Again on “committed Christianity”

22 07 2010

…the Christian of the future will by a mystic or will not be at all.

-Karl Rahner

Joseph Komonchak is a smart man. I enjoy reading his posts on the Commonweal site. I know that he is older than me, and I know that he sees things quite differently. I suppose in the post cited above, I was most impressed by how well he was able to crystalize everything I dislike about the “new Catholicism” in such a short post. I especially was appauled by this Yves Congar quote:

We have not yet sufficiently communicated, or developed, the positive biblical grounds on which a new chapter in the history of the Church has really begun, in continuity, however, with the living tradition of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the classic centuries. The fate of the Church, it seems to me, is more and more tied to a spiritual and even a supernatural life, that is, to a Christian life. I think that today the only ones who can stick it out [tenir le coup] are Christians who have an inner life. In Tridentinism, there was a kind of conditioning (in a non-pejorative sense); there was a sort of enveloping, of a framework that one entered or stayed within, whereas today…, it is impossible, I think, to maintain a Christian life without some kind of inner life. And here I like to cite a rather curious remark of Fr. Emile Mersch, that Belgian Jesuit who did so much for the theology of the Mystical Body: “It’s because they lack a skeleton that certain animals surround themselves with a carapace.: Today I think the great carapace of Tridentinism has in great part dissolved, flaked off in some way, so that the need for a kind of inner frame is very urgent.

Part of me knows that the “crisis” in the Church was inevitable, but part of me also suspects that it was engineered. As I have cited in other posts, there seems to be an attitude of “good riddance” to those who have left the Church in the last fifty years (especially if you read the drivel on some Catholic websites against “Catholics in name only”). “They weren’t interior enough, committed enough, militant enough to stay in the Church, etc.” Well, I suppose that there are enough people around who have tricked themselves into thinking that “real Catholics” are the “interior life” Catholics, those who have a “personal relationship with Jesus”, and so forth, but that wasn’t the faith I was raised with, nor is it the faith of my ancestors. Personally, I think that Maya Deren is much closer to what it all means that Congar:

The man of such a culture must be, necessarily, a pragmatist. His immediate needs are too persistent, too pressing, and too critical, to permit the luxury of idealism or mysticism, and they must be answered rather than escaped from. He has neither time, energy, nor means for inconsequential activity. His religious system must do more than give him moral sustenance; it must do more than rationalize his instinct for survival when survival is no longer a “reasonable” activity. It must do more than provide a reason for living; it must provide the means for living. It must serves the organism as well as the psyche. It must serve as a practical methodology not as an irrational hope. In consequence, the Haitian thinks of his religion in working terms. To ask him whether he “believes” in Voudoun is to pose a meaningless, irrelevant question. He answers, “I serve the loa”, and, more than likely, he will say, “I serve so-and-so, giving even to general divine power a specialized focus.

-from Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti

This is not merely the Voudoun attitude towards the divine, but the “folk Catholic” or traditional attitude. People pray to saints because the saints are useful, not to get “closer to Jesus”. In other words, there are no mystics in the ghetto, at least not what we think of as “mystics”. People participated in Catholicism because it could sync with their daily lives, and it offered real life solutions to their problems. To get that now, you have to be Latino and go to the botanica, because that type of pragmatism is frowned upon ever since people like Komonchak have taken over the Church. They would rather have mystics rather than ordinary people, and even Benedict XVI wants to “downsize” the Church for that reason.

Religion, like philosophy, is a preparation for death. Better yet, to cite something I have heard recently, it is preparation to be a corpse. No doubt, “folk Catholicism” can be abused like everything else. But it at least looks to try to make sure you don’t die starving, alone, or in despair, because that is what human misery in this life seems to entail. If the “specialized” Catholics want to leave all of us outside, I guess they can have the Church. I can only see that “mandatory mysticism” as a cult at best, and the boutique luxury of the petit-bourgeoisie at worst.


Actions

Information

12 responses

18 10 2015
The Spiritual as a Substitue for the Supernatural; On the Vulgar Tangibility of the Supernatural | Deus Ex Machina

[…] was reflecting on this strange paradox when I came across this post by a (former) Mexican Roman Catholic who provided the insight and the words I […]

29 07 2010
Jared B.

