Notes on personal religiosity

23 05 2011

There are four tendencies that have influence, which I rank in ascending order of importance:

1. The post-Vatican II church: To tell the truth, I have never taken the modern Catholic church seriously. I mean, “never”. Even as a child, I knew all of it was rubbish. That goes for the modern Mass, the new catechism, any pope after Pius XII, and so on. If I have any affiliation with it whatsoever, it is because of nostalgia and an affinity for things not the modern church. It sometimes still keeps trinkets of the atavistic past (that pull on my heart strings) and it can defend values that I don’t find so bad at this point (tolerance, pluralism, etc.) But as a thing in itself, I find it all completely ridiculous.

2. The “old-school” Catholic church: Not that I ever experienced it the way most people lived it, but I still like the discipline and aesthetic trappings of my seminary years. Even if I shudder in horror at such reactionary backwardness, at least it was consistent. That is more than what you could say about the far left. There is a certain thing about discipline that I can admire. Call it my authoritarian side. That’s probably the reason why anarchists annoy the hell out of me.

3. “Catholicism of the hearth”: I think there is something to be said about the “revolutionary potential” of the old-style Catholicism of the masses. In the modern context, much of the evolution of what could be called “folk Catholicism” stems from an active resistance towards clericalism and the transition of traditional societies into modernity. Take the Latin American cults towards “saintly bandits”, for example. Eric Hobsbawm of course did some controversial work on the idea of the “social bandit”: brutal robbery as a primitive form of class struggle. While such legends may have been problematic in some societies, they find their full fruition in post-independence Latin America. Heck, in Mexico, people pray to Pancho Villa. How much more subversive does one need to be?

As I have outlined elsewhere, the cosmology of “folk Catholicism” is much closer to that of Haitian voudou than it is to even the most progressive Christian eschatology. One could interpret the moral and cosmological ambiguity of the “folk Catholic” universe in saying that God is a distant if sometimes benevolent force, and the “saints” are those who do good or ill with God’s rubber stamp. The performer of the religious act has to decide and take responsibility for his own petition, and must live with its consequences. There is no right or wrong answer, only a blind dealing with forces that we understand very poorly. The action of the divine is thus primarily personal and cosmic and not institutional. The Church may “have God”, but it doesn’t control him, or even know his ways most of the time.

I find this view the most sympathetic.

4. Secularism: In my own education (and I speak not here of actual schooling), I have been profoundly secular. But as I have said previously, I am learning that the sacred and the secular have a profound affinity for one another. There are a few ideas of God that I am playing with in my head now: there is the confessional God (Jesus), the institutional God (Jeeezus!), the folk Catholic God (?), and the secular God (history). Catholic theology in the previous two centuries was paranoid about pantheism (more specifically, the distinction between grace and nature). Since society was moving past the confessional phase, one could not rely on secular power to properly transmit the religious message of the clergy. Thus, distinctions had to be made, one’s experience of God must start from without, and so on. The Catholic hierarchy, in a world where traditional religion was becoming more and more foreign from people’s daily experience, had to say, “God is whatever we tell you he is”. Vatican II, or at least the theology that issued from it, put a crack in this edifice. I think people have a hard time trying to balance what source of truth they should listen to the most.

God as history has thus been the ultimate theological nightmare, since it would mean that secularism is the next phase of the Kingdom on earth: it is the working of the Spirit in the here and now. I think the only way for Christianity to revive any sense of sanity in this matter is to revive a more eschatological view of itself in the world. By this, I mean going all crazy and apocalyptic. Otherwise, this is the world God wants. A few prophets in the desert eating wild honey and locusts might do the trick for the Church. But I mean real prophets, and not just a bunch of celibate overgrown children giving spirituality seminars to sentimental neo-yuppies. I could sort of get behind that, in a vaguely sympathetic sort of way.



20 responses

6 06 2011
Francesca R

I’m not sure what to believe anymore but “charity covers a multitude of sins” is my motto right now.

5 06 2011

I just found this site by googling *Jansenism.* I love the lively dialogue and the outrageous humor.

I am a generic adult convert, not a cradle Christian, so I have no sectarian religious identity; but I did spend about 6 traumatic years in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and 25+ happy years in a Catholic parish under the pastoral care of the Redemptorist Order where I was introduced to the Tradition of the Eastern Church(es) and the Patristic literature.

I am more interested in orthopraxis than orthodoxy, not that the two are unrelated; but sometimes an intuitive faith is more reliable than a scholastic belief system.

