Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Latin Mass: and the latest modern crisis!

We get news this morning that former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey warns that the Church of England faces extinction withing a generation. Well, no, probably not. What the Church of England is facing—along with the liberal wing of Catholicism, Church of Christ, United Church of Canada, and the Mainline Protestant churches—is the possibility of being one generation away from becoming utterly irrelevant to the larger culture.

By way of analogy, think of unicyclists. There aren't many but there are some and every generation sees new unicyclists. The unicycle is not in danger of extinction. That said, the cultural significance of the bicycle is an important issue, the unicycle not so much. The Church of England is one generation away from having the same cultural stature as a club for unicyclists.

That is the source of the crisis that spurred Rev. Carey to speak out.

That is also why the demographic problem that so many others have worried about for decades now never concerned Rev. Carey in the past. He's never really cared about issues of survival; what matters to him is cultural status. If anything, Church leaders like Carey used to argue that concerns about demographics of the C of E were driven by scaremongers.

Okay, it would be easy to cynically suggest that Carey is only scared now because he thinks journalists are going to erase his name and number from their list of contacts. But that's not fair. Carey is far from stupid and neither is he any more vain than the rest of us. In any case, he is not going to survive even one more generation so he can hardly be said to have a personal material interest in the matter.

Let me suggest another explanation. And it begins with an often forgotten aspect of modernism and that is that modernism was always an elitist and anti-populist movement. Modernists were people who rejected huge swaths of modern culture. They hated what they regarded as sentimental art and religion. They could see that one of the unexpected legacies of Romanticism was to establish a giant market for sentimental art and religion but they hated that stuff.

That is why, despite the obvious popularity of sentimental art and religion, they went to war against it. They argued that the modern world had no place for sentiment. In their view, the thing that made "modern" really modern was that it was cut off from the past. They emphasized a discontinuity. They screamed of a crisis that called for immediate action.

And it is important to grasp that. Too often, the debate is seen as one between reformers and the the status quo but there are really no people in the status quo camp. Anyone who has followed the Latin Mass movement within the Catholic Church, for example, will know that there has been far more reform there than in the larger church. These reforms were all made in the interest of restoring the Latin mass to what was hoped to be a "purer" form but they were reforms nevertheless,.

In fact, if you look to people in the Carey camp, they will cheerfully admit bore you to death with their tales of having been unable to make any reforms in recent decades.
The Most Reverend John Sentamu told the Synod – where leaders will debate how to persuade traditionalists to accept women bishops – that they spent too long 'arguing over words and phrases, while the people of England are left floundering amid meaninglessness, anxiety and despair'. 
The lie here is in the second part. The people are not floundering. They are singularly unaware of any crisis. In fact, if there is one thing that characterizes modern life it is the rather stunning lack of crisis. Stunning because they are constantly being told that really bad things are happening out there and yet ... yawn.

Rev. Carey is actually playing the same tune he has always played here. He is a charter member of the Church of the Modernist Crisis. Crisis is the card he always plays. He's never particularly cared about poverty unless it's part of a poverty crisis. He's never cared about female clergy or feminism unless that too can be linked to a crisis. He never cared about declining population of the Church of England until he could make a crisis out of it.

Whatever it is going to take to get people back into churches, assuming such a thing is desirable, for there are bad churches as well as good ones, it isn't yet another retired church leader hectoring a numb and bored population about the latest crisis.

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