Christianity and the “mainstream”

“Mainstream” has become the term for things that don’t seriously oppose contemporary advanced liberalism. The current situation regarding “gay rights” shows that there’s some point to the expression: advanced liberalism dominates public discussion so thoroughly today that you really do have to go out on a limb to oppose its most radical demands.

That situation creates serious issues for the Church. Since 1960 the Church has emphasized what might be called “mainstream Christianity”—a kind of Christianity that rejects separatism and the fortress mentality. For the past several decades the Church has wanted above all to accept the established public order, recognize the achievements of modern life, and speak to all men by engaging the culture and participating in it.

The problem with that approach is that in the modern world it’s very difficult for it to remain Christian. To be mainstream, Christianity must speak the language of the modern world, and thus accept the definitions of reality and the good upon which that language and the modern public order are based. However, public life in the West today is based on the presumption that the only world we can know is the one we explore through logic and the methods of the modern natural sciences. Its fundamental ethical principles are equality, which means that no man or goal can claim moral authority superior to any other, and the satisfaction of whatever preferences people have. Anything else is thought to be a construction based on personal preference or the will to power.

Under such circumstances there is no room for the transcendent. So fundamental to the contemporary outlook has rejection of the transcendent become that it seems an act of bad faith to claim knowledge that goes beyond formal logic and publicly available sense experience. Such claims seem to reject reason, make serious discussion impossible, and threaten social peace. They almost constitute a hate crime.

To stay within the mainstream Christianity must therefore redefine itself so it no longer claims to be true. If the public world of sensory experience and formal logic is the sole authority, religion becomes a myth, a story that explains things poetically but not factually. As a result aspects of the Christian myth that rely on transcendence must be done away with. Christianity can, if it wishes, still declare the created world good and man potentially divine. However, it must change its view of them as radically fallen and in need of salvation from above, since there is no “above” that can concern us. It must therefore become a sort of pantheistic evolutionary humanism. Man must become God. The human other must become the Holy, all men collectively the Church, their evolving consciousness the Holy Spirit, progressive political action Providence, the free and equal play of human desire Beatitude, and the conformity of the world to those desires the Kingdom.

All of which may seem sensible to some people, but what good can it do? A myth that is recognized as false in fact may be a pretty story but not a compelling one, especially when there are other myths that public discourse must recognize as equally valid, and when to retain public legitimacy it must continually remake itself in accordance with the evolution of the dominant outlook.

Conclusion: a Church constituted by social engagement, like WomanChurch, has no future. It simply fails to give us what we need from religion, even for purposes of this world: contact with something capable of putting mundane concerns and conflicts in their place. The Christianity of the future, like the Christianity of the past, will therefore be transcendent and orthodox.

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