Thursday, June 19, 2014
What caught my eye today, though, was his chapter “For the Young People.” He goes straight to the throat of the deep South’s cultural Christianity with bare knuckles and brutal prose. He was concerned about the demise of religion in the lives of the young people he knew. He termed this sort of pseudo-faith as filled with “the ghosts of dead phrases—salvation, washed in the blood of the Lamb, He descended into hell, the resurrection of the body, born of the Virgin Mary.” He knew even in the pre-World War II era that a cultural religion is no religion at all but is a winking form of hypocrisy that finds thin consolation in a genial Sunday morning service that is detached from either the life of the mind or the reality of the work-a-day world.Not sure why this is limited to "Southern" other than they may have lead the vanguard that has seemingly at this juncture swept the nation.
I blogged about one of these Mississippi youth, the Faulkner scholar Noel Polk (who was among my doctoral mentors), whose own memoir documented indirectly how Percy’s concerns facilitated his departure from the faith. As I noted in that post, for those of us from the deep South, it is easy to wonder how anyone from that era was able to stomach remaining in the faith after witnessing so much hatred and ignorance.
Will Percy did not share his more famous nephew’s orthodoxy, but he did have a high view of the ideals of the faith (as filtered through the pragmatic Stoicism he saw in Marcus Aurelius). Percy notes the all-too-rampant detachment of morality from theology by relating a conversation he had with a pastor. He asked the pastor why so many prominent church members were rogues and scoundrels. The pastor replied, “They have been born again. When they are born again, they are certain of salvation, and when you are certain of salvation you may do what you like. . . . The ethics of Jesus do not interest them when their rebirth guarantees them salvation.” Percy then amplifies this by calling this sort of religion “an emotional experience . . . not related to morals.”
I was commenting to a friend just the day before I write this that we teach people what to believe - Theology. We may also give them a set of rules, that are treated, as this quote points out, rather optionally - but we do not teach them how to be Christians to their core. The life of the mind matters - increasingly as people simply think less and less. But I think there is more, on a deeper level.
It is not enough to provide programs and services, we have to provide mentoring, on a deep and life changing level.