Monday, May 05, 2008

The Triumph of Orthodoxy over Orthopraxy, Part II

Long overdue, I know. I have started and stopped more than once because I want to get this right and I find that I am doing more venting and ranting that right writing. Plus I'm getting very sensitive to the fact that my theology education ended after a whopping two undergrad courses at St. Mary's in San Antonio. One of which was nothing more than a Catholic version of Warm Fuzzies 101.

For proper disclosure, please note my previous post.
OK, let's be clear, orthodoxy ain't such a bad thing. It implies, in this context, right theology, true theology, or a pure belief. Without it, orthopraxy dissolves into "what feels right," or trial-and-error outcome. For instance orthodoxy is what vouchsafes for us that Scripture is true, inerrant, and the very Word of God, so this shouldn't be construed as a diatribe against dogma or doctrines. Rather it's about balance. Orthodoxy without orthopraxy becomes a dry religion, a Holy Algebra (Professor X referred to a "Jesus Logarithm" espoused by some Baptist seminary professors in a conversation a while back, so it's not just a Catholic phenomenon). Many folks accuse Catholicism of being a dead ritual instead of an experience with the Living God, and I think that they are seeing a flaw. Not to the degree of the accusation, but definitely a flaw.

In Catholic circles, I really see this in the way folks deal with teenagers. I can't say that I'm the expert that I used to think I was on Youth Culture, but I know better than to expect random kids at a Catholic Church to give a rat's patootie about Transubstantiation vs. Consubstantiation, how to pray the Angelus, or who the Theotokos refers to and how it defends against Nestorianism. And while all these things are important, they really are, they are all aspects of finer points of theology and history. None of them are vital for salvation. All of them lead adults to lament "But these kids don't know their Faith." Of course they don't. Why should they? Until they see that there's a value to them, there's no reason for them to invest themselves. Calculus is important as well, it's how we design wings that keep aircraft aloft and most kids don't know which side of the wing is the leading edge. Not unless you tell them that they have to design a wing to keep themselves aloft does calculus take on a life-changing dimension. Sometimes it's a matter of Catholicism being a cultural value instead of a living relationship with God. And for parents who have grown up "in the faith" but never invested themselves into the call that God has for them, never sensed what they were rescued from, there's little zeal.

I see it in many Catholic's attitudes toward Protestant ideas. When discussing Religious Education materials with folks as a Youth Minister, I was questioned over using Group Publishing, a Non-Denominational Christian Publisher. "That's not Catholic, can we do that?" While it's important to note that one's understanding and formation would be stunted if it were restricted to the Group Active curriculum (circa 1994), there was the understanding that the only place to find Authentically Catholic Theology of Any Sort is in something from a Catholic Publishing House. I know there's always a danger of a Catholic-Evangelical-Fundamentalist syncretism, it's something to look for, but when looking at what Group put out there vs. what certain Catholic publishing house put out at that time, it was no contest. Group had their act together. RCL, Silver Burdett Ginn, and Benziger (they're all the same house now) just didn't. Sadlier didn't. St. Mary's Press didn't. All of them had come from the wrong paradigm. They took a Catholic School text book and tried to shoe-horn it into a one-hour per week format. It still ends up being a school experience. It rarely ends up being life-changing. Kids might learn the trappings and accoutrement of faith, but somehow meeting the Author of Faith was always something left for those "primary catechists," or, as I like to call them, "parents. " Now I've been out of YM and RE for a while so to be fair, maybe stuff has changed a bit. I still doubt it. Something that was getting traction when I was leaving YM was the idea that "Our curriculum is now REALLY teaching the Catechism, better than yours, in fact." And while they could now link back their theology to specific paragraphs in the Catechism, they still had a sucky product. It was based around the idea of kids getting together and reading. "How does that make you feel?" "Uhhh, like I'm in school." Orthodoxy was catered to, Orthopraxy is ignored.

Side note -- To create a successful program, you don't have to water anything down, you don't have to make it X-TREME!!!! You just have to make it authentic, authentic to the truths of Faith, and authentic to your own story and to the story of everyone involved. Don't use a book, if you can. If you need to, send them home with a book, and a good one at that.(If that sounds a bit like Thomas Groome, that's probably true to form, although his textbooks fell into the same trap and he's a bit of a nutter Catholic. A case for Orthopraxy screaming for Orthodoxy if you ask me.)

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