Oh, Jared B. My resident contrarian and apologist for the dominant superstructure.

Such was my reputation back at the Newman Center where I did what passed for RCIA and entered the Church. Only there, the only 2 types of Catholics were the liberal Richard O’Brien / Henri Nouen fans (by far the majority) and the conservative Ratzinger fans (the minority, until we were all pretty much scared outta there).

I keep coming back to blogs like this because I have such a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that there is another way, neither to the right or left of either camp but in some way surpassing either in depth. Only in this context (I’m not debating with advocates for women priests or using raisin bread for Communion or adopting Marxism as Catholic social teaching), I don’t even know what “dominant superstructure” would mean, so I couldn’t argue in favor of it if I tried. I’m mainly concerned with the individual’s relationship to God, the world, and himself. At present, if I took at face value a 10th of the ideas in this blog, I think all 3 relationship would be obliterated and I would find myself a nihilist or absurdist. So I keep looking for what I’m missing…

At this point, I have resigned myself to the fact that you will always view these issues impressionistically, in two dimensions instead of three.
Well not if I can help it. Like one of those Magic Eye puzzles, still seeking that elusive 3rd dimension. 🙂

For you, the Church will always triumph, and nothing will ever change, as the gates of hell will never prevail, and so forth.
Yep pretty much.

If you can’t see the profound transformation in social relations taking place at this point, I am resigned to the fact that you will just be here to try and swat my ideas down without any real substantial arguments.
Eh, I only swat at things I see as arbitrary and superfluous (in this case the hard line between holiness and devotion to the saints) to the ideas themselves. I have resigned myself that I will never comprehend your criteria of a substantial argument, but in my comments in this post I wasn’t aiming at that but rather my personal experience of life and faith, such that what you contrast as two contrary ways of viewing religion, I see, and live, as one single way. I think my comments seem insubstantial because the distinctions you draw between different “types” of Catholics are obvious from your experiences, but all I can reply is that they are far from obvious, and appear arbitrary or artificial to me.

When children were sick in the past, the first thing my ancestors did was reach for an egg and say a few Credos over the child.
My first reaction upon reading that is not, what I suppose is your constructed stereotype of a conservative or pop-Cath to say ‘How superstitious!’ but to ask, ‘Does the egg first have to be died a particular color, or will any egg suffice?’ I hope that at least dispels some unearned reputation as a vice-president of the EWTN Fan Club 😉 I’m not out to defend anyone else’s idea of a “type” of Catholic because I don’t believe more than 0.001% of Catholics perfect fit any categories.

You see your role as upholding the superstructure.
By this point I shouldn’t even have to respond to this misconception.

I see mine as radically deconstructing it. I do this because such a superstructure, by its very nature, is not new at all. It is telling that the vast majority of even Catholics take and leave behind various aspects of that superstructure. Perhaps this is the most “traditional” perspective.
Exactly! I don’t believe there is anything really new under the sun — including a tendency to compare today’s Catholicism with that of other times and cultures. Even before the Modern era I’m sure such bickering happened; only then, just a handful of people were educated enough to participate in the bickering whereas now everyone is in the fray. I know that this blog is not “alarmist” and I try very hard not to level that accusation, but sometimes I just wanna say “dude chill out, human nature has not fundamentally changed no matter how much culture and social structures have.”

“I do not envy those who see it as their duty to defend it by any means necessary. If anything, from the “folk” Catholic to the Call to Action Catholic and Lefebvrist, it just doesn’t work. So why care so much about it?”
I assume you mean that many people uphold “it” except they all mean something different by what “it” is that constitutes the essential structure. Hm, why care indeed…

28 07 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Oh, Jared B. My resident contrarian and apologist for the dominant superstructure. At this point, I have resigned myself to the fact that you will always view these issues impressionistically, in two dimensions instead of three. For you, the Church will always triumph, and nothing will ever change, as the gates of hell will never prevail, and so forth. If you can’t see the profound transformation in social relations taking place at this point, I am resigned to the fact that you will just be here to try and swat my ideas down without any real substantial arguments.

When children were sick in the past, the first thing my ancestors did was reach for an egg and say a few Credos over the child. We now call the pediatrician. When people were caught in adultery or committing homosexual acts, they were either stoned or imprisoned. Now, we have to accept them. When people thought of “the Church”, they conceived of it primarily as their local community. Now, we are pulled apart by national and transnational ecclesiastical issues. I think it is naive to somehow think none of this changes anything.

