Father Theodore Hesburgh, president of University of Notre Dame, in a 1966 reply to criticisms for making academic excellence a goal of Roman Catholic universities:
There is certainly an enormously greater interest in social action than there was in the past. And I would say that this is not entirely a good thing. It leads to too much of a concern for action at a time when we should be laying the intellectual foundation on which this action is going to be effective. . . . It doesn’t help in the long run, I think, if students are distracted from what they can do only during their college years. (quoted in Mark Massa, Catholics and American Culture, 214)
Sometimes even boomers know the score. Take Camille Paglia (via Rod Dreher):
Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.”
Or try Rod Dreher:
Imagine that the US was involved in a major overseas war in which over 11,000 American soldiers died in one year alone (1967). For a point of comparison, fewer than 7,000 US troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 14 years of combat there.
Imagine that 17,000 US soldiers would die in 1968, and 12,000 in 1969 fighting that war
Imagine that you might be drafted to go fight there.
Imagine what it would be like if you were convinced the war was profoundly immoral, and you had to choose between deserting the country and bearing arms in that war.
Imagine that many college campuses had become hotbeds not of snowflakey sit-ins, but of serious violence.
Imagine that domestic bombings by left-wing radicals had become a routine part of American life (e.g., five per day in an 18-month period in the early 1970s).
Imagine that two of the nation’s most prominent political leaders (MLK and RFK) Bobby were gunned down three months apart.
Imagine that your government and military were lying to Congress and to the American people about the war, and had been for years (as was revealed with the 1972 publication of the Pentagon Papers).
Imagine that major American cities were burning in race riots.
Imagine that cops in a major American city staged what was later called “a police riot” outside a political party’s national convention, and beat the hell out of protesters.
Could it be that Rod Dreher had it rougher than Ta-Nehisi Coates?
The mind reels.
Peter Leithart gives a clue. It has to do with ways of relating churches to the culture, coming along side it to use the vernacular of the Vatican, that would wind up devastating the Protestant mainline:
The growth that swelled the mainline during the 1950s was fueled by people looking for “a more relaxed, less legalistic, less dogmatic version of the faith.” Despite numerical growth, the mainline churches didn’t grow “stronger” during the 1950s; their grown “concealed an ongoing weakness that a few years later produced an unprecedently steep decline in membership” (194).
The authors see the drift in the mainline as an accommodation to cultural trends: “The American cultural climate has shifted during the twentieth century in the direction of greater relativism and skepticism in matters of religion, and toward greater degrees of individualism. Acceptance of diversity in belief, lifestyle, and ethnic and racial background has broadened markedly.” Initially promoted by elites, the shift became popular, and “the leadership of the mainline Protestant churches accommodated the shift within their own ranks.” When the Sixties hit, the mainline Protestant churches were already sailing with the same wind that carried the sexual revolution and the challenge to settled authority: “The mainline Protestant churches did not initiate the new shift, but they were unable and unwilling to resist it” (198).
Not surprisingly, Presbyterians lost the next generation: “The children have asked over and over what is distinctive about Presbyterianism – or even about Protestantism – and why they should believe it or cherish it. The answers have apparently not been very clear. Today Presbyterians should not bemoan the lack of faith and church commitment exhibited by their youth, since they have no one to blame but themselves. No outside power forcibly pulled their children away from the faith”
And what happened to the mainline in the 1960s, happened to Roman Catholics in the 1970s once the bishops at Vatican II opened the windows to modern society and hoped for a more relaxed church. (By the way, it could happen to all the folks inspired by TKNY. Some think it already has.)
Once again, it’s the progressives who pave the way for “progress” among Roman Catholics.
Why is it that the more you try to make Christianity relevant, the less Christianity you have left?