Speaking from a liberal Christian perspective, Giles Fraser has some words that are pretty spot on:
The takeaway message is this: no one needs churches to be nice or tasteful. If churches have a future, it’s in addressing our existential darkness: sin and death. Progressive politics is important, but it doesn’t do any deep religious work. And liberals in the church will have to rediscover this after we have won our culture wars. What other religion has such a dark image at its centre? And yet my own brand of liberal Christianity too often seeks salvation through a few gentle verses of All Things Bright and Beautiful or lots of self-important dressing up and wandering around in fancy churches. Devoted atheists are never going to be persuaded by a theology of the cross. But no one whatsoever is going to be persuaded by a theology of nice.
It is, I suppose, something of a cliche to say that liberal Christianity is just progressivist niceness wearing Christian garb (a cliche that I am less inclined to uncritically repeat these days). But it has been my experience as a Catholic that the cult of Nice has also set up shop in the more theologically conservative churches. I don’t mean that in a doctrinal sense, but rather in terms of what the average parishioner is fed. From the taste in music to the homilies, everything seems calculated to make you feel comfy, like spiritual muzak to make you feel at ease as you drift towards your inevitable demise.
I mentioned in my recent post about how there is often this desire to avoid the tragic. And one of the problems with this in religion is that it produces something which, while nice, feels very disconnected from the actual reality that people live in, which is often not nice. The human condition is filled with things that cannot be solved with a cloying, sentimental answer, and if that is all a church can offer someone, than it is no wonder if they leave. It is the sort of bourgeoisie Sunday Christianity that Kierkegaard sneered at.
A lot of people find the emphasis on death and suffering that crops up a lot in Catholic theology and imagery to be off-putting and ghoulish. But I find it to be paradoxically reassuring, because I want my religion to take suffering seriously.
[h/t: Eve Tushnet]