“Catholic in name only”

21 11 2008

roadside_shrine

One of the other vices that I have been prone to less and less in recent time is reading the blog, Creative Minority Report. It’s an interesting source of news, and supposedly humorous, though I never quite get their humor. Recently, I was reading over one post that I did not find very funny. Here is an excerpt:

Article 1.1 Be it resolved that any person, whether ordained, religious, or lay may not refer to themselves as Catholics in Good Standing if they do not actually go to church or believe what the Church teaches.

Be it also resolved, in addition to the above requirement, that in order to be recognized in public as a Catholic the individual making the claim of “Catholic” is obligated to sign, in the presence of a journalist and affirmed by a duly appointed notary public, a copy of the Catholic Catechism while positively affirming belief in all things contained therein. This obligation should be taken freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.

If the party fails to comply with any of the above requirements, the party immediately forfeits the right to identify themselves in public as a Catholic. Failure to comply constitutes identity theft and is thereby punishable by all the applicable statutes and by a substantial sojourn in the deepest and darkest recesses of purgatory (whether you believe in purgatory or not.)

Which is all well and good I guess. But I sort of marvel at the idea that there is some sort of litmus test for being Catholic, or even a good Catholic. But then again, as I said before, the women in my family were good Catholics and they prayed to the Grim Reaper and “practiced witchcraft”. There are lots of men in Latin America who love the Church and hate the clergy. And if we are going to talk about morality, well, I suppose I am fresh out of stones.

Maybe I just come from an environment where everybody was Catholic, even the Protestants. I once worked with a guy who used to cross himself every time he passed a Catholic church. Of course, he had never actually been in a church since his baptism. I once got in an argument with a Mexican guy who had become an evangelical. He had a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe in his wallet. I called him on it, but he didn’t see the contradiction.

Since the French Revolution, people have increasingly seen the Church as primarily an institution and through the prism of the relations of power. That is because the institutional church itself is increasingly powerless, so it must assert itself by other means. That being said, I find it a bit ridiculous that people, particularly the “neocons” and the “trads”, now throw around the epithet of “Catholic in name only”. Since when did a bad Catholic equal no Catholic at all? There have always been bad Catholics, hell, I’M A BAD CATHOLIC. It strikes me as a little odd that people are now wanting to say that “you must be this devout, or this orthodox” in order to be considered a REAL Catholic.

Paranoia at a non-homogeneous Catholicism is a sign of its weakness, and that paranoia really will lead nowhere.


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45 responses

28 11 2008
M.J. Ernst-Sandoval

Our Catholicism may not be sufficiently “ethnic” for you, but it’s classical American Catholicism, which is largely English, Irish, and German – in that order – in its piety and devotional life.

Jeff, I’m not sure classical American Catholicism was ever truly ‘English’ or ‘German’. From what I have been told by those much older than I, there were ever only a handful of parishes in this country that followed the ‘English Catholic’ model. As for the German Catholics in this country, see my post on this:

http://roamincatholicphiladelphia.blogspot.com/2008/10/decline-of-german-national-parish.html

Probably the last remaining Catholic parish in this country with a German aesthetic (albeit without the language component) is Saint Agnes’ Church in St. Paul, MN.

26 11 2008
AG

“But all I had to do was look at them and know that they were Americans. Maybe it’s an attitude, maybe it’s how people walk. People saw it in me, so I don’t really know.”

General impressions I learned from non-Americans: Americans are happy to be conspicuous, are often forceful about it, and frequently flout whatever the local behavior/custom is because we simply don’t pay attention while simultaneously smiling alot at everyone. We also dress ultra-casual, and will seek out the easiest way of doing any task. (The latter is an anecdote from a tour guide in Greece who said he can always immediately tell the Americans in a group because as soon as he says “now, we have to go up these 100 stairs,” they look around for an escalator or some other easier way to get to the top.) And we form strict queues, as I’ve earned stares and derisive laughter for doing so.

25 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Mr. Culbreath,

Yes, I think the dialogue has run out of steam. For when you start citing soapmaking as a major feature of American culture, it seems to me that the conversation is not quite working. Most of your arguments are simply begging the question, and you have resorted to impressionistic sloganeering, along with the rather unconvincing “trust me, I’ve seen it”. Nevertheless, I agree with you that there is an “Americaness” that seems so etheral that it is hard to pin down. When I lived two years in South America, people knew that I wasn’t from there. There is a funny story of my seminary days. I was visiting the cathedral of Buenos Aires on vacation, and I was of course dressed impeccably in clerical collar and cassock. All of a sudden, a group of tourists came in, and I knew right away that they were Americans. I saw them circle around the cathedral and I stood in the back watching them. When they came to the back of the church, I went up to them and asked them in Spanish where they were from. Sure enough, they were Americans. Mind you, in Argentina, there are blondes, brunettes, you name it. But all I had to do was look at them and know that they were Americans. Maybe it’s an attitude, maybe it’s how people walk. People saw it in me, so I don’t really know.

However, I have to assert again that there is less of a cohesiveness as to what that means compared to other countries. Argentina is really similar since Argentines had a mass wave of immigrants from Italy, Germany, Spain, and other parts of Europe. Buenos Aires is the third largest Jewish city in the world after Tel Aviv and New York. It is less noticeable, however, few of those immigrants were Protestants, and thus were assimilated fairly quickly into the culture, altering it radically to be sure. With the exception of rampant anti-Semitism, it doesn’t seem that any other immigrant group was discriminated against en masse. Such is not the experience of, for example, Mexico and Peru, that still have the remnants of civilizations that are thousands of years old. (Mexico City and Cuzco are the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere, both having been inhabited for a thousand years.) Also, aside from some small waves of immigrants in the 19th century, Mexican culture has had few outside influences other than the Spanish and indigenous mixture. (Mariachis and accordions excepted.)

That being said, the original point of the post is that Mexican culture, in spite of the problems that it is having in modernity (surprise, surprise), nevertheless was directly formed under the Catholic Faith for the past five hundred years. People still greet each other in places with an “Ave Maria Purisima”. My mother still crosses herself when she passes a church, and has done this since she was a girl. Posadas, the mananitas of the Virgin of Guadalupe, special foods during Lent, having to learn all your prayers as a child in two languages, all of this was a real Catholic culture, and it is light years ahead of heretical, fallen away English culture, in spite of its ability to stand in line at a bull fight (though I don’t think the English had bullfights, it would have been too uncivilized, or rather, “Popish”.) I just wish white converts in this country would show a little more respect for this, rather than comment on how horrible those Mexicans are. Maybe you might learn something in the process.

25 11 2008
AG

I don’t think anyone is saying that Andy Griffith (as entertainment product) is not an example of what has become contemporary American culture; the argument is over whether he and Mayberry are truly standard bearers of what American culture has historically been (in other words, not partly a media creation applicable to only a subsection of Americans) and by extension, whether that is a culture recognizable to everyday Americans across this country in his time and before. If the television show “Andy Griffith” is used as an example of this new-fangled “standard” American culture, then Marty Haugen’s music is the next generation of that same American culture.

I’m not sure there’s a single monolithic culture for any country except those who have self-selected strictly on ethnic lines and have had the political power to maintain that distinction. Mexico, Italy, India, Russia, even a small country like Nepal, enjoy sometimes quite striking cultural differences within their borders, and when we (as outsiders) speak of their culture, we are frequently only speaking of the culture of either a minority group or region or have formulated some hodge-podge of what “Italian” is that earns you some hearty laughs when describing it to a native. Grouping cultures along geographic and political lines is convenient for easy communication, but when you are asked to carefully define features of that culture, you must realize that you have made up a construct that is inorganic and no longer helpful.

