Margaritaville Christianity; God's Way Or Our Way?

As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages, a growing populace happy for good news and grateful for these positive turn of events in their lives openly and without apology made the Catholic faith the center of their lives. They believed in the Word of God, even if they couldn’t read or write. They hung on to every word of those who could read. Even during the workday, if at all possible those working in the fields would briefly slip into town to see the priest raise the Host during the Consecration at Mass. Though their lives were full of toil and often misery (they weren’t allowed the liberty of attending daily Mass) the people of this era used any opportunity they could to make religion a part of their daily life.

Fast forward a thousand years and we can certainly see that daily life has shifted some 180 degrees. Many of the elite often snicker or poke fun at those who are serious about their faith. Even those who are considered serious in their faith pursuit, often hide the true extent of their faith, for fear of being called a holy roller.

The secular talking heads tell us that we should be more like the modern world we are trying to help and change. Religion should be more like the popular culture they tell us. We should try to glean words of wisdom from thinkers like Voltaire, Marx, Freud and Alinsky and entertainers like Madonna, Lady Gaga or even Jimmy Buffet. Yet, have these secular talking heads ever taken their own advice? Have these leftists ever thought, “why was Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher so popular? What could we learned from them? “ (For more on this read my column, If You Like What The Political Left Has Done To Politics, Look At What The Religious Left Has Done To Religion (Left It In Tatters) along with my article, The Construct of Rebellion.

Some might say wasn’t Jesus somewhat of a cultural outcast, like modern day pop culture figures? Well Jesus certainly enjoyed some fun; otherwise he wouldn’t have been at the wedding feast performing his first miracle by turning water into wine no less. However, he was hardly the type of person that endorsed the “its Five o Clock somewhere lifestyle.” He forgave the woman caught in adultery, but told her to “sin no more.” Incidentally, she probably had more clothes on than some who show up at church on Sunday. However, that’s another story.

Our educated world makes excuses for the behavior of those pop stars like Lady Gaga who make edgy and sacrilegious videos and show up in public (at the New York Yankees club house) clad only in undergarments. Those illiterate peoples that lived in Europe one thousand years ago were smart enough to know that despite the corruption they knew existed in the Church, they were far better off listening to the Teachings of the Church than the whims of the world in which they lived. They and their forbearers had witnessed violent feudal warlords that had plunged Europe into centuries of horrific darkness; a darkness that we face today if we listen to the sirens of militant secularism who want us to return to the dying days of Rome.

We often forget it was in those dying days of Rome that many of the elites longed for the days of their elders, when Christianity was outlawed and orgies were commonplace at homes of the movers and shakers of Roman high society, and violent spectacles took place at the coliseum. Today their descendants are gaga over the likes of Lady Gaga, and treat abortion as if it were some sort of coming of age ritual.

Yet these modern day sirens of militant secularism want to lecture us on how to worship. For years they pointed to the imploding mainline liberal Protestant churches as the place to be, where talk of social engineering was the driving force and sin was long ago left on the side of the road. Now they increasingly point to the “It’s all good” mantra of the mega church.

It seems these dour militant secularists must be having a mid life crisis. They now fancy a man in the pulpit clad in an Hawaiian shirt, and sporting the latest tattoo. In their younger days they longed for the wisdom of Bob Dylan, but it seems as he has gotten older and more conservative they are now focusing their attention on someone that looks like Jimmy Buffet. Perhaps Bob Dylan was a little bit prophetic when in 1979 he sang the lyrics “Do you think that God is just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires?” The song “When You Gonna Wake Up,” from the legendary Christian inspired album Slow Train Coming is more than a little prophetic concerning the actions of Dylan’s one time social activist protégés.

A theological construct holds that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, it was to remind those assembled of their sins (Hence the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God.) The people realized their sin of pagan worship and lewd behavior which resulted in many repenting for their actions. When Jesus came, many especially among the intellectual classes felt they weren’t sinning and rejected his message. If this contruct holds true, than many of today’s intellectuals probably don’t believe there is such a thing as sin. 

St Paul reminded his readers that although he persecuted the Faith, he had spent years earning the Faithfull’s trust by enduring awful and brutal trials, and he had the scars to prove it. All too often in today’s Christian world too many Catholics and Protestants shun the road less taken for a path of instant self gratification which more or less resembles something one might see excused on the View, Oprah or Dr Phil.

We don’t mind a food drive at Thanksgiving or Christmas. However, for some standing in the cold praying for the lives of the innocent outside an abortion clinic may get too uncomfortable, both in terms of personal views and the weather. The thought of going to church more than once a week for Bible study, Eucharistic Adoration of praying the rosary may be downright holy rollerish for some.

