In The Economist , Catholicism, and Europe , Samuel Gregg gives that magazine’s coverage of religion qualified praise, as better than usual “though it usually slips in one of the usual secularist bromides, as if to reassure its audiences that its keeping a critical distance.”
Insofar as it goes, thats a broadly accurate analysis . . . . But what the Economist doesnt say (though the evidence is there in its own article) is that what we are witnessing is the collapse of liberal or progressivist Catholicism . . . the policy of gradual accommodation to secularist expectations, and then, inevitably, subservience to secularism.
This kind of Catholicism (I’ve changed the wording slightly, “demands” for “demand,” for example):
(a) demands nothing from its adherents in terms of belief beyond an emphasis on tolerance, diversity, and endless dialogue-for-the-sake-of-dialogue; (b) dilutes dogma and doctrine to the point of meaninglessness; (c) becomes yet another means of self-affirmation in a culture full of self-affirmation; (d) embraces post-1960s sexual morality; (e) essentially anathematizes anyone who doesnt more-or-less adhere to secular left-liberal political, social, and economic positions.
He’s put this very strongly, but if you dial down the descriptions about 25% to 50% you get a good description of broad generic progressivism. The adherents are expected to believe something about Jesus as a central or crucial figure, for example, but not “dogmatically” and not in a way that claims superiority to any one else’s beliefs, and not in a way that the belief can not be changed through dialogue.
As Gregg notes, “no-one needs to be a Christian to hold these views,” even in what I’ve called the generic progressivist version. Thus “most who embrace these views sooner or later eventually marginalize their Christianity to the point of irrelevance to their daily lives or simply drift away altogether.” And worse, they’re not likely to raise children who believe even that much.
It’s a religion for those who can’t let go. As I’ve put it to “progressive” friends, Protestant and Catholic: If you weren’t used to this religion from growing up with it, would you get out of bed on Sunday morning for it? I can’t imagine very many people would. There’s no cash value to it, no upside, no benefit.
Or, to be fair, not much of one. You might find a small community of like-minded people, a haven in a heartless world of sorts, and you might find a way of ordering your life, at least by setting aside Sunday mornings every week, and you might also find worship that moves you and sermons that help you, even if the God you worshiped were a little ghostly and the sermons a little self-helpish.
That’s something, but it’s not what Christianity offers. You get more out of the full version, it seems to me, for the investment of your Sunday mornings. You get, for example, “Your sins are forgiven,” rather than some version of “Be all you can be.”