BTW, many cultures from Native Americans to Africans to Asians that have not been “corrected” hold persons with unclear gender and/or sexual identities in particular esteem. In some cultures, hermaphrodites were automatically shamans/priests.

25 11 2008
christina

Just a few questions:

If Andy Griffith et. al are disqualified as true American “culture” because they are the product of marketing, then isn’t Marty Haugen music disqualified as true American “culture” by the same standard? Are not his songs (& those by similar composers) marketed by Oregon Catholic Press & other publishers of throw-away missals?

There may be no one American culture, but is there really a monolithic Mexican culture? Mr. Culbreath linked to an article about a Mexican town that is relatively tolerant of transvestism/homosexuality compared to the rest of Mexico, a tolerance allegedly rooted in pre-Christian Zapotec culture. Are there other similar examples of cultural diversity in Mexico arising from old tribal differences?

25 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

Mr. Vasquez,

The topic is inculturation. You seem to be saying that American culture (presumably unlike Indian or or Japanese or Aztec cultures) is so empty and vacuous as to offer nothing available for inculturation among American Catholics apart from Marty Haugen and clapping and so forth. There is a stubborn refusal on your part to see beyond the worst aspects of American culture so prevalent today.

I’ve offered many various counter-examples, and could offer many more, but you dismiss them all as irrelevant. So it’s pointless for me to go there again.

Part of the problem is that American culture, today, is largely empty and vacuous. You are right about that. We’re in much the same shape as eastern block countries after decades of communism. There isn’t much culture left to inculturate.

After this point of agreement between us, we begin to diverge. I say that despite current ills, we once had a more substantive culture, and we still do in some places, and in fact most everyone today still clings to residual habits derived from that culture, and what is more, some of these things are valuable and worthy of inculturation. Even further, the American culture under whose shadow we live has great hidden treasures, such as the language of English prayer, which ought to be revived and inculturated by Catholics.

You disagree on every point. You say we never had a culture in the first place with anything to contribute; you say that what remains of the past is of negligible import; you say that attempting to inculturate only parts, and not the whole, of American culture is a “cafeteria” approach and therefore illegitimate.

I’ve attempted to address every one of your objections, but you are committed to the idea that because America is not cohesively ethnic it does not have a culture of its own, which makes the whole conversation pointless. I know a brick wall when I see one.

Of course the Orland Christmas celebration (the town is still too small for “suburbia”, though we seem to be headed there) pales in comparison to an actual Catholic religious festival. Such things don’t even begin to replace Catholic culture. But they are symbolic of an underlying cultural reality that is not at all “fake”, and though commercialism has played a part, is not primarily or even secondarily about commerce or marketing.

Catholicism begins with reality. In the United States we have a real culture with real content. The “Anglo” refers to its British origins as manifested in language, literature, law, and ways of relating to each other and looking at the world. Many non-English people have contributed to this broad cultural stream to form something uniquely American. I do not say that it is perfectly cohesive or comprehensible, but I insist that it does exist. And that’s where we have to start: with reality.

25 11 2008
AG

Correction: we once used to do barbershop quartets, but they died a natural death only to be re-born as a “tradition” of small-town Americana.

25 11 2008
AG

The modern use of the term “white” to define race has been around since the 17th century at least, although it’s easy to argue that such racial distinctions were only begun in order to justify barbaric acts against non-European peoples. Literature (both American and European) of the 19th century particularly is replete with descriptions of what constitutes “whiteness,” even though the application of that term to different people was often determined by factors other than European ancestry, as Leah also wrote above. The Cajuns, for instance, (prior to the Civil War) were not always considered white. Also pre-Civil War, Tejanos in the E. Texas cotton lands were white while Tejanos in Texas ranching lands weren’t, but those definitions would shift according to the perceptions of Anglo-Americans of their competition in the market place. The obsession with “whiteness,” once linked to Darwinism and nationalism and other -isms, gave rise to the revision of ancient history and eugenics in the 20th century to give only two examples.

I think this discussion has focused on “white culture” because Mr. Culbreath has specifically used the term “Anglo-Christian” and excludes cultures from other ethnic groups as not American. He’s also suggested that there’s some universal American culture that stretches back to the people who founded this country, which could only be linked to WASP culture. Never mind that WASP culture rapidly grew to differ between Northern cities (let’s not even get into the South), and as it made class distinctions would not have considered bluegrass music as its cultural expression.

A.V. and Leah have done a great job of showing that there are, or used to be, many different American cultures. For example, Mr. Culbreath, a traditional Christmas celebration in New Orleans, or if you’d prefer a rural community, my father’s hometown of Lawtell LA, would not look like what you describe, even though those areas have been part of the U.S. for a bit longer than Orland has (and Mexican traditions in CA are historically more appropriate than Anglo ones, really). We proudly don’t do bluegrass or barbershop quartets, and we’ve maintained a strong Catholic identity.

Post-WWII America sought to smooth out all those cultural distinctions, to make what was once the culture of a rather defined group of Northern upwardly-mobile white Protestant Americans into a monolithic American culture, and did this for reasons of patriotism – the Cold War and all – and buying/selling. Norman Rockwell, Andy Griffith, Leave it to Beaver, etc., were all promotions given to the masses of what America should look like, so get rid of whatever cultural stuff you do because you’re not American if you don’t do it like this. But it was also part of an advertising campaign to define the American family in a very specific way and let them know they needed a Cadillac, Frigidaire, and a 3 bdrm/2ba brick house with central air and heating. Thus, it naturally spawned suburbia and American materialism in all its glory. As A.V. wrote above, there’s not the remotest thing Christian about any of that, and as Mr. Urfer implied, following this invented, monolithic American culture naturally leads to worship of Mammon. More precisely, the majority of Americans are caught in a neverending game of copycat driven by Madison Avenue because one has been told that one’s own traditions – what is organic – are just not good enough.

The distinct cultures in America still have much to offer – I’d dare say the strongest religious beliefs occur within those communities. But the one “American culture” that the corporations have given us to let us know what we need to buy at Wal-Mart? Not so much. From your description, I suspect that the Christmas celebration in Orland is an import from back east and is now determined more by what is learned from the t.v. and movies about how to celebrate a traditional Christmas in America than it is about what the members of your community could bring to such a celebration. And that’s a shame.

25 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Mr. Culbreath:

Your Orland celebration is very much like the celebration we would have growing up in Hollister, which, as you probably know, is also quite a small town. I remember going to see my sister in that parade as she was part of the marching band. It’s nice and clean family fun, and very edifying on a human level. And like other things you mention, it formed part of my upbringing as well. So when I say that Marty Haugen and plain suburban churches are your culture, in a real sense, they are part of my culture as well.

I do find your arguments at this point all over the place. On the one hand, you decry the cultural vacuum of suburbia, yet you celebrate the Christian pageants that, if I am to compare the one in Orland to the one in Hollister, were the most edifying aspect of the “culture” of suburbia. You speak of American culture as if it were some sort of Hegelian Idea processing through history and indirectly accuse Leah and me of being closet multiculturalist radicals for pointing out that American culture isn’t as cohesive as you would like to think, at least in an organic sense. You exult at one time the religious contributions that such abstract “Americaness” can offer Catholicism, yet you are a mortal enemy of its most tangible manifestations of modern AmChurch. Indeed, such Christmas pageants, while edifying on one level, are stripped of all real religious significance so that your agnostic, Hindu, and Muslim neighbors can take part. That is America, plain and simple.