On any given Sunday morning across the western world and especially the United States, one can find large numbers of Catholics and Evangelicals engaging in sincere earnest worship. However, there are far too many Catholics and Evangelicals engaged in this sort of “It’s all good form of worship.” These folks never focus on the fact that Jesus lost most of his followers because of the stands he took along the way. The biggest loss of followers took place when he foretold the Institution of the Eucharist in the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-69.) He probably alienated some when he forgave the woman caught in adultary. He also scared some when he cast out demons, so much so in one town, that they asked Jesus to leave. These are the facts we often don’t want to consider in this construct of, “It’s all good form of worship.”

I mentioned the mega church cult of personality phenomena that for many Evangelicals is a scourge to their movement. It has taken many away from their more serious minded churches. Sadly, far too many Catholics found their way into the budding mega churches in the 1970s when the Church was flirting with, as Pope Benedict XVI describes, “The Dictatorships of Relativism.”

Far too many orthodox-minded Catholics have had to put up with “Father Cool,” the well tanned, world travelling pastor who might know more about Club Med than he does the Bible or the Catechism.  He loves to “relate” to his parish and his sermons sound as if he wants to be one of the guys, as if he he’s auditioning for a spot on some sort of Cheers TV show remake. His church is bereft of statues and symbols of Catholic devotions, which of course he would find hard to explain to his secular or Protestant clergy friends.

For in the “it’s all good” Catholic or Protestant churches there is no talk of Judgment, only reasons why they are going to heaven, all of them. This is to Christianity what the magic pill diet (which you might have seen posted on your local telephone poll) is to the diet industry. It is nothing but sheer chicanery and hucksterism. Perhaps someone should remind these folks that Jesus said we must follow Him, not our whims and devices in which we excuse much of what we deep down know is wrong.

We want to make church convenient,  make excuses for those who don’t go, dress as if they are at a picnic, or fall asleep while in church. Yet, do we make these same excuses for our favorite sports teams or athletes? When we are at our favorite sporting event and our team performs horribly, do we applaud and say, “Well at least they showed up, that’s the most important thing?” I don’t think so. Do we make the same excuses for our favorite actors, actresses, producers or directors when they put out a poor product on the stage or silver screen? No, we don’t.

How many Catholics really defend the words of Jesus about the Eucharist, Apostolic Succession, or the role of His Blessed Mother when confronted to do so? What if a Catholic would use the words of the English Saint Anselm and say that to deny the role of the Pope would be akin to telling Jesus He didn’t know what he was doing when he instituted the papacy in Matthew 16:15-20?  What if a Catholic would accept a Protestant invitation to attend a Bible study and then commence to go line by line through John 6 (on the Eucharist) the longest discourse in the Bible?

What if that same Catholic would relate the events in 1 Corinthians 11 where St Paul came across a group of believers, who weren’t taking the Eucharist seriously, and scolded them for being ignorant as to why some of their number were dead of seriously ill.

What if that same Catholic would relate the events of the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 where Martin Luther even walked out on some of his fellow Reformation colleagues when he felt they weren’t taking the Eucharist seriously enough? What if that same Catholic reminded his friends who were Protestant that  Martin Luther celebrated the Assumption every August 15th until he died, or that fact that he believed in the Immaculate Conception (Luke 1:28, Ephesians 1:4-6,) prayed to saints (Hebrews 12), believed in a form of Confession(John 20:19-23,) and believed in Woman Clothed in the Sun (Revelation 12) all because he thought it was Biblical? You get my point; the Catholic would probably be labeled as some sort of pre Vatican II old school holy roller. Would they think that this same Catholic was nuts if he went into a long discourse on the historical significance of the Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama, Army-Navy, or USC-UCLA College Football rivalries; probably not.

However, I have found that most Evangelicals (not the fundamentalists) are probably more receptive to this kind of a debate than say a “We are Church Catholic.”  We want to make church convenient and make excuses for those who don’t go and when Catholics and Evangelicals call out their fellow brethern for doing so, they are labeled as narrow minded, or worst of all “repressed.” However, Jesus told us the road was hard and long. He told us we had to pick up our cross, not once in a while, or yearly, or even monthly, but every day.

Fortunately, there is good news and as I point out in my book The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, the numbers show things are coming around our way.  As I noted to you 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.

 In 2006 Los Angeles and Rochester were led by two of the most liberal prelates in the Church, while Omaha, Lincoln and Denver were led by three of the more conservative bishops in the US, a revelatory statistic to say the least.

