Matt Walsh went to a church service recently, was bored out of his mind by the pandering, weak-tea pageantry, and wrote a hell of a jeremiad about it. Excerpt:
[T]his is the problem with Christianity in this country. Not just inside our church buildings, but everywhere. It often has no edge, no depth. No sense of its own ancient and epic history. There is no sacredness to it. No pain. No beauty. No reverence. Or I should say Christianity has all of those things, fundamentally and totally, but many modern Christians in every denomination have spent many years trying to blunt them or bury them under a thousand layers of icing and whipped cream and apathy.
Yet many of our fearless leaders, pastors, and pundits think this is, rather than the disease, the remedy. It’s the same remedy they’ve tried for half a century. As the problem gets worse, they don’t change the medication, they just keep upping the dosage. They tell us that in order to bring the sheep into the fold — especially the millennial sheep — Christianity must be as un-Christian as possible. It must be stripped it of its truth, of its sacredness, of its sacrifice, of its morality, of its tradition, of its history, of its hardships, of its joy, and whatever is left will be enough to, if not engage and excite people, at least not scare them away.
And that’s been the strategy of the American church for decades: just try not to scare people. They put on this milquetoast, tedious, effeminate charade, feigning hipness and relevance, aping secular culture in a manner about as cool and current as your science teacher retelling a Dane Cook joke from nine years ago, and then furrow their brows and shake their heads in bewilderment when everyone gets bored and walks away.
Christianity is fading because more and more of our leaders want to steal people from the true faith and deliver them to this convenient version. But that isn’t what actual Christians want, and the Christians who do, only want it because it doesn’t much resemble Christianity at all. Those folks eventually figure out that the only thing more secular than Christian secularism is secular secularism, and there’s really no reason to choose the former over the latter.
Matt Walsh is a man who deeply needs to discover Orthodoxy. Seriously, reading his post made me grateful for what we have in our little mission parish in the middle of nowhere. It’s the opposite of what Matt Walsh had to endure. It’s ancient, it’s substantive, it’s reverent, it’s beautiful, it’s muscular in its countercultural witness, and boy, does our priest knows how to preach both mercy and repentance. Not all Orthodox parishes are like ours, but if your experience of church is like what Walsh had to deal with, find an Orthodox parish nearby and visit. Believe me, I don’t feel the least sense of triumphalism about this; I’m just incredibly grateful for what I have been shown, and given.
Walsh says that the lameness of the service he attended surely has something to do with the Pew numbers out this week showing that Millennials are abandoning organized religion. If the only thing I had to go to on Sunday morning was services like the one Walsh describes, I would stay at home. There’s no there there. Catholics have their own version of this kind of thing, and I used to patiently endure it by silently repeating the mantra, “Ex opere operato.” It’s beyond tragic that so much of the Catholic Church in the United States has cast aside the treasures of spiritual and aesthetic depth in its patrimony. I’m reminded of this excerpt from a 2011 Terry Gross interview with Jimmy Fallon, in which he reminisced about the Catholicism of his childhood:
GROSS: Do you still go to church?
Mr. FALLON: I don’t go to – I tried to go back. When I was out in L.A. and I was like kind of struggling for a bit I went to church for a while, but it’s kind of, it’s gotten gigantic now for me. It’s like too, there’s a band. There’s a band there now and you got to, you have to hold hands with people through the whole mass now, and I don’t like doing that. You know, I mean it used to be the shaking hands piece was the only time you touched each other.
Mr. FALLON: Now I’m holding now I’m lifting people. Like Simba.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: I’m holding them (Singing) ha nah hey nah ho.
(Speaking) I’m I’m doing too much. I don’t want – there’s Frisbees being thrown, there’s beach balls going around, people waving lighters, and I go this is too much for me. I want the old way. I want to hang out with the, you know, with the nuns, you know, that was my favorite type of mass, and the Grotto and just like straight up, just mass-mass.
Now, you could say that if Jimmy Fallon was a properly formed Catholic, he should have continued going to mass despite the nonsense, because ex opere operato, or whatever. And you would probably be right. But good grief, what a sorry response to a legitimate human need for reverence and seriousness that’s not being met, especially within an incarnational, sacramental religious worship tradition that historically has taken the body, not just the head, seriously. And for what? Who wants that stuff? Who can possibly take it seriously?
I’m not trying to pick on churches not my own. As I’ve said before, I have two ex-Orthodox friends who left for Evangelical churches because they got tired of the sense that all that beauty and reverence led nowhere, except perhaps to venerating the Tribe. All that beauty and reverence has to point to something — Someone — beyond itself, and lead the way to union with Him, or it’s in vain. Outside of Orthodoxy, you will find no more beautiful Christian worship in this country than among the Episcopalians — but they’re still falling apart.
The point is that the times we’re entering are going to do away with Moralistic Therapeutic Deist parishes and denominations. We know this. We are going to need something strong and clear to stay on the straight path through this dark wood.