Let us remember that at the root of the word “culture” is “cultus”, and we don’t have to specify that this has primarily a religious significance. It is true that in such countries as France and Mexico, government and civil society have excluded the Church from much of public life in a very active sense. Here, we drown it out with market values and tolerance. I don’t think one is necessarily more noble or less problematic than the other. In the end, however, a roadside shrine can say much more than a queue of well-groomed, polite people standing patiently to wait their turn as to the actual religious content of a society. Culture may not be able to save your soul outright, but it is a valuable crutch in a fallen world, and it certainly makes life more interesting.

25 11 2008
anon

Well, for one thing, “white” as a descriptive adjective of either a person or culture really doesn’t exist.

It’s a creation originating in the early part of the 20th century and used to separate the “civilized” people from the great unwashed.

25 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

I don’t know what you all mean by “white culture”. I’m talking about historic American culture, as it has developed over three hundred years, which is by no means as limited as the term “white culture” is intended to be. That we have reached a point where Leah and Mr. Vasquez can say, with straight faces, that such a thing as American culture never really existed, or that there never existed an American Catholic culture, tells me that we are pretty much doomed as a civilization.

The baton has not been passed to you. You therefore deny the existence of batons. This is not smart.

However, I have seen the baton, beheld it, touched it, grasped it from indifferent and apathetic hands, and I intend to pass it on to my progeny.

I’ll tell you what. Come to Orland on December 13, for the city’s Centennial Christmas celebration. There you will see classic Americana up close. A lighted parade, a barbershop quartet, bluegrass bands, chorale music, Christmas caroling, re-enactment skits, costumes, the works. The business district will be decked out for the occasion. The evening will close in Library Park with the singing of “Silent Night” in the dark. The people of this town – English, German, Portuguese, Italian, Mexican, etc. – they don’t talk about culture like I do, they simply live it. It isn’t perfectly cohesive or ethnically homogeneous, but they do have a culture, and it’s worth keeping.

25 11 2008
Leah

I would go even farther to say that what we call “white culture” didn’t start to exist until the 1950s or so. Prior to then, there was a sliding scale of whiteness, with those of English descent at the top, other types of Northern Europeans in the middle, and darker skinned Southern Europeans and Jews at the bottom. The goal for everyone was to jockey into the coveted “white” space, which could usually be accomplished through a change of religion, name, or cultural practices. If you read the book “Main Street” by Upton Sinclair (1920), you will see that the German and Swedish immigrants were considered not quite “white” by the (presumably) Anglo-Saxon people of Gopher Prairie, MN, even though such individuals were probably considerably paler in terms of skin color than the native of that town. Strong regional cultures were the norm until very recently, not just in the US, but in most European cultures. What we now consider French culture, for example, is actually the culture of the city of Paris. The dialects of French that were spoken outside of the capital were so different that they were essentially foreign languages. Consequently, it was decided that “standard French” would be the Parisian dialect to keep things simple. You can see similar efforts undertaken by the Chinese, Japanese, and Germans during their periods of industrialization. In order to have a modern state, you have to have founding myths and a sense of nationalism to get the citizens to pledge fidelity to the state, rather than just the hometown or tribe. The effects of mass culture (e.g., movies, paperback books, magazines, web sites) also flattens regional differences by presenting a monolithic image of what it means to be modern and popular. Hence, by the 1920s or so, there was already a notion in the American consciousness that there was a single “white culture,” with the exception of the South, which was still viewed as being exotic because of its large black population and economic underdevelopment. The effects of mass culture on public perception is probably why TV shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Andy Griffith” tend to be held up as documentaries for a non-existent monolithic white culture.

I would also say that there is no single white Southern culture, at least not traditionally. There was a big difference between the Appalachian culture, the Mississippi delta culture, the Cajun culture, the Piedmont culture, and the urban culture, to name a few. Perhaps the one uniting force was the belief in the “Lost Cause” mythology and Jim Crow laws. The differences between the rural and urban areas were particularly stark. The economic rationale for segregation was that planters needed this huge low-paid work force to harvest cotton. In the cities, such a reason was not needed, so it essentially become one of those, “We’ve always done things this way,” traditions. This is why desegregation came relatively quickly to urban areas like Birmingham, Atlanta, and Montgomery, but at a glacial pace in rural areas still dominated by the planter elite. With the flattening of identities, white Southern notions of identity tend to focus on the absurdly shallow, like NASCAR and defending the Confederate flag, as opposed to preserving cultural practices of actual worth like regional cooking styles, music, and storytelling.

25 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Mr. Culbreath:

I find your citing of Mediator Dei rather ironic, since no one pays attention to that encyclical anymore except for the traditionalists and some of the hierarchy, and then it is only lipservice. Truth be told, all of these “abuses” have been sanctioned by the hierarchy, and one cannot even have recourse to Rome at this point since many of these things are done even there. So your arguments of what can be legitimately inculturated and what has to be rejected is a highly subjective judgment on your part. Truth be told, all of these “abuses” have been sanctioned by the highest authorities, so unless you want to go the route of the SSPX, I don’t really see that you have a leg to stand on here.

On the other hand, you speak of an American culture on which to build one’s Catholicism, and I have to assert again that Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation and the sterile churches of suburbia are your culture. Well up into my parents’ generation (please keep in mind that I am not yet thirty), Catholicism was very much still a ghetto phenomenon. The rise of the guitar Mass suburban parish came with the demise of the inner city ethnic parish. There has been no “American Catholicism” until the 1960’s; it was in reality a series of ghetto Catholicisms (Irish, Polish, German, Louisiana Creole, Mexican, etc.) that were held together by a hegemonic, predominately Irish clergy. Once the ghettos began to disband, it is only then we see the petit-bourgeois creations of your generation. Now we see the emergence of some very small yet very vocal right of center Catholicisms: Amish-style traditionalism, apologetics-driven conservatism of EWTN and Catholic radio, Marian charismaticism, and so on a so forth. What links all of these tendencies is that they resemble clubs within the bigger body of what seems to be an inert and declining church (except for the immigrants: I think I read recently that 40% of Catholics between 18-29 are Latinos. I’m 29.) To say that there has been an “American Catholicism” is a misnomer, as is to say that “Leave it to Beaver” or “Andy Griffith” is American culture. (By the way, I grew up watching “Andy Griffith” too, on re-runs.)

That being said, I think most of your examples of “American culture” seem to be a whole lot of grasping at straws. Soap-making? Standing in line? Jane Austen? That’s kind of like saying that the Eiffel Tower is part of Lousiana Creole culture, or that Cervantes was a Mexican writer. I think the closest thing to a purely “white” culture is probably the culture of the rural South, as someone alluded to already. And a lot of American music and dancing was taken from the descendants of the African slaves were were forcibly brought here. What we know as “American culture” nowadays is the result of the overwhelming force that brought all of these disparate tendencies together: the market. The market created suburbia, the market created Marty Haugen, and the market is the force that leveled all of the various Americas into one.

I thus still think you can only speak of a “white American culture” very superficially.

25 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“I still must protest that your appeals to diversity and cultural understanding seem very out of place for a self-proclaimed traditionalist … What of the diversity of those who want to clap and sing in church? Or laymen who want to hand out Communion? I don’t think you have addressed this so far.”

I do think I have addressed this. The Faith takes priority. Not everything can or should be “inculturated” into Catholic piety or liturgy. Our first “cultural” allegiance is the culture of the Church. Kneeling, for example, is a custom that belongs to Christianity before it belongs to any particular human culture – so argues Joseph Ratzinger in “The Spirit of the Liturgy”. We look at culture through the lens of Catholicism, not the other way around, and attempt to preserve and refine what we can of those human cultures in which the Church must operate. That means a “cafeteria” process of selecting some things for inculturation and rejecting others. Perhaps this seems arbitrary to you. But it isn’t arbitrary at all. The Church has always done this. For example, Pius XII in Mediator Dei:

“It cannot be said that modem music and singing should be entirely excluded from Catholic worship. For, if they are not profane nor unbecoming to the sacredness of the place and function, and do not spring from a desire of achieving extraordinary and unusual effects, then our churches must admit them since they can contribute in no small way to the splendor of the sacred ceremonies, can lift the mind to higher things and foster true devotion of soul.”

