Due to the incredulous pace of my normative work-a-day life, between wife, kids, work, school, and all that comes with them, there is often an immense gap between the event in which an idea for a post is sparked and its actual construction. The negative of this is that sometimes the post verges upon being outdated before it is ever published, however, interestingly enough, what often occurs as a result of this delay is that the initial event and the originating idea begin to correlate and connect themselves to other unpublished thoughts and events that otherwise may have appeared to be unrelated. This writing is certainly one such example. With that in mind, I hope you will excuse the fact that portions of this writing are based on news stories that are now almost a month or so old. Yet, I hope you will alos still see the relevancy that they still maintain. Enjoy!
A few months back I was reading a fantastic book by Jenifer Michael Hecht called Doubt
.In this work Hecht offers an in depth historical overview of the greatest doubters of the world throughout the ages. There were so many elucidating passages that years worth of blog posts could be composed of all the impacting snippets.
One such passage that was particularly striking came from a section of the book highlighting the work of Fredrick Douglas. Here Hecht quotes a portion of a speech Douglas gave in 1852 entitled “The Meaning of Fourth of July for the Negro.” Douglas states the following:
The church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors…. For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! Welcome atheism! Welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by these Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done!
Douglass then goes goes on to say that the antislavery movement will cease to be an antichurch movement as soon as the churches join the antislavery movement. So far, he howls, “YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD.”
These words penned by Douglas are stirring to say the least and they have remained stored in the back of mind since I read them. Douglas’s critique gets to the very heart of the way in which many religions, and Christianity in particular have blatantly betrayed the tenets of its own tradition, favoring power, exploitation, and oppression over compassion, equality, and justice. In his own words this is precisely why the antislavery movement was also an antichurch movement, because the church had failed to stand on the side of the antislavery movement, choosing instead to remain complacently tucked into the deep pockets of the powerful. Though slavery has been abolished his words are no less cutting, no less poignant, and no less relevant. The church has continued to neglect its duty to serve those that are the refuse of a greedy capital driven society, choosing instead to continue its apathetic stance within the comfort and security of consumeristic civilization.
The prick of Douglas’s commentary became all the more clear when I came across a news article several weeks ago describing how activists from the Occupy London movement chained themselves to the pulpit in St. Paul’s cathedral
. It seems that during a Sunday service on the anniversary of the forced dismantling of the Occupy encampment formerly located outside the cathedral, four women dressed in white entered St. Paul’s and chained themselves to the historic pulpit. Written upon a white umbrella held by one the protestors were the words “throw the money changers out of the temple.” Simultaneously similar signs and banners were held outside of the cathedral. Surely such measures would have pleased Douglas, as it seems to be a performative enactment of his brand of protesting a/theology.
If this were not enough of a correlation, when the Occupy encampment was forcibly removed by legal means the protestors released a statement “accusing the cathedral authorities,” in Douglasian fashion, “of neglecting their Christian duty by siding with the rich and powerful.” The Occupy activists stated, “In the fight for economic justice, Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, but you invited them and instead evicted us.” Rather than unite with those that could very well be they’re greatest allies the Church once again chose to align itself with the elite idols of the empire. In a centuries old occurrence of Stockholm Syndrome the church continues to hold the hand of its captors, embracing tyranny, inequality, injustice, and playing the part of a harlot, going to bed with capitalism.
Is it then any wonder that a group that is on its way to becoming the fastest growing, and the second largest, religious affiliations is a group that adamantly claims no religious affiliation. This demographic known as the religious “Nones” now account for one in five American adults
. One article
also points out that “Now, more than one-third of those ages 18 to 22 are religiously unaffiliated. These ‘younger millennials’ are replacing older generations who remained far more involved with religion throughout their lives.” These under-thirty individuals have no interest in identifying themselves religiously and no desire to “label themselves in any way when it comes to their faith or lack thereof.” They do not see themselves as being a part of any religion. While “Nones” are not necessarily antagonistic towards religion(many do in fact think that churches as well as religious and faith based communities can and do make positive contributions to society), the common consensus voiced by 70% of the “Nones”, however, is one that remains suspicious and distrustful of religious institutions
, stating that they “believe…religious institutions are too focused on money, power, rules, and politics.”
In an interview
in September of this year even former Catholic Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini himself stated that “Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous.” Martini went one to say that “The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change.”
This seems to sharply coincide with Gallup poll findings which indicate that U.S. confidence in religion is at an all time low
and that most Americans believe religion is losing clout
. Its seems now that some 56% of Americans express having little to no confidence in religious institutions. Though this should come as no surprise, especially given the rapid and dramatic rise of the “Nones”, it seems remarkable when compared to the statistics of just seven years ago when 50% of Americans believed that the influence of religion was on the “upswing.” Yet, as one reviews the near five decade span of this question being posed, one will unavoidably see the indication of a distinct downward trend. This could be indicative of not only a further move into a post-Christian and post-ecclesiastical world but, potentially a movement towards a post-religious world.
Perhaps then, revisiting the critique of Fredrick Douglas, Occupiers, Activists, Millennials, Protestors, and “Nones” will all cease to be anti-church movements when the church becomes part of anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian, and anti-corporate movements, joining the fight against the social and economic inequality and injustice rather than supporting the systems and structures that perpetuate and uphold oppression and exploitation. I would venture so far as to say that those who oppose the church and other religious institutions will cease to do so when the church begins to oppose itself, dialectically negating its own structures and traditions and in essence becoming anti-church itself.