It seems to me that the Latin/Western Churches, with the exception of the Religious Orders that are faithful to their founder’s vision commit the Galatian heresy of beginning in the Gospel; but returning to the Law.

Of course, we humans accept the either the discipline of the Law or the discipline of the Cross, our societies will return to collective survivalist barbarism or individualitic aggressive moral anarchy. I suppose the reason why so many prefer the discipline of the Law to the discipline of the Cross may be because the Cross has no loopholes. Anyway, since the Gospel promises the forgiveness and mercy of Unconditional Love, I’ll go with the love-inspired, sacrifice of the narcissistic self spirituality of the Cross rather than the fear-driven self-interested moralism of the Law.

“The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that
one is loved”.
–Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

To be redeemed is not merely to be absolved of guilt before God,
it is also to live in Christ, to be born again of water and the Holy Spirit,
to be in Him a new creature, to live in the Spirit.
~Thomas Merton

1 06 2011
Rogation « Ius Honorarium

[…] The St. Andrew Daily Missal has the following entry concerning the Rogation Days before the Ascension.  When I read it, I thought of Arturo: […]

29 05 2011

Arturo if you think that evangelical churches preach an angry god and that that is the reason they are filling up – no – you are not very well read.

Joel Osteen preaches an angry god to his basketball arena full of nodding heads?


29 05 2011

Is Arturo finding the embrace of Socialism a little chilly today?

24 05 2011
Arturo Vasquez

I must protest that I believe in no such “angry god” nor in his “fluffier, squishier” version that is advocated on such sites as Vox Nova and the National Catholic Reporter. I believe both are examples of wishful thinking. The angry god is the left over embodiment of the mother’s injunction to enjoy (in Lacan’s terms). His fluffier version is the indirect deification of Enlightenment liberalism (Jesus avec John Locke). And I would ask you to cite a specific age when an angry, bloodthirsty god was off the table altogether, an age where all people were saved, where there were no “barbarians” or enemies of Christendom, where the Cross didn’t march side by side with the sword, and so on. I will not argue with the fact that the domus Christi did much to civilize people in their bloodthirsty inclinations, and the Inquisition, for all of its savagery, was polite afternoon tea compared to barbarian “justice” At least you got a trial. But the angry god was always there. Or am I not as well read as you think?

And I don’t understand this “standard” of which you speak. I hold both the Church and society to the standards they set for themselves. The Church says that it is consistent; let it, then, be consistent. Personally, I still think the “angry god” shtick still makes a lot more sense, which is why American evangelical churches are filling up. Otherwise, what could the Church offer people if salvation is not a matter of black and white actions, either you do or you don’t? Or, you could just become like me and let the Church’s rhetoric about itself become some sort of harmless white noise that you take seriously once in a great while. I don’t believe the Roman Catholic Church has a believable narrative about itself in its current manifestation, but I am too entwined in my life’s inertia to care at this point.

24 05 2011

You’re an interesting nut. You want to be a humanist in some things and a fundamentalist in others. You hold the “church”, whatever that is, to a standard you don’t hold yourself to. You’re well read enough to know that “placating the angry God” is one expression to explain the relationship between people and God, and it has fallen in and out of fashion over time.

24 05 2011

Craticula: Where are you from? I’ve experienced none of what you speak. Sure, there are plenty of people who have joined up since the motu and instruction, but for the most part the newcomers are just workaday Catholic laity. Actually, if anything I’ve seen a sharp decline in veiling since the indult days.

My parishes have a sprinkling of the ultramontanist types. They tend to keep to themselves and not bother the regular ol’ joe catholics. I also find that a number of the ultramontanist types tend to discourage simple piety because of some lofty notion of “what it means to assist at Mass”. Many will spend an entire Low Mass with their nose in a missal, trying to follow every word. I’m in the pew behind them, saying my rosary like most people used to do at Low Mass (even though I understand Latin well). I might get some odd glances for not using a missal, but the ultramontanist types generally leave me alone.

I think you’re exaggerating this point.

24 05 2011

Hey Arturo, it’s not like full-tilt sede or nothing. I worshiped trad during the “indult years” and met plenty of weirdos, bigots, and persecution complex types in my day. I really don’t want to go back there. Bring the liberalization (and sanity) on, please!

I agree with you insofar as in some places like France, the bishops themselves no longer believe in Catholicism. In some areas of France, the SSPX has filled the void left by heterodox teaching and whacked-out pomo-art-wannabe liturgies. When some French bishops rail about the presence of schismatics in France, they fail to realize that they’ve set their own trap by not providing a legit alternative.

