Tom Beaudoin, the liberal Catholic theology professor at Fordham who has been protesting with Occupy Wall Street (you might remember his recent call for Catholics to “occupy” their own parishes), has published some pretty fascinating photographs of religious syncretism among the OWS crowd in New York City.
My first reaction: “Oh Lord, give me a break” (eyes rolling).
My second reaction: “This really is something, the open embrace of religion, or rather, “spirituality,” as part of this protest.”
I’m not saying it’s a good thing, necessarily. I am saying that it strikes me as a significant thing, though what the significance is, I can’t say. Beaudoin credits his Catholicism for inspiring him to join the protests:
Among other fundamentally irreversible influences in my life, it was my Catholic upbringing, Catholic religious education, and Catholic graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School and at Boston College, that laid the spiritual and intellectual groundwork for me to be able to recognize, in Occupy Wall Street, a possible shared work of corporal and spiritual mercy, a potential place for practicing solidarity, and a plausible habitat for more deeply and experientially learning and living love’s public name: justice.
Obviously I don’t know Beaudoin, but judging from his previous writings, I can’t see how his views on Catholicism can be reconciled with what Catholicism actually teaches about the Church. For example, here he praises a writer who read the Bible with
prostitutes “sex workers” and produced a critique of “bourgeois heterosexist theology.” This sort of thing is another religion, not my own, and certainly not the Pope’s. It’s the kind of sloppy-sentimental cultural Marxism in a religious veil that can only be taken seriously as a threat to the integrity of tradition.
But what does that have to do with OWS? I wrote the other day that we conservative/orthodox Christians have a responsibility to confront the issues that the left-liberal carnivalgoers of OWS are confronting. Seeing things like that syncretistic shrine, though, really puts me off to the idea of bringing a religious spirit to collective action. I would have been fine had I seen a Christian shrine, a Buddhist shrine, a pagan shrine, etc. But this “sacred space” — I dunno, it bothers me a lot. One can have ecumenical fellowship and working-together without syncretism. In fact, one has to. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s genuinely interesting that this particular protest has taken on in some respects a certain religiosity. I think that for me, this is off-putting, not in that it is religious, but rather in the form of religion it has taken up.
Or am I reading too much into it? I just know that if I were part of this protest, I would stay far away from the “sacred space” Tom Beaudoin documents with his photography, and I would imagine that the kind of Jew or Muslim that I could find significant common ground with would also want nothing to do with that space, even if we were pleased to see each other down there. You know?