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A picture of John Paul II among religious images.

A picture of John Paul II among religious images.

Ever since discovering Arturo Vasquez’s blog I have found myself thinking a great deal about Catholic culture: what it is, what it should be, and how we can achieve it.  I want to go over the issue in more depth soon, and I am really hoping to start blogging on a more regular basis.  However, for now I wanted to re-post something that I commented to Mr. Vasquez’s blog, on this post about “Vintage Catholic Culture.” I am concerned about the fact that to find Catholic culture in our modern world it is sometimes necessary to rush in in a “cafeteria” like manner.  However, I wonder how important it really is that our (small “t”) traditions be authentic.  To use a commonplace example, even if your parents never put an orange in your Christmas stocking, it still might be nice to do it as a “tradition” for your children.  Particularly for people who are lost in a sea of modernity, without any authentic traditions of their own, building some or taking some from other people might be the only options.  So, for now and without further ado, here is what I posted to Arturo Vasquez’s blog:

I’m finding that this discussion seems to revolve around two false opposites. On the one hand, Arturo Vasquez points out that many white American Catholics, even Traditionalists who profess to care about culture (in a way that “Conservative” Catholics never seem to), but are loath to accept and even sometimes denigrate the Catholic cultures around them, usually Mexican and Filipino. On the other hand, Jeff Culbreath seems intent on building a Catholic culture out of existing Anglo-American culture, a kind of retroactive conversion of a long-Protestant tradition. A sort of inculturation, only with “divorcee” rather than “virgin” cultural elements.

I think I see problems with both approaches, but they are difficult to pin down, and I think they are rooted in aesthetics and even mere preference to a large degree. Culbreath, and many others (including me some days) don’t want to lose the good things that are part of “American culture.” Things like good old-fashioned music, picnics, Fourth of July celebrations, the whole “apple pie” Americana is attractive, particularly to fully assimilated Americans without a competing set of cultural traditions. Unfortunately, these American traditions are tainted with both Protestantism and consumerism: they come from old Protestant America, and were perpetuated and perhaps altered beyond recognition by the consumerist culture. “Catholicizing” them might be even more difficult than converting the Celts or the Aztecs (in their respective times) was: the Celts and the Aztecs, for all their faults, had not heard of the Church and were thus not immunized against it. That old-fashioned American culture has the twin disadvantages of having grown up in an anti-Catholic environment that knew what the Church was and rejected it, and of being largely extinct or co-opted by people who want to make money off of it.

However, to Mr. Vasquez I have to say that we are not all lucky enough to have a tie to Catholic tradition in our own families. Some people convert out of a real desire to become Catholic and receive the Sacraments, but have no where to go for culture. I read somewhere that Senator John Kerry’s grandfather, a Polish Jew, converted under such circumstances. His answer was to “turn Irish” by adopting an Irish name and trying to blend in with the largely Irish Catholic community. Now, perhaps this was easier for him than trying to create some kind of “Jewish Catholic” culture that has never actually existed (a project that, while interesting, would be fraught with danger). However, it seems odd for a man to give up his own traditions so thoroughly, along with his old religion. I know for one that I, a white Catholic convert living in California’s Central Valley, would be laughed at by everyone if I tried to “turn Mexican.” Thankfully for me I have a connection, more tenuous I suppose than Mr. Vasquez’s but more real than a typical convert, to real Catholic culture: my mother was the “broken link” in the Catholic chain, and so I have grandparents from the “Catholic ghetto,” as well as family that still remembers the “old days” of Irish American Catholicism.

However, many American converts don’t have even that. They have nowhere to go but the hard road that Jeff Culbreath proposes. As much as they might like to lay claim to the sorrows and glories and agonies and joys of Mexican, or Portuguese, or Irish, or Filipino, etc., Catholicism, they simply don’t have access to it. If they try to make their Anglo culture “Catholic” they are pretending and making something up that never was. But if they try to join some other culture, they are pretending to belong to something that really doesn’t include them. I know that Mr. Vasquez doesn’t have the answers, and neither do I, but it is a very real and pressing problem for converts.

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It seems to be an article of faith among many today that we are all members of specific generations.  That is, since I was born in 1984 I am a “Millenial” (which sounds like someone who lives in a cave and thinks the local town mayor is the Anti-Christ, but anyway).  As a Millenial, I supposedly like to “celebrate diversity,” I “make my own rules,” I “assume technology” and soforth.  Other “generations” are known for various things, both good and bad (many liberals praise the generation that was young in the sixties, while many conservatives praise the generation that was young in the forties).  Thus, we all have our characteristics mostly determined for us due to the time we were born.

Does this sound like astrology or divination to anyone else?  Now, I don’t think these distinctions have any power in themselves, but the degree to which people adopt them is really frightening.  Reasonable, scientific people who consider themselves above superstition will find themselves gladly signing on to the idea that they act the way they act because of the year they were born.  I am mystified by the appeal of such a thing: why would one wish to behave in the same way others of his generation behave?  Especially, I must add, when people claim that “challenging the rules” or something of that nature is characteristic of their generation.  If that’s true, challenge the rules and act differently!  Don’t be a slave to your generation!

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This is just a quick update: I have been away from my blog for a while because I have been interviewing for jobs since graduation.  I found one in Fresno, and I have now moved down here.  I am excited because I will be starting an interesting job, I like the culture and environment of Fresno better than San Jose, and most of all because I am happy to be living closer to Catherine.  I will now be able to start blogging again.  Hopefully I’ll have an update for you after the Latin Mass at St. Anthony’s.  Thank you to anyone who has stuck around long enough that you’re still reading.

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Today I was reading Wikipedia about various topics, and I started to look over different Roman Emperors.  While reading about Elagabalus, a well-known weirdo, I decided to take a look at the Talk Page.  The Talk Page, for anyone who is not familiar with Wikipedia, is where users discuss factual, stylistic, and other issues regarding the entry, which is a compilation of the work of multiple contributors.  Anyway, apparently Elagabalus dressed up as a woman at times, and may have attempted a primitive sex-change operation.  Thus, someone on the talk page suggests that he be referred to as “she” rather than “he”.  I have learned in several classes at Santa Clara, of course, that transsexuals prefer to be referred to as the sex they wish they are, rather than the sex they were born into.  However, it seems to me to be quite inappropriate for this case, and most likely for most cases in which it is used.

Firstly, of course it makes sense that a transsexual would wish to use the opposite pronoun.  And I will say, in a social setting, if someone introduced themselves to me as Mary, Grace, Sally, or anything else typically considered a feminine name, I would probably refer to that person as “she” even if the person looked like a man.  However, it seems to me that referring to such a person as being an actual member of the opposite sex in writing or even in conversation with others is silly, and probably destructive.  A man cannot become a woman, and a woman cannot become a man, anymore than one may change his skin color or height.  A man may insist his friends call him “Donna”, wear women’s clothing, and even convince the great majority of people who meet him that he is a woman.  But, he still isn’t, anymore than a Swede in a dashiki is African.  The hypothetical Swede may be completely entranced by the cultures of Africa, wish he had come from that continent, feel inwardly that he should have been born there, but nonetheless he is not.  Thus, referring to a man who goes to great lengths to pretend to be a woman as a woman is not correct, despite the fact that it may be rude in certain contexts to point out that he is wrong to consider himself a woman.

Furthermore, referring to Elagabalus as “she” is in a way an illustration of the absurdity of the trend.  No Roman believed Elagabalus was a woman.  He was an emperor, not an empress.  I can envision that some activists would wish to entirely change the article, turning him into a Roman Empress, a priestess of a Semitic Sun-god, and so on.  We could completely lose the knowledge that he was in fact a man, or at least such knowledge could be obscured.

The trend of calling things what we wish they were, rather than what they are, is quite dangerous.  It should be seen, I would think, as dangerous by liberals as well as conservatives.  If one calls a man a woman, lines of reality are blurred too much.  Even radical homosexual activists should see the value in maintaining contact with reality: they will have no success whatsoever if they do not.  It is profitable to everyone to maintain contact with reality, and it is foolish of anyone who doesn’t.  In fact, it is indicative of the fact that they are wrong.

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I keep coming to the same realization. It may seem strange that I would continuously have the same realization, but I think this is the best way to describe it, as you will see as I go on. The realization is quite simple, disturbingly accurate, and profoundly pessimistic. We have everything we need to live much better lives, and we ignore it and choose our own misery.

Few people like the way the world is today. This is not merely a matter for Traditional Catholics. Most Christians and even non-Christians seem to understand that the way we live is miserable. I have heard people, even people most deeply and ignorantly immersed in the greed, lust, and gluttony of modern