Excess in religion, too

by Joe Ferullo

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The first decade of this century was marked by a "housing bubble" that saw all sorts of excesses morph into the norm -- homes with enormous ceilings, families piled into enromous vehicles. But New York Times columnist David Brooks says faith fell victim to many of the same forces of overindulgence.

In an earlier time that pull of the grandiose led to soaring churches in the overblown Baroque style. In America, Brookes writes, we saw an explosion of "megachurches" whose Gospel messages was shifted to suit the times -- like turning water into crisp Chardonnay, cooled in the special wine refrigeration unit placed just underneath the butler's pantry.

Brooks intorduces us to David Platt, an evangelical preacher and former megachuch leader who has chucked it all and lived to write about the tale in a book called "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream."

In it Platt sounds positively Catholic -- scolding megachurch clerics for softening Jesus into just another self-help guru amid a congregation that cared more about nicely appointed child-care centers, comfortable seating, and cheery music with a good top 40-ish back-beat.

Now Platt calls for living with less, donating time and resources to the poor, and turning away from a culture that always pushes for "more."

As Catholics, we've been through this. We know all about huge churches that overwhelm the original message. But Catholic hierarchy was among the few voices of sanity in the last decade -- continuing to speak out against excess and consumerism, continuing to remind us that consumer prosperity had not encircled the entire globe, not even our enitre towns.

As Brooks points out, the tension between God and mammon is eternal -- and for the past several years, mammon certainly pulled into the lead. But as American pull back, as we save more and look to values that last over the longer term, the lives we have made for ourselves will change. Our homes will downsize. As will our cars. And, if David Platt is any indication, as will some of our churches.

But will faith grow? If megachurch preachers move away from a gospel of easy affirmations into a tough love message based on a different set of values will everyone come along?

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