Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Fr. Greeley “patronizes” Third World, oh no!

This is would almost be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetic. Apparently Naomi Schaefer Riley of the Wall Street Journal is extremely upset over some remarks Fr. Andrew Greeley recently made during the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion. Apparently a woman asked Greeley the now all too common question concerning the growing numbers of Christians in the Third World and how this might effect the future nature of the faith. Greeley’s response was, "We will depend on them for vitality…But they will continue to depend on us for the ideas."

Riley and others are appalled at such a remark, claiming that it’s "patronizing" towards Third World Christians (what a surprise they didn’t use the old "racist" charge).

Although how exactly these remarks were "patronizing" is not clearly explained, especially since Riley makes describes how Greeley had plenty of praise for many aspects of Christianity from this part of the world, even admitting that “[w]e have much to learn from them."

The simple truth is that Greeley admitted a basic fact that often gets ignored in most sensationalist talk about the future of Christianity; that even though much of current growth is taking place within the Third World, Europe and North America still remain the major intellectual centers of the faith, and will probably remain so well into the future.

Of course, to openly admit this simple fact goes against the current media fad that seeks to over glamorize the growth of the faith within this part of the world. All of a sudden, according to some, the Third World is the only place in the world where Christianity is really being practiced. Only they can save Christendom. Forget Europe and North America, they're a lost cause. In fact the only way these regions can be reconverted is through the massive importation of immigrants from the Third World (one especially hears this in regards to Hispanic immigration into the US). Or as Philip Jenkins remarked, soon the term "white Christian" will become nothing more than a "curious oxymoron" ("A New Christendom").

It seems that's what really made Riley and others so upset over those remarks, the fact that Fr. Greeley had to courage to challenge this all too common media cliché. Even more asinine is when one of Greeley’s critics, Timothy Shah, admits that "much of the wealth and many of the educational institutions within the major churches are located in Europe and North America."

Which only serves to beg the question, what exactly is the problem here? Did it ever occur to these people that maybe Europe and North America might still continue to play important roles within the universal Christendom? Apparently not!

Riley continues on with her charade right to the end, charging that Greeley is not being true to himself:
"Father Greeley isn't exactly known as a defender of orthodoxy, of course. But he is ostensibly a believer in the multiculturalist ethic -- hearing "people the church doesn't want to hear." Well, up to a point."
That’s complete utter nonsense. If anything, Greeley did exactly as he set out to do.

As noted above, the media has an almost excessive obsession with reporting the rise of Christianity within the Third World, and at the same proclaiming the death of the faith within Europe and North America.

Many of these sentiments were openly expressed in the aftermath of the death of John Paul II. Commentators across the spectrum were shouting about how the next pope would (or rather should) be from the Third World. The very idea of another European pope (with the partial exception of an Italian) was never heard. Perhaps it should be mentioned that Fr. Greeley was himself in favor of the election of a pope from this area of the world.

Whatever relations there’ll be between the Third World and us will be one-sided; i.e. the Third World will be the ones doing all the teaching (after all, they’re the only true Christians left in the world), and we should just do our best and obey their every command. Talk about patronizing!

Yet any kind of criticism to any aspect of this perspective is practically unheard of within many of the commentaries on this issue. So yes, Greeley did indeed give a voice to those within the Christian community who too often go unnoticed.

Despite Riley’s attempts at painting Greeley as a patronizing racist (she doesn’t call him that, but it most certainly is implied), the fact remains that the man is a staunch defender and advocate of Third World Christianity. However, unlike most other advocates, like Philip Jenkins (the most famous example), Greeley clearly has more honesty in refusing to dismiss European-based Christendom as completely irrelevant. We have much to learn from them, but at the same time they have much to learn from us.

Perhaps there is hope that Greeley’s remarks are a sign signifying a major backlash against the constant claim that Europe and the Western world in general have no real place in the future of the Christian faith. Pope Benedict XVI himself challenged this notion, during his August interview with German reporters, explaining:
"We still need Europe, even if Europe is only a part of a greater whole…So it's important that today we don't give up, feeling sorry for ourselves and saying: "Look at us, we are just a minority; let's at least try and preserve our small number!" We have to keep our dynamism alive, open relationships of exchange, so that new strength for us comes from there."
In other words, we white European Christians are neither irrelevant nor a "curious oxymoron"; we still have much to give to the world. So the likes of Jenkins, Shah, Riley and others can go shove it!

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