As Our Modern, Western Culture Begins To Implode, The Catholic Church Is Our Last, Best Hope
Channel surfing the other night, I came across a slew of 1980s “coming of age” movies on cable television. With all of their flaws (too much sexual innuendo, which is mild by today’s comparisons,) one can easily see a positive theme of a bright future and endless possibilities running through this genre of films. I had almost forgotten that in the 1983 film Valley Girl, Julie played by Deborah Foreman actually chastises her hippy parents for their suggestion that if she and her new boyfriend Randy, played by Nicholas Cage, want to explore their sexuality it would be alright by them. Julie rebukes her parents for having such beliefs as well as the nostalgia surrounding their involvement in the 1960s anti war movement; after all it was the era of Ronald Reagan. Everything seemed possible; it was Morning in America again. Many of these movies were set in California which at the time exuded excitement for those of us growing up in colder, Midwest climates. Economically, California was booming and it was also the heart of a growing and diverse music scene.
Fast forward some 25+ years later and many of today’s films have a dark undercurrent with more than a little subtle leftwing political and cultural propaganda running through them. While there are certainly hopeful signs in Hollywood, especially with the advent of stars like Eduardo Verastegi and his movie Bella and associated Metanoia Films, (Click here for my interview with Eduardo Verastegui,) the secular film industry has fallen even farther into the cesspool. Sadly the Golden State’s economic boom seems but a distant memory, which was bound to occur when California’s Big Government mentality rivaled that of Sweden or the Canadian province of Quebec. The bigger question remains; is California setting the trend once again for the nation and the western world, and if it is what hope is there? The hope remains as it always has not in mortal man and the latest left wing hypothesis about the world’s failings, but in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Why does the hope remain with the Catholic Church, which has more than see her fair share of trouble? The hope remains because despite all of the imperfect men and women contained within the Church, she has “Clear Doctrine,” says Canon Kendall Harmon, a leading conservative voice of the Episcopal Church. In my interview with Canon Kendall Harmon, he spoke of the cultural relativism that crept into his church and many of the Protestant mainstream churches. This is leading to a statistical freefall thanks to liberal voices who thought they knew better than 2,000 of Christian orthodoxy. Pope Benedict has spoken of the virus of the “Dictatorship of Relativism,” which like any virus is trying to permeate and destroy everything within its reach.
In 1968, when Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, he was attacked for squelching the reforms of Vatican II. The embattled pontiff warned of a sexual permissiveness run amok if birth control became part of the social fabric. He also warned of skyrocketing abortion rates. Four years later when he spoke of the “Smoke of Satan,” entering the Church, his critics didn’t merely attack him but laughed at him and were bemused by such antiquated talk. These same people voiced no concern when their radical mentor Saul Alinsky dedicated his landmark book Rules for Radicals, to among others Lucifer. It appears they had already dismissed talk of the evil one. It didn’t stop there; society would emulate the rebels of Christianity. Birth control would become a societal ritual and abortion commonplace. Talk of evil would be greeted with smirks and stares, for those who still believed such a thing existed. A Construct of Rebellion emerged, which in fact had always been there, even before the Garden, but was now becoming more readily apparent. (You can read my Construct of Rebellion article here.) From that construct a pattern emerged which followed that if churches were allowing it or doing it, why couldn’t the rest of society. (Click here to read my article entitled; If You Like What the Political Left Has Done To World Governments, Look At What The Religious Left Has Done To Religion (Left It In Tatters.)
Many Evangelicals were beginning to the wisdom of Humanae Vitae and the coming moral abyss to which western society was heading. It may be heard to believe, but the Catholic Church had been the only organized religious body to always oppose abortion. The Evangelical Christianity Today magazine recently issued a mea culpa of sorts wondering how they ever used words like “therapeutic abortions.” Even the conservative Southern Baptist Church supported abortion and it took several contentious meetings in the late 1970s, along with the rise of figures like the Reverend Jerry Falwell to end that stance. The President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. R Albert Mohler lamented; “the early Evangelical response to legalized abortion was woefully inadequate.” Mohler even says Evangelicals have much learn from Humanae Vitae. Today, many of the mainline churches not only support abortion rights but also same sex marriage.
Whether it was birth control, political radicalism, the loss of the sacred (especially in ritual, tradition, sacred liturgies and music,) society was putting two and two and two together and realizing that there was a better way. For example following Second Vatican Council, many forms of contemporary style worship was used in Catholic parishes. While, hymns of all kinds that are beautiful need to be appreciated, it was the idea held by some that sacred liturgical music needed to compete with what that which was being heard on pop music stations that seemed the biggest problem. As Catholic revert Francis Beckwith put it, “Why would we want to listen to a poor version of Bob Dylan when we can hear the real thing for ourselves.” Many like Beckwith left the Church (fortunately he and many others have returned) because the Church was losing a sense of the sacred.
