Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Spiritual Wars, Culture Wars, And Younger Generations Who Are Moving Beyond This World View

The policy makers can turn their back on progress, but the truth is the younger generations won't follow, and maybe neural development says they never will.

Betty Clermont has a must read post over on Open Tabernacle about the Tea Party Church based on John Allen's current NCR post dealing with recent Vatican moves. Actually John Allen's post is a must read as well. It's one of the most honest posts I think I've read from John in quite awhile. This post is John Allen at his analytical best. This particular observation has stayed with me all week end:

"Collectively, I think these events both symbolize and advance the collapse of Catholicism as a culture-shaping majority in the West. When the dust settles, policy-makers in the church, particularly in the Vatican, will be ever more committed to what social theorists call “identity politics,” a traditional defense mechanism relied upon by minorities when facing what they perceive as a hostile cultural majority."

Betty's post deals in more detail with the markers that John listed which describe what he calls the "defense mechanism" relied on my minorities when facing a hostile culture. They are the same kinds of markers which define the Tea Party.

What interests me though is that in both the Church's case and the Tea Party movement it's been the powerful policy makers who have put the time, money, and organization into defining the markers and building the momentum of these respective movements. They are both very top down movements, one circling around fears about spiritual wars and personal salvation, and the other circling around fears about culture wars and cultural salvation. They are most certainly complimentary movements each defining their own sphere of influence, and both are based in atavistic existential questions. Who am I, where do I fit in the universe, why do I feel so alone? Rather than really addressing these questions, both movements exacerbate them by giving their adherents an externally defined identity. They answer highly personal questions by giving an artificially derived group identity.

It works because this is exactly how we are enculturated as children. We accept our notion of who we are from observing our family and how it identifies itself. We then identify with those external definitions because our very survival depends on doing so. The really important part of the maturation process begins when our brains have developed higher level processes and we start questioning what had previously been unquestionable. We begin to notice differences as easily as we identify similarities. At about this same time we also begin to make judgments, and the criteria for those judgments usually come from the family construct. It's not surprising then that both Vatican Catholic policy-makers and the Tea Party equivalent stress the "traditional family' and strongly desire to control it's make up and thinking.

One of the reasons I think this is basically falling on it's face in the West is because the culture no longer needs young people to marry early and economically does not support early marriage. The longer marriage and child rearing are postponed, the more time the young person has to develop an identity independent of their family structure and culture. I don't know that humanity has ever experienced this particular phenomenon where young adults are free to develop independently in quite this manner for this length of time. It may be nature's way of providing a development period for the part of our brains which develop last, between the ages of fifteen to twenty five, known as the secondary developmental stage of the prefrontal cortex.

This part of the brain biologically develops in all of us, but that doesn't mean it lights up in boundless activity on a PET scan. In point of fact, we don't really know what this last stage of development is for. We do know that based on other developmental stages, being the last in line, it should generate another huge jump in world view and abilities, while incorporating and controlling all neural stages and experiences that have come before. At least it should if it was given the freedom to do so.

Past cultural influences did not facilitate this freedom. Those influences predisposed teenagers to take on adult responsibilities before this neural development was finished, perhaps inadvertently shutting down the expression of an amazing set of human abilities and a totally new world view. I feel compelled to point out that Jesus did not take on the customary duties of a Jewish male which would have had Him married at eighteen or so, and He did develop an entire new world view with some pretty amazing abilities. The prevailing culture, both political and spiritual, did not appreciate His world view because it transcended all their cultural identity markers and conceived of them as a secondary influence. Things haven't changed much, but they might have changed radically for today's younger generations. That should be worth fighting for, not against.


  1. I'm reminded of the ancient Hindu conception of the four stages of life;

    •The First Ashrama - "Brahmacharya" or the Student Stage ( this up to age 25)
    •The Second Ashrama - "Grihastha" or the Householder Stage (this is up to age 50 or so)
    •The Third Ashrama - "Vanaprastha" or the Hermit Stage
    •The Fourth Ashrama - "Sannyasa" or the Wandering Ascetic Stage

    The last two are more flexible).

