23 November 2005

Secular Condescension, Liturgical Mindfulness

Of all the institutions in their lives, only the Catholic Church has seemed aware of the fact that my mother and father are thinkers--persons aware of the experience of their lives. Other institutions--the nation's political parties, the industries of mass entertainment and communications, the companies that employed them--have all treated my parents with condescension. The Church too has treated them badly when it attempted formal instruction. The homily at Sunday mass, intended to give parishioners basic religious instruction, has often been poorly prepared and aimed at a childish listener. It has been the liturgical Church that has excited my parents. In ceremonies of public worship, they have been moved, assured that their lives--all aspects of their lives, from waking to eating, from birth until death, all moments--possess great significance. Only the liturgy has encouraged them to dwell on the meaning of their lives. To think.
SOURCE: Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, by Richard Rodriguez (Bantam Books, 1982), p. 96

I've certainly done more than my share of condescension toward religious beliefs and believers. My only defense is that I have never done so from a position of authority--unless one grants undue authority on religious matters to those with more years of strictly secular education, which the latter all too frequently arrogate to themselves. (I should say "ourselves" for, here again, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.)

I strongly suspect that the strong resurgence of religion in the public sphere over the last few decades is a reaction to the mounting failures of resolutely secular governments--whether communist, socialist, capitalist, or Baathist--whose policies toward religion have ranged from dismissive condescension, at best, to brutal suppression, at worst. The collapse of communism, the most powerful secular religion of the 20th century, was the largest of the secular dominoes to fall.

Of course, theocracies like Iran seem, like others before them, to have managed to create a strong resurgence of secularism. But do we really need to go that far before finding a reasonable balance, with mutual respect?

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