Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Jesus: Yes; Church: No?

Thought-provoking blog item by Joseph A. Komonchak on Church and the larger culture.

In full ...

The obituary for Philip Rieff in today’s New York Times has this as a description of his first book, “Freud: the Mind of the Moralist”: “It argued that Freudian ideas, which gave rise to the idea of the ‘psychological man’ as the dominant moral type in the 20th century, had had a corrosive effect on Western morality and culture because such an individual tended to relate all public questions not to received traditions of communal morality, but ‘to himself and his own emotions.’”

I happened to be reading in the last couple of days a little book by Franz-Xaver Kaufman, a German sociologist. In it he repeats a thesis he has been defending for a couple of decades: that the differentiations of social life that almost define modernity–the erection of relatively autonomous regions (e.g., the state, the economy, education)–meant in good part the denial that religion had much, if anything, to do with those realms; that the 19th and early 20th centuries saw the parallel concentration of religion into its own realm, the institution that is the Church (he calls this “the Churchifying of Christianity”); and that what has been happening particularly since the Second World War is a “de-Churchifying of religion” that runs parallel to the rapid individualization of morality in the larger society. The result is something like the slogans still sometimes heard: “Jesus, Yes; Church, No.” Or the distinction (quite new in fact, but threatening to become canonical) between “spirituality” (inner; mine) and “religion” (outer; theirs). The interest of the two positions is that they place what can be observed within the Christian churches (“the new individualism,” Charles Taylor calls it) into the context of larger societal and cultural movements that can’t be dealt with, on the one hand, by moralistic indictments of hierarchy or, on the other hand, by stamping-one’s-foot appeals to authority.