Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Church confronts modernity - LewRockwell.com Blog

Thomas Woods links to a review of his book The Church Confronts Modernity.

What strikes the reader is that the Catholic Church really did “confront modernity” during the early decades of the 20th century.... In the last chapter Professor Woods contrasts that strong position with the weakness of the Church since Vatican II. Rarely do we hear anyone say that the Catholic Church is the only true Church of Jesus Christ, that Protestants and orthodox should return to the true Church, that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. The Church has not changed her teaching, but most Church leaders seem to be reluctant to confront modern American culture with the truth of Catholicism and to condemn it where it is in error.
Kenneth Baker, S.J., Homiletic & Pastoral Review, March 2005
This dovetails quite nicely with some reading I have been doing today. In the chapter entitled "Why 'Mainline' Denominations Decline" Fink and Stark (1992 edition) write on this counter-intuitive proposition:

People tend to value religion on the basis of how costly it is to join - the more one must sacrifice in order to be in good standing, the more valuable the religion. A major reason people rate religion this way is that as religious bodies ask less of their members their ability to reward their members declines proportionately.
Finke and Stark write:

Since at least 1776 the upstart sects have grown as the mainline American denominations have declined. And this trend continues unabated, as new upstarts continue to push to the fore....These historical trends are not oddities of the American religious economy or of recent history - they are not new things under the sun. Rather, they reflect basic social forces that first cause succesfull religious firms to compromise their "errand in the wilderness" and then to lose their organizational vigor, eventually to be replaced by less worldly groups, whereupon the process is repeated.

That is, the sect-church process is always under way, and the less regulated the religious economy, the more rapidly and thoroughly the process will occur.
[emphasis in the original]

Please note that at this point I am not displaying any courage: I am not endorsing one brand of religion or one kind of theology over another. Indeed, if the Fink and Starke thesis is true all mainline denominations were once sects. I am drawing attention to a dynamic that denominations of any faith must pay attention to if they wish to spread their system of belief, faith, and codes of personal behavior.

Aside: The 1960s and 70s growth in Northern Virginia of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia was not the result of a rebirth of the Episcopal Church. (See previous post.) It was a consequence of the growth spurt in the size the federal government due to the Cold War, the war in Vietnam, and the growth of the welfare state. What the Diocese of Virginia did was respond to the growth in population, and do a good job at fostering reasonably healthy new congregations. But the growth in memberships (if not in market share) was driven by migration to the Washington area due to the growth in employment opportunities.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

If mainline denominations attract and retain new members when they ask a lot of these people, yet show decline when they compromise their message to "fit" the culture, how should they blend these two market forces to attract the un-churched?