The consumer of religiosity is often, as Hitchcock shows, a consumer in more tangible ways as well. Most people cannot fly around the world as Harvey Cox did, sampling religions here and there and bringing back souvenirs. The viability of that life “depends either on personal wealth or skill in obtaining grants.” Nuns doffed their habits not to teach the children of the poor, which they had been doing already, but to enter secular life and rub elbows with the pretty people. Immigrants to America built churches and schools with their own hands, literally paying for them with nickels and dimes. But the Catholics who sent in their checks for the Church of the Future did not build anything with their own hands, paying for them with nickels and dimes. They went in for bigger things; for example, the notorious 1976 Call to Action conference in Detroit, “summoned by the National Council of Catholic Bishops after months of preparation and at a cost of over $400,000.”
That conference was an exercise in sales pitching. As television commercials give you at best only a vague imitation of an argument, and at worst a mere invitation to indulge in a cheap emotional response, so the council gave only the appearance of debate. Well over a thousand delegates were supposed to consider hundreds of resolutions over the course of three days, “and on the last day of the conference a large number of resolutions were approved without any debate at all.” Among them were the usual—the ordination of women, acceptance of homosexuality, abrogation of priestly celibacy, and so forth.
Hitchcock notes that the bureaucratic mind is particularly susceptible to such advertising, to produce it at great expense, to peddle it, and to buy it. That is because the bureaucratic mind is fearful of conflict, fearful of standing up for truth against falsehood. The last thing that the head of a “Human Resources” department wants—and notice the blandly dehumanizing name of such a thing—is a sharp edge. The result, if you will pardon the frankness, is to be stiff where you should be limber, and limber where you should be stiff. Orthodox faith can go the way of all flesh; but not the orthodoxies of the day, sold by the media. “On a wide range of questions,” says Hitchcock, “political, moral, cultural, and religious, liberal ‘thought’ in the 1970s is merely sloganeering, the throwing up of catch phrases designed to halt real thought, to protect liberal dogmas.”
It explains also the very language of the liturgy and the jingle-like advertising melodies that have passed for sacred music in the English-speaking world. So Hitchcock quotes Jacques Barzun: “There is a habitual overuse of the word ‘creative’ to dignify small things. These busy revolutionaries are sure that what they write is poetry. They accept capitalist-industrialist notions with the tainted vocabulary and speak of ‘updating’ a religious order. Pouring blood on Secret Service records,” a bit of anti-war theater engaged in by the recently deceased Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., “is an ‘educational act.’ They use the words ‘humanize’ and ‘informal’ with the same vagueness as Madison Avenue does in an ad for whiskey or perfume.”
Anthony Esolen, “Buying the Right Toys from Faiths R Us” (Crisis Magazine)