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A centuries old occurrence of Stockholm Syndrome

A very provocative post, Protest of the Nones: Religious Disavowal as Social Critique, from Duane over at The Alchemists Imagination who draws correlations between the Nones, the Occupy Movement, and the anti-slavery movement of America’s recent past:

In a centuries old occurrence of Stockholm Syndrome the church continues to hold the hand of its captors, embracing tyranny, inequality, injustice, and playing the part of a harlot, going to bed with capitalism.
Is it then any wonder that a group that is on its way to becoming the fastest growing, and the second largest, religious affiliations is a group that adamantly claims no religious affiliation. This demographic known as the religious “Nones” now account for one in five American adults. One article also points out that “Now, more than one-third of those ages 18 to 22 are religiously unaffiliated. These ‘younger millennials’ are replacing older generations who remained far more involved with religion throughout their lives.” These under-thirty individuals have no interest in identifying themselves religiously and no desire to “label themselves in any way when it comes to their faith or lack thereof.” They do not see themselves as being a part of any religion. While “Nones” are not necessarily antagonistic towards religion(many do in fact think that churches as well as religious and faith based communities can and do make positive contributions to society), the common consensus voiced by 70% of the “Nones”, however, is one that remains suspicious and distrustful of religious institutions, stating that they “believe…religious institutions are too focused on money, power, rules, and politics.”

Then, in a refreshing maneuver, Duane suggests that the hope of the church lies not in a return to preaching that old-timey religion, or in a reliance on new-fangled technologies, but, rather, in turning its own prophetic critique upon itself:

Perhaps then, revisiting the critique of Fredrick Douglas, Occupiers, Activists, Millennials, Protestors, and “Nones” will all cease to be anti-church movements when the church becomes part of anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian, and anti-corporate movements, joining the fight against the social and economic inequality and injustice rather than supporting the systems and structures that perpetuate and uphold oppression and exploitation. I would venture so far as to say that those who oppose the church and other religious institutions will cease to do so when the church begins to oppose itself, dialectically negating its own structures and traditions and in essence becoming anti-church itself.

This last bit reminds me of some of Paul Tillich’s writing on what he called the Protestant Principle – both about the role of the prophetic critique of the church and the role of those outside the church:

If the Church does not subject itself to the judgment which is pronounced by the Church, it becomes idolatrous toward itself. [...] In its prophetic role it is the Church which reveals demonic structures in society and undercuts their power by revealing them — even within the Church itself.. And in doing so the Church listens to prophetic voices outside itself, in judgment both on culture and on the Church in so far as it is a part of culture. Most such voices come from persons who not active members of the manifest Church. But perhaps one could call them participants of a latent church.”

Sometimes this latent Church comes into the open. Then the manifest Church should recognize in these voices the spirit of what its own spirit should be and accept them even if they are most hostile to the Church.

What Duane here calls “anti-church”, Tillich might refer to as being part of a “latent church.” Virtually everyone has referred to the “Nones” as a sociologically distinctive religious group, but I haven’t heard many refer to them as latent church or a kind of external-yet-internal prophetic critique. The difference, I think, is subtle yet significant, and to me at least, rings true.

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7 Comments  »

  1. Duane Toops says:

    Thanks so much for your use of my work! I’m glad you enjoyed it and found it useful. It’s a pleasure to know that it’s actually being read(lol).

    I greatly appreciate your commentary as well. I found your continuation of the original thought to be poignant and insightful! The parallel you draw between Tillich’s idea of the “latent church” and the “Nones” is superb. I think you’ve picked up on something quite dynamic. This a connection I have certainly missed, so thank you for pointing it out!

    The “latent church” has deep resonances for me, as it best exemplifies the space in which I occupy. I can no longer honestly participate in faith communities as a member and can no longer integrally self-identify as religious in any overt sense but, I also can’t help but feel that there is a dormant potentiality still present within the church that has yet to realized.

    Also, as an admirer of Tillich’s thought (although I must admit that I have had only a rather cursory experience with his body of work) I count as a tremendous compliment that he and I were placed within the same post.

    Keep up the great work!

    I look forward to speaking again.

    Cheers!

  2. Jason says:

    You’re more than welcome Duane. And, for what it’s worth, I’m occupying the same space.

    Keep up the good work. I’m poking around some of your other posts and really enjoying your perspective.

  3. steven hamilton says:

    what strikes me in the anti-church/latent church issue, is that we know from history that the early church throughout the Roman empire of the 1st and early 2nd centuries were labelled: a-theist. Mainly because they didn’t worship any gods recognized by the empire…and yet we know they weren’t truly a-theistic.

    perhaps, with a provocatively prophetic-orientation, we can be indeed be seen as anti-church, because we don’t worship at any church recognized by the empire…and yet be a part of the latent church.

    I find some energy from that provocation. Thanks bro!

  4. Jason says:

    Yep. Others, like Roxburgh, would talk about that sort of intentionally-on-the-edge existence in terms of “liminality”. I think the Japanese non-church movement would qualify as a genuinely anti-empire/anti-church church movement. Of course, Tillich had another group in mind entirely; namely, those who are categorically unbelievers. But still, I think, as you say, there’s much imaginative energy to be drawn from the various correlations.

  5. steven hamilton says:

    hmmmm, I haven’t thought of the Keikyo and Mukyokai in several years…

    I always liked the resonance between their language for identity – Kyoyukai/Meeting of Friends – and the Quaker/Friends roots of Vineyard.

    sitting at the edge…

  6. steven hamilton says:

    …of course, minus the retrictions on tobacco and alcohol usage!

  7. Jason says:

    thanks steve…now I need a drink and a smoke : )

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