Conversely, then, we must exclude from Catholic worship music that is “profane”, “unbecoming to the sacredness of the place”, springs from “a desire of achieving extraordinary and unusual effects”, does not “lift the mind to higher things”, and does not “foster true devotion of soul”.

In other words, the Church sets forth criteria on what may be inculturated and what may not. Clapping in church seems obviously contrary to the above standards, for example.

25 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“First of all, Mr. Culbreath, I have to warn you to soften the belligerent tone or I will start deleting your comments.

I’m sorry, but when one says to me “gringo religion sucks” it’s hard not to respond in kind. You have every right, on your blog, to insult and stereotype “gringos” and prohibit any discussion of the matter. If you ask me to leave, I will gladly stop commenting. But if I am allowed to comment, please recall that you have already set the tone.

You may not know this, but I hung around continuing Anglican churches for a little less than a year, and even received Communion in them.

Yes, I knew this. I’ve been reading you through YF’s commentary for quite a while. I was with the APCK for five years myself, and studied at St. Joseph of Arimathea in 1999, just before crossing the Tiber. Perhaps we have already met …

So I well know the joy of the old hymnal and the bidding prayers, and all of that other good stuff. Some of my drinking buddies are Anglicans. So you don’t have to lecture me of the beauties of the “thees” and “thous” and plightings of troths.

I wonder if you are aware that the Anglican language of prayer found its way into Roman Catholic devotional manuals long before there was English in the liturgy. Still today, if you pray the rosary in English, chances are you are using the precise words of the 1928 BCP when you pray the Our Father. BCP/KJV English is the religious language of America, even American Catholics, from every background. For better or worse, this language is our culture too, notwithstanding Cranmer’s crimes against the Faith.

Do I think you can integrate it easily into a Catholic consciousness? Not without a lot of difficulty.

The Church has already done the work for you. Pick up any Catholic devotional booklet published before 1955 and you’ll find many imitations of Cranmer and the KJV – some better than others, but all of them striving for the same religious effect. That’s how every American prayed in English until recent times, and I think it a fine example of authentic inculturation.

And traditionalists have not been very kind to our American society, at least in the circles that I have run in.

I think many traditionalists come from a background of social alienation, especially the latest crop. They did not have a window into previous generations, nor have they lived in places where older American values had any influence. To them, America is all MTV, shopping malls, IPODs, sexual promiscuity, capitalism, multiculturalism, feminism, hedonism, and the thousand petty cruelties these things inflict upon the vulnerable. Of course they reject these things, as they should. And I can’t really blame them for blaming America. But I don’t believe they have a clear understanding of their own inheritance, since they have never experienced American culture in anything but its most degraded and degenerate forms. The anti-American faction of traditionalism, in my opinion, lacks maturity and perspective.

Considering that this country’s only real founding ideology was Freemasonry, one can question to what extent all of the things that you love about this country are tainted.

In that case I would be a man without country, and America would be the blank cultural slate you seem to think it is. But that isn’t accurate. America is not an ideology. It is a land with people in it. My people. And where there are people, there is culture, with good and bad and in-between. Some of you speak as though American culture, of all the cultures in the world, is the least compatible with Catholicism and the most antagonistic to it. This is crazy talk. Americanism is surely a heresy, but Catholic anti-Americanism is insanity.

I’m sorry if my posts come across as belligerent or xenophobic. As the only Anglo in my 7 person household – and, for that matter, in my immediate neighborhood – these suspicions are intriguing. I chalk it up to the inevitable confusion of race and culture that exists in some circles. As a fourth generation Californian, born in Santa Barbara, married to an immigrant from SE Asia, I’ve never had any difficulty with America as a multiracial society. But culture is another matter. In order for meaningful community to exist at all, there must be certain cultural foundations, and those foundations have always been historically defended by the Church. I think that’s what inculturation is all about. The change-making-from-the-collection-plate is not a racist stereotype, but an example of one set of cultural assumptions that cannot exist alongside another set of cultural assumptions without creating lots of problems. It is entirely natural for a person to prefer one system over the other, and anyone ought to be able to do so without being considered a racist.

24 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

First of all, Mr. Culbreath, I have to warn you to soften the belligerent tone or I will start deleting your comments. A lot of what you are saying here does border on xenophobia, like the prejudice of non-white people making change from the collection basket. That type of stereotyping is unacceptable on this blog. If you would like to keep commenting, I would ask that you tone it down. Thank you.

I only commented on the paucity of Catholic influence that American culture has to offer. You may not know this, but I hung around continuing Anglican churches for a little less than a year, and even received Communion in them. I like my Prayer Book straight from the 1928 version, without any Anglo-Catholic accretions. So I well know the joy of the old hymnal and the bidding prayers, and all of that other good stuff. Some of my drinking buddies are Anglicans. So you don’t have to lecture me of the beauties of the “thees” and “thous” and plightings of troths.

On the other hand, I know that all of this stuff has a profoundly anti-Catholic basis to it. Cranmer’s eucharistic prayer was explicitly stripped of any hints of the Real Presence, and anybody more low church than that goes even further. Is it beautiful? Yes. Do I admire it? Yes. Can I base my spirituality at all on it? Not really. Do I think it is a sincere expression of religious fervor? Of course. Do I think you can integrate it easily into a Catholic consciousness? Not without a lot of difficulty.

I still must protest that your appeals to diversity and cultural understanding seem very out of place for a self-proclaimed traditionalist. Traditionalists make it their business to point out how the Church is falling away from how things should be, how they have been in the past. What of the diversity of those who want to clap and sing in church? Or laymen who want to hand out Communion? I don’t think you have addressed this so far. And traditionalists have not been very kind to our American society, at least in the circles that I have run in. Considering that this country’s only real founding ideology was Freemasonry, one can question to what extent all of the things that you love about this country are tainted.

As for being dropped off in bad places, I think that there are parts of America one would not want to be dropped off at either. So what does that say about our own country, about how many Americas there really are here? Maybe the alternative is to be dropped off at our safe, homogeneous suburbs, but then we are back at square one.

24 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

Even if it was as bad as you make it out to be, Jeff, it still smells of xenophobia and small-mindedness.

Oh, good grief. If I were xenophobic I never would have been there in the first place. And what is small-minded about expressing a preference for one cultural way of doing things over another? Our blog host does this all the time you haven’t accused him of small-mindedness.

“Of all the things you listed of ‘American’ culture, they are almost all foreign (Bach, Austen, Shakespeare, Wesley, organ music) …”

By this logic American culture was always totally foreign until there was some cultural innovation on American soil. That’s the wrong way to look at it. American culture merely denotes the historic beliefs, customs, habits, and mores of Americans over time, and most of that obviously has northern European origins. Even bluegrass is an outgrowth of what the Scots-Irish brought with them.

worthless (Andy Griffith, “clean American humor”), or nonsensical (soapmaking, good manners).

Worthless, until you need somewhere to turn for humor; nonsensical, until you must rely on forgotten skills and comprehensible good manners.

“American society is profoundly poisoned, and we need to fight through it, not for it.”

A profoundly sad sentiment, that.

Yes, American culture is poisoned and ailing. Our country may well be over, and perhaps it was doomed from the start. But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing in it worth saving. You need a culture, and like or not, you already have one, even if all that you see today is mere residue. Why throw it away? What will you replace it with? If you lived in another country, maybe you could assimilate and become Italian or Portuguese or Mexican or Filipino. That isn’t going to happen to you here.

