This post is also available in: Spanish
Countercultural Christianity and the need of the supernatural
Not too long ago I had the pleasure to read a series of three articles that grabbed my attention, and which allowed me to formulate a series of thoughts regarding the need of what is known as “Countercultural Christianity” and furthermore of making Christianity “strange” again. All of this simply implies the need of bringing back the supernatural elements of Christianity.
Two articles that I read on these specific subjects were both written by Rod Dreher a senior editor for The American Conservative. The first article is called Christian and Countercultural and the second article is called Making Christianity weird again. The last and third article I had the pleasure of reading is by William Heyer and is called Restoring Sacred Architecture to a higher place
A watered down faith and its effects
I will first begin by talking about the first two articles both of which describe that much of Christianity’s collapse and fall has mostly been due to one main factor; that factor is described by Rod Dreher. “Christianity is being degenerated into a pathetic version of itself, or more significantly Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith”1 In other words Catholicism and Christianity in general has been watered down in its theology, philosophy, doctrine, its liturgy, and lastly in the core of Catholicism and our Christian faith in general.
Sociologist Christian Smith has coined the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)” to state the modern phenomenon of young Americans treating religion and Christianity as merely “therapeutic” which has naturally caused any supernatural meaning of Christianity to disappear and be left unconsidered.
It is then no wonder that so many Catholics are giving in to a natural acceptance of things like gay “marriage” and other matters contrary to the faith. As Rod Dreher points out “according to the tenants of moralistic therapeutic deism, which emphasizes personal happiness and well being, there is no reason why Christianity should object to things like gay marriage”2
The Solution: Countercultural Catholicism and the need of the supernatural
In his second article Making Christianity weird again Rod Dreher makes the case that it is this modern approach to Christianity that has failed the youth (The Millennials) and Rod Dreher concludes by saying that if nothing is done:
Then we may be looking at a European style collapse in our Christian Faith within a generation or two, in part because so many young Americans raised in Christian homes, in a Christian milieu don’t even have the conceptual vocabulary to articulate their thoughts or to frame their understanding. Again this is not the fault of Millennials, it is the fault of we who should have been teaching them3
Not only is this a failure of good catechetical foundations but it is also a matter of false outlooks and ideals.
Rod Dreher quotes theologian Bo Bonner who states:
We need our Christianity to quit trying to conform to the world, and instead be a lot stranger4
By making Christianity strange again what this theologian is implying is that we need Christianity to once again be awe inspiring. Being struck by wonder and wanting to know more about the religious and cultural vision that created something wondrous.
That is the beauty of our Catholic Faith. Its beauty, its deep rootedness in Church history, authentic Catholicism filled with sound doctrines and good liturgy, and even popular piety. All these things are things that inspire those theological and supernatural truths which are hard to grasp on a natural level.
As theologian Bo Bonner goes on to state “by even talking about things like death and Catholic practices such as praying in a cemetery, are all equally needed and are both countercultural and strange to the modern world which is often terrified by such concepts as death.
The Holy Triad: Truth, Goodness and Beauty
The last article I mentioned regarding “Restoring Sacred architecture to a higher place” fits in quite perfectly to the notion of countercultural Christianity and the subject of making Christianity strange again.
This last article is specifically about good Heavenly centered architecture but I will go on to add the need for good Heavenly centered liturgy as well, since they both go hand in hand. I will furthermore go on to say regarding the ever present truth and reality that aesthetic beauty is a thing that is very much real and found in beautiful objects, architecture, persons, religious icons, good morality and the truth itself, all of which are but mere types of God who is beauty perfected.
In this article William Heyer a Catholic architect is interviewed and he makes many interesting observations regarding all of this. William Heyer starts of by stating that Heavenly centered architecture is supposed to beget prayer
“Catholic architecture is supposed to point towards Heaven. A Church building should take the natural laws of architecture and complete or ‘Supernaturalize’ them, a reflection of how Jesus Christ in becoming one of us completes human nature and makes us fit for Heaven.”5
I will go on to add that this is likewise true in terms of good liturgy, for good liturgy is supposed to do the same. This is why something like Gregorian Chant should be used at Mass. Vatican II stated in Sacrosanctum Concilium “Gregorian chant is specifically suited to the Roman liturgy and it should be given pride of place in liturgical services”6
What do both architectural beauty and good liturgy have in Common? It is that they both once again have the end goal of lifting our hearts, intellects and will to Heavenly things. Both Good liturgy and Gregorian chant do this because both these two things stimulate not the sensitive appetites “senses” including what we call lower faculties such as our passions and even emotions, but it stimulates the rational appetite “Intellect Reason and Will” and this begets prayer.
Fr. Chad Ripperger FSSP states
Gregorian chant which, has an appeal to the intellect and will, naturally begets prayer, which is defined as the lifting of the mind and heart to God. Gregorian chant does not appeal to one’s emotions or appetites; rather the beauty of the chant naturally draws us into contemplation of the divine truths and the mysteries of the ritual.7
William Heyer ties in this reality of good architecture and good liturgy such as the use of Gregorian chant with the above mentioned reality of it stimulating our intellect and will, which naturally begets prayer and which naturally helps us to contemplate Heavenly and Supernatural truths of God. William Heyer does this by talking about the fact that aesthetic beauty is an example of one of the many perfections of God.
Every Sunday we get to hear sermons about truth and goodness, two obvious and essential perfections of God. But a third perfection of creatures that points to the infinite perfection of God according to Numb 41. Of the Catholic Catechism- beauty- is often forgotten in this triad. Truth, goodness and beauty reinforce each other and are inseparable, as God in the Holy Trinity is inseparable. So when beauty is missing, truth and goodness are incomplete8
This last quote shows that beauty “true genuine beauty” is found in that which is true and goodness itself which is God Himself. Our Catholic Faith simply transmits God’s revealed truths which is what our faith is based on. The Church for that reason proposes many things to us that seem challenging but this itself is an example of beauty and truth.
I remember about a week ago I went to Sts. Peter and Paul a parish in Wilmington, CA. It was my first time visiting and I was surprised by the great architectural beauty of the parish. I turned around to a good friend of mine who was also there and I stated “who would think that people would honestly be bent on destroying this?” Obviously I didn’t just have the beauty of this parish in mind, as beautiful as that was, but even much more, I meant the destruction of the truth; which makes the institution of the Catholic Church itself.
All of this ties in quite well with the subjects of countercultural Christianity and making Christianity strange again, because to be a countercultural Catholic and “strange” to the eyes of the modern world means living in a society with our minds and actions fixed on Heavenly centered truths, in a society hostile to such truths.
- Rod Dreher “Christian and Counter Cultural”
- Rod Dreher “Making Christianity Weird Again
- Bo Bonner “quoted in Making Christianity Weird Again”
- William Heyer “Restoring Sacred Architecture to a higher place”
- Sacronsanctum Concilium Section 116
- Fr Chad Ripperger “The Spirituality of the Ancient Liturgy Part 2”
- William Heyer op. cit., Restoring Sacred Architecture”