National Catholic Reporter
by John L Allen Jr on Jan. 30, 2010
The Future Church
In The Future Church I identify “evangelical Catholicism” as a key trend, defined as a strong reassertion of traditional Catholic identity coupled with an impulse to express that identity in the public realm. At a purely descriptive level that claim is a no-brainer, because the evidence is crystal clear – from revival of the old Latin Mass, to new demands that pro-choice Catholic politicians be brought to heel.
The $64,000 question isn’t whether the trend exists, but what to make of it.
In that regard, a recent book from the famed French sociologist Olivier Roy, widely considered one of Europe’s leading experts on Islam, offers two perspectives worth pondering. One’s empirical in nature and the other analytical – which is to say, one’s essentially a fact of life, the other a debatable line of interpretation.
The book is titled La Sainte ignorance: Le temps de la religion sans culture, published by Editions du Seuil in 2008. An English translation is scheduled for May 2010 from Columbia University Press, under the title Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Diverge.
First, Roy’s empirical point: It’s not just Catholics passing through an evangelical phase. In fact, the revival of traditional identity and the push to proclaim that identity in public is a defining feature of religion generally in the early 21st century.
In Europe, Roy points to the vigorous defense of the public display of crucifixes by Catholics, the insistence of Muslim women upon wearing veils, and a trend among younger Jewish men to wear the kippah at school and in the workplace. On the Christian side of the ledger, he also includes the massive crowds drawn by the World Youth Days instituted under Pope John Paul II, and the more recent “Christian Pride” festivals organized in some European cities as a self-conscious response to “Gay Pride” rallies. Globally, Roy notes the explosive growth of Evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Christianity, the success of Salafism, Tablighi Jamaat and neo-Sufism within Islam, the comeback of the Lubavich movement inside Judaism, as well as the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India and the popularity of Sri Lankan theravada Buddhism.
Though highly distinct, Roy argues that these evangelical strains within the world’s major religions share certain defining features: “The individualization of faith, anti‐intellectualism, a stress on salvation and realization of the self, [and] rejection of the surrounding culture as pagan.”
One can debate the merits of certain items on that list, but in the main Roy’s observation is indisputable: The reassertion of traditional markers of religious identity, interpreted in a personal and evangelical key, is part of the physiognomy of our times far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.