You are like a fish with no appreciation for water. Perhaps you need to be dropped off alone on the streets of Mexico City for a couple of months. You’ll discover all kinds things you once liked about America which you never thought of before. If that experiment isn’t practical enough, pick up Russell Kirk’s “America’s British Culture”. It should have a similar effect.

24 11 2008
Sam Urfer

I gotta say, as others have already, the whole standing in line/saving peoples seat example is kind of bizarre. I’ve also been to Portuguese bull fights, and have managed to save seats for those who went for the beer. Even if it was as bad as you make it out to be, Jeff, it still smells of xenophobia and small-mindedness.

As a Latin Mass lovin’ convert from white bread Protestantism myself, I have to agree with Arturo regarding the innate paucity of Anglo-Saxon religiosity and culture. White Middle Class Suburbia does, indeed, have a culture of its own. Unfortunately, it is an evil one, devoid of any real value. The consumerist culture of the American suburb is that of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

Of all the things you listed of “American” culture, they are almost all foreign (Bach, Austen, Shakespeare, Wesley, organ music), worthless (Andy Griffith, “clean American humor”), or nonsensical (soapmaking, good manners). I will grant you bluegrass music, however. American politics might be devoid of overt violence we see in some countries, doesn’t mean that it’s any better in effect. I think some of our Senators need a good whooping now and again. Keep them on their toes.

I don’t entirely share Arturo’s pessimism about Catholic Culture in the United States, but I do know that we can’t go forward as a people by mindlessly trying to resurrect the 1950’s. It’s bound to fail, and even if it could succeed, I doubt it would be worth it. American society is profoundly poisoned, and we need to fight through it, not for it.

24 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

Mr. Vasquez, have you seen this story?

http://tinyurl.com/56t937

I’d be interested to know what you think about it. Good inculturation or bad? Should Juchitano(?) Catholics take a “cafeteria” approach to their native culture?

24 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“America has several cultures of its own, and the most predominate ‘Anglo-Saxon’ one is just one of them. It would be nice if many “good [white] Catholics” were aware of this.”

America’s historically predominant culture is not “just one of several”. It is the defining culture that permeates everything, even the oldest minority sub-cultures (whether they admit it or not). It is the only culture capable, under present circumstances, of generously accommodating the minority cultures of our land. It is the “glue” that still holds everything together. As this culture weakens and decays, we will plunge into cultural strife and violence. It would be nice if more of your own people understood this.

24 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“I still find your ‘cafeteria approach’ to all of this very unconvincing, but oh well.”

What are the options for us non-ethnics? As I see it we have three:

1. Accept our inherited culture entirely, without discrimination.

2. Reject our inherited culture entirely, without discrimination.

3. Embrace what we can of our inherited culture – which will be quite a lot since much of it is unconscious and unarticulated – but consciously reject what is not compatible with the Faith and replace it with the best possible substitutes.

Yes, I’m a cafeteria gringo. If you have a more convincing alternative I’m all ears.

“I should also comment that what we are speaking of primarily here is religious culture, and in that, Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture has not very much to offer …”

I disagree. There is, for example, the venerable Anglo tradition of not using the collection plate to make change for oneself. Or praying the Our Father in the old English of the Book of Common Prayer. Or the clear lines drawn between piety and superstition (perhaps a reaction to centuries of Protestant accusations). Or the habit of starting Mass on time and sticking to schedules. These are just off the top of my head. Culture is largely unspoken and influences everything we do.

The way I see it, your objection isn’t that historically mainstream American culture doesn’t have much to offer Catholicism; it is that you don’t like what it does offer, and you prefer foreign manners of expression. That’s fine with me: let’s get it out in the open. At least this highlights the fact that our two respective cultures will have a hard time getting along together, and that it is preferable for one to have predominance in any given place or community.

Real examples of religious cross-fertilization would be the Italian St. Joseph’s altars in New Orleans or the Virgen Morena of us Mexicans.

I understand, but I think this is a different topic entirely. Inculturation is not the same as Catholic cross-fertilization.

24 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

I should also comment that what we are speaking of primarily here is religious culture, and in that, Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture has not very much to offer, especially to the self-proclaimed “Catholic traditionalist”. Every culture can be interpreted as emphasizing politeness, respect for elders, and so on and so forth. I am sure Indian Hindus have a great level of hospitality and familial cohesiveness. That seems to be neither here nor there. Real examples of religious cross-fertilization would be the Italian St. Joseph’s altars in New Orleans or the Virgen Morena of us Mexicans. I tend to like Anglican hymnody, but I am ambivalent about it when used in Catholic worship. Other than that, Anglo-Saxon religiosity does not seem to offer a whole lot else.

24 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

“Mexican Catholics, perhaps, need to give up superstitious practices bordering on witchcraft .”

That’s the thing, though. A lot of those things are the most Catholic of all, and I find no reason that they should give them up. What people need to give up is sin, and that is found among all cultures.

I still find your “cafeteria approach” to all of this very unconvincing, but oh well. Most of those things that you mention as “American culture” are done by Mexicans anyway, so I find it a bit of begging the question to state that “this is a culture, really”. America has several cultures of its own, and the most predominate “Anglo-Saxon” one is just one of them. It would be nice if many “good [white] Catholics” were aware of this.

24 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“How many traditional and conservative Catholic converts are actually interested in the traditions of the closest Catholic country to the United States, just down south?”

I respect and applaud those traditions, but most of them aren’t mine, nor are they my ancestors’, nor do they belong to my wife or her ancestors, nor do they belong to the predominant strain of Catholicism in the United States, which is the only Catholicism most American converts (like me) are capable of inheriting.

I think our fundamental disagreement is this. You think America is a blank cultural slate upon which every minority ethnic group gets to scribble its own graffiti. I say we have a culture of our own, and a Catholic tradition of our own, and that our culture and tradition are worthy of respect, even by those who don’t happen to share it, and especially by those who choose to live among us.

24 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“I find it ironic that a self-identified traditionalist could speak of inculturation.

The Church has always practiced inculturation as you well know. I believe in inculturation, but hate to use the word since it is mostly abused and misunderstood these days.

Are not Marty Haugen and altar girls inculturation for Amercia of the 21st century?

Sure, these things might be termed “inculturation”, but in the abusive sense rather than the Catholic sense. Whether or not you agree with the particulars, surely you agree that not everything pertaining to a given culture is capable of being Christianized. When I use the term “inculturation” it presupposes the priority of a Catholic sensibility. Is it always easy to tell the difference? No, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about trying. American Catholics need to give up feminism and other modern fancies; Mexican Catholics, perhaps, need to give up superstitious practices bordering on witchcraft (taking your own word for it since I know of no such examples).

Suburban America may be a wasteland – you’ll get no argument from me on that – but it survives under the shadow of a real culture, a culture worth preserving and assimilating. What, then, might be legitimately “inculturated” by the Church in North Amercia? In the first place, American Catholics were born into a culture (weak and deficient but nonetheless real) and should try to accept whatever can be accepted in it. If my godless suburban co-worker tells a joke, and I think it’s funny, I laugh and tell it to my family and friends. But there are obvious limits to what can be accepted, and so any Catholic inculturation project has to dig a little deeper.

Much of what is good and redeemable in American culture is receding and takes some effort to discover. People stand in line, wait their turn, and save each other’s seats in the stadium, but they no longer understand why – the custom has been divorced from the Anglo-American ideals of Christian charity that gave rise to it. Very soon such habits will disappear unless they are enforced through fear of punishment.

