Should “Progressive” “Christians” Appropriate Traditional Language?

If you have a wedding, nothing is worse than the vows you wrote yourself, at least a decade later. If you have a funeral, words fail, unless you can turn to Cranmer or at least the Prayer Book.

There is something odd, however, about a group repulsed by Prayer Book sexual morality keeping the language for weddings. There is a cultural failure in secularism ranging from atheism to progressive Christianity in producing much original art that endures and so such folk keep stealing our stuff. Go take a look at Soviet realism or Chinese government art today. Read some recent alternative liturgies produced by the Episcopal Church USA.

This always is good for a laugh out loud literary moment, but not very beautiful.

When there is a royal wedding, good Queen Elizabeth, no progressive she, gets to hear the old words, even if like Canon Jewell in CS Lewis’ prophetic That Hideous Strength she is the only one left who believes them. Why? In part, because the old words are so beautiful. Faith, tied to metaphysical reality, produces beauty. Progressive Christianity is three parts complaint about the genuine evils of Christians gone bad and one part insufferable art: except when they appropriate the work of people who would have never have joined what they have become.

An Oxford philosopher was once asked, in my presence, why he had left the Church of England for Orthodoxy: “My bishop should believe in God.”

Just so. Let me add: your liturgist should believe that Jesus rose from the dead or write a new liturgy.

Evensong is so lovely that the old atheist-on-autopilot Richard Dawkins will go. Nobody is doing the alternative masses produced in the 1970’s for the beauty of the thing. As one priest of mine (who suffered mightily for his orthodoxy, even to death) said: “When the ideas, the doctrine is gone, then all that is left is the art, making sure the robes are just so, or the altar turned the right way.”

Ichabod.

Here is a thought: just as pretending to be Amish is offensive if you are not, mouthing creeds you don’t mean (as they were written) and aping ceremonies that you could not create at present is wrong. Leave Christian culture to the people who still believe what the creators believed at least more-or-less.

If you belong to a church where the resurrection is an optional belief, then you can and should create your own culture. Try not to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today when your Bishop doesn’t believe. Don’t hang Eastern icon prints in churches that attack Orthodox beliefs weekly. Our art is not for your entertainment. Make your own, though perhaps for all its stark artistic merit, nobody wants to worship weekly in the Rothko Chapel.

There is nothing more hypocritical than a firey sermon that gets all its force from the old ways, deep myths, and ancient words that is not believed by the person preaching it. We fail sometimes to see the sterility, near total, of American white progressive Christianity, because it slaps tokens in the forefront and talks a good diversity game while being the least diverse religious grouping in America and actually the most hostile to new (non-white) members.

Globally, progressive forms of Christianity are dying or at least like secularism, shrinking as a percentage of the global village, increasingly restricted to pockets of the whitest parts of the Western world. By the time I die, if present trends continue, this spin off to Christianity will be gone. If it did not have the massive endowments and property to sell, paid for by earlier believers, it would have almost no voice already.

We miss the near total sterility of theological liberalism and secularism, because they have frequently appropriated the language, stained glass, buildings, and culture of the other groups. To add insult to cultural colonialism, they often kicked out the original members from the church homes they built. If they are right in their ideas, perhaps they should have the courage of their convictions and create something new and leave others’ culture alone.


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