While liberal convents are strapped for cash because they haven’t had a postulant in years, more conservative orders like the Sister of Mary in Ann Arbor, Michigan are running out of room due to the large number of young professional women coming their way. They are not the only conservative order growing; the Nashville Dominicans among others are also experiencing growing pains.

Help is there for us all, if we just simply follow the teachings of the Church and not the whims of the world. Perhaps the old story about God sending a boat to those on the roof of a house being swept away by flood, might have some credence here. Those looking for the world to save them are like those in the story waiting for that helicopter that never comes, all the while ignoring the boat (the Barque of Peter) God has sent for us.

 Something to think about the next time you read one of Maureen Dowd’s diatribes on her own Catholic Church, or the fellow Catholic who brags about going to the local mega church where the pastor talks about the spiritual significance of pub crawls at Key West and heaven as really just another Margaritaville. (I am not making this up a woman e-mailed me this fascinating tidbit some time ago.) There’s nothing wrong with a having a cold one in Key West or listening to Jimmy Buffet (I have plenty of his albums and cd’s.) However, believe it or not, God loves us so much that He has promised that heaven is far better than Margaritaville, but will we truly follow the road to get there?

Dave Hartline

20 Responses to Margaritaville Christianity; God's Way Or Our Way?

  • c matt says:

    It’s odd you pick Margaritaville for the title of this post. As you may recall, the lyrics are a not so subtle progression of the singer realizing/admitting that his woes are due to his own fault. A confession, at least, if not a full repentance. That is closer to Christianity than many of the other things you (rightly) point out.

  • Dave Hartline says:

    Matt, the reason I selected Margaritaville as the title was due to the e-mail I received from the woman I mentioned in the article. There really is no disrespect intended to Jimmy Buffett, only to those who look at the mythical Margaritaville as some sort heavenly location. As I indicated in the article, I enjoy Jimmy Buffett’s music and not only have some of his cd’s, but even some albums and dare I say 8 tracks! I agree with you that the lyrics to Margaritaville, as well as others like Son of A Sailor and Come Monday are more introspective than some might otherwise assume.

  • c matt says:

    Too bad the pastor likened heaven to Maragaritaville. Although there is plenty of material in the Bible and Church history itself to work with, if he had to use Margaritaville, seems he could have done a much better job focusing on its introspection. But then, I assume this pastor of a mega-church probably does not believe in Purgatory, which would have been a more appropriate comparison.

    I am personally not a big fan of trying to use contemporary pop culture to illuminate Church teaching (particularly since most of pop culture is garbage) but I suppose it can be done with the rare gems that are around and by someone who truly understands what he is doing.

  • Dave Hartline says:

    My old stereo, complete with 8 Trak died years ago, but I do have a friend that has an operable 8 Trak player (sort of!)

    As for the entertainment based mega churches, I do believe it is the last stopping off point for Catholics & Evangelicals on their way to total isolation from recognizable faith practices. While we have lost too many Catholics to these churches, Evangelicals are in even worse shape as many of their flock have left serious churches for entertainment based mega churches, never to return to an open practice of their faith. One only need look at small towns in rural America where beautiful old mainline churches seemed weathered and beaten, because many left them after their theology and social views took a sharp left turn in the 1970s. The next stop for these folks was often the non denominational church, followed by the entertainment based mega church. When all the bells and whistles were exhausted, many went home.

    Joel Osteen and even Rick Warren have had to make special financial appeals. This reminds me of an e-mail I received shortly after my book, “The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism came out.” Someone e-mailed me as to how exciting Joel Osteen’s services were, and then went on to poke fun at the “boring Catholic Mass,” or so they thought. The e-mailer concluded, “we have fireworks after our service, do you?” I was tempted to say, “not even at gunpoint.” However, I thought that perhaps some liberal Catholic parish might have done this so I held off.

  • Jane says:

    This is funny – a few years ago I walked into a liberal Catholic church and was greeted by a huge picture of what looked like to me as Jesus the beach bum. I dubbed it “Jesus of Margaritaville.”

  • Dave Hartline says:

    Wow Jane that’s wild. My view about liberal Catholic churches is once you think you have seen it all, something like this pops up. Once on vacation, I remember hearing a priest give a homily in which I wasn’t sure if he was talking about Jesus or Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. However, judging from his tie dye vestements, maybe he thought they were one in the same.

    For the longest time the liberal establishment shunned the mega churches for they perceived them to be part of conservative America. However, following the news that some of the same mega churches that went heavily for GW Bush in 2004 went for Barack Obama in 2008. Now it seems these mega churches aren’t all bad to the discerning liberal in mainstream media or his liberal Catholic follower.