You see your role as upholding the superstructure. I see mine as radically deconstructing it. I do this because such a superstructure, by its very nature, is not new at all. It is telling that the vast majority of even Catholics take and leave behind various aspects of that superstructure. Perhaps this is the most “traditional” perspective. I do not envy those who see it as their duty to defend it by any means necessary. If anything, from the “folk” Catholic to the Call to Action Catholic and Lefebvrist, it just doesn’t work. So why care so much about it?

28 07 2010
Jared B.

I, at any rate, do see “personal holiness” as not only useful but a matter of survival, every bit as much as reliance on the intercession of the saints (for me, the one is a component of the other anyway so I don’t see the point in drawing too much distinction). In every facet of my life as a husband, father, worker (and before that a student), the consequences of slacking off from that ideal of holiness have all my life been swift and painful, and I don’t see how anyone else’s life follows any different “rules” than mine. Fights between spouses, getting yelled at by the boss for procrastination, resentful kids, financial troubles that could have been avoided with a little planning…

Middle-class suburban life is not fraught with as many hurricanes or famines these days, so in proportion, most of our real problems in life are caused by personal sin rather than uncontrollable forces. So in that respect, of a “religion build to cope with hardship” to borrow from another Arturo’s post, I don’t think we’re essentially very different from the great-grandparents in the 3rd world: we assess the immediate causes of our problems, and given the obvious choice to deal with those problems with or without our faith, we choose the faith.

28 07 2010
Jared B.

I don’t see why seeing prayer to the saints as useful is perfectly OK, but seeing holiness as useful is pernicious — in fact I don’t see the need to draw such a sharp line between the two things at all. But even if “holiness” was a concept that belonged entirely to the Church hierarchy and the cult of the saints belonged all to the people, even if we looked at it that way, where’s the justification in putting a stamp of approval of “normal” on the latter but “pernicious” on the former? It looks like Congar’s Tridentism again, only turned upsidedown.

25 07 2010
sortacatholic

Arturo:

Besides, that whole idea of “militant Catholicism”, perfected by St. Ignatius Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises, is something that I have come to find extremely harmful to the human psyche. […] But as to the excuse that “bad Christians” make for bad examples, I can concede that, but the idea that everyone is somehow going to be a “good Christian” is illusory as I have pointed out on this blog elsewhere

The “suburban militant Catholic movement” (if one would like to call it that) isn’t so much about dividing sheep from goats as the creation of idealized micro-societies. These micro-societies are based around plastic notions of gender roles, child rearing, and piety. There are no “good Christians” in this view. Rather the homesteaders of these new movements display their inner election to the world. Early to wed, early to have a child: these are the markers of election. From my position as a “damned person” (my nonconformity spans many of the categories that the Church and culture warriors despise) I have noticed the unsustainable nature of this venture. Sure, acting the vanguard in the culture wars can produce a certain exhilaration. But after a while, the newness wears off and one is left with the nagging doubt that being in the world never disappears. Perhaps I’m lucky that I never entered this gamble in the first place.

24 07 2010
KarlH

“Indeed, it is almost the definition of a Christian that he is somebody who knows he isn’t one, either in faith or in morals.” – W.H. Auden (from a sermon given at Westminster Abbey, 1966)

24 07 2010
Arturo Vasquez

I think the whole concept of “mercenary” is entirely subjective. It seems much of the rhetoric coming out of even the Vatican about “demographic winter” and the “attacks on the family” appeals to utilitarian principles. Society would be happier if it followed the teaching of the Church. Families would be more together if we followed what the bishops say. And so on and so forth. There is a rather pernicious idea out there that “holiness” is somehow “useful”. And while this has always been employed in Catholicism, it seems to sync particularly well with the American expectations of Christianity. Truth be told, many of the people who I admire most as “Christians” were complete messes as people.