24 05 2011

And to clarify, if necessary: obviously, the church does change, and this is inevitable, although it should ideally happen organically and at a glacial pace. I wish the changes would be acknowledged by those who are now styling themselves as defenders of tradition–who are in fact quite fickle and, despite their remarkable ability to proof-text from papal bulls, show little grasp of context which conditions that tradition. Yes, some changes do matter and are worth a fight, but some not so much, and yet perspective seems sadly lacking. And there also seems be a real lack of consistency. E.g.: why all the obsessing over chapel veils and the like, but no interest at all in, for example, a longer eucharistic fast? ISTM that this is just the Sunday version of all those nice people whose understanding of family values is limited to other people’s groins: rules are for other people. (Or, if we want to multiply mantillas, fine, but maybe the other side of that same coin could be loudly agitating for a living wage so that maybe spouses weren’t forced by our shitty system to compete against each other for lousy pay the remaining six days of the week. [crickets]) And I’m not questioning anybody’s trad cred, least of all yours, Arturo. But I think a lot of the nonsense I’m writing about arises from people’s anxiety or insecurity of self-consciously new and not yet quite at home, and the need to prove themselves or something–and what’s worse, this often dovetails quite nicely with a reactionary political agenda they bring along. I mean, for goodness’ sake: we’re nearing fifty freaking years since the missal of John XXIII: we’re almost all converts or reverts or something! I can prove it with math! Surely we can lighten up a bit?

24 05 2011
Arturo Vasquez

I don’t see how people can villainize the SSPX so much either. In my book, most of them are normal, right-wing Catholics, save for their clergy, who are ordered to think that the real crisis in the Church started with the Vatican’s condemnation of Action Française. Most of them won’t speak up for their political leanings out of fear that the foreign priest will call them a heretic. And shutting up another right-wing Republican can’t be such a bad thing, even if there is no rational alternative.

You wan’t crazy, I’ll show you crazy. There was one priest in seminary whose pied-noir family refused to return to France after being expelled from Algeria since they felt betrayed by the Freemasons and communists (Jews were probably in there somewhere too). So they moved to Argentina, since that country had a great track record for accepting fascists and other right-wing undesirables. The son eventually went to seminary in Econe and was basically the founder of the SSPX in South America. Anywhoo, when I went to seminary there he was already semi-retired, but taught one class to the incoming seminarians that always included references to Freemasons, Jews, and communists about every thirty seconds. We seminarians just thought it was funny. Most of those kids knew American culture better than many Americans.

Anyway, to pretend that the SSPX are some sort of crypto-fascists gives them way too much credit, at least here in America. And how are you going to have clerical fascism in Europe without a clergy and with church attendance in the single digits? Seriously, if I were even remotely serious about this Catholic Church business, I would be SSPX in a heart beat, or better yet, just become really consistent and go sedevacantist. All you liturgical hobbyists are silly and childish. If you aren’t offering propitiatory sacrifices to an angry god for the sins of the world, what the hell are you doing up there? Playing dress up? I can think of a thousand other way more fun ways to play dress up and speak a dead language. Like going to a Star Trek convention. Seriously, get a life.

24 05 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Hey, I was trad before trad was cool. Even though I consider myself an almost a-mystical pantheist at this point, my trad street game is strong, yo.

24 05 2011

Where were all the traddie-come-latelys back before UE and SP? Look at them now, tearing their hair out over non-use of chapel veils and whether or not the women in the choir which provides baroque polyphony for their weekly high mass should be allowed to wear the same choir dress as the lay men! Bah. Where were they when the SSPX was the only show in town? Oh yeah, listening to convert apologists on the radio of their SUV and getting super-pumped about luminous mysteries and theology of the body and all other manner of novelties. I’m liking the wider availability of the TLM, but I wish (as always) the louder voices would either: 1.stop conflating their ultramontanism with tradition or, failing that, 2.shut up. They’ve carved out such nice republican Adoremus/Ignatius/whatever niches for themselves in their affluent N.O. parishes; I wish they’d stay there, or drop the culture warrior baggage.

24 05 2011

I don’t have anywhere near the intimacy with the SSPX as Arturo and others who post on here, but my experience with that crowd thus far (coupled with several weeks of reading as much of their literature as I can during my train rides to and from work), they remind me–surprise, surprise–of ROCOR during its “heyday” (i.e., before the 2007 reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarch). In other words, the higher-ups talk a big talk, some of the parishioners follow it with full gusto, but a lot of people on the ground just like going to the Latin Mass and being in a traditional environment. Sure, they may eschew the Novus Ordo Mass, but so do a lot of non-trads (though maybe for less “noble” reasons). At the end of the day, I don’t think they’re that “out there” in a lot of ways and most (in America at least) are quite content with the liberal democracy that helps furnish them with the car they take to drive 45 minutes to an SSPX chapel and purchase “How to Read Latin” books for the kids, etc.

23 05 2011

Owen, Leah, thanks for bringing up the waning years of the Papal States.

I am convinced that with the publication of Universae Ecclesiae, we Catholics will see a fission in traditional Catholicism.

There will always be a hard-right faction that will not accept anything but a fantasy-land delusional version of pre-conciliar Catholicism. As Leah notes, the papal monarchy was often oppressive and far from the image of Christ’s human mercy. Yet, certain traditional groups will always yearn for the tiara, seek an authoritarian confessional state, and preach anti-semitism as if hatred were intrinsic to Catholicism. Unfortunately, these groups, and especially the SSPX, are the face of all traditional Catholics to the media. What can be done to stop them? Not much, unless some of these rad-trads can be converted to a more tolerant observance. The rad-trads will never leave us. Better then for modern-traditional Catholics to move on their own towards a more tolerant observance.

There is a place in postmodern Catholicism for a moderate but doctrinally and liturgically Tridentine faithful. I like to think of myself as a Catholic who accepts the moral and doctrinal prescriptions of the Council while declining to worship at the post-conciliar liturgy. My Tridentine worship is not a badge of defiance or hatred, or a means to subjugate women. It is my entrance-way to charity and moral living. What some abuse as a symbol of hatred must be rescued for its intrinsic beauty. Yet so few “modern-traditional” Catholics stand up to the bigots at the far right of Catholicism.

I’m seeing sprouts of a new modern-traditional Catholicism here and there. At the churches I worship at, women are free to wear slacks and not veil. Absolutely no anti-Semitism is preached — in fact, all the sermons have taken pains to follow the Conciliar position against anti-Semitism. We are all united in a love of Tridentine spirituality and ritual, but also not adverse to being in this world.

The challenge for modern-traditional Catholics today is lighting the gas-lamps that will show the path away from the SSPX and other groups who have distorted the holy traditional Mass for their own gain. I am beginning to believe that this will not be possible until the generation that lived the recusancy of the immediate post-conciliar period passes. Then, perhaps, a younger and more tolerant group of priests and laypeople will renovate the image of Tridentine worship.

23 05 2011

Gregory XVI did not make the famous “chemin de fer, chemin d’enfer” comment in an encyclical, because he was talking specifically about the administration of the Papal States. He did not want gaslights and railroads in the Papal States, because he feared the growth of a middle class that would challenge his authority. In this context Gregory was speaking specifically as a monarch, not as a religious leader who was condemning trains and electricity at all times and all places. Once again, Gregory XVI’s dislike of modern technology comes across as a power play that has nothing to do with the relative merits of trains and gaslights, and everything to do with preserving his position as an absolute ruler.

23 05 2011

I’m struck by the image. What’s the deal on the crucifix? It’s interesting.

23 05 2011
Apuleius Platonicus

In addition to the “discipline” of the old-
school Church, do you also find that
“tradition” (which at least to me is not
the same thing, although it is a kind of
“discipline” I suppose) is also very attractive?

Real tradition has a way of filtering out the
fads and other crap. Things that last, last
for a reason. Some reasons are better than
others, but in the best of cases, things persists
over the generations because they resonate
with people in a way that transcends the
more superficial aspects of any given point
in human-historical space-time.

The same, I think, goes for “folk” traditions
as well.

23 05 2011
owen white


Do you know which encyclical of Gregory XVI is the one where he goes after trains and electricity? I would like to read that.

23 05 2011

Interesting notes. My own statement of personal religiosity is that I’m totally confused, 24/7. Maybe not the best way to be, but that’s how it is. With regard to items #2 and #4, how much of the anti-liberal pronouncements of the 19th century do you think were actually power plays to shore up the declining temporal power of the papacy? Some people might find the notion that a pope would engage in something so coarse as politics, but I can’t think of any other way to look at it. I mean, even the trads who think that “The Syllabus of Errors” is the most awesome thing ever aren’t boycotting trains and man-made electricity just because Gregory XVI said so.

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