Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Philip Jenkins at USC

Tonight was the Annual Joseph Cardinal Bernadin endowed lecture at the University (USC). The guest lecturer was Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of Religion and History at Pennsylvania State University.

I have heard of his writing before. I had seen his book The Next Christendom in the bookstore, but hadn't had the urge to pick it up. Of course after the lecture, I bought that book along with his latest God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis (and of course had them autograph both of them).

The lecture was a fascinating - and I must say - Jenkin's offered a refreshing look at the current 'crisis' in Europe, quite different from that which is offered by the MSM. What follows is not necessarily the order in which he spoke, but I organized my notes post talk in this way, and it's going to be done in three parts, below is part the first on Christianity (I took four pages of notes, so you're in for a lot of reading). Enjoy!

He began be offering the current analysis of what's going on in Europe - that Christian Europe is suffering from auto-genocide by not reproducing. Of course he mentioned all the statistical evidence that is put forward about ethnic European birth rates and how abysmally low they are.
He also mentioned the fact that traditional church attendance and vocations are down - and intimated these decreases to the decreasing importance placed on the family. He even said that such things as the clergy sex abuse crisis were side effects of the decline in church attendance. I was a bit confused on this point and how it relates to the decreasing population birth rate and de-emphasizing the family.

He then switched gears and offered counter points. In such a secular Europe - when the traditional church is hemorrhaging, Christian Spirituality is on the rise. The most popular form of spirituality is a traditional one - Pilgrimage. Europeans who are using holiday time to visit pilgrimage sites have increased exponentially. For example Santiago De Compostello in 1980 may have had 5,000 visitors per year, and today has upwards of 1 million people travelling the ancient way. This is evidenced further by the fact that in Secular Denmark, the paragon of Secularism, observes a National Day of Prayer Day. Other countries continue to observe liturgical holidays -the government and public alike (even if they're not attending Church that day).

Despite the European Union's refusal to acknowledge Europe's Christian heritage - in the wake of events like 9-11, the danish cartoon assassinations and the increase in terrorism in Europe has re-emerged if not a revival of religosity then an identity with that heritage that greater Europe would prefer to ignore. He quoted Jurgen Habermas, considered the Leftist of all Leftists:

"Christianity, and nothing else," he wrote, "is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [to Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."

But about those numbers...

He notes that in fact there is a continuing loyalty to Christianity in Europe - specifically eastern Europe who is producing vocation and religious fervor that matches the "golden age" of western European faith of the 50's.

And let's not forget the Immigration - not only of Eastern European Christians (one example was the fact that the number of people who speak polish now out number the number of people who speak Gaelic - I'll have to look into that). Speaking of immigration, the number of persons from the Christian "global south" who are entering Europe is on the rise.

In the terms of Catholicism, these peoples are filling not only the pews but becoming priests taking the post of native vocations. In the terms of Protestantism they're bringing in a new form of Christianity that is growing rapidly in Europe, that counters that number included in the "Church attendance" statistics - the Charismatic and Pentecostal sects.

Dr. Jenkins compared the fall of communism with the rise of this form of Christianity - since the scion of African communism was being trained in Kiev when the Union collapsed and turned soviet learning of spreading Marxism into spreading Pentecostalism. This spurred Jenkins to deliver a keen observation that the goal of communism was clearly to build structures large enough to house pentecostal churches.

Of course that's not to say that immigrants are the only thing spurring a slow but great reawakening in European Christianity.

For Catholicism that means reorienting the Church towards smaller more theologically robust and driven ecclesial communities - think Opus Dei, Neo-Catachumen, and Emmanuel Community. For Protestantism, specifically the C of E the "high and crazy" is dying out with an increase in influence from the "low and lazy" (high and crazy, low and lazy refers to liturgical practice). For the rest of protestantism you see what is currently happening on our side of the pond - Mega Churches, and small house churches.

These ecclesial communities and movements are using the resources on hand to re-evangelize secular Europe. An example Dr. Jenkins noted was the Alpha Course used by the C of E which - instead of treating Europeans as people who are aware of Christianity, is a tool of "missionaries" to teach the basics about the religion (sounds odd doesn't it?). Ruth Gledhill has an interesting post about the success of the program for the C of E.

Permalink to part ii of Professor Jenkins' talk.

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