After taking in the excitement of Universal Studios for two days with the family I commented on the fabricated, faux and artificial world that America has become. One friend commented that the entertainment culture has infected every aspect of our lives as well. Not only do we eat Italian food in a faux Tuscan villa next to a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, but the staff have been trained to give us the ‘Italian experience’ and some trainee opera singer is trundled out to bellow out ‘Happy Birthday’ in order to amuse and delight us. At the shopping mall we don’t just buy clothes and furniture and whatever else we need, but in each ‘themed’ store we are expected to have ‘the experience.’
The shallow stupidity of it all is frightening, and then when we stop to consider we see that American Christianity has basically adopted the same, shallow, individualistic, ‘experience’ mentality. We’ve swallowed the secular culture totally and uncritically and we’ve adapted the Christian gospel to fit into this shallow, entertainment based culture without thinking. So the Evangelical mega-churches have become totally consumer driven, entertainment based and utilitarian in their message, and I’m sorry to say the rest of Protestantism has gone down the same path, and even more embarrassed and ashamed to say that most of Catholicism has gone down this path too.
So our churches compete with one another for members just like any other business. We run things according to our budget and our bottom line and consider people to be new members once they start contributing to the envelope stewardship plan. We incorporate entertainment styled liturgies and music and make sure our homilies are catchy, funny, a touch inspiring and most of all–short. These things, disturbing as they are, are only the symptom of a deeper malaise within American Christianity–and in this I include Catholicism.
The deeper problem is the over emphasis on ‘the personal encounter with Christ’. Yes, of course Christ meets us and calls us to follow him. Yes, of course the personal encounter is important for our life in Christ, but just what is this ‘personal encounter’? What does it consist of and how do we know we have had it? For the Evangelical it means ‘getting saved’ or ‘accepting Jesus into our hearts.’ However, what is unspoken and yet universally assumed is that for this to be real there ought also to be a vivid and memorable emotional experience as well.
Likewise, within certain Catholic groups there is a great emphasis on the ‘encounter with Christ’. Just what this encounter consists of is never spelled out. Instead one is encouraged to ‘find one’s deepest desire’ and there one will encounter Christ. I am increasingly of the opinion that this is really a load of hogwash. Emphasis on the ‘personal encounter’ apart from the objective realities of the Church and the Sacraments is a heresy–like all heresies not wrong in what it affirms, but it is wrong in what it denies (or de-emphasizes)
The desire for the ‘personal experience’ is a relativistic, subjective, sentimental phenomenon which, by it’s very nature, either ignores, denies or de emphasizes the objective authority of the Church. It is this essentially Protestant world view which contnributes to American culture being shallow, fake and entertainment based. It is also a poison within American Christianity–both Protestant and Catholic.
The answer of course, is the objective reality of the Catholic faith. Do you want to know where to find authenticity within all the artificiality of our modern world? Are you looking to find objective reality as an answer to the subjective ‘experiences’ you keep having? Are you searching for something solid instead of everything sentimental? Are you looking for a rock solid encounter with Christ with no doubts? Then look to the Catholic faith which is built on a rock. Make it the center of yoru life.
The Catechism says that Christ is encountered 1. in the Scriptures 2. In the person of the priest 3. In the Eucharistic Assembly 4. In the consecrated bread and wine 4. In the person of the poor. 5. In the lives of the saints.
There is the objective source or reality–all the rest is chaff.