  • lisag says:

    Great article. I get frustrated when I read in the news about “Catholics” who want to change our faith and interpret the gospels to their own liking. I think it comes down to obedience. These “teens” have never grown up. You can’t tell them what to think, how to dress, who their friends should be, etc. Plus they are just lying to themselves about the good they are doing when actually they are causing great harm.

  • magdalene says:

    This morning three young girls in tee-shirts and short shorts took up the offeratory. But normally it seems it is the older men who mostly wear shorts to church. And here in the mountains, you would not think you would find attire more suited to the beach but you do.

    Yes, I have had the sad experience of a world traveler pastor who with his men friends went to Hawaii beaches, Las Vegas, etc. He decorated the church with a bunch of hanging fabric and told us how Jesus ate and drank Hiw way through the Gospels and how we are to enjoy life ‘abuntandly’. He dog has been at the altar and jumped in the baptismal pond during a baptism once. Everyone seems to find it amusing as well as the sometimes off color jokes. One finds mroe reverence and a non=denom entertainment church sometimes.

    Considering the lack of catechesis for 40 years and the ‘liberal’ (unfaithful) bishops who stay in power until either age or the civil authorities remove them, it is something that a remnant remains. But then our church WILL last until the end of time, irregardless of what we sinners do.

  • KatrinaWBk says:

    Very interesting article and comments. I have spent the better part of the last 15 years writing letters to priests, bishops, “Catholic” newspapers, etc., and in general making myself persona non grata to those in my home parish and diocese in New York. Be that as it may, I certainly didn’t write to become popular or well-liked, merely to beg them to consider that they may be failing those of us on the other side of the altar, and how hungry we were for something more than they were offering. What should one do in these instances? I remember that we are called to humility, to refrain from judging others, but when we sit week after week, listening to wishy-washy homilies, never hearing enough about the fact that we are sinners, struggling, or authentic Catholic teaching, seeing EM’s step into the sanctuary in shorts, sloppy pedal pushers, tee shirts, short skirts, skimpy tops, etc., and young people in skirts that barely covers their buttocks, or short shorts, taking up the collection, etc., and you just sit there thinking “what is wrong with people”. Well, here’s what’s wrong….as was mentioned previously, a whole generation of Catholics who were not properly catechized, who are now raising children, who, through no fault of their own, don’t get it. How do you undo years of weak-kneed, spineless bishops, (not all but some) who were more concerned with the bottom line, their standing in the community at large, etc., then to be shepherds to their flocks? How to undo this? It has taken every ounce of self-control I could muster to keep silent, when I sit a row behind a female EM, with a husband couple of young children with her, as she chews gum all throughout Mass, only to get up onto the altar to give us Communion, and she in tight “walking shorts”, and sleeveless tops….I should not have to be distracted from my prayer by this, nor feel the urge to say something to her about her manner of dress or her gum chewing….that should come from the pastor, but needless to say the pastor at this particular church in the diocese of Raleigh, NC, is more concerned with being well-liked and thinking what a great parish he’s got and how wonderful he is, and singing his homily every Christmas at midnight Mass, projecting every baptism, at every Mass, onto the ceiling of the Church, and parading each baby held in the air, up and down the aisles; its all about bells and whistles, and so not about the state of our souls, or a deepening of our spirituality. At 60 years of age, I have almost given up hope, I attend Mass, but look for nothing from it besides the Eucharist, and fullfilment of my obligation, and I watch my grown children, who were raised to love the faith, with reverence and respect, wonder what in the world is going on here, what has happened to the Catholic church. I realize more than ever, we are pretty much out here on our own, and we should learn not to depend upon anyone other than Christ himself.

  • Winkyb says:

    David, the article is a bit long….the problem range from having the cake and eating it too…to Catholics having an identity crisis…they want to identify with the world and its spirit, they don’want to abandon self and self-interest, they do not want to acknowledge their faults and
    sinfulness, they don’t want to imitate Christ nor do they want to imitate Mary the Mother of God. Once all the interior spirituality is suck out of the soul they are left with this empty hull, a graceless void, that will now be filled with the errors of modernisms…dead, dried branches separated from the vine…good for nothings other than to burn. What is the remedy: renewal of theit baptismal vow through consecration to Mary, returning to sacraments of confession for starter…limit your worship at institutions with the 4 legitimate marks of Christ’s True Church: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic…and upholds the pillars of Faith via: Holy Scripture, the Magesterium, and Oral Tradition. These duplicious, heretics hide behind the rubrics of the Catholic Church do so much harm.

