Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Trip Back To My Childhood Church

I'm still in my hometown, and this being Sunday, I went with my parents to the old parish church where I received first communion and was confirmed in the Roman Catholic church.  It's a unique design from the 1960s, with a rotunda centered around an octogonal tower with wood lattice behind the altar.  Sadly the abstract sculptures used for the stations of the cross have been replaced, and the blood-red carpet swapped out for a whitish gray.  Growing up in this parish I thought that all churches were supposed to look like this, which meant I felt out of place whenever I went to a Gothic or Romanesque church.

While I attend Episcopal services these days when I go to church, I still enjoy visiting a place that played such a pivotal role in my youth.  However, I was a little worried about today, a Sunday coming right after the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage.  Indeed, the priest (fresh out of the seminary) had been tasked by the bishop with telling his congregation about the evils of legalized same sex marriage.  While the priest refrained from any denunciations of gay people, he still reiterated the tired old saw that Catholics who aren't in the clergy ought to engage in a heterosexual marriage and reproduce ad infinitum.  It's always interesting to get such advice from a man who has pledged himself to a life of celibacy.  Also interesting to hear priests lament the church's lessened moral authority as an indictment of a society gone wrong without any thought towards the abuse scandals.

Of course the sermon was full of fake facts and bad reasoning.  The priest actually said that more contraception leads to more abortion.  (Recent efforts in Colorado show quite the opposite.)  He also claimed that opposition to gay marriage in France is practically universal (it's not.)  The icing on the cake was the notion that the legalization of gay marriage is somehow oppressing the religious liberties of Christians.  In his view, and in the view of a great number of the congregants I'd wager, being able to use the law to smite sinners is a key religious liberty, and that's now being violated.

Despite the priest's youth, the whole exercise was a glimpse into how American Christianity -especially American Catholicism- is immolating itself.  While the pope has shifted his attention to social justice, the American church is still obsessed with sexuality and reproduction.  It is sticking harder than ever to its ridiculously old-fashioned ideas on these issues while broader social attitudes are moving fast in the other direction.  This is hardly the approach to draw in new worshipers or keep those raised in the tradition, especially young people.  Instead of acknowledging the problem, the response is now to claim that the world is broken and falling from the one true path.  If anything, today was a good indication as to why "ex-Catholic" is the second biggest denomination in America today.

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