“Pop culture is culture like McDonald’s food is food.”
Father Paul Ward, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit has written an excellent reflection on how Catholics have been affected, afflicted, and infected with a “pop culture” mentality toward the Faith. Toward truth. Toward God. My humble suggestion to the parish priests who read this blog, consider reprinting this in your parish bulletin (with Father Ward’s permission, of course). With a few adjustments, it might even make a good sermon!
“McChurch” is neither a real name nor a real word, but an expression I coined to convey “commercial Catholicism,” or even “consumer Catholicism.” Not only in America, but in many other places as well, the Catholic Church has largely gone the way of pop culture. That is, it became an object of the market.
Culture is a term which can have several meanings. Its more philosophical definition makes it the development of man’s superior faculties (intellect and will) in the material world. Another definition makes it the productions of such development, for example, the work of art, the composition of music, the opus of some great author; and here, we refer not to the mean productions of inferior skill, but the greatest and most superior of such works.
This second definition makes a man “cultured,” therefore, if he is familiar with the works of Bach, Aristotle, Descartes, Kierkegaard and Michelangelo, with Latin, Greek and Hebrew or some modern languages as well, and has acquired certain mental disciplines – logical thought, refinery of tastes, etc. – which come only with the exploration of these greatest and superior works which have come forth from the souls of men.
“Pop culture” is culture which you can buy or sell. Now, it would be overstating the case to assert that there is absolutely no artistic, intellectual, philosophical or theological contribution that a rare few pop artists make; that would be an exaggeration. But we all know that much of pop culture is junk. The proof lies in the endless stream of noise, violence and impurity which is broadcast on local music radio stations, or the hundreds of cable channels which simply multiply the amount of worthless material with which today’s man might entertain himself. (Oh, and about cable channels, I’m convinced that HBO stands for “Hell’s Box Office.” No, I don’t have cable, nor a TV in fact, but as a diocesan priest who invests time with his flock, I continually brush with such things.)
Pop culture is culture like McDonald’s food is food.
Now, imagine a religion you could package up and sell. You can make it appeal to lots of people, like McDonald’s sells French Fries, like pop singers sell their rhythms, like Pepsi sells their pop (for non mid-westers: “pop” is “soda”), and like tabloids sell their gossip. A pretty package, perfectly accommodated for the consumer; tasty, delicious, appealing to the senses, and en vogue. Such a religion is what we can call McChurch.
We have seen some communities, especially our Protestant brothers and sisters, start “coffee house Churches,” “cinema Churches,” “mega Churches,” “non-liturgical Churches.” None of which, of course, makes any sense; yet their (scant) popularity rises from the natural religiosity of persons completely uninformed, misinformed or frankly malformed in the message of Jesus Christ. Let’s dupe the consumer into buying into our religion, and appeal to his senses, to what’s en vogue. Let’s neglect the conversion, themetanoia, demanded by Christ, because it simply doesn’t sell: that’s McChurch.
What qualities does McDonald’s have in common with McChurch? It’s easy, it’s comfortable, it’s cheap. At McDonald’s the customer is always right. But real Christianity, which subsists in the Catholic Church alone, is not like that. It is not easy, it is hard, very hard. It is not comfortable, it is uncomfortable, in fact it is downright crucifying! Is the customer always right? No, the sinner is always wrong, phenomenally guilty, returning sin for redemption, ungrateful beyond all telling… but with hope through the grace of Christ.
McDonald’s wants to sell a product, and so does McChurch. And when the local branch manager (the pastor of a parish) fails to keep sales up, he just might get fired. As the market offers a specific good, service or rent for a price, similarly some clergy provide services for income, instead of for the salvation of souls. The market wants to convince the buyer, even by duping, to pay money for something; McChurch wants to convince the faithful, even by putting on a show empty of all true faith, to pitch money into the collection (or fundraiser, or whatever), but cheating them of true holiness which only Christ can give.
The consumer market it centered on the consumer: if the consumer will pay money for it, the vendor will sell it and make piles of money; and so McChurch will give the faithful whatever they like, whatever pleases them, even if that implies complete alienation from the Gospel. God doesn’t provide us what pleases us, but only that which truly makes one happy, even if that happiness is bought with tears and agony.
McChurch is religion like Lady Gaga is culture.
What is the solution to McChurch? Clearly this: holiness of life. When one finds Christians, Catholics, even clergy who put on the weekly show to the “ooo’s” and “aaaw’s” of the crowds, but live in continual and habitual sin, perhaps even mortal, that’s McChurch, and it will wither and die like a branch separated from the vine.
Yet how often the pastors of the Church will cave in to some perception of popularity to continue selling their product? How much ruthlessness, injustice and failure of basic charity there is when they flounder who are devout, and they who are wicked or proud or greedy or intemperate flourish, all with the blessings or mandate of those whom Christ appointed as pastors. What will such men do when Christ comes in the sky with his angels? Where will they hide?
McChurch is religion you can buy and sell; religion packaged for the market, thriving on popularity. But none of this shares anything in common with Jesus Christ the Lord, for he was slandered, abused, humiliated, violated and crucified… at the hands of the priests and Pharisees who should have been the quickest in perceiving in Him the Messiah.
Down with McChurch, up with true Catholicism!