Sunday, January 30, 2011
Postmodern Self Help: New Opiate for the Masses
Having just read Father Dwight Longenecker's well-articulated post "The Collapse of Cultural Catholicism" in which he laments the dwindling number of people who take their faith seriously enough to show up for church, largely because they think they are good enough Christians on their own and have no use for the Church, it struck me that there is a relationship.
We are a society that not only thinks it is all about us, but that we can fix anything if we only try this or that system of behavior, or think positively enough. The Prosperity Gospel evangelists promote an attitude that if you are not rich, happy and leading a perfect life, it's your fault because you are not praying hard enough for those good things. The New Age version of this comes from guru Eckhart Tolle - made famous by Oprah Winfrey's choice of his book. He would say that if you are not happy, it is because of your negative attitude. The "universe" wants good things for you - all you have to do is plug into the positive energy. Supermarket self-help magazines direct people to the Self-Help aisle in the bookstore - which seems to get larger all the time, to find the latest books about systems for fixing everything about the human condition. Only around the corner are the corresponding New Age spirituality books which promise to fix your soul.
Organized religion is rapidly being rejected by people who have no use for what they do not understand - because it is not all about them. What we have is a failure to evangelize. Because they do not understand what the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ really has to do with their everyday life, they turn away and look for love "in all the wrong places" - depending on their own ability to follow somebody's "system" for happiness and fulfillment. The Church is not doing well at communicating the relationship of Paschal Mystery to everyday life. For that, I have to put some of the blame on the clergy - in my 24 years as a Catholic, I have only heard one homily that even mentioned it.
Jesus Christ has the ultimate system for self-improvement: his teachings and his example of life, submitting his will to that of the Father. Until people who call themselves Christian acknowledge that and stop turning whichever way the popular wind blows, we are really living in an era of "anti-Christs" - people who draw people away from Christ with promises of happiness. We live in a time where people no longer are addicted to religion, as Marx postulated. Instead, they are addicted to self-help, and to the latest system that promises health, wealth and happiness... until something newer and better comes along. No wonder few of them attend church any more.