    This conception was not just Hindu. There are plenty of stories of Christians in the Middle Ages following a similar pattern.

    Unfortunately, such a conception of life depends on recognizing the true goal of human life, communion with God.

    Our consumerist culture requires, on the other hand, that people never abandon anything as far as consumerism is involved.

  2. Reading this post I think I understand better what the pastor said last Sunday. He is a good man but very much a "company man" who seems unable to think outside the corporate standard.
    He said that of over 10,000 registered parishioners 5000-7000 are not coming to Sunday Mass. He asked his listeners to "invite your Catholic neighbor or your children or grandchildren to come."
    He never once gave any hint of wondering or of asking why, especially over the last year or two, people have started staying away in droves. It never seemed to occur to him that he needed to ask a question.
    No one is asking any questions in the bishops' offices or in the Vatican either.
    I enjoyed John Allen's article too-had nearly stopped reading him because he had become an apologist rather than an analyst.

  3. One of the reasons I think this is basically falling on it's face in the West is because the culture no longer needs young people to marry early and economically does not support early marriage. The longer marriage and child rearing are postponed, the more time the young person has to develop an identity independent of their family structure and culture.

    A fascinating point. I have to agree.


  4. coolmom:

    Talk about "lost" in the crowd! How can you call 10,000 a parish - in the sense of a community? Or even 3,000 (the "remnant" that's left?) How could the pastor possibly know these people, let alone minister to them? I feel for you!


    Fantastic analysis! Lots to ponder. But yes, the Vatican seems to be on its last legs. Deference will no longer be accorded. It only seems to hang onto some via threats - of damnation or excommunication. When all around people can see that goodness and kindness are available even from many who profess no faith at all. And those threats have no meaning for people who allow those frontal lobes to develop, whose sense of identity becomes permeable - so that there is no "in group" or "out group" and for whom God's Presence has no boundaries.

    Those with shaky identities may cling to the Vatican view. People who mature will find nothing to cling to, I think.

  5. I've mentioned my interest in public health and education. Recently I discovered the most amazing visual representation of statistics I've ever seen by Prof. Hans Rosling of Sweden.

    I think the two linked videos are very relevant to our discussions here.

    The first, "Two Hundred Years that Changed The World" examines economics and health, how the average life expectancy has changed from less than 40 years to over 70 years for most of the world.


    The second, "Health, Money & Sex in Sweden" uses statistics to trace the advancement of health through 300 years.


    These two short videos show, in about 10 minutes, the background to this discussion. Does the Church oppose the average person's escape from ill health and poverty ? That's the secular world. It is the one where hand washing reduces maternal death at childbirth by 98%.

    Why do the Curia want to turn back the clock way past Vatican 2 to Vatican 1 ? How can that world view possibly be relevant today? Once again I say that if they want to be nostalgic, they should aspire to be first century Christians.


  6. "Does the Church oppose the average person's escape from ill health and poverty?"

    There are times it certainly looks like that but I think over the centuries they've discovered their longevity and financial support actually lies in manipulating the fears of the wealthy. They seem to have really gotten the message in the parable of the rich young man that people who cling to their wealth, refuse to give it up are also ripe for a magical for of 'salvation' that let's them accrue and maintain more wealth and still offers them heaven on their death bed. Best of all they are perfectly willing to pay for this form of salvation.

    What's not to like. They get the best of both worlds in orthodox Catholicism. Heaven and wealth and power on earth. I can see where they might have a difficult time understanding why poor folks don't see the advantages. Gosh, even the Mafia and the Mexican drug cartels see the advantages in this twist on the gospels.

  7. "escape from ill health" - I read the govt is now investigating catholic hospitals for not providing the govt mandated emergency care for pregnant women. Hmmm, maybe it's that the ACLU is asking the govt to do that:


    Anyway, just one more question out there about this. And it seems to me the govt has got to take this seriously. And that will be one more way that deference is no longer automatically accorded the Holy Seep.