Speaking for myself and my friends (FSSP circles primarily), we are finding that much can still be saved from American culture. Bach cantatas, bluegrass music, Shakespeare, Wesley’s Christmas carols, Jane Austen, the rule of law, local democracy, the Andy Griffeth Show, clean American humor, standing in line and waiting your turn, prayer in the king’s English, organ music, soapmaking, good manners, politics without violence, etc., – all these things and much more ought to be subject to American Catholic “inculturation”. This can still be accomplished without having to jump into an environment and context that is completely foreign and divorced from our civilizational history.

Why not say welcome home to lay Eucharistic ministers, guitar Masses, and felt banners? Why make others get rid of their culture in order to abide by the stuffy rubrics of Tridentine Catholicism?

Fair questions, which I think I have already answered. We all must give up something if we want to be Catholic and live as Catholics. The Church rejected the excitements of the arena but accepted Roman statutory law. There is a no, and there is a yes. The Faith prevails when culture fails.

“And why drive by ten good Catholic churches to attend the enclave of your choice with your fellow ‘traditionalists’?”

Because it helps me become a better Catholic, and because I owe my best to God. (I don’t go there for the traditionalists, incidently, though I thank God for them every day.) I dearly wish we could attend St. Dominc’s here in Orland without jeopardizing my own faith or that of my family, but at present it isn’t an option.

24 11 2008
AG

To briefly re-iterate A.V.’s comment, failure to form queues or taking a seat that someone else has left has to do with differences in cultures and nothing whatsoever to do with Christian morals, and hardly constitutes barbaric behavior. What Americans consider politeness (and I don’t think forming a queue has anything to do with being polite anyway) is not the same as virtue. If it were, the Swiss may very well be the most Christian and morally upright people on earth. One can commonly experience the same behaviors mentioned above in Italy, which certainly has a few centuries on Anglo-Christianity. I’d also dispute the notion that America is or was ever intended to be a Christian nation.

Leah, I agree that forming a black ethnic Catholicism is particularly complicated. My maternal grandmother had a picture of MLK Jr. next to her pictures of the popes and the Sacred Heart; several of the parish halls at churches I have visited with sizable percentages of black parishioners also have a picture of him on the wall. To me, white Catholics who balk at such displays are either naïve or historically ignorant.

Blacks whose families were traditionally Catholic (as in LA) were often forced out of the Church through segregation, while others certainly couldn’t ignore that some of the most vocal (and violent) racists were white Irish-American Catholics. The V2 reforms coincided (at least time-wise) with the Civil Rights Movement, and I think the association between 1950s-style traditionalism and racist Irish-American hegemony of the AmCatholic Church is still very strong, at least among the black Catholics I know. In Louisiana and the CA Bay area (which has a very large ex-LA black Catholic population), this has tended to feed into the desire for incorporation of more African-American traditions in Catholic Masses, from style of dress to the use of Gospel music. My mother’s familial parish, Holy Ghost Church in Opelousas – having the largest black Catholic congregation in the U.S. – even celebrates Kwanzaa now. On my wall, I have a framed photograph of a priest walking behind people second-lining at a jazz funeral. At some level you have to let people know that it is safe to be black in the Catholic Church, and that those who were once thoroughly rejected are now welcome.

There is an ethnic Catholicism that arose among black Creoles, but ‘Creoles of color’ often don’t like to be grouped with blacks, and other aspects of Creole culture differ from black Southern culture, both rural and urban. And much of Creole Catholic tradition incorporates French, Spanish, Cajun folk, and in N.O. especially, Italian traditions, with a slight bit of German or Irish thrown in depending on what part of N.O. you’re from. But it organically developed out of close contact with still-flourishing traditions, not like what I see most often in what is termed Catholic traditionalism: attempted revivals of Catholic traditions that are, in fact, long-dead among people who share little in common other than ideology.

24 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Mr. Culbreath:

All very true, if suburban America had a culture. I find it ironic that a self-identified traditionalist could speak of inculturation. Are not Marty Haugen and altar girls inculturation for Amercia of the 21st century? Why not say welcome home to lay Eucharistic ministers, guitar Masses, and felt banners? Why make others get rid of their culture in order to abide by the stuffy rubrics of Tridentine Catholicism? And why drive by ten good Catholic churches to attend the enclave of your choice with your fellow “traditionalists”? It’s a good point, but I find it being made by the wrong person. You should say welcome home to the Novus Ordo and all of its cultural richness in that case.

In any event, I find any contention that the traditionalists of northern California constitute a culture highly tendentious. There is a difference between culture and a cult, and the traditionalists are closer to the latter. You forget, for three years I was training to be one of the priests that minister to you guys, and I probably know many of the families that you are referring to. I was even one of the counselors at their summer camps, I taught in their schools, I taught them to chant and serve altar. Nice people they are. Doing the best they can they are. But a culture they are not. More like a weird bubble of people who have chosen to wall themselves off from the rest of the world. I understand the reasons, and I even sympathize with them. But that is simply not the solution in the long run, and it is an alternative that can only be pursued by a self selected few.

I also find the contention that Americans are better people because they can stand in a line and not take someone else’s seat a bit quaint. It reminds me of friends’ frustrating encounters with the Italian postal service or the wayward ways of the corrupt Mexican cop. Annoying all of it might be, but worse Christians it does not make. We forget that for all of the politeness and rule of law, America has been a rather uncivilized country to many groups both here and abroad, including Catholics.

So in the end, I understand people are doing the best they can with what they have, and I suppose the rhetoric I have used here is a bit exaggerated. However, Christianity implanting itself in a village in Africa and among the cerebral cyber-fundamentalists of apologetics-land are completely different phenomena. There is a certain tone that some converts take in which they seem to express how much they love Catholicism yet fear or dislike Catholics who have been doing this for centuries. How many traditional and conservative Catholic converts are actually interested in the traditions of the closest Catholic country to the United States, just down south? They can bring back the architecture of the Gothic church and medieval ceremonial such as burning the Alleluia before Septuagesima, but Mexicans are still a bunch of godless heathens? As I cradle Catholic, I am glad that they found the truth. It would just be nice if they respected cultures where the truth has been something self-evident for centuries, instead of commenting on how people steal their seats at bull fights.

I’ll say it before and I will say it again: there is something in modernity, especially polite and civilized modernity, that is profoundly anti-religious. I appreciate its benefit as well, since I have always been one to patiently wait in line for my turn. But I have no illusions that it is any better than what came before it. Merely different.

23 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

Thomas Day explains English-speaking RC culture for the rest of us.

Yes, indeed. Highly recommended. Read his book years ago when it was given to me by a good friend from PA … 🙂

23 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“It doesn’t seem possible in this context to really completely sever ties with black Protestant culture.”

Nor should it be asked of you. At least, completely severing ties to one’s native culture should never be required of anyone, apart from the Catholic liturgy itself, which is (or ought to be in my opinion) “the great equalizer”, serving as a highly visible expression of that which transcends all cultures. Otherwise Catholicism in the U.S. (and in any other mission field) is going to start off non-“ethnic”. Existing ties to local non-Catholic culture and community must be continued, the content gradually purified and refined.

Arturo says “good luck to ‘ya”: the Church says “welcome home”.

23 11 2008
Leah

This post has made me consider how black Catholics fit into all this, since we are not the Catholic “ethnic” nor the WASPs mentioned by other posters. Many black parishes use gospel music in the mass. Is this considered “traditional”? Yes and no. Strictly speaking, the answer would be no, because gospel music is not a form of music that originated within the Church or in a specifically Catholic context. However, one could also say yes, because gospel goes back almost 300 years and has a well-established history. Unlike the music in the “Gather Us In” hymnal, the music in the “Lead Me Guide Me (the hymnal used in black parishes) tends to be pretty orthodox in terms of theology. This isn’t a “white bread” Catholicism, but it’s not what you’d see in somewhere like Mexico or the Phillipines.

