Thursday, February 2, 2006

Religion and "the Void"

On February 2, 1981, The Milwaukee Journal ran this perceptive editorial.

So began Archbishop Weakland in one of his weekly Catholic Herald columns, reprinted in his book All God's People: Catholic Identity After the Second Vatican Council (New York: Paulist Press, 1985) pp. 68-70. The editorial commented on Weakland's expression of concern over rising "neofundamentalism" and what the editors called "a shift to the religious right." The editors concluded
Yet, whatever may be the dangers from a shift to the religious right, the trend poses a significant societal question. That question, which should challenge leaders and thinkers in both the religious and secular spheres, is this: What void is there in modern life that is not filled by the political philosophies and religious teachings that were once so dominant?

Weakland begins by saying the void is insecurity in a fast-changing and increasingly complex world. In such times, people
look for and grasp at institutions which will be for them anchors and stable points of referral--the unchanging--to which they can hang on.

Churches, he goes on, can respond in one of three ways.
The first is to create the new Church of the future, nebulous and without roots.

He says this is rare, which makes perfect sense if he has correctly discerned the void in modern life. If it is insecurity, vagueness won't do. He does not consider whether some people find the security of certainty in a belief in Progress, and a church which claims to be in its vanguard.
The second possibility is to change nothing and thus to cater to the demands of those looking for an unchanging institution to hang on to.

He cites Archbishop Lefebvre's followers. They might fit his description. It doesn't explain why Catholics turn in vastly larger numbers to evangelical churches, which are far from unchanging in institutional form.

This brings us to his third way.

The center of the road position is the one that most mainline Churches seek to adopt.

He explains this middle position, and then starts his conclusion.
What happens, then, to the need for security which was the void spoken of? What does mainline religion have to say to that need?

Wasn't the question why people increasingly find inadequate what mainline religion has to say?
Here I believe that the mainline Churches are true to the Bible--truer than the fundamentalists--since they place that security in God's loving providence, in his care and promise of inner guidance. That is what faith is all about.

He may believe this about mainline Churches, but the question was why increasing numbers of people do not.
Coupled with that faith (or better, resulting from it) is hope--not a hope based on immobility, negation of change, or isolationism from historical reality, but one that finds its anchor in that God who, in so many marvelous ways, has looked after his people in the past and who remains with the Church today. He alone must fill that void.

Twenty-five years later, the question remains why so many Catholics conclude they must look elsewhere for that anchor.


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