Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

John Allen's trends, cont'd

Thanks to Amy for starting off our conversation about John Allen's The Future Church.  (Note, please, that the comments box is open.  Check out her post, and share your thoughts.)  Amy's description of Allen's claims and observations with respect to "A World Church" are both thorough and succinct; I have nothing to add to it.

A quick thought, though, about the observation that a “tight identification between the West and Christianity” has “disintegrated” and Catholicism has been turned “upside-down."  In some senses (many, perhaps) this observation is clearly correct:  Christianity is growing in the "South", and this growth would seem certain to result in (as Allen describes) "increasing attention to matters of pastoral concern in the South" and continued emphasis (I probably wouldn't use Allen's term, "turbocharging orthodoxy") on the moral dimensions of human sexuality.  

I wonder, though, if Christianity is not more closely, and deeply, tied to "the West" than Allen's diagnosis and predictions suggest?  I'm not talking so much about geography and am (to be clear) certainly not talking about race or ethnicity.  But, what if there are certain ideas, associated with "the West" but comparatively underdeveloped in "the East" or "the South", that are not just accidentally, but essentially, connected with Christianity?  Can Christianity "go South" without these ideas?  Are there substitutes for them? 

Amy talked about "the profound cultural differences between the European and North-American mind-frames:  e.g., the European tendency to articulate highly abstract principles, and only eventually work its way down to a more concrete discussion, in tension with the more pragmatic problem-solving leanings of North-American culture", and suggests that Christianity's Southern turn could well create new "tensions" related to cultural differences.  But I'm thinking -- not very well, at present, I admit -- not only about cultural differences (Christianity has wrestled with the challenge of inculturation for a long time, right?) but about the possibility that some really important (for Christianity) ideas (which, like culture, mediate our experience of the world) might not be present in those areas where Christianity is growing.  What are these ideas?  I'm not sure.  Perhaps some who have thought about this more than I have will say, "actually, the chance for Christianity to slough off the constraining baggage of the kind of ideas you are talking about -- what does Jerusalem have to do with Athens or Rome? -- should be welcome, and will result in a clearer, more authentic and "original" Christianity."  Perhaps.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference John Allen's trends, cont'd :


                                                        Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Slightly OT about the OP, but want to mention:

Thanks for opening comments, and please consider making comments available as a regular default here at MOJ. I am a big fan of the page, and would love to see interaction among other MOJ readers on the issues you all discuss. I know that comments devolve into junk on many sites, but I think that the subject matter here would raise the bar and keep most trolls or partisan hacks away. I suspect that MOJ would be similar to Prawfs, or where Volokh has been in its best days (its popularity raises the noise ratio often, but it still has great commenters).

If I'm wrong, shut it off again. But consider asking everyone about giving it a try?

Posted by: anonymous fan | Jan 21, 2010 1:22:56 PM

I know that Japanese author Endo Shusaku addresses these issues. As a Japanese Catholic, he neither felt at home in Japan nor in Europe, and the question of whether Christianity (at least how it was historically presented to the Japanese)is compatible with the Japanese mindset haunted him all his life.

His novel "A Life of Jesus" is a moving personal account of the life of Christ and one that he hoped would connect with the Japanese. The book "Samurai" explores the tension between East and West. But as the translator noted, "though the players in this musical work come from dissimilar traditions and play upon completely different instruments, the concluding refrain sounds out clearly and, most important, harmoniously." For Endo, the source of that harmony and central unity is a deeply personal encounter with Christ.

I find his concerns about Christianity and Japan to be just as applicable to China. As a Chinese-American Catholic convert, the doubts of cultural compatibility is a persistent and personal one. But the Church is (or should be) catholic and I believe that encounters with the South and the East will help make it so.

Posted by: Zhang | Jan 22, 2010 8:58:36 AM