An American ChurchBy: Guest
We sometimes hear criticism that the LDS Church is too “American” — that its culture is too informed by the cultural context of the United States.
I thought of that, when I read the following passage from Pope John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides et ratio (“Faith and Reason”):
In preaching the Gospel, Christianity first encountered Greek philosophy; but this does not mean at all that other approaches are precluded. Today, as the Gospel gradually comes into contact with cultural worlds which once lay beyond Christian influence, there are new tasks of inculturation, which mean that our generation faces problems not unlike those faced by the Church in the first centuries.
My thoughts turn immediately to the lands of the East, so rich in religious and philosophical traditions of great antiquity. Among these lands, India has a special place. A great spiritual impulse leads Indian thought to seek an experience which would liberate the spirit from the shackles of time and space and would therefore acquire absolute value. The dynamic of this quest for liberation provides the context for great metaphysical systems.
In India particularly, it is the duty of Christians now to draw from this rich heritage the elements compatible with their faith, in order to enrich Christian thought. In this work of discernment, which finds its inspiration in the Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate, certain criteria will have to be kept in mind. The first of these is the universality of the human spirit, whose basic needs are the same in the most disparate cultures. The second, which derives from the first, is this: in engaging great cultures for the first time, the Church cannot abandon what she has gained from her inculturation in the world of Greco-Latin thought. To reject this heritage would be to deny the providential plan of God who guides his Church down the paths of time and history….
What do you think of this? Is it a fair conclusion (from a Catholic perspective) that because Christianity was “incultured” in the world of classical thought, this was part of God’s plan?
Now of course Mormons might say that this “inculturation” was actually the unfolding of the Apostasy — the mingling of scripture with “the philosophies of men.” And yet much of even latter-day Scripture does seem to be addressed to peculiarly Western religious concerns, and couched in a Western idiom, informed in large part by the thinking of classical antiquity.
What of the underlying point — that the culture in which a universal religious system is revealed, is not a matter of chance, but rather of divine providence?
As someone who thinks the chant “USA! USA!” is one of the most inane noises ever invented (although I suppose it would be kinda hard to make one of the more profound expressions of good American patriotism, like Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, sound good at a hockey game), I can see how non-Americans could see the notion that God chose to restore the Church in America as coming across as a little America-centric, even boosterish. But could it be true, nevertheless?