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Make Catholicism Weird Again: On Consumerism and Authentic Faith
August 8, 2019
Recently, a Pew Research survey cataloged the almost complete collapse of the faith in the United States. The facts are devastating. Only 26% of Catholics under forty in the U.S. believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist.
If the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, the fountain from which the life of the Church flows, then this report is utterly damning. The Eucharist is the beating heart of the faith—and yet 7 in 10 young Catholics in the pews do not believe in it. If this is true, then they really do not believe the Catholic faith in any meaningful sense.
Many are horrified by this statistic, and rightly so. But, while the reasons for our present collapse of faith are manifold, I believe one of the chief reasons is not difficult to identify—the modern religion of consumeristic choice.
The New Global Religion
All culture flows from cultus, genuine worship. And all authentic worship, flows from a sense of the sacred mystery at the heart of life. This is symbolically represented by the churches at the center of medieval European villages, from which the whole village would radiate outward. Worship was the chief act of medieval European life. Without a credo embodied in an act of divine worship, without a holy sacrifice, nothing else made sense.
Fast forward to our time, and there is a new center of the global village—and it is not a church but a shopping mall. For consumerism is the new global religion. The chief teaching of consumerism is that unlimited choice, unlimited freedom, brings happiness. From this cult of choice has flowed the dogma of radical autonomy, or complete self-determination. This dogma is articulated succinctly in the motto of the infamous satanist of a century ago, Aleister Crowley: “Do as thou wilt.”
Reality, then, is subject to our will. Unlimited choice, unlimited freedom, unlimited self-determination—these are the fundamental tenets upon which our modern culture rests. Nothing can stand in the way of unlimited choice, our ability to re-make reality in our own image. We will even offer our own children as sacrifices to this insatiably demanding god.
This modern credo of unlimited choice is heard in the angry chants of pro-abortion campaigners: “My body, my choice.” These campaigners call themselves by the entirely accurate name of “pro-choicers.” Even the Supreme Court of the United States proclaimed the dogma of self-determination boldly in its infamous decision, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey:
These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.
Justice Anthony Kennedy
Moreover, any obstacles to the marketplace of unlimited choice must be destroyed. Chief among these obstacles is authentic faith. A man possessed by transcendent truths of necessity lives according to values radically at odds with the dogma of self-determination. Thus, his faith must be either relegated to a secondary place in his life or completely annihilated.
The power of corporate billions—manifested in marketing, advertising, and media—work relentlessly to destroy the transcendent, the sacred, and set our eyes on the kingdom of this world. The marketplace must reign supreme; it is the god which will tolerate no rivals.
The Solution is Counter-Revolution
Faced with a culture that worships radical autonomy, what are we to do?
Perhaps the chief way of rejecting the slavery of modernity is to return to the vitality of tradition. It is the ultimate act of revolution.
Now many mistake tradition as merely a stale repeating the actions and formulas of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the dynamism, the inner energy, of the past continuing in the present. For continuity is essential to life. I grow older, and yet remain the same person as I was when I was a child, for my inner life has continued uninterrupted. This is what tradition is and means.
The modern consumerist asks, “What do you want in your worship?” The traditionalist asks, “What worship is most worthy of the Divine?”—and then surrenders himself to it. Modernity starts with man, but tradition starts with God.
If we are to evangelize effectively, our lives and our worship must speak of another order, one that rejects consumeristic choice and proclaims that the transcendent is real. When we venerate a relic with a kiss, we do this. When we prostrate ourselves before the Eucharist in a golden monstrance, we do this. When we pray, opening ourselves to the action of grace, we do this. When we worship in a sacred language, we do this. When we dare to remember our death, we do this. When we genuflect and sign ourselves before a tabernacle, we do this. When we sacrifice the desires and whims of the moment to the the eternal, we do this. When we venerate the Holy Virgin, we do this. When we process through city streets with joyful chants and incense, we do this. When we confess our sins to a priest, we do this.
All of these acts of worship are weird and even bizarre in the eyes of the world. They are strange and startling for they are acts of surrender to something greater and higher than ourselves, something which we did not make nor choose. They speak of values that transcend the marketplace, of a world of spirit interpenetrating the world of matter. They are acts that open windows to the Divine.
I would even go so far as to say that if our religion isn’t weird to the world, then we have to some degree or another lost our faith. When our worship is a closed circle, when it turns towards man and man’s desires, it immediately begins to die. Therefore, we must be like the three Hebrew young men recorded in scripture who refused to bow down before the massive idol erected by King Nebuchadnezzar. When all men prostrated themselves before it, these young men stood erect, like arrows pointing to the heavens, for they would worship God alone.
Likewise, we must humble ourselves before our God and King in the Holy Eucharist and receive him with fear and trembling. We must live as if he is even more Real than all the passing shadows of this life—because he is. We must return to the living vitality of tradition, for in doing so we revolt against the modern cult of man’s autonomy. In short, we must make Catholicism weird again, for in so doing, we shall be witnesses to a weary and wounded world longing for the divine.
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