power and influence is often unnoticed because it presents such a nebulous target. But it continues to grow and influence the mainstream religions in ways people don't quite yet understand. There are yoga cults most people have never heard of that have tens of thousands of followers.

And I do believe that without the monopoly of the churches -especially the intimidation and repression we often saw from the Southern churches towards any competition- that we will see interesting new religious movements flower once this adolescent rebellion burns itself out. 

We can't really guess at what they are yet. These things tend to follow larger streams of environment and event, meaning they arise in reaction to what is happening in the world and respond to the needs that present themselves to be filled. Social media may well be the medium in which the contagion may take root.

Whether or not they take the symbols of religion literally, people find meaning in them and the will to overcome adversity. They find community, fellowship, and support in time of trial. As our overclass becomes more antihuman and more psychopathic, those are needs I can only see increasing. Who will fill the void?

As powerful as the Church is I just don't think its symbols still resonate with people today. In that way it is like paganism in the Fourth Century, finding its neolithic vocabulary no longer resonating with a modern audience. The Bible was written for a time when families were companies and most of the population were slaves. You had limited technology and most people worked in menial labor until dying sometime in their 30s or 40s. 

Maybe the Church can reinvent itself. Maybe Islam will take hold, fueled by a disgust and utter fatigue with modernity and cosmopolitanism. But it's just as likely a black swan may arise, something we can't even imagine yet. Something that will fly under the radar, fueled by the technology of today. 

Aggressive atheism pops up from time to time and breeds itself out of the gene pool (I keep meaning to create a graphic using an old man mourning at a grave and write "Atheist Family Reunion"). It may be how Gaia or the Overmind cleans out certain social maladaptations in the body politic, I don't know. But already many- if not most- of the articles we see from atheists in the mainstream media are protests about how the author isn't like those atheists, the jerks. 

Heaven forbid.

Religion predates America and will exist long after America has disintegrated into a Balkanized collection of corporate serfdoms (which is to say 'in 30 years or so'). It serves a basic human need and has done so for millennia.  I see nothing of any real value or permanence filling that need in its absence. The only question in my mind is whether the old religions will revive or that black swan will take flight.

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