I submit this for your perusal and as a possible discussion starter.
Richard John Neuhaus has written (First Things, Feb. 2003):
"More than by recent scandals [child abuse & homosexuality, for example] Catholicism [in America] in the public square is weakened by its gradual but certain sociological accommodation to a Protestant ethos. that construes religion in terms of consumer preference, and voluntary associations in support of those preferences."
Anyone who looks at the supermarket of religions evident in Americans town, cities and suburbia sees how much consumer preference dominates not only the external advertising by the religions/churches but also the nature and content of the worship services and the related midweek activities. A competitive situation, where each group desires to keep whom it has and attract more potential members, has to pay attention to what people like and dislike, what attracts and what repels them, and what they will pay for. Of course, there are degrees of conditioning and compromise and within it all there are (by the grace of God alone) examples of genuine Christian worship, witness and work.
Fr Neuhaus also wrote: Catholicism "is weakened also by what is aptly called the totalitarian impulse of the modern state - including democratic states - to monopolize public space and consign religion to the private sphere."
For a long time sociologists have written about and assumed that a chief characteristic of American religious practice is "privatisation", the keeping of religion primarily in the domestic sphere, and not taking its morality and ethos into the workplace or schoolroom or courtroom. Fr Neuhaus has called the result of this privatisation of religion "the naked public square." Observers from overseas often note that while the word "God" is much invoked by American Presidents and other national leaders, and while millions go to churches, the moral content of Christianity seems not to penetrate the public sphere, where secular "values" rule but are interestingly and conveniently allied to the mantra, "God bless America".
Reflecting on this situation of consumer choice and privatization as a Protestant, whose [Anglican] churches are part of the supermarket of religions, I cannot see any easy or simple way out of these gigantically real problems. Where at the local level a parish/congregation seeks to be faithful to its best reading & interpretation of the Scriptures and the Christian Tradition, it runs into serious problems: it makes demands upon members that run contrary to the expectations of the consumer society and of the privatisation of religion. Members are tempted to go elsewhere where the going is easier, or they feel obliged to seek to persuade the leadership to take it easy and go with the flow and not pursue what they see as idealism.
Fr Neuhaus (in the same essay) calls for an obedience by Catholics within Christian freedom to the Truth, who is Christ Jesus - a willing commitment to submit to the truth from Jesus Christ as taught in the Catholic Church. That is, a readiness to put aside the claims of the autonomous self (which of course is the foundation of much American talk of rights and freedoms) and to submit one's whole self to the Lord our God as he is made known to us in Christ Jesus and within his Church, which is his Body. In Roman Catholic terms this means both outward and inward submission in freedom to the teaching and hierarchy of the Church. And Neuhaus sees the present Bishop of Rome as providing authentic teaching as to what this submission to the Truth is all about.
The autonomous self, so celebrated within European culture for so long, exists virtually unchallenged in its essential nature in the supermarket of religions, in the consumer definition of religion and in the privatisation of religion, for in a sense each of these exists in order to conform to the doctrine of the autonomous self and its supposed rights and freedoms, as defined by modern secularism.
For Roman Catholics to submit wholly to the Lord Jesus Christ within the Church in freedom is no doubt most demanding and nearly impossible in the conditions of modern America. But for Protestants (Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and so on) it is even more difficult for there is within these traditions and jurisdictions a long-time acceptance of private judgment in the reading and interpreting of Scripture; and this private judgment is so easily married to the modern doctrine of the autonomous self (without this being recognized) in the reality of the local church and the practice of the faith outside the home and church. So pervasive is the assumption and doctrine of the autonomous self that it comes into translations of the Bible and of the Christian classics as well as being a common premise of many sermons and popular books.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon