Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rare Non-Monarchical Rant

I posted this summary of my current thoughts on religion at Taki's Magazine in response to Tom Piatak's article I Confess: I Don’t Understand Why Some Atheists Are So Angry. Mr. Piatak responded kindly and sympathetically. While these issues are not directly related to monarchism, I know I'm not the only monarchist who is disturbed by the changes which have overtaken Western Christianity over the past fifty years or so. Since some of these developments I deplore are related to ideological currents which have also undermined monarchies, I don't think this "cri de coeur" is totally off-topic.

I am one of those agnostics to whom Mr. Piatak refers who deeply respect Christianity’s fundamental role in Western culture. However, while my reasons are quite different from those of C. Hitchens, I too am angry at contemporary Christianity, and I’d like a chance to explain why, since in the polarization between staunch Christians and fierce atheists my point of view is rarely heard.

Whenever atheists attack Christianity, I am indeed the sort of person who is inclined to respond, “but what about...the Sistine Chapel/Chartres Cathedral/Bach’s St. Matthew Passion/Choral Evensong?” etc. But the question must be asked: what does the bulk of contemporary Christianity as it actually is, with its banal liturgies, hideous architecture, pathetic capitulation to egalitarian agendas, insipid music, and puritanical/philistine attitudes among those ("traditionalists") who claim to be resisting all of this, have to do with all of that past glory? Not very much, it seems to me.

I’m honestly not sure what I believe about God, but I do know that I long to be able to attend a beautiful church with a great pipe organ in which traditional liturgy (whether Latin or Elizabethan English) is celebrated by an all-male clergy and augmented by a strong commitment to the greatest sacred music of the past millennium (preferably sung by a choir of men and boys, though I suppose one can compromise on that last point). In most of the United States, that simply isn’t possible anywhere, and yes, that makes me angry. Now, my two favorite American churches that I’ve attended, St. John Cantius [Roman Catholic] in Chicago and St. Thomas Fifth Avenue [Episcopal] in New York are truly magnificent in every way, and I salute them, and I am deeply moved by the heroic efforts of those responsible for making them what they are. But what of those of us who do not live in Chicago or New York? Are we condemned to compromise with the most unfortunate cultural trends of the past half-century and accept the nearly universal dumbing-down of liturgy, music, and architecture?

I am angry at Anglicanism for “ordaining” women; I am angry at Catholicism (Pope Benedict excepted) for not caring about good music; and I am angry at both Churches for modernizing their liturgies and for the misguided emphasis on congregational singing which rules out the regular liturgical use of Christendom’s countless magnificent choral settings of the Ordinary of the Mass. The “traditionalist” movement has its own problems, as I discovered when, as a volunteer organist at an SSPX chapel, I was not allowed to play Bach Preludes and Fugues before and after mass as it might “distract people from their prayers.”

I am tired of the lectures (ironically from both Novus Ordo and Traditionalist Catholics, though they put their different spins on it), examples of which are plentiful online, about how one must choose “Truth” over “Beauty.” I don’t accept that, because I don’t see liturgy, music, and architecture as superficial, but rather as fundamental to what’s gone wrong with Christianity in the past half century. I cannot support a church, or a Church, that is committed to capitulation to cultural trends I regard as destructive, and “conservatives” are often no better than “liberals” in this regard. Part of me genuinely wants to believe, but where is there to go? Surely I am not the only non-believer who has been alienated from Christianity, not because it isn’t “modern” enough, but because it has tried too hard to be “modern,” and in the process has sacrificed nearly everything that ever made it beautiful.

1 comment:

Theodore Harvey said...

I deleted this after I got baptized about a year later, but then subsequently restored it since it accurately reflected my perspective in May 2008 and I still agree with it to some extent, despite now considering myself a Christian rather than an agnostic. Prior to deletion this post had elicited one comment, from Blayne. Here it is:

Blayne said...

I understand Mr. Harvey all the problems with Christianity you have. Infact, I really don't like many of my fellow Christians or mainstream Christianity in general.
The most important thing about any religion is this: It really is what you put in to it. I believe what you're looking for is out there Mr. Harvey, don't let groups of churches detract you from your search from God. Religion is always man made, and I think if you focus more on how God can work in your life, and how you can help others, you will find some fulfillment in Christianity. Find your atmosphere and focus on how you can worship God within it. Focus on him and ignore the actions of weaker men.