It doesn’t seem possible in this context to really completely sever ties with black Protestant culture. Traditionally, Protestant minsters were the leaders in black communities, because they possessed the most education and often had contacts among certain whites in the local government. This is also why most leaders in the Civil Rights Movement were ministers. This also explains why the 1965 yearbook from Xavier University, Louisiana (the only Historically Black College that is Catholic) was dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., a Protestant minister. And why when Coretta Scott King died, the majority black parish I was attending had public masses said for her soul. Indeed, if you go into many older black people’s houses, whether Catholic or Protestant, you’ll see a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. next to a picture of Jesus, both probably purchased at the same swap meet. I suspect that the Creative Minority Report would say that we’re all just crypto-Protestants.

23 11 2008
The young fogey

Thomas Day explains English-speaking RC culture for the rest of us.

23 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“Also, I have a hard time believing that there is any such thing as a Catholicism that is not ethnic … If you aren’t a Mexican, an ethnic Italian, a Filipino, a Lousiana Creole, or anything else, lots ‘a luck to ya.”

So much for mission work, eh?

I’m a plain whitebread convert from Lutheranism with predominantly Scandinavian and Scottish roots. My wife is a Vietnamese convert from Buddhism. Our Catholicism may not be sufficiently “ethnic” for you, but it’s classical American Catholicism, which is largely English, Irish, and German – in that order – in its piety and devotional life.

It’s true that American Catholicism in 2008 totally lacks the community and culture that “ethnics” still enjoy, but that doesn’t mean that such a culture never existed, or could not exist again, or is not surviving and even growing in a few little pockets here and there. It will seem paltry and insignificant to you, but it’s everything to us, this revival of Catholic culture in America. The traditionalists of northern California live in different places, for example, but we know the same prayers, sing the same hymns, read the same books, and participate in the same kind of Catholic sacramental life as our brothers in other cities. When we get together for summer camp or festivals or what have you, it is like a homecoming.

Now then, to what I think might be an oversight on your part. Americans do not have a common ethnic Catholic culture, it is true. And I suppose that’s a poverty in some sense. But we do have an historic national culture, and this culture is Christian at its core and is easy for Catholicism to build upon.

When I go the Portuguese bullfights, which I enjoy thoroughly, I always get a new appreciation for Anglo-Christian civilization. Heaven help the poor person who gets up and leaves his seat for a few minutes. It will be stolen when he returns, despite the protests of companions or the personal property he’s left on the bench. And forget about standing in line for your beer or hot dog – everyone just pushes ahead like a Darwinian mob.

Even the most barbaric of American natives honors the principle of waiting one’s turn and saving the seat of a neighbor. That’s just one example of our American culture that has been legitimately and properly “inculturated” (there I said it!) into American Catholicism. Whether this constitutes an “ethnic” custom I do not know, but it’s part of a matrix of unspoken and unarticulated habits that is common to American culture and lends itself well to a Catholic way of living.

23 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“In Latin America, you either think the Church is the salvation of civilization, or you think that priests are a bunch of effeminate sociopaths out to take your money and pit your woman against you.”

And what thinketh Arturo?

I’ve noticed this too, that Catholic nations are also the most anticlerical. We had a Eucharistic procession this morning, led by Bishop Jaime Soto through the streets of Chico to the city plaza. The only protesters were a car full of Mexicans, leaning out of their windows, shouting something in Spanish, and shaking their fists. Or so my son tells me, who was carrying a torch.

Thomas Jefferson, reflecting on his time in France, noted that when Catholics lose their faith, they become atheists, but when Protestants lose their faith they merely change denominations. There is an “all or nothing” factor to Catholicism. Protestant America is less anti-Catholic due in part to its very Protestantism.

But that isn’t quite right either. As you say, many Latin Americans have a sort of quasi-Catholic piety while simultaneously loathing the Church. Mexican owned businesses in these parts have portraits of the revolutionary murderer Pancho Villa right up next to St. Martin of Tours or Our Lady of Guadalupe. I asked a waitress about this once, and she casually replied that he’s a hero to Mexicans and only considered a criminal if you’re white, or an American, or something to that effect – my memory fails apart from my resolve not to patronize that establishment again.

22 11 2008
Lee Hamilton

I hadn’t heard of Thomas Day, so I googled him and had to laugh at the first thing that came up: the amazon.com listing for his book titled “Why Catholics Can’t Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste”. The bad singing at the rear was exactly what used to set my siblings and cousins giggling uncontrollably in the pews (and even the adults once or twice)…

22 11 2008
The young fogey

Jeff and especially Leah said what I was about to: of course most people in the church’s history have been Bad Catholics. The difference is today people (especially in Gringoland thanks to direct influence from Protestantism) have picked up the un-Catholic notion that they can bend the official church to approve of their badness and indeed proclaim it good. Something the Frank Sinatras in the good old days never claimed. An old friend, Mark Bonocore, pointed this out to me: when we sin we don’t claim this. The church is the church, we fall short and know it, and that’s that.

At the same time Arturo and Jeff are right that ‘are you good enough?’ is also a result of Protestant influence.

American whitebread Catholicism didn’t have to go the Irish-American route of ‘mainline Protestant wannabes but in white working-class cultural terms’. It could have gone the 1950s Anglo-Catholic one, Tridentinish in English with the best of WASPness. (In the RC Church, Corpus Christi Church in Manhattan was a lot like that and sort of still is.) But Thomas Day has explained the historical reasons why that didn’t happen – as well as why those who think they can bend the official church to their will, the old cranks pushing for women priests for example, don’t simply leave for the mainline churches. (They hate the ‘English’ more than they hate the Pope.)

22 11 2008
Lee Hamilton

Catholicism definitely loses its vigor when it morphs into the legalistic formalism which the CMR post demonstrates (which begs the question of what exactly is being lampooned there, however accidentally). It demonstrates a peculiar tribalism-of-the-intellect, in which only theologians, professors and exegetes have the necessary skill-set to pass muster as real Catholics, and to fully understand and rationally defend that status right down to each sub-article of the Catechism.

Yes, Catholicism isn’t an ideology (neither neo-con nor liberal)…however much people try to make it so. Ideology is how the Anglosphere ‘does’ religion now, much to its detriment. True religion is indivisible from ethnicity, without being specific to it. It effervesces from below. Religion is culture – the two are organically connected. Lose one and you’ve lost the other, even if it takes a generation or two for the loss to be fully realized.

The preservation, transfer, and proliferation of Catholicism from generation-to-generation and continent-to-continent is a bit like human reproduction itself…it never would have gotten anywhere had it been left wholly up to those who *think* about it too much.

22 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Also, I have a hard time believing that there is any such thing as a Catholicism that is not ethnic, and the thought experiments of the traditionalists, neoconservatives, and liberals in this country all seem to be proving my point. If you aren’t a Mexican, an ethnic Italian, a Filipino, a Lousiana Creole, or anything else, lots ‘a luck to ya. I am certain that you can save yourself in American white bread Catholicism of any shade of the spectrum, but I find all of its public manifestations to be dreary, depressing, and let’s face it, really fake. And I don’t see how you are going to pass any of it on to your children since even we ethnics in this country are becoming just like all of you as well. Maybe we are all screwed, but at least we are going down with class.

