Further thoughts on the "strident secularism" that troubles John Kass

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Rod Dreher
  • Courtesy of Frum Forum
  • Rod Dreher
John Kass's Thursday column on Pope Francis taking the helm of a "church in crisis" makes points about faith and secularism that deserve comment.

The points are familiar ones.

Kass writes:

As the scandals and the cover-ups have cost Catholic leaders the moral authority required to act as good shepherds, the onslaught of a strident secularism, particularly in the West, has weakened Christianity generally.

Is it our ravenous consumerism? Our hunger requiring shiny new objects and ever-stronger sensations?

Kass asked Rod Dreher of The American Conservative to respond to these questions.

"Benedict spoke of the dictatorship of relativism, the idea that there is no absolute truth, that truth is whatever you think truth should be," said Dreher. "This is the acid burning through the spiritual life of the West."

What bothers him most is his fear that the young have drifted away.

"Social science tells us that among young people, there are many who have no church or faith at all. They don't feel the need for God anymore. We've become so rich, so craving of sensation, that we think we don't need God, or that the god we think we need looks a lot like ourselves.

"This is the great competitor for the Roman Catholic Church and all Christian churches now: consumerism and narcissism and the almighty self."

I suppose Kass and Dreher have put their finger on something, but they are willfully blind to something else. They are blind to why (beyond fashionability) so many Americans describe themselves—on dating sites, say—as "spiritual, not religious." They're blind to why a friend of mine is so spiritually curious that he's crossed the Pacific to attend a Buddhist retreat and has joined a Bible study group, yet describes himself as agnostic. And why I have no quarrel with either the idea of absolute truths or with the idea those truths help identify something that can be called evil.

It's not consumerism that makes millions of people turn away from their churches. It's not relativism. Or narcissism. Or secularism.

It's common sense. These churches ask their worshippers to believe in things that are ridiculous. The acid burning through the spiritual life of the West is reason. They would agree with Pope Benedict that truth isn't whatever you want it to be. They would add that truth isn't whatever the pope wants it to be either, and that the doctrine of papal infallibility is one of the many things about the pope's church that it's impossible to take seriously.

But these things merely begin with doctrine. They encompass the divinity of scripture and extend to the religious notion of God. Millions don't believe because they can't.

Kass and Dreher may regard this inability to believe as conclusive evidence of a dead soul. It isn't. It's evidence of a spiritual quandary.

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