I don’t defend the behavior or attitudes of my fellow Mexican-Americans, but I am not going to single them out either. I just don’t think that the “conservative” Catholic using NFP in the suburbs is a soldier in anything more than a culture war. (Besides, that whole idea of “militant Catholicism”, perfected by St. Ignatius Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises, is something that I have come to find extremely harmful to the human psyche. More often than not, it is used to become everything from a complete jerk to a homicidal maniac, depending on circumstances.) But as to the excuse that “bad Christians” make for bad examples, I can concede that, but the idea that everyone is somehow going to be a “good Christian” is illusory as I have pointed out on this blog elsewhere. On the other hand, I think more people are turned off by the culturally conservative mercenary ideologies that state that we would be a lot better off if we didn’t have the gays and the socialists destroying the fabric of our society. You can blame culturally slack Mexicans for the decline of the Church, and I can blame hypocritical suburban Catholics who uphold the exact same principles as the rest of society, only with a little bit of “God” sprinkled on. Maybe we are both right.

24 07 2010
Politburo

I read this comment on a blog about cultural Catholics: “Unfortunatley “Catholicism” for many mexicans in the US consists of not using contraception for thr girls, and Our Lady of Guadeloupe tats for the guys. These folks aren’t reading the Summa Theologica, or City of God in their spare time.”

Then I recalled a quote a heard from a dc talk album “The biggest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians. Who profess Jesus with their lips, but deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelieveable. ”

I guess that’s the issue with ‘folk catholicism’. Mercenaries don’t inspire anyone, only true soldiers do.

23 07 2010
sortacatholic

Thanks Arturo. John Courtney Murray, an American Jesuit, authored the final drafts of Dignitatis Humanae. In any event, citing the Latin is useless.

I have some suspicions why the SSPX and other ultra-right Catholic groups have such a severe dislike of Dignitatis Humanae. It’s more for the reasons outlined in my post than bald bigotry (though that plays a part). I’ll comment on it if that ever comes up.

23 07 2010
Arturo Vasquez

That’s a very interesting observation. The only issue I take with it is your exegesis of the Latin: Dignitatis Humanae was either written in French or German, so citing the Latin may be pointless. But maybe it is the case that the best way to interpret such an ambiguous document is that the Church shouldn’t be all up in our business. That would work for me.

22 07 2010
sortacatholic

I’ve always thought that Dignitatis Humanae [DH] is an unfinished and unfulfilled work. DH challenges the Yves Congar’s and the Maya Deren’s views of institutional religion and ritual. Congar’s false dichotomy between “Tridentinism” and and the more spiritual Catholic life highlights two similar views within institutional religious exclusivism. Either we raise up our swords in defense of the “true faith” and ultramontanism, or we scorn those who do not fit an exacting mold of behavior and thought conformity characterized by a “right way” of feeling or believing. Your statement that “[‘folk Catholicism’] at least looks to try to make sure you don’t die starving, alone, or in despair” justifiably critiques the “mystical”
abdication of the personal duty to understand and interpret ritual out of need.

DH’s premise is simple: Haec Vaticana Synodus declarat personam humanam ius habere ad libertatem religiosam. (I.2) “This Vatican synod advocates for a human person’s duty with respect to religious liberty.” I have translated ius as “duty”, not “law”, given the subsequent explanation (et ita quidem ut in re religiosa […] neque impediatur) (I.2) “no one else should be compelled or hindered to act against his or her own conscience in religious matters”. According to DH, our spiritual and ritual practice is a duty that stems from the primacy of conscience. The “mystical” hunt for the CINOs denies the conscientious agency of those whose Catholicism does not meet a certain institutional standard or internal consensus. I would argue that the denial of another person to live Catholicism through their conscientious duty is a denial of his or her liberty. Others may argue that a person’s way is inconsistent with magisterial positions etc. Yet there is a balance between criticism and the respect for conscience.

Deren’s interpretation of Voudoun practice as “pragmatism” and “practical mythology” contradicts the Congar view insofar as it is a radical affirmation of the conscience and self-determination. Perhaps Deren’s view is the ultimate end of DH. The fear that many in the Church have towards those that do not or will not observe the conflicting boundaries demarcated for them arises from the reluctant realization that people can (and should!) live ritual conscientiously. The compulsion to believe in the Holy Sacrifice or the Paschal Mystery often extends beyond a person’s estimation in the eyes of others in the parish or greater community. Perhaps this is “religious freedom”: the ability to participate in and affirm ritual after the conscientious realization that one cannot fulfill the expectations for a “good Catholic”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: