The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 20 - 1/13/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
A Conversation with Mary Caucutt about the future of Faith.
For the first time in 1,500 years, Christians must define themselves
Sublette County Journal: It has been said that over the past two thousand years, the role of God in religion has changed from "God the omnipotent" to a more laissez-faire kind of being who created heaven and earth, then stepped back and watched how things developed from there. How do you see the role of God changing in the next millenium?
Mary Caucutt: First of all, I can only speak from a Christian perspective, and not what is going on in the third millennium with Buddhism or anything else.
When Christianity was born at the beginning of the first millennium, it was an "outsider" religion, and the predominant experience was one of persecution. If you were a Christian, you had to take risk for your faith; you were not in the mainstream.
Christianity in the first three centuries was really a vital missionary organization. Its vitality came in some ways from its counter-culturalness.
After the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, suddenly Christianity was coterminous with society. If you lived in the society, you were a Christian. As the Roman Empire expanded, anything that was the Roman Empire was Christian. Basically that idea, what the historians call the "age of Christendom," was that if you lived in this world, you were a Christian, and that was your identity.
Up to the Renaissance, there was basically one sphere of being: religion and science and politics, those things weren't really separate. The scientists in pre-Renaissance times were theologians, and they were doing science that would support their theological view of the world. This is why the Copernican revolution was such a big deal, because science broke away from religion. This is also what happened at the Reformation, except you have church and state breaking apart, so the state was no longer co-terminous with the church. Finally, you have the American experience, where you have the religious sphere and the political sphere, breaking away.
The separation of these things which began in the Renaissance, really reached its apex in the mid-20th century. I don't think this was necessarily such a good thing.
That brought us into the age we are in now that I call post-Christendom.
To me, that is the biggest challenge in the new millennium is how we deal with living in a post-Christendom world. In a world where to be a Christian actually has more in common with being a Christian in the second century that it does with being a Christian in the 19th century.
SCJ: And the third millenium?
MC: I think it is good news, actually, that we got out of Christendom; potentially good news. In fact for the first time in 1500 years, Christians have to work at figuring out what it means to be a Christian: what their identity is, and what their mission is in a quickly changing world.
We are on the cusp of what they might call a paradigm shift. Things are happening in physics where the "science inquiry" is somehow bending around and becoming a "faith inquiry." Many of the cutting edge physicists now write as if they are medieval mystics. It is amazing the sense of faith they have come to, through the study of sub-atomic particles. They are no longer saying science and religion have to be separate, but in fact finding maybe at the opposite end, they come back together.
SCJ: Do you feel that faith has acquired a more sidelined roll in people's lives?
MC: I would say yes and no to that question.
If we look to the world of American Christians, in the 1950s and before then, everybody went to church. That was just a given. Parents could rest assured that their children were really getting 40 hours of Christian education every week just by going to public schools. Their world was supporting a secularized faith, a sort of middle class Christianity.
So, it is true, in the last 20 years people don't go to church anymore. We've got a group of adults who were not raised in the church. So yes, in that sense faith on one level has been sidelined. But I think that the opposite is true. That now when people come to faith, they are making that choice, as opposed to having society make that choice for them. Maybe it is a counter-cultural act now, because it is not what people do anymore. You are going against the grain and you really have to want it. I think in some ways people have a deeper faith.
SCJ: What impact has modern science had on organized religion?
MC: In the last 500 years there have been a variety of responses that Christians have made to science.
When Darwin's theory of evolution came out, there was a lot of theology that came out with it, trying to deal with Darwin, with scripture, with Christianity, and trying to hold it all together in some way. Obviously we are still arguing that today.
Sometimes I think our minds get ahead of us and because of that, our technology is in a graduate seminar. But because we have not been in conversation with the religious sphere, our ethics are at a kindergarten level.
SCJ: How do you personally council people struggling with those questions?
MC: I am a get-your-hands-dirty kind of person, and I encourage people to keep working with it. Don't be satisfied with a quick and easy answer. My firm conviction is that God is found in the struggle. I encourage them to continue to ask, continue to challenge themselves, continue to challenge their faith, and to challenge the secular world around them. To allow the secular world to speak to their faith.
I think there is a lot of good that can come out of the secular world and help us in our faith if we get single-minded.
SCJ: Are the young showing more or less of an interest in church? Why?
MC: How do we reach out to this group of people raised on the Internet, with the electronic media being their way of communication? These are people who are very suspicious of institutions, and people who also have a very short attention span.
For young people, church is like entering a museum because you are not flashing multiple images all over the place.
Different churches have responded successfully in different ways to that. Some churches are having "seeker" services, geared directly to young people. They are using music that is more like modern rock. There is not a lot of dogma to swallow at the beginning, and they use a lot of quick flash media images that would be comfortable for someone who is coming from an electronic media perspective.
Other churches are using a literal interpretation of the Bible which provide clear answers to a confusing world, and they are reviving the medieval chant; offering something people are not getting in the rest of their lives.
It is an exciting time to be in the church, and challenging too, for the church must be a missionary now and seek out the unchurched.
St. Andrew's sees a lot of young people seeking the church and the church has not had to do much other than welcome them. This may not, however, be indicative of the rest of the nation. People are seeking.
I have noticed that young parents are seeking for their children. They realize that faith is not going to happen by osmosis anymore.
SCJ: What trends will we be seeing in faith in the future?
MC: Churches will need to help people understand what it is to be Christian in a post-Christendom world.
Churches now need to be churches of mission, instead of churches of maintenance. We would maintain ourselves right into oblivion.
There is a tremendous amount of excitement that all these different spheres of existence are reestablishing contact one another; physics and religion connecting, and the overwhelming need we have for bringing ethics into medicine.
We have a lot of challenges, but to me it is exciting.
We are not entering into the Promised Land of faith, but we are not entering into Armageddon either.
Photo credits: Jennifer Binning
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