Northern Liberties: too hip for liturgical gold

Weekly Press: Northern Liberties: too hip for liturgical gold

Weekly Press contributing editor Thom Nickels writes about the “new age” of religion in Northern Liberties, its relationship with older religious establishments in the neighborhood and the general connection between “hipsters and religion.”

An article in a recent Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer about the Eastern Orthodox churches in Northern Liberties got me thinking about hipsters and religion, among other things. In that piece, writer David O’Reilly quotes some Northern Liberties residents who say they have no interest in going to (or even visiting) any of these unique churches because organized religion isn’t necessary for spirituality anymore. That stuff, the feeling went, belongs to an older time and to an older generation.

Reading O’Reilly’s piece, I couldn’t help but envision 2,000 years of Christianity being made irrelevant by the invention of the Blackberry, Liberty Lands, or Sunday brunch in a chic new neighborhood restaurant.

What the hipsters seemed to be saying in this Inquirer piece is that the new religion of Northern Liberties is the environment, and that “living” that religion amounts to sprucing up Liberties Land, planting new trees, or discovering new doggie day care centers. The hipsters seem to agree that this is not an age for pie in the sky, for priests in gold vestments who wear funny hats and kiss icons, or for following somebody else’s rules. The New Age is all about finding the truth within, as long as it does not hurt anybody.

Ah yes, the truth within: My truth is not your truth, but hey, that’s okay. We are all the same, all religions are the same, everything’s on an equal footing, and one truth is as good as another. But is that really true? If all truths are the same, do you mean to say that there’s not one truth that stands out as The Truth?

One thing is certain: the hipsters didn’t invent “doing your own thing” when it comes to spirituality. That was my generation, the baby boomers. When I was 20 I walked out of a Catholic Ash Wednesday service. My exodus was meant as a slap in the face to my mother, who was with me at the time. In my mind I was demonstrating my newly found independence. “I believe in the Church of Man,” I told her later in the car, “a higher spirituality. Heaven is here on Earth.”

But if heaven is here on earth, why can’t we fix the economy, leave the doors of our houses open when we go to work, or pick dollar bills off of money trees? The concept of heaven on earth is a fantasy that never seems to make the transition to real life. Put all your faith in Man, or humankind, and chances are that eventually you will be sorely disappointed.

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