If you’re looking for a book which is a huge difference-maker in how you view Christianity, then you should look no further than Cavanaugh’s Migrations of the Holy. The point he makes here opens up several lines of thinking:
“Today the most significant misunderstanding of the Christian liturgy is that it is sacred. Let me clarify. The problem is that ‘sacred’ has been opposed to ‘secular,’ and the two are presumed to describe two separate—but occasionally related—orbits. The problem is not simply that this separation leaves the church’s liturgy begging for relevance to the ‘real world.’ The problem is rather that the supposedly ‘secular’ world invents its own liturgies, with pretensions every bit as ‘sacred’ as those of the Christian liturgy, and these liturgies can come to rival the church’s liturgy for our bodies and our minds. In this brief essay I want to explore in particular some of the liturgies of the American nation-state. I will suggest first that such liturgies are not properly called ‘secular,’ and second, that the Christian liturgy is not properly cordoned off into the realm of the ‘sacred.'”
These comments come from the chapter “Liturgies of Church and State,” which happens to be available as a standalone .pdf read right here.
This expanded notion of liturgy might be useful for literary criticism, probably also political science, or at least for the reading of Czeslaw Milosz in my case. Charles Taylor is onto the same insight in A Secular Age with his notion of cross-pressuring:
“Our age is very far from settling into a comfortable unbelief. The secular age is schizophrenic, or better, deeply cross-pressured.”
The cross-pressuring by both the liturgy of the church and the liturgy of the state (and modernity as scientism) is especially strong in the Milosz poem below. What’s remarkable about it is how the two liturgies are presented as overlapping, even coinciding. The secularizing withdrawal of judgment and punishment turns into a hellish Divine punishment in itself.
I did not expect to live in such an unusual moment.
When the God of thunders and of rocky heights,
The Lord of hosts, Kyrios Sabaoth,
Would humble people to the quick,
Allowing them to act whatever way they wished,
Leaving to them conclusions, saying nothing.
It was a spectacle that was indeed unlike
The agelong cycle of royal tragedies.
Roads on concrete pillars, cities of glass and cast iron,
Airfields larger than tribal dominions
Suddenly ran short of their essence and disintegrated
Not in a dream but really, for, subtracted from themselves,
They could only hold on as do things which should not last.
Out of trees, field stones, even lemons on the table,
Materiality escaped and their spectrum
Proved to be a void, a haze on a film.
Dispossessed of its objects, space was swarming.
Everywhere was nowhere and nowhere, everywhere.
Letters in books turned silver-pale, wobbled, and faded
The hand was not able to trace the palm sign, the river sign, or the sign of ibis.
A hullabaloo of many tongues proclaimed the mortality of the language.
A complaint was forbidden as it complained to itself.
People, afflicted with an incomprehensible distress,
Were throwing off their clothes on the piazzas so that nakedness might call
But in vain they were longing after horror, pity, and anger.
Neither work nor leisure
Nor the face, nor the hair nor the loins
Nor any existence.
The line “Letters in books turned silver-pale, wobbled and faded” cannot but remind me of this tragically magical scene from Fellini’s Roma: