Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Harold Bloom and Liturgy

Arguably the juxtaposition is (at the very least) incongruous, right?

Hold on. Blosser explains it all for us, posting an article by Fr. B. Green, from the New Oxford Review 9/04.

Harold Bloom, in his recent book The American Religion, suggests that there is a form of Gnostic reli­gion that is intrinsic to American culture. It empha­sizes the priority of information for salvation, the in­nate divinity of the individual self, and emotional ex­periences of transcendence. He sees this "religion" as pervading every Christian denomination in the coun­try, including Catholicism. If he is right, then we are witnessing a battle in the Catholic Church between authentic Catholicism and this pervasive religious attitude, which, if not uniquely American, is something that American culture most clearly exemplifies.

...Gnosticism is also bound up with a "technol­ogy" of salvation. It is concerned with the "effective mechanics" for releasing humans from constraints. We as a culture are obsessed with gaining such effec­tive knowledge. We believe that through correct in­formation and effective techniques we can escape any evil. Witness the enormous faith we place in educa­tion to defeat all our current social evils, from drug addiction to teen pregnancy. Witness the faith we place in psychology to give the necessary information about ourselves and others that will enable us to re­late "effectively" to them.

...Central to American Gnostic religion, according to Bloom, is the experience of emotional union with God. Ritual is one way in which this transcendent emotional con­dition can be created and sustained. And ritual is only "good" to the extent that it is effective in doing so. Through "sacramental" experiences one should be able to enter into an emotional experience of the "res­urrected life." One is transported out of this world.

Catholicism is a sacramental religion. Liturgy and ritual are central to its life. It proclaims that in the Sacraments the Risen Christ is actually present and operative for our salvation and sanctification. But under pressure from American Gnostic religion, liturgies are being turned into vehicles of emotional expe­rience. So we judge a "good" liturgy by its emotional effects. We orchestrate liturgies as theater in order to produce maximum emotional impact.

This is an essentially pagan understanding of ritual. It is the human attempt to establish oneness with an alien God.

...This is really the reduction of the sacramental system to magic. Understandably, witchcraft is undergoing a revival among us. Steichen has docu­mented the extent to which witchcraft has permeated certain Catholic feminist organizations that are predominantly patronized by religious sisters.

As to the Protestants/Gnostics:

From the Gnostic point of view, however, the [Catholic] Church as an organized body is not so much the source of saving truth as a hindrance to it. The source of religious truth lies within the individual, not out­side it in tradition and community. The Church may be useful in that it provides opportunities for emo­tionally uplifting ritual, but it is not necessary. What community emerges is ad hoc communities of like-minded individuals who offer one another compan­ionship and mutual affirmation as individuals, ex­pressed in "meaningful" liturgical experiences.

How different this is from the Pauline notion of the Church as a body in which sharing on the basis of a common faith and life is essential!

Interesting. From Harold Bloom, no less!

1 comment:

Brother James said...

But for all the desire of an emotional connection, there is an instictive avoidance of metanoia, that more uncomfortable feeling associated with religion. The end result is a religious experience that is more akin to an anaesthetic or opiate than true communion.