Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 28, 2004
The bright side of secularism
Secularism a stage we must undergo, says Rolheiser
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Secularity is not the enemy and the opposite of secularity is not the Church, says Father Ronald Rolheiser. "The opposite of secularity is the Taliban. The opposite of secularity is bin Laden; it's al-Qaeda, not the churches."
Speaking at a symposium on how to evangelize the increasingly secularized First World, Rolheiser said secularity by and large is the child of Judeo Christianity and therefore is not a bad thing. "It's our child but at this stage is a child that is full of adolescent grandiosity and understandably so."
Rolheiser, a well-known Oblate priest, writer and teacher who serves on the general council of his order, was one of five speakers at the Missionaries to the First World Symposium at the Star of the North Retreat House. He spoke to about 70 participants about the need for a new missiology in the First World.
Secularity means modern and in modern society rationality, critical reason becomes the final arbiter of all organization and authority. Before the modern world, the medieval world was gathered not around rationality but divine authority.
"And that's the problem we have today with extreme Islam," Rolheiser said. "Bin Laden and his buddies are anti-modern, some are pre-modern and their idea is that the Western structure of secularity needs to be brought down and they want to do it by force. What they want to bring back is theocracy and they are doing what we once did.
"Remember that the Church was once exactly in that spot. We called it the Inquisition. God rules the planet and we are going to make sure that everybody falls in line and if they don't, we'll burn them at the stake. That's pre-modernism, anti-modernism. But a lot of this world is still there."
Secularity is modernism and by and large the Western world is organized around modernism, Rolheiser said. "We have pockets of anti-modernism; we have a lot of pre-modernism still in the world."
There tends to be two positions regarding secularity. The conservative position sees it as terrible and godless. The liberal position says the churches are corrupt and the world is wonderful.
Rolheiser said the deep structures of our secular culture are still Christian and as such they are profoundly moral and very good, by and large.
Holland, the most secularized culture in the world, allows everything from abortion to euthanasia to prostitution. A conservative person would call it a "bastion of evil." Yet Holland has the "most fantastic, perhaps the most compassionate culture ever created," Rolheiser said, noting it has eliminated poverty, racism and sexism and takes good care of nature.
Secularity is our child, not our enemy, the Oblate said comparing secularity to a rebellious 17-year-old girl who is ashamed of her parents and who points out their faults, inconsistencies and hypocrisies. "Now that 17-year-old girl is in your face but she's not your enemy, she is your child. And she is not bad. Same with secularity. Secularity isn't bad, it's just not finished."
Where do we go from here? We must learn how to evangelize the desire and the imagination of our culture, Rolheiser said, suggesting several directions.
"Every generation has its own poverty," he noted. "I grew up in a generation that had a powerful romanticism and a powerful imagination and we had really bad theology. We preferred Corpus Christi processions to the Eucharist. It really worked but was terrible theology."
Today we have good theology but little imagination. "What our good theology has done for us is put our feet solidly on the ground but it hasn't created any fire," the Oblate lamented. "That's not theology's job. What we need are artists and poets and Francis of Assisi and saints who can set us on fire. We need new saints that have certain sanctity inside the secularity."
In Canada we know how to be Catholics when we are poor, undereducated and culturally marginalized but we don't know how to be Catholics when we are educated, affluent and culturally mainstream like we are today, Rolheiser lamented.
"When we are poor, uneducated and culturally marginalized the Church works. And it still works in immigrant areas precisely because they are poor, uneducated and culturally marginalized."
"We have to become inner immigrants," he said. "We have to look at how churches in this country work in immigrant areas because in those areas the churches really work. And they work because (immigrants) have the qualities of poverty and childlessness and virginity that the Scriptures talk about.
"Now that we are no longer immigrants we need to become inner immigrants. How do we become poor again? How do we become children again? How do we become virgins again? "
Each generation has to pick up the Bible, digest it and show it in a new way, Rolheiser said. "We have to digest it and look at how does a secularized, affluent woman or man who truly believes in Jesus Christ looks like in our culture. Nobody has ever done that before, you know? But you need to do it for your kids."
Letter to the Editor - 08/30/04