Two interesting articles. The first comes from the Washington Post’s review of the new book, RELIGIOUS LITERACY: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t, by Stephen Prothero.
Here are a couple paragraphs from the review:
The United States is the most religious nation in the developed world, if religiosity is measured by belief in all things supernatural — from God and the Virgin Birth to the humbler workings of angels and demons. Americans are also the most religiously ignorant people in the Western world. Fewer than half of us can identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, and only one third know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
“The book’s main concern, though, is ignorance about the role of religion in American history. Prothero dates the beginning of the long decline in our religious literacy to the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800s. The fervor of America’s periodic cycles of revivalism, rooted in a personal relationship with God rather than in theology handed down by learned clergy, has always had a strong anti-intellectual as well as spiritual component.”
Read the whole article.
The second is an opinion piece that comes from the Dallas News about a renewed appeal of Tradition in religious observance, particularly among the younger folk. This is one reason why I chose an Anglo-Catholic parish to do my field-placement, and why I am still there as a priest. I need and want to learn due to the fact that I grew up in a religious tradition that did not keep Tradition, but it also appeals to that part of me that longs for the tried-and-true and that which is beyond me. The lived experience of millions upon million of people over 2,000 years and including some of the most brilliant human minds add to the Tradition that still speaks to the inner most part of us – Deep calls to deep. (I preaches a sermon on that, yesterday, Pentecost.) The last paragraph is vitally important when considering Tradition!
Here are a few paragraphs:
“What’s the least I have to believe and do to feel good about myself?
That’s the fundamental question modern religious seekers seem to be asking. For many contemporary Americans, religion is like a scented candle: The purpose of its light is to provide a comforting psychological ambience. But for a small, growing minority â€“ for whom religion, properly understood, exists to illuminatethe challenging path to truth and holiness â€“ there is an alternative: tradition… ”
“Traditionalists of any religion fundamentally differ from modernists in that they see truth as objective and delivered within the rules, rituals and teachings of the tradition. Truth, so considered, is something around which individuals must shape their lives. The modernist sees religious truth as subjective, something that can be shaped to fit the lives of individuals in different times and places. If they’re right, there’s nothing regressive about reclaiming attractive and useful elements of tradition within a modernist context.
Except that it’s a dead-end. Orthodoxy (right belief) cannot be severed from orthopraxy (right practice); both inform and reinforce the other, beholding the truth and embodying it in the rites and pious practices of individuals and communities. The writer and Orthodox convert Frederica Mathewes-Green warns tradition-seekers that the reason the outward manifestations of tradition â€“ the chants, the icons, the liturgies â€“ have such power in our fast-moving, throwaway culture is that their authority is embedded within a living and longstanding communal tradition. If you don’t accept the tradition whole, you cut yourself off from its transformative power.
‘It’s like gathering flowers: They look great when you bring them into your contemporary church, but they have no roots and they’re going to die,’ she says. ‘You’ll have to keep going out and getting more flowers. Eventually, the whole thing will feel stale. Unless you plug into the ancient-continuing church and let it form you, you’re just being a shopper.’
Modernists nevertheless make a point that traditionalists ignore at their peril. Tradition has to be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances without abandoning its core principles. A tradition that loses touch with the needs of the living community is in danger of degenerating into rigid formalism. Some traditionalists make an idol of sacred tradition, as if it were an end in itself, not the most reliable and efficacious means to God.”