Charismatic worship has always mortified me. Many of my friends in college would point out Paul’s charisms suggested this mode of worship existed in the early Church (sans rock music, loudspeakers, and crowds), and I respect the deep Christian faith of those who lack my allergy to praise music. I find my inclinations on the matter articulately expressed by the 2014 Templeton laureate, Msgr. Tomáš Halík. In his book Night of the Confessor (2012), Halík describes his antipathy “toward attempts to pass off manipulated crowd fervor as a ‘gust of the Holy Spirit'” and “the brazenly casual way that people there trumpet out the great words of our faith through loudspeakers”. He quotes Nicholas Lash’s Holiness, Speech, and Silence (2004):
It is the tragedy of modern Western culture to have fallen victim to the illusion (widely shared by believer and nonbeliever alike) that it is perfectly easy to talk about God. (Lash 84)
As Halík describes it, this feeling is a dreadful affliction. I can sympathize with him. Halík recalls a charismatic assembly where the pastor led the congregation in chanting for the pope, “Let us rejoice that our Daddy’s come from the Vatican…”
My feeling was more or less the same as Joseph K’s when the butcher’s knife is thrust into his heart in the Strahov quarry at the end of Kafka’s novel The Trial: I thought the shame of it would outlive me. (50)
Halík was secretly a priest during the 1980s in Czechoslovakia while he practiced psychotherapy for drug addicts and prisoners in Prague. Now, he is a public intellectual of some stature in the Czech Republic.
My hunch is that the “youthful enthusiasm for Christ” at such gatherings… is simply no more than the enthusiasm that young people feel in the emotionally charged atmosphere of a group in which they find acceptance at a moment when their family surroundings start to feel constrictive and they no longer feel understood to the same degree among their schoolmates. But what’s wrong with that, on the last analysis? (52)
The alternatives for teenagers (sex, drugs, black metal, etc.) all seem to have drawbacks of their own from a parent’s perspective. Halík chides the youth group atmosphere, although he signals his respect for many of the proponents of charismatic worship. His barbs are not simply curmudgeonly, but a conviction he shares with Karl Rahner that the only viable 21st century Christianity will come with a renewed appreciation of mystics, not charismatics.
When someone is introduced to the faith they need to be told clearly that they are being introduced into a world of mystery and depth, that Jesus is not a ‘pal they can chat with,’ and God is not a Daddy represented by the appropriate ecclesiastical daddies, to whom we shall all cry ‘hurrah’, and again ‘hurrah’, and ‘Alleleuia, Lord Jesus’ — Come on kids, you can do better than that, at the top of your voices and all together’. (56)
Even charismatic Christians are worried that shallow, entertainment-focused, and age-segregated youth groups are a blight upon the church.
This is the first of a five-part series on Tomáš Halík’s Night of the Confessor.