Ross Douthat misses the point: the institution of the church is no longer central to the practice of religion
It wasn’t long after I entered my doctoral program some 20 years ago that professors and fellow students alike noticed in me a certain proclivity for polemic and outright cage-rattling. My instinctive tendency to leaven insight with attitude was on display yesterday as I offered up some thoughts on the early days of one Pope Francis, which have been marked by considerably more in the way of progressivism than perhaps the gentlemen who elected him might have anticipated.
I’m not the only one interested in the new regime, of course. For instance, one of my former profs at the U of Colorado, Dr. Stewart Hoover, probably the world’s leading authority on religion and media, had some thoughts on … well, his thoughts were on the thoughts of some other people, technically, and his analysis drives home an important point about the eroding status of institutions here in the early days of the 21st century.
It is also possible to see that through the instruments of the culture, including the media, it is increasingly possible today to imagine and inhabit faith and spirituality without the legitimation of doctrinal authority. That means that what Douthat fears on behalf of the new Pope is in fact the reality of modern life and modern culture: that there are ways of being religious, even Catholic, that defy traditional categories. It also means that the indicators he uses to measure decline, attendance, etc., actually measure changing practices vis a vis clericalism and traditional authority.
Read the whole piece. Dr. Hoover is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and every time he speaks you learn something useful.