A Bar Mitzvah, Popular Culture, and Christianity as a Philosophy

A wonderful day has been passed in the company of my wife’s (and therefore my) extended family and friends at a bar mitzvah celebration in Brooklyn. A few notes from the day: *I was nearly stricken by a ’mysterium tremendum et fascinans’ when the bimah became study-desk as the young man of the day was joined by several relatives and the rabbi, all intently focused on their copies of the text to be translated-recited. The rabbi moved to one side so that 4 people surrounded two sides of the bimah. I have also seen three sides taken up with intent translators and readers during such recitations at bar/bat mitzvah services. As someone for whom reading and textual wrangling are such constitutive spiritual exercises, such moments have nearly overwhelmed me, and as a Catholic, I wonder whether a Catholic altar could ever be rendered such a study-desk, whether a study-desk could be rendered an altar. *At one table, a conversation among friends who graduated high school in the early 1980s, recalling with no effort whatsoever the musical palette that structured their crucial adolescent days and remains with them even now: Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; James Taylor; Neil Young; Billy Joel. When Joel’s "New York State of Mind" was crooned lovingly in a karaoke moment at the typically lively party, it was as if an open secret had been allowed, and a musical soul-setting acknowledged for a certain cohort. And I wondered what the real movitations are for people’s ’faith’ decisions, whether and in what ways the palette of popular media culture is now permanently exceeding any ’native’ religious tongue. And if so, what’s a ’religious’ person to do, to be of service in this situation? Could it be that only a return to Christianity as it was understood by so many in its first several centuries--that is, as a philosophy--promises one of the few ways of conceptually holding Christianity’s ongoing significance while at the same time situating it in the contest of claims to truth better understood today as ’philosophies’ than ’religions’? Tom Beaudoin Brooklyn, New York
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

If we have run, if we have been exposed for all the world to see, it is not our failure that matters most. It is Christ’s strength.
Terrance KleinMarch 21, 2018
A young girl sitting next to Pope Francis smiles during an audience with Special Olympics athletes participating in the Unified Football tournament, at the Vatican Oct. 13. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
“Maybe one day we will live in a world without disabilities. Wouldn’t that be perfect for modern-day Hitlers?”
Angelo Jesus CantaMarch 21, 2018
The Gaffigans have produced comedy specials, best-selling books and five children. They even survived a brain tumor. What have you done lately?
Bill McGarveyMarch 21, 2018
You have likely seen the profiles, the gifs, the memes, the television spots. But there is much that you have not seen.
Zac DavisMarch 21, 2018