22 11 2008
Lee Hamilton

Jeff, he’s describing the ‘Folk Catholicism’ that has always sprung up anytime and anywhere. I “inherited” my Catholicism from my French-Canadian side, where my grandmother’s generation had practices reminiscent of (but different from) what Arturo describes (some of it was distinctly Québecois, and some was borrowed from Cree and Mohawk inculturation of the Faith, those being the two principal extant aboriginal ethnic groups in central Canada). Those superstitions were theologically incorrect, but they were nevertheless representative of the kind of durable and vigorous beliefs & practices with which Catholicism seems to have an almost organic symbiotic relationship where ever it takes root.

22 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Jeff:

Of the traditional folk healing practices practiced in my family, none of it was “witchcraft” per se, but it wasn’t approved by the Church either. Putting a blanket over someone and sweeping him with a broom while reciting the Apostles’ Creed may have been something that the priest frowned upon (more than likely, he wouldn’t comment about it if he knew about it), but it didn’t make one a “bad Catholic” in rural Mexico. That’s just what people did; there were no doctors. And on Santa Muerte, I have just expressed my opinion on that, so I think my family is safe in that regard. Besides, all the real witches in Mexico got lynched or died a horrible death when their “magic” turned on them.

I have to say that I think I know what the people at the Creative Minority Report were getting at, but I think that the fact that people have to comment at all about this speaks volumes. As I have said before, in the United States, to be in good status with your church is tantamount to good citizenship. To be a “bad Presbyterian” or a “bad Baptist”, or a “bad Catholic” has the same ring to it as being an alcoholic or a wife beater. People, especially politicians, do not want that reputation. It’s bad for the polls. And to tell the truth, most of our hierarchy does not want them to have that reputation since it makes the Church look bad. It makes them look incompetent and it makes the Chuch look like it doesn’t have its own house in order. So if the vast majority of Catholic politicians who fill your pews and make the photo-ops with you are “bad Catholics”, you are kind of going to let it slide. That’s just how it is; the pull of ecclesiastical authority for the most part has almost always resulted at truth groveling before power , not speaking up to it. That’s the way it has been with the mafia bosses, the slave owners, the bands of knights raping and pillaging, and so on and so forth. In some of the ecclesiastical circles that I have run in, the words “bishop” and “backbone” seldom went in the same sentence. People not standing up to the poweful? Welcome to the history of the Catholic Church, and welcome to the human race. It is the history of the Church and the gatekeepers of morality turning the other way.

That being said, in other countries, if people disagree with the Church on fundamental issues, they wouldn’t even bother showing up on Sunday morning, and they certainly wouldn’t call themselves “good Catholics”. Truth be told, they wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about what the Church thought about the cuteness of puppies, let alone God or morality. In Latin America, you either think the Church is the salvation of civilization, or you think that priests are a bunch of effeminate sociopaths out to take your money and pit your woman against you. This controversy is a very American one, one that speaks volumes about how Americans see religion, and I find it extremely distasteful.

And I don’t wear the “bad Catholic” label with any secret sense of pride or nor do I romanticize it in any way, nor would I use such labels to sell books or anything else. Bad Catholics go to Hell. And the end of the day, I know I am a bad Catholic because I am living wrong and I am weak and sinful. While I know that pushing the envelope is just part of life, at the end of the day I assent to all the Catholic Church teaches because I know that it’s right, not just because a guy in a funny hat says it’s right (though the guy in the funny hat helps). I would say that I am very pious, but far from holy; maybe that will get me somewhere. All I know that my grandmother with the Grim Reaper statue and my great grandmother with her miraculous eggs were in far better shape than this ex-seminarian and ex-monk who reads his Bible in Latin and Aquinas on the train to work every morning. If they had some excuse, what excuse do I have?

22 11 2008
Leah

Jeff:

I’ve been thinking about the “bad Catholics” of yesteryear myself for awhile. I think the difference is that, although people like Frank Sinatra, Spencer Tracey, and the like flagrantly went against Church teachings (particularly on sexual morality), they never suggested that the Church should change her teachings, or thought that they were “good Catholics” in spite of their own personal transgressions. I think this may be one of the biggest differences between the pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Church, at least in terms of how ordinary Americans think and act. Nowadays, everyone is a “good Catholic” because we’re all “good people,” assuming that no one is kicking puppies or anything like that. By nature, there must be “good” and “bad” Catholics in the Church, but the former is an exclusive term; in order for there to be “good” Catholics, there must be “bad” ones for us to measure them up against and no one thinks they are in the latter group.

22 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

Finally, meaning no disrespect to the women in your family, how is it possible for anyone to be a “Good Catholic” and practice witchcraft, or engage in any kind of idolatry, no matter how sincerely or ignorantly? What does it mean to be Catholic anyway? Is there no creed? Is merely calling oneself a Catholic good enough?

22 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

“There seems to be a belief that, pre-Vatican II, you could always be sure that the guy sitting next to you in the pew was an “orthodox Catholic” and that post-Vatican II, the guy sitting next to you is probably a raving heretic who agitates for women priests on the weekend.”

Perhaps some traditionalists hold this view, and if so, you’re right that it’s erroneous. But the virtues of the pre-Vatican II Church were not about the fellow sitting next to you in the pew, but about the hierarchy which taught the Faith and, on the whole, lived it at a fairly high level. Whatever your fellow pew warmers might believe, you knew what your priest believed, and what your bishop believed, and what the Catechism taught, even if you struggled with these teachings yourself.

In the U.S. before V-II we had Bad Catholics; today, instead, we have Ignorant Catholics. Today’s radicals, who are not ignorant, get away with dissent only because the majority is ignorant.

22 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

So you’re a Bad Catholic. I am too, and I take your point. But I wonder if it might be true that in an old Catholic culture, where everyone is Catholic, most Catholics will be Bad Catholics. Here in Gringoland we never had such a culture. Traditionally in the U.S., there were higher expectations, and even the Bad Catholics knew they were supposed to be Good Catholics. Bing Crosby was a Bad Catholic. So was Loretta Young, and Frank Sinatra, and many others of their generation. But they were not unserious about their religion, and if they were not particularly devout themselves, they applauded fidelity in others, encouraged it in the young, and were, at least on some level, not wholly content with their Bad Catholic status.

22 11 2008
Leah

Part of the problem with modern-day Catholicism is that it forces people to love an institution, which is incredibly hard to do. It is easy to love the metaphysical idea of the Church, with the Church Militant, Church Suffering, and Church Triumphant, the Communion of Saints, and all that good stuff. It’s really not easy to love a dull, inefficient, bueracratic organization.

Since the local parish has become less and less important to the life of the average Catholic today, we often have to resort to extolling the joys of the institutional Church. Tired of all that Protestant bickering about (insert issue of choice)? We have the Pope and the Magisterium! Find the Jesus mosh pit at the local evangelical megachurch lacking? We have Latin Masses and fiddleback chasubles (at least in some areas)! Do you find the meandering thoughts of the preacher with the Oral Roberts University online degree intellectual unsatisfying? Read the Summa! This, and the litmus test attitude is a result of the insecurity following Vatican II. There seems to be a belief that, pre-Vatican II, you could always be sure that the guy sitting next to you in the pew was an “orthodox Catholic” and that post-Vatican II, the guy sitting next to you is probably a raving heretic who agitates for women priests on the weekend. Given this attitude, the pope become a sort of Christian superman who will save the Church from the heretics in its midst. I sincerely doubt that the beliefs of most Catholics throughout history corresponded exactly with an official catechism of any sort.

Also, I thought that if you’re baptized into the Catholic Church, then you remain a Catholic, unless you explicitly become Methodist or something like that.

22 11 2008
Erasmus Root

Eloquently put! I am glad to see you raise aloft the banner of “Bad catholic.” May I make a mild bibliographical suggestion? I have found “Good Living for Bad Catholics” and “The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whisky and Song” by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak to be able vindications of the Bad catholic ethos.

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