It was one thing for liturgists and church musicians to try to emulate the folk sounds of Bob Dylan and the Byrds, but Vatican II ended in 1965. By the 1970s, folk music was out and groups like Led Zeppelin ruled the airwaves. If you wanted your particular parish church to be hip why would any hip 1970s teenager want to go to Mass and listen to a Peter, Paul and Mary ensemble when Ramble On, Black Dog and Nobody’s Fault But Mine were the hip songs of the day? It got worse some, some churches thought they could emulate the latest musical trends, it became a disaster.
I graduated from high school in 1982 and I can remember a yearning among some of us for the sacred that we heard about from our friends older brothers who vaguely remembered the old days and the Latin Mass. Besides Led Zeppelin, we were listening to Van Halen, Nazareth and April Wine and we were at loss as to figure out why some in the Church felt they had to compete with these secular bands. After all we thought, this was Mass, it should be sacred, and shouldn’t the Church represent something more holy than what we were blasting out of our car stereos? Some churches did try to use these songs and tales of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven being used as a Communion hymn, the Rolling Stone’s As Tears Go By used as the melody for the Lord’s Prayer, and Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water used as an entrance hymn circulated. (You think I am making this up? I personally witnessed the first example and was told about the other two from those who were there.)
Something had to give, and as the pontificate of Pope John Paul II marched on these liturgical tragedies and the dissidents who inspired them were slowly exiting the Church. The dissidents were becoming increasingly vocal about the direction the Polish pontiff was taking the Church and the popularity which he held around the world. The true turning point came in 1993 with World Youth Day in Denver, an event which started the turning tide which I wrote about in my book; The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism. George Weigel describes a feeling of near panic as some in the US Church feared no one would come to Denver to see Pope John Paul II for World Youth Day, because many of their children or nieces or nephews had little interest in such an event.
However, large numbers of young people did come and many vocations were realized because of the gathering. Gone was the hopefulness of the that greeted American and the western world in the1980s. Though the 1990s was an economic boom decade, a growing nihilist culture, complete with dark images and musical lyrics were surfacing and made visible in two of the decade’s most popular bands, Nirvana and Metallica. While these bands may have simply been singing about their life experiences, as children of divorce and alienation, the young who gathered in Denver wanted something better out of life. Those young people of Denver were a harbinger of things to come, as today those under the age of 30 who attend Mass regularly, believe in the Church’s teachings and support the pro life cause more so than any other age group, even that of their grandparents.
Though the Denver event did have some liturgical blunders which caught the ire of EWTN’s Mother Angelica, the event much to the surprise of the liberal Doubting Thomas’s within the Church, was a resounding success. The event and the expanding power of EWTN gave Mother Angelica a podium from which to address the many problems still remaining in the Church. Sometime later she was taken to task by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and his supporters for comments she made. Much to the surprise of His Eminence and his supporters, they found little resonance among the rank and file of the Church, who increasingly took to the feisty nun. It was plain for all to see that in the American Catholic Church, orthodoxy was ascending and liberalism was descending.
While anecdotal, I am sure I am not alone in noting the observation that I can’t think of a single instance in which a liberal Catholic parent (who graduated from high school or college in the 1960s or 1970s) has a liberal Catholic child who still practices the Faith once they leave home. I can think of many children of Catholic liberals who left the Church for another faith tradition, adhere to no faith at all, or have become an orthodox Catholic despite their liberal upbringing. However, I cannot think of a single liberal Catholic family where the children have stayed in the Church and continue on in the liberal Catholic tradition.
As I noted before, all of this is made manifest in ordination numbers. 64 to 6 and 14 to 4 stand out. What does this mean? In 2006 when writing my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, I noted that even though the Diocese of Rochester had more Catholics than the dioceses of Lincoln and Omaha combined, Rochester had 6 men studying for the priesthood while Lincoln and Omaha had 64. That same year of 2006 Denver had 14 young men ordained to the priesthood (eleven in May and three earlier in the academic year) while Los Angeles had four; a staggering statistic when one considers that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has 4,300,000 Catholic residents compared to 385,000 Catholics for the Archdiocese of Denver. Los Angeles and Rochester are led by two of the most liberal prelates in the Church, while Omaha, Lincoln and Denver are led by three of the more conservative bishops in the US, a revelatory statistic to say the least.
At a lecture I saw at Ohio Domincan University a few years ago, noted Catholic journalist and writer John Allen told the theologically diverse crowd that third world Catholics did not share the views of western liberal Catholic prelates and academics. This may have been a bitter pill to swallow for liberals since Allen worked for the liberal National Catholic Reporter. For all their talk of diversity, some western liberals, especially in the Anglican Church have caused deep rifts over their assertion that Africans are culturally backwards on issues like women clergy and same sex marriage, so much for western liberals embracing diversity. As a matter of fact, some conservative US Episcopal churches have broken away to align themselves with Anglican dioceses in Africa.
Many mainline American Protestant churches have lost nearly half of their members in the last fifty years, some went to Evangelical Churches, some to the Catholic Church and others stopped attending any church. It would appear that in the latter case, they took the relativistic sermons they were hearing to heart and felt like those delivering them that they knew better than the teachings of orthodox minded Christianity. It is much worse in Europe, where it is estimated that more people attend Friday prayers at Britain’s mosques than attend Anglican Church services on Sunday morning. Yet it gets worse for the Anglican Church. In addition to the laity, the Anglican Church lost a large amount of their clergy as well.
