JUNE 9, 2003
Martin E. Marty
Martha Stewart, Hillary Clinton, and Sammy Sosa crowded headlines last week, and there were the usual sensational religious stories of scandal to crowd out what most people think of as "religious." So, this week, let me look at a quiet, often overlooked, religious group labeled "Eastern Orthodox Christian" for a change, for relief.
Once a month, my mail brings me the Orthodox Observer, which features Greek Orthodox life. Much of the content is like that in any other "denominational" paper: news of ordinations, groundbreakings, archbishop addresses at Yale Divinity School, UNICEF honors, a charity ball, wheelchair access at churches, a new institute, church music, obituaries, etc.
While non-Orthodox often think of Orthodoxy as self-enclosed, papers like the Observer disabuse such notions. In May, for instance, there was a fine review of Eminem by a high school junior, who pans Eminem for immorality, but suggests ways in which he could be a positive influence. On page one there was a review of national television coverage of Orthodox Easter, which suggests "a growing awareness of Orthodox Easter among the general public."
What prompts my lifting out Orthodoxy for attention this week is "Generation X and the Turn to Christian Orthodoxy," a Kairos-News article. Journalist Colleen Carroll reports on a "surprising trend" that flies in the face of media attention given to mega-church and anti-tradition trends. Carroll has written The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola) and comments in an interview with the Zenit news service. (Please see the web site for more. Space in "Sightings" does not allow me to reproduce even highlights of the interview.)
Carroll sees in the move of some of the young -- we are not talking of a mass movement -- to Orthodoxy a search for something deeper. She defines it as a reaction against weak catechesis in Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, a "pendulum swing" of reaction against too-lax parents and unstable upbringing. She even tracks the "spiritual but not religious" sorts who show up in polls but never in churches; some of them are finding long and deep approaches to faith in Orthodoxy.
A fad? A trend? A blip? What Carroll observes may be all of these, but she is best at showing that predictions and projections of only one ("mega-" "contemporary") style are too short-sighted.