  • Byzcat says:

    Interesting post. I left the Roman Catholic Church for the Byzantine Catholic Church because of the abuses in the liturgy. After suffering liturgical dances, heretical (and unsingable) hymns, invented eucharistic prayers, sermons on the need for “vacations”, extraordinary ministers of communion handing out the Eucharist like mere crackers (without reverence or knowledge of what they were doing) I couldn’t take it anymore. The Lord led me to the local Byzantine Rite Church — I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
    I was raised in the Latin Rite, but the Novus Ordo is pure torture to me now. Give me a Tridentine Liturgy or the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom/St Basil any day over the watered down liturgy of the Novus Ordo. It’s no wonder that so many Catholics have left the Church in the last 40 years. We’ve been wandering in the desert for that long. I only hope the Latin Rite will reform itself and go back to the Tridentine mass. There was (and is) nothing like it for worshiping the immutable, omnipotent God.

  • Winkyb says:

    These souls move from one pleasure to the next and pay heed to whomever tickles their ears. Suffering and sacrifice has no value, consider something to avoid at all costs, and an annoyance and an inconvenience. This darkness makes them foolish and blind for if they encounter a faithful soul’s correction their either mock, flee, ignore, or take offense…and always always always attack the church, its priests, its Pope and its Teachings, and Scandalize the souls of the faithful first, the innocent second, and the ignorant last…they are the poison arrows and darts hurl at the Church from within. To often the impact of these individuals are minimized to sighs and complaints while casualties of souls occurs because of them. They have trully loss their Catholicity…its a wonderment why do they stay…

  • Winkyb says:

    I’ve worshipped with the Byzantine Mass very, very beautiful…what stuck me most is the humilty of responses and acknowledgement of one sinfulness and repeated prayers for mercy and forgiveness from God…the entire Mass is sung…I will stay with the Latin Rite but my second love is the Byzantine…I hear a Maronite rite will be coming to my city soon…I hope to experience that Mass soon…it is wonderful the beauty of the different rites in union with the Pope and these poor soul forgo this beauty to attend non-denominational gyms.

  • Pax Christi says:

    The mention of the Sisters of St. Mary in Ann Arbor brings to mind the recent salutatorian speech in Latin, which wowed the crowd, by a Harvard grad who will be joining the convent. Perhaps Lady Gaga draws a bigger response, but we all know where the path that is wide and easy leads to.

  • Stephen says:

    Mr. Hartline,

    I admittedly only skimmed your article due to its length. However, I have to heartily and emphatically disagree with you about something you said in the last paragraph ‘There’s nothing wrong with having a cold one or listening to Jimmy Buffet’. The second part of this sentence is where I take issue. I too rather enjoyed Jimmy Buffet. But not too long ago, I made a conscious effort to throw away every last tape and CD of his I owned into the trash. The reason? Buffet promotes rampant promiscuity, lewdness, and drunkeness in many of his songs. As I’m sure you’ll agree, this is completely antithetical to our Catholic faith and morality. It may be ‘fun’ music, of which I listened to it for many years, but it ultimately debases the dignity of women and the beauty of sexual intimacy as God intended between husband and wife. God bless you.

  • Victor Lawrence says:

    Great article and comments! Dave, I used to read The Catholic Report almost every day and I loved your writings there! You might remember that I’m the blind guy who works in Christian radio and we used to correspond occasionally. I know you have good reasons for discontinuing The Catholic Report, but I hope that God will lead you to bring it back someday.

    As usual, your comments are right on target and I agree completely. That’s why I love priests like Father John Corapi. I wish there were more priests like him at our parishes. I would love for Father Corapi to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast or a similar event. Unfortunately, we had to endure Obama’s liberal secular rants and Secretary of State Clinton really made my blood boil when she spoke! Can all of you imagine what it would be like if Father Corapi spoke at one of these events? The way he and others like him preach the truth would make a lot of people squirm but more importantly, it might lead to some conversions.

  • Dave Hartline says:

    Victor, so good to read your comments. I remember you well. I pray for you and all of the fine folks who were apart of the Catholic Report. Life keeps me busy with faith, family, employment and writing articles. The fact that the so many people are upset at the Church shows that the Church is doing what is necessary. We stumbled for a while, but as with other times in Church History the stumbles are often followed with great bursts of faithful evangelization.

  • Johnny says:

    I agree with the poster who threw out his buffett cd’s. He is an ex-Catholic and often ridicules the church and specifically altar boys. His music is a scourge that has taken millions down the wrong path in life. He even idiotically blamed bush for the recent gulf oil spill.

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