This development has led Pope Benedict XVI to approve a personal ordinate which will allow Anglican male clergy who accept Catholic Church teaching to become priests in the Catholic Church. One would think that most Catholics would feel a certain pity for Archbishop Rowan Williams the leader of the Anglican Church. One might even think he might feel tempted to swim the Tiber himself.
Despite the Episcopal Church’s numerical free fall, the mainstream media became enamored when liberal Bishop Kathryn Jefferts Schori became the Episcopal Church’s presiding US bishop in 2006. It didn’t take her long to make some controversial comments. In one New York Times interview she said Catholics had more children than Episcopalians because Catholics were “less educated” and perhaps because Episcopalians cared more for the environment. The faux pas received little attention. The mainstream media also seems enamored with the views of the openly homosexual Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson. I interviewed him in 2006 and he was quite open about his cultural and religious views.
In April of 2008 the mainstream media and in particular CBS News anchor Katie Couric and ABC religion reporter Dan Harris seemed mystified as to why Pope Benedict XVI received so much positive affection from Catholics when he came to New York and Washington. The two, among many others in the mainstream media, seemed bemused as to how could this be since the conservative Bavarian pontiff opposed many cultural hot button social issues like women’s ordination and same sex marriage. Yet huge crowds came to see the pontiff and the Catholic Church continues to grow around the world, especially in Africa and Asia, but even in the United States, a fact you would never know from the mainstream media. They give the world the appearance that the Catholic Church is in a statistical freefall and not the mainline Protestant churches, which is in fact just opposite of what is occurring.
Is it any wonder that a spirit of malaise has fallen over the western world when some liberal Catholic elected officials claim they don’t know when life begins or chastise their bishop after he rebukes them for it. Sadly, it doesn’t end there. Some political leaders say those in the American Heartland “cling to their guns and religion,” because they don’t know any better. In addition they also claim to support abortion rights because they wouldn’t want their daughters “punished with a child” from an unexpected pregnancy. We should juxtapose these words with the more thoughtful words coming out of the mouth of the fictional teenager Julie in the film Valley Girl, which I mentioned in the opening paragraph. One can see that these are strange days indeed.
All people, especially the young want to believe in their leaders and have hope for the future. There is a saying among the young, “keep it real,” which means avoid silliness. Earlier in this article I wrote of some of the silly songs and trends that entered the Catholic Church for a short time in the 1960s and 1970s. Sadly some Christian churches have been taken over by the “latest thing,” which has caused great sadness among those who once gave their hear tand soul for their mainline denominational church. One of the latest trends in the Episcopal Church centered around uniting the Eucharist with music of the popular Irish band U2 for something billed as the U2Charist. I wrote about it in 2006 while covering the Episcopal General Convention in Columbus. Though I greatly admire U2, have many of their albums and cd’s, along with seeing them in concert, it was more than a literal bewildering seeing something billed as the U2Charist. What’s next liturgical music incorporating the lyrics of Adam Lambert or Lady GaGa?
Young people are eventually turned off by this and those they view as phony. For example, many in the pro abortion movement seemed puzzled and alarmed as to why so many young people, religious and secular are against abortion. Aside from medical imagery where the unborn child can easily be seen, perhaps it is the attitude displayed by abortion clinics such as one in Rockford, Illinois who mocks protesters with signs and gleefully keeps a running count of the abortions they have performed. In addition, the latest kerfuffle which saw some leaders of the pro abortion movement attack not only the highly respected former college football Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow, but his mother as well has shocked many.
Calling his mother a liar for suggesting that she was told to have the future Heisman trophy winner aborted seems more than a little bizarre. Their argument surmises that she couldn’t have been told this since she was in the Philippines at the time and abortion is illegal in this staunchly Catholic nation. Yet many women were told to consider abortions long before they were legal even in the United States, tragically they were termed “therapeutic abortions,” and they were routinely performed.
Because of events likes this and many others outlined here, many young people are looking to the 2,000 teachings of the Catholic Church. Many seemed skeptical when I wrote about this in my book; The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism. They wanted data, which I gave them but perhaps it was when they saw it for themselves in the newly installed bishops, newly ordained priests and newly vowed nuns. This along with the burgeoning orthodox minded Catholic blogosphere, new Evangelism and Apologetics movement, pro life movement, young Catholic musicians, along with the actors and actresses found at places like Metanoia films is where the future lies. Many faithful young people are refusing to take part in the “Sex and City” lifestyle they were told was theirs for the taking, and instead were setting their sights for a more faith filled lifestyle. It is more than just anecdotal, it is seen not only in statistical analysis but in lives lived and lives changed because of it. For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has seen more than her fair share of upheaval, Christ’s words will always remained true; the gates of hell would not prevail against her (Matthew 16:15-20.) This latest cultural downturn is no exception, the Church will guide all those who will listen.