I think my term Elite Christianity has been misunderstood in some comments, and I have come across an article that gives me some insight into this ambiguity. “Engaging the Culture” Doesn’t Work Because Christian Beliefs Are a Mark of Low Status. In this article, the word elite refers to social status, wealth, etc. In my use of the same word I meant “aristrocracy” or “nobility” of spirit in the same way as I have read in Berdyaev’s works. See Aristocracy of the Spirit. In my mind, it is not a question of birth, social status or wealth but of where our heart and mind are whether we are rich or poor, “ordinary” or bourgeois.
When thinking about cultural “relevance”, I was thinking about a priest of a community in England which is about as tiny as our own parishes in the ACC. Celebrate the modern Roman rite and that will do the trick. Will it? This article is American and refers to a world that is very different from our own in England or France. Evangelical and “mega” churches over there attract vast numbers of people, but interestingly from a “modest” background. They imitate TV entertainment shows with bright lights and celebrities, but often with less talent and technology. The values of the world are what we find in entertainment, politics and fashion – the sins of envy, vanity and hatred as one Facebook poster characterised it.
The USA still has a Christian civic undercurrent which is popular. It is eschewed by the intellectual elites (not the kind of elite to which I refer in positive terms). Such elites seem to be more or less the “realists” of English Universities throughout the nineteenth century and which ruled with an iron fist from about the 1920’s. Products of this intellectual elite are characters like the atheist Richard Dawkins. Christianity in America, like conservative options in Europe, appeal to popular resistance to secularism and bad morals. The current is still flowing in the direction of the socialist left and deconstructionism.
Christianity as a mark of low status? It always has been, because of the very teaching of Christianity in favour of the weak, poor and sick. There have been exceptions when there were saintly kings and men of high politics like St Thomas More. There were Christian philosophers in the universities and exceptions at every level. Here in Europe, so-called popular Christianity appeals to quite simple people concerned for their health and personal issues. Quack priests and independent bishops still do well out of a market for exorcisms and healing. Personally, I am not concerned with status but whether people “get it”, understand something most people don’t.
What particularly means something to me is this idea about trying to make other people Christians on the pretext of “saving them from hell”. We climb up waterfalls in Brazil to play baroque music on the oboe – and the modern equivalent. We come up with clever arguments to demonstrate that Christianity is true as opposed to materialism and “realism”.
The article mentions Rod Dreher. I have yet to read his book, but I have the impression that it would find it hard to impress me as a European. Some things fit, and other things are so American. Americans are much more corporate than we Europeans who are more individualist since the mid twentieth century. Christianity is marginal as in the beginning, and we have to come to terms with it. What are the alternatives if we abandon it? Most seem to be quite bleak. I can’t imagine myself going New Age or Hindu, or going into the Richard Dawkins mould. “Thou hast the words of eternal life, to whom else shall we go?”
I belong to a small Church, which in fact seems better equipped to come to terms with the now marginal nature of Christianity. Some of our priests have built up real parishes, especially those who came from the “mainstream” and joined us, namely our two priests in Wales. I don’t have the resources or talents for that kind of ministry. It would also be pointless to address myself to social elites, because I am not one of them. I am not in their mould, nor do I conform to their fashions. I have simply been blogging for years, and have found a few like-minded souls to work with. There is my “elite” because we are brought together by potential friendship, unity of purpose and elevation of spirit. We go far beyond the world’s criteria of being “elite”.
For what it’s worth, I’m an American Catholic, formerly lapsed but reconnecting to his roots by way of the traditional Latin mass, which is offered daily by a New York City church. I’ve tried to reconcile myself previously by attending the Novus Ordo, without success each time. Fortunately for me the traditional mass was still in existence for a number of years yet when I was very young, and its impressions vaguely kept its mysteries alive in me subconsciously over the years, while awaiting my return to it. The real surprise for me, however, has been the discovery of the Office — first with the Latin-English monastic diurnal, but then moving on to using the Anglican Breviary, since an all-English recital is easier for me (at 60), and it contains the Matins as well.
I just want to say that I applaud what you are doing, and the ways in which you have found of fashioning something genuine for yourself and your liturgical community, out of your own process of trial and discovery. It is heartening, and in this time, it is likely the only way forward for authentic spiritual life, this return to a traditional bent of some sort.
Also for what it’s worth (and as opposed to the reductionism of a Dawkins): I have heard Rupert Sheldrake mention, somewhere in his presentations on morphic resonance, that ancient religious practices and rituals likely retain a spiritual structure in some sense, one that builds over time, and which gathers a tremendous amount of power that remains available to its participants. I find that not only inspiring, but can therefore intuit the necessity for individuals continuing a regular solitary practice (such as reciting the Office) which is yet connected to the Church at large.
Since, if the Catholic church is going to have a shot at pulling itself out of its current downward spiral, this could well be contingent: individuals whose spirituality is mostly a private matter, using such traditional practices that can be done outside of an institutional setting to counter the decay of the institutional church.