… updated for these, our modern times, in which we live …
Rock Island, IL
In a former treatise, O Theophilus, I suggested assigning a new name to certain expressions of Christianity. I made a little attempt—an attemptchen, as the Krauts might put it—to say a thing or two about the dangers of living in ignorance and contempt of history.
I implied that the word “church” is being used rather promiscuously these days and that when the Sunday morning routine hardly differs from shopping or renting movies or gathering at the Starbuck’s with the Soccer Moms’ Picture-Book Bible Study Group / God’s Body-Image Visualized Video Work-Out Club, what you’ve got is not the faith of the apostles (such as one proclaims on the Sunday of Orthodoxy) but, rather, “Krustianity.”
It may seem to some that all I really did was make a bid at early retirement by setting up bleachers and selling tickets to the Stegall-Médaille fight—a reasonable conclusion, I warrant, save that I have more respect than that for these two seasoned combatants and did in fact give away several tickets that I bought with my own money.
I also regard retirement an abomination akin to Netflix, Ruby Tuesdays, and Velveeta “cheese.”
I didn’t quite know how to pull last week’s mischief off, so I invented a “dispassionate observer” who might allow that Orthodoxy and Catholicism are “stately and demanding and maybe even useful” but who, knowing at least a smattering of church history, would be obliged to conclude that this new thing under the sun over at ComeRockWithGod.com is a “cartoon” of the faith.
I said nothing about my own allegiances beyond a personal preference for apostolic succession, old rites (I should have said “liturgies”), and traditions with deep historical roots. It is true that my use of such words as “theosis” and “apophatic” might have tipped off some readers—did, I’m sure, tip off a few readers—but it must surely be a point in my favor that such words would probably send the Krustians of whom I wrote in search of reference books not likely to be available in their own personal libraries, what with all that space occupied by The Left Behind Series and memoirs of such giants of the faith as Kathy Lee Gifford and Joel Osteen’s pet gold fish.
And, truth be told, all I really wanted to do was figure out a way to use that image of the puking pumpkin, about which readers were disconcertingly silent.
I said nothing about authority or about The True Church or about salvation or heaven or any of that. These are matters that interest me, certainly. I do hold to a view of authority (the correct one, be assured); I have little interest in talk of the One True Church, though I harbor ideas about it (the correct ones, be assured). And as for salvation and heaven—well, I incline to say, let’s talk about the redemption of the whole created order and think harder about theosis or else just shut the hell up, though I’m not about to get dogmatic here. “Much of our life, God knows, is error,” saith the poet J.V. Cunningham.
I never said that those among us born before 1517 were going to be able to agree with those born after 1517. (I left out 1054 altogether.) Though I think followers of Jesus should be able to agree, I hold out little hope that they will, which is why I favor excising the high-priestly prayer from the fourth gospel. We obviously have no use for it, and getting rid of it would open up some space for such neglected texts as Elaine Pagels or the Jesus Seminar might approve.
I said nothing about whether the people I lampooned were hurting or troubled or barely able to make it to four o’clock on any given Tuesday. What little I did say about them included the words “well-meaning.” (Okay, I made some cracks about their vehicles and their politics and their music, but that’s because when a thing is ridiculous, ridicule is what’s called for.) I wouldn’t deny anyone the consolations that mitigate the miseries of this sometimes unbearable life, even if those consolations do include, say, the “music” of The Continentals, whose localist credentials are far from impeccable and whose “theology” has the distinction of being at once half-baked and over-cooked.
I know that people suffer. I myself have been acquainted with the night and don’t much care for it, and so I will testify: we need the light of day.
But does that mean we need sun lamps instead of the sun?
What I did say, which was met with an overwhelming degree of indifference, is that the Church should be “a bit more vigilant about the dangers of wielding power and protecting revenue” and that it should “avoid the abuses of centralization and bigness.”
Unremarked on The Porch. Wow.
Back of that quip is my conviction (which, by the way, has patristic support) that the local parish is the Church Universal. The local parish is a little Church made cunningly: it is a microcosm. And back of all this is an intimated ecclesiology that turns, or ought to turn, localist inclinations to good account. Nicht wahr?
But all that is stuff for another meager attempt by this poor country English teacher who ain’t got but a mere speck of church learnin’ in him.
Just now I want to reiterate the dangers of living in contempt of history, and I’ll make this as plain as I can: to read the NIV—a translation at great pains to make sure no one who picks it up will ever conclude that episcopos means “bishop”—with a bunch of gals in Bertha Hogwash’s living room on Thursday morning over tea and scones is to prepare a catastrophe. Some good will certainly come of ripping a suspect and artless translation from its ecclesiastical context; some good will come of making a concerted effort to study this translation with the help of worksheets published by Guiding Lite Press out of Grand Rapids or Atlanta or wherever. That much I’ll grant. There’s enough in me of what St. Thomas Aquinas called the potential oboedientialis to say, as the prophet saith, Aperiatur terra et germinet Salvatorem.
But much mischief—mischief that could be averted—is still going to proceed from Bertha’s parlor. That mischief I call “Krustianity.” As one commenter noted last week, it is likely to be Gnostic through and through, which is to say heretical, and it will certainly fail to take into consideration what another commenter rightly noted: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.
But to the point: the scholars attending Bertha’s Bible Study might not know anything about gnosticism, and that, I suppose, is forgivable. But it’s not okay that their pastor has never heard of it, for he occupies a fearful position. Ignorance isn’t a luxury he can afford. If I’m not mistaken, the Holy Scriptures are unambiguous on the topic of what sort of judgment awaits teachers. My own arthritic knees knock at the thought of it.
But let’s be clear: it is ignorance—ignorance of history especially—that keeps Pastor Todd (named for St. Todd of the iPod) and the Church of the Hip Jesus in business. So what if what’s on offer there shatters against the hard surface of the past. Pastor Todd knows his Modern Translation well—and never shudders to think that the God of the Universe prefers a corrupt text, corrupt perhaps even in its autographs were they available, to a living body. Todd knows neither the autographs nor the living body. He has a master’s degree from Solid Rock Spiritual University, three kids in Krustian school, and a wholesome wife with big hair and lip gloss. According to the pictures, she’s happy (that is, adequately sexed).
Because, goddamn, Pastor Todd sure is a snappy dresser and a rugged-looking man.
But, well-meaning though he be, he’s an ignoramus.
People will seek instruction wherever it may be found, regardless of its reliability: Krustian radio, contemporary Krustian music, you name it. Where history and theology are absent, other influences, often fatal, move in—as the parable of the house swept clean suggests. Krustians, near as I can tell, have been pretty much railroaded by Emersonian-style instructors: men with no past at their backs. Worse yet, they are the dupes of the Krustian music industry, which perpetrates a mode of consciousness forged by dimwits eclipsing theology and evicting history. This, O Theophilus, can’t be good.