North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Room for the poor?

leave a comment »

Rod Dreher has a question.:

What is it about our time that makes the heavy old forms of Christianity — Orthodoxy and Catholicism — so apparently ill-suited to compete with the amorphous Pentecostalism that’s sweeping the poor? Is it the case that the very complexity and depth that appeals to middle-class North American intellectuals makes the faith relatively inaccessible to the masses? Is it the case that we live now in a demotic age, in which any institution that depends on hierarchies and traditional authority will struggle for the hearts of the common man? That is, in the past it would have been understood that the Thing That We All Do is worship at the Catholic/Orthodox parish, whether we remain as beginners in faith, or have plumbed the theological depths of the Tradition, because That Is What We Do — but today, there is an unregulated free market in faith, and we are free to choose.

Is it the case that the more demotic forms of Protestant Christianity preach a gospel that, however twisted in some of its manifestations (e.g., the prosperity gospel), nevertheless holds out to suffering people the hope that their lives can change for the better — whereas the older, more traditional forms of Christianity are more accepting of suffering as part of the human condition, to a degree that tips over into fatalism?

One of the things I admire so much about Catholicism is its depth and its breadth. It has room for all kinds of spiritual approaches, and popular piety as well as high theological rumination. (Perhaps this is true of Orthodoxy also; I don’t really know). I liked that I could go to mass on Sunday, and could share a pew with people from all walks of life, sociologically speaking. But in our country, I do wonder if the poor (excluding the immigrant poor from Latin America) have any entry point into Catholicism or Orthodoxy. And why that is. And how it should change within the tradition, because it’s impossible to imagine a Christian church that has no room for the poor and working classes.

In thinking about this question, I turn to my own experience in my local parish. We do have services for the poor – St. Vincent de Paul, family events that are inexpensive, etc. – and I do see a range of people in the pews. There are a lot of older European white people, but there are also families, rich and poor, and more than a few families from Asia. In the end, though I’m not certain how much of Rod’s question applies here in northwestern Canada. We don’t have the kind of evangelicial footprint he writes of, though they are here. We do have a history of being settled by people fleeing religion. There are good number of spiritualists, agnostics and atheists in this part of the world, and we have to overcome their idea that we are the bad old empire.

I think that’s the barrier to getting young people; they think we’re the page about to be turned. Rebecca and I are both of the opinion that being current and fun – with no watering down, because you never want to patronize – would help. I would suggest sports programs and web-sites that are current, informative and well put together would help. They can act as ice breakers. In the US south, where Rod hails from, the danger traditional Christianity faces is in some ways similar. It looks different and strange, like an alpine flower brought down from the mountain. Perhaps down there, it needs to have more resemblances to local fauna to make outreach easier. Still, individual can do-ism in the culture is going to be a challenge for a Church with a structure like Catholicism.

Technorati Tags:
, ,


Written by Curt

July 30, 2007 at 4:53 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: