Church and culture

From Opus Publicum, a Catholic blogger.
Having originated in West Michigan myself in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty, I can’t say that I ever witnessed directly the sort of ghetto Catholic existence which might have, for a time, kept alive the spirit of a European Catholic culture. The most my eyes ever caught were glimpses of what that culture looked like from my ageing relatives, their photo albums, and a handful of historical accounts captured in parish memorial books. But on the macro level there has never really been a series of American Catholic writers, artists, and intellectuals who have been able to craft something distinctively Catholic out of the largely Protestant clay they’ve been given to work with. (I can already hear people yelling out the names of Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, but at most they’re exceptions to the rule.) Of course Catholics have achieved much in the United States over the course of the last century, but it’s undeniable that many Catholics — including our priests and clergy — are assimilated Americans who just happen, in their free time, to “be Catholic.” Since the Second Vatican Council, American Catholics have gleefully banalized their liturgy, wrecked their churches, and adopted every manner of mainline low-church Protestant (if not Evangelical) “spirituality.” Is it any wonder, then, that there are more than a few Catholics who come across as hopeless romantics as they set their eyes on other lands and other times in order to find something — anything — which might nourish them holistically?
There is no authentically American Catholic culture because the larger society doesn’t agree on what an authentic American is. To the extent Catholic culture in America has been “authentic,” it’s been somebody else’s culture: Irish, Italian, Polish. The Croats in Toronto still work very hard at keeping their Catholic culture Croatian, much as the Maronites and Melkites in my neck of the woods remain determinedly Levantine.

The modern American ideal condemns ethnicity, which is the core of culture. To the extent there was ever an “authentic” American religious expression, it was the old, high church Anglicans/Episcopalians. This makes sense, because for decades the dominant American ethnicity was Anglo. Since then, the levellers made sure all those snooty WASPs were thoroughly exorcised and replaced with women and their homosexual friends, and the WASPs decided to stop reproducing themselves.

Of course, Mormons and low church Protestants have long considered themselves the real titleholders for authentic Anglo-American religious expression, and that’s who’s left at this point.

I’ve watched as a Catholic parish in my neighborhood went from a typically American mix to a Latino one. What used to be a generic parish bazaar is now a Mexican cultural festival, as the “white” members decamped to other parishes.

Good, bad or indifferent, it seems like a universal tendency for people to seek nationalist expression in their religious worship.

By the way, I've been critical of the Orthodox Church's Western Rite but I'm becoming more sympathetic as America's ethno-cultural seams become increasingly strained. I'm just not sure after Henry VIII, Martin Luther, the Enlightenent, French and American revolutions, two Vatican Councils and two world wars that we're able to fumble our way back to an orthodox, Orthodox Western Rite. So, like the Russians in 860 A.D., we go to the back of the line with the Byzantine (or Slavonic?) Rite that's been handed to us and see what develops in a few centuries.


Scotsman said…
"o the extent Catholic culture in America has been “authentic,” it’s been somebody else’s culture: Irish, Italian, Polish. "

That wasn't always the case - from 1650 until perhaps the 1870s or so, there was an Anglo-American Catholic culture, though small, in Maryland. Descendants of the colonists of Maryland and some more wealthy, older Irish were it's nourishers, but this was eventually lost in the mass immigration of the later 19th century, to the point where it isn't even remembered too much today.

I've also had to pointed out to me (though I haven't seen it) that authentic American Louisiana Catholic culture (descendants of pre 1776 French colonists) still exists there it has for a long time.

I admit that as a Catholic of Anglo-British colonist stock, I sometimes feel a bit left out in the 'Catholic culture' of the Ellis Islanders. I can remember being a kid in the 80s and them celebrating the Ellis Island immigrants, of which I am descended from zero, not to mention that my family were farmers who never lived in a 'Catholic ghetto'. In certain moments I wish there had been not as much (or no) mass immigration in the 19th century and perhaps this Anglo-Catholicism could have grown, instead of becoming a blank slate for lazy Bishops which 'Catholic growth' was almost entirely dependent on immigration (not really a change today, to be honest).
Very good comment, Scotsman.

Along those same lines, there used to be a healthy Irish Episcopal culture in the South--Irish Protestants, and Catholic immigrants who switched to improve their socio-economic status.

Savannah has always had a strong Catholic presence, oddly enough. There are also some German Catholic areas scattered around the South.
August said…
Louisiana Catholic culture is getting beat down by Charismatic renewal, highly questionable Marian devotions, and, of course, the Latino invasion.

I suspect the progressives have rigged things in such a way so that our instinctive return to old rites function like land mines. They are very attractive to those of us with the right combination of intelligence and disposition, but we lose our neighbors, so we end up with no real local church.

Being in communion with Rome or anyone else on another continent actually ends up being a terrible thing, for men can have much discord between them and yet consider themselves fit for the Eucharist. Or a couple can wed, but first they have to go get the license from the state, via which it shall be torn asunder, despite the protestations to the contrary on the wedding day.

I don't have good answers.
Scotsman said…
Thank, you AG.

Basically, all cultures are to be celebrated except Anglo-Americans...what we're left with is the lady and homosexual bishops in the Episcopal Church, complete with gay marriage cerimonies.

Having been away from the church for some years, I realized that what was happening with the RCC is the Ellis Islanders were celebrating themselves. Maryland and the English Catholic colonists are just a footnote in standard American Catholic histories. If we had been allowed to build true Anglo-American Catholic culture, we would be celebrating the landing of the Ark and the Dove and the founding of St Mary's, Maryland.
Bert said…
Today the RCC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mexican government. The bishops are throwing their lot in with mass immigration because it's the only hope they have of keeping their corrupt, dying, miserable institution from fading into the void. Even still their closing churches and monasteries left and right.
Bert - to be fair, none of the Apostolic Churches are very healthy at this point. And few institutions under the sun can rival the Orthodox hierarchy for obtuseness.

Protestantism, syncretism, are the tides that just keep rising and rising.
Anonymous said…
I don't think there was ever a chance of a significant Anglo-American Catholic culture. Demographically they were too small. Even in Maryland, which was nominally established for tolerance of Catholicism, the Catholic settlers were relatively few, consisting mainly of minor lords. Most of the Anglo settlement was Protestant.
Bert said…
I'm sorry if I seem bitter. The Catholic Church could have done so much good to so many people in the West. Now it's just crumbling under the weight of it's own greed and corruption.

The Orthodox churches, being nationalist institutions, are in a far better position to deal with whatever troubles are facing them.
Bert said…
On the flipside, however, mainline Protestantism is a total joke these days. It mostly consists of a bunch of aging white liberals desperately trying to hold off the Africans who are demographically taking over their worldwide congregations. Especially in the UK. Poor old Britain.
Scott said…
For a pretty cool look (IMO) at the odd connection between nationalism and religion, check out 'The New Science of Politics', by Eric Voegelin. Mind-blowing stuff, I thought.

Oh, and great blog!