Friday, May 18, 2007

Progress, Postmodernity, Pentecostalism, and the Pope

I visited Guatemala a year ago this May; so my attention was grabbed when the Pope visisted South America this past week. Similarities are ripe within the religious environments of South America, Central America and Mexico. One thing in particular that they each have in common is how the once dominant Catholic influence is being surpassed in popularity and piety by imported forms of evangelical charismatic and/or pentecostal Christianity.

It was interesting when I was in Guatemala; the level of seperation between the Catholic church and the "evangelicals" as they were generically called in Guatemala. It was interesting that there was not really anything in between either. You had traditional Catholics and some indeginous Catholics whose form of Catholicism was mixed with the indegenious religious traditions, myths, and practices of Guatemala and then you had mega churches or small store front churches that looked very similar to any evangelical, charismatic, or pentecostal church in America.

Why is this? What is taking place in this region? What is taking place in the religious institutions themselves?

Some have asked does it have something to do with postmodernism? Perhaps, however it seems to me that there is much about Catholicism that appeals to the postmodern believer. Perhaps, not so much docrinally or institutionally but the form of Catholic spirituality and Catholic practics is much broader, wider, full of myth, symbol, experience, and mystery. All things that postmodern forms of spirituality seem to celebrate. However, some Charismatic/Pentecostal forms of worship have some of the same experiental, participatory, and creative forms of worship.

Niether Catholicism nor the so called "Evangelical" expresssions seem to affirm the intellectual worldview or philosophy that defines postmodernity. Both forms put a high view on "objective" and "absolute" forms of truth. Postmodernity is very difficult to define because it is not so much it's own worldview but a critique of the modern world view and its ideas about progress, absolute, objective, and observable truth, the centrality of human beings and our ability to "overcome" and "solve" the worlds problems, etc...What does seem to be fairly consistent in the bulk of postmodern deconstruction is that truth is not always absolute, objective, and observable but that it is always subjective and effected by the lenses that we see the world through. In short we have all had experiences that have shaped us and have created bias' that effect how we see the world. Therefore, truth is much more mysterious and complex for most postmodern thinkers. Often there is a difference between "fact" and "truth"; you can't really know the truth unless you know the story. In other words truth is always contextual and truth finding has a narrative, mysterious, and subjective quality. It does not discount that some things are "true" or even "right" but that the way we get there or understand it to be "true" is different.

All that to say; I think that the transition from Catholicism to the more evangelical churches has to do with the influence of an American vision of democracy and progress that has been taught through many business people and missionaries working, living, and influencing the religion. The evangelicals are seen as being more modern, progressive, less institutional, and less connected to the violent history and old money and corrupt systems that the Catholic church is still at times identified with. It is a sign of American Imperialism surpassing the European Imperialism that brought Catholicism. This is true all over the world that this peculiar form of American Christianity is exporting much more than religion just as European missionaries did years before them. It is the prevailing inlfluence of America and our peculiar form of Christianity that is one reason for this transition.

What do others think?

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