Friday, January 21, 2011

Present condition of church, religion, and socio-economics

I have heard numerous pastors, theologians, and laities critique and lament over the gap between the academy and the church. These people really believe in their vision and so attempt to rectify the situation by narrowing the gap.

Have you come across such idea?

The most recent one told to me was the President of one of the Asean's graduate schools of theology apologized in the public for failing to bridge that gap. He acknowledged that the local church leaders have been irrelevant to the church-goers who are out there in the marketplace.

I have summarized this line of thought in this diagram:

I follow this line of thought until recently. I think this critique is not that accurate and give a distorted view of reality and so have spawned many invalid expectations from everyone located in every hierarchical groups within the Christian community.

In this view, 'religion' is identified mostly on the level of the people of God, the church. And most of those in this group are laities. It is now the laities who get to dictate what is orthodoxy. Hence we have cases where academicians been castigated either as 'liberals' or 'fundamentalists' or 'extremists' by the church.

We have also cases where the academicians' approach to religion is completely unrecognizable by the church. Some academicians approach the marketplace in ways not necessarily endorsed by the church.

Hence we have monastery, a community that separates itself from the rest of the people of God because the former sees the latter as too tainted by unrecognizable influences.

And we have laities who think that the academicians have lost touch with reality. And since the money that fund seminaries and theological colleges come from the laities, therefore often the academicians have to give in to the dictation of the masses.

So some academicians have to pretend to have most of the answers, if not all, because they are expected by the laities to be so. Besides that, the academicians are also expected to soothe and affirm the belief of the laities.

So here is my proposal. A better description of the condition that we are in:

Instead of 'marketplace' as another mission field, all the religious activities is governed by the socio-economic forces of supply and demand. And the paradigm shift is to see further into the church. It is not one gap but two that exist. And these gaps cannot be bridged. If it does, the socio-economy is threatened: the congregation leave and so no funding.

In this diagram, each level has different conception of what constitute orthodoxy or 'religion'. And all these conceptions are intertwined with the socio-economy of the day. So if we want to bridge the gap, we will disrupt the stability or order.

The academy's idea of reality cannot be transfered to the pulpit. When that happens, the pulpit will be seen as failing the expectation of the congregation. And when that happens, congregation leaves and so no funding.

All the political tensions in the church (like some of the invalid expectations from various hierarchical groups that are listed above) are best comprehended with this diagram. Correct me if I'm wrong.

So what is left to be done?

In order to maintain order, each group should remain in their own place and do what have been done all this while. Status quo. We should throw away my proposed diagram and adopt back the first diagram. Continue to see that there is only one gap. That gap is located between the academy and the church. Since the church also includes some academicians, hence that produces a mirage that the gap can be bridged without disrupting the socio-economy (which is not really an overarching governing system, but just the 'marketplace'--another mission field). Perhaps this is what the President of the graduate school of theology did?

While Buddhism teaches that the world is a grand illusion, there is a faction of the people of God that is embodying it and yet still claiming that it is a real world. As long as the monthly paychecks are banked in on time, anything can be argued to be real. Holiness and spirituality dressed in capitalism.

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