The headlong collision of the church with the culture is just this, the juxtaposition of ancient, rigid, often contradictory rules with a social order seeking verifiable, concrete truths. The church imposes its standards as unequivocally as it dares: society rebels always, quietly when it must, openly when it may.
When the secular culture can push back against the church, the church retreats to its Sacred Myth and, for a time, may purge its errors long enough to become the Church. The Sacred Myth is Truth, truth greater than factual truth, which may be anecdotal. While it is forced to run deep and silent, the Church uses words like Sacred, Holy, Reverent. When the application of its vocare, its holy calling, purges the Church, it grows exponentially, in height and depth, and soon forgets its call again. The Church starts to use words like Exciting, Contemporary and Left Behind; pretentious imagery tinged with a hint of threat, as though we must first attract the suckers with lighted neon and then insinuate we can turn out the lights just as quickly, so that the desert becomes the desert once again.
So, the Church becomes the little church, an insensitive mockery of the divine, awaiting, again, the secular revolution that will force him back to God.The church is ever a mere toff. He wants to dress like he belongs with the Ins, all the while plotting their absorption into his class.
The Church is a servant, the church is a bully. What is a bully?
A bully is that one who, without the discernment arising from any analytical precision, makes all things personal, without hesitation, without limits and completely without the self-doubt that would engender humility. The church is a bully.
What is the cure for a bully? Moral energy, it is, then, the impulse that pushes back at those who would appease dictators at the expense of smaller fellows. Moral energy requires more imagination than the church seems able to muster, for its creativity seems self-defensive. Christian apologetics is commercial today, as though one might verify divine presence by the height of the steeple.
In short, the church has little of substance to say but says it acceptably and repeatedly.
A church dropout, a young lady with a sassy streak of creativity told me why she would not go to "church" any longer. I do not think she is the only one who feels the way she feels.
"I cannot sit and listen to another sermon," she said. "I am going to go drill clean water wells in Sri Lanka."
And off she went, the Church Militant, all fire and vinegar, to catch her death of something in the Third World. I do not think I will see her again in this world.
Last Monday, I went for awhile to see some of my new church members serve meals to hungry people in what we would have called a "soup kitchen" back in the day. Their sensitivity to the feelings of these poor people was more nourishing than the simple meal they served. The energy in the room was palpable, supplied by decent people being decent. It was, unquestionably to me, the essence of religion as moral act.
Make no mistake about it. Religion as play-acting is sick to the point of death in an age wherein conformity is anathema. The religious act, well, that still has some hope attached to it.
Some of our co-religionists, like the Jews, have virtually given up on their faith as a religion. Some of our co-religionists, like the Moslems, have let their fundamentalism take them to search for weapons to end history. Some of our co-religionists, like the Taoists, the Buddhists and the Hindus, have surrendered to their ancient myths in order to become a system of practiced repetitions.
The church, viewing all of this, retreats behind its chitinous walls, fearful because it cannot tell its zenith from its nadir, knowing only that both are located on the same great circle. Some powerful, noble, moral impulse, must come along, to move the church off the circumference of the circle, to move it inward to the core, seeking, as it should, the center point, from which all things radiate, to which all things are drawn.
Reality intrudes on the bully.