CONVENTIONAL RELIGION’S PLACE IN OUR SOCIETY: WHAT KIND OF TEMPLES DO WE WANT? SEARS OR SALVATION?
I was having a chat after Mass with one of my fellow parishioners a few weeks back, and the topic of the current turmoil in the Church arose. My esteemed fellow parishioner felt that the root cause of the problem was that the Church had accumulated too much temporal , or worldly power, and that this had corrupted it and drawn it away from the essential message of God’s love for the world.
This got me to thinking: Are we not ‘Spirits in the Material World’, as Sting put it, when he sang with the rock band ‘The Police’? We are indeed spiritual beings in a material world, and the Church exists therein.
Case in point. I gave a tour a few weeks ago to some English-speaking school children from a high school in the United States. As our tour bus passed by the big hole in the ground on Grande Allée, near the old St Coeur de Marie church, where they recently tore down another church, I informed them that where the hole was, there once stood a church, and that it had been torn down and that they were in the process of building condominiums.
Immediately there rose up great shouts of disgust, such as ‘eeeww’, and ‘oh noo!!!’ from the mouths of fifteen and sixteen year old school children, from an American public school at that! It was as if that, even at that young age, their sense of the sacred and the profane was already well-honed, and that the thought of a sacred place of worship, erected to the greater glory of God, being destroyed so as to erect something so seemingly profane and materialistic as condominiums, was most certainly sacrilegious.
I felt much moved by this, and it made me think about the Church, as the official spokesperson of the Creator on this planet, and its need to be visible to the public. God, ultimately, from a marketing point of view, is like any other product: He has to compete with an increasingly vast array of other products, services, and information messages jamming the airwaves and the public mindset, as well as the physical landscape.
If the physical manifestations of God’s presence begin to be destroyed in large numbers, as it appears to be the case presently, then God himself risks being wiped out from public view and public discourse, replaced by the ever-increasingly glitzy and garish temples to Mammon that we see being erected all around the world: Box stores of all sizes, selling an ever greater assortment and bigger format of goods to a public of seemingly ever-increasing girth. Movie theatres which resemble more and more like secular temples of over amplified madness with 3D computer-generated special effects that are so over the top that the scenes depicted in the films are practically not even conceivable to the human mind anymore, unless you’ve consumed some sort of mind-altering substance whilst producing and/or consuming them. Don’t even mention the cost of the tickets and refreshments at the movies, and the distance you have to drive to get there. I think that the military, commando-style commercial for one of the big movie chains, which appeared a few years ago, which showed a family of mom and dad, and a few kids descending on the movie theatre like some sort of tactical commando outfit out on a seek and destroy mission, was a very fitting description of the logistical wherewithal necessary nowadays to take the wife and kids out to the movies.
Best to stay home, and watch the Incredible Hulk, or Spider Man trash the place from the sanctity of your own home, if you happen to be lucky enough if this economy to be able to afford property.
But I digress. The fact of the matter is that the golden arches of the ‘M’ in McDonalds are now a more recognized symbol on this planet than the Christian cross! What does that say about us as a civilization? Are we to allow an increasingly unattainable level of moral transparency destroy our sacred institutions, simply because there are secular, anti-clerical, un-Godly forces out there in the world who would see fit to measure a group of human beings, whether they be Christ’s representatives on earth or not, by a code of moral conduct which deigns to suppose the complete abnegation of their carnal instincts?
This in no way excuses the acts committed by members of the clergy these many years ago or today. However, to make the entire institution of conventional religion stand trial for the indiscretions of some, however egregious they may have been, borders on nothing less than a secular witch hunt of the rankest sort. It further goes a long way in repudiating the undeniable benefits that conventional organized religion has brought to hundreds of millions of the poor, the suffering, the lonely, the sick, the elderly, the young, people of all ages and walks of life who have found solace and sanctuary within the walls of the Church, its people, and its ministers.
If the Church is not to be worldly and present in the temporal realities of this mortal coil, then surely we will continue to yield to the powers of Mammon, and its Mammoth temples of temporal intemperance. Only by continuing its worldly ministry on this planet can the Church hope to continue to minister successfully to the souls of the living, regardless of issues of conflict over money, power, property, prestige, and moral rectitude, or lack thereof.
In Mathew 16:18 Christ said to Peter: ‘And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ We all have to work to be guarantors of those words. I don’t want to have to explain the ‘raison d’être’ of too many more holes in the ground in Québec city to visitors