Thinking in a Catholic context, Maureen Mullarkey ponders whether the fading of Christianity in the West and its rise in the Global South is going to change Christianity in ways that the small-o orthodox, who generally look with favor on the strong faith of the Global South, will regret. Excerpt:
When the Church’s center of gravity has completed its transit to the Southern Hemisphere, would any Catholic alive today still recognize it? It is hazardous to predict the full effect of that demographic shift on the historical practices of Christianity. Still, we ought not discount the chance that this tectonic shift could yield a syncretic, creole Christianity more congenial to animism than Thomism.
In 2000, Buti Joseph Tihagale, currently Archbishop of Johannesburg, gave an interview to The Southern Cross, a South African weekly. In it, he suggested incorporating blood libations into liturgies celebrated by African Catholics:
Sacrifice to the ancestors continues to be a very common practice among Africans. The slaughtering of an animal—cow or sheep—takes place wherever there is a funeral or a marriage feast, or in times of illness, unemployment, family feuds, or the birth of a child.He recommended that the practice be considered within the approved orbit of Vatican invitation to adapt a culture’s special customs: “Is there a way to integrate this custom with their Christian belief as a step toward meaningful inculturation?” Disavowing any reversion to Old Testament animal sacrifices, the then-bishop begged the question of where this ritual blood was to come from, where to be drawn. Tihagale discreetly left others with the sticky issue of when and by what means fresh blood would be introduced into the liturgy.
At what point does inculturation dissolve into syncretism? Mullarkey’s point is that we orthodox Christians in the West may be fond of the way our brothers and sisters in the Global South re-enchant a Christianity dessicated by rationalism and consumerism in our civilization. We know well that early Christianity succeeded in part by overtaking local pagan practices and Christianizing them. But that goes both ways, and the challenge is knowing how to have a vigorous, spiritually alive Christianity without getting Santa Muerte.
I know this blog has Christians readers who live, or who have lived, in the Global South. What does Mullarkey’s issue look like from your perspective. I’m one of those First World Christians prone to romanticizing the Global South’s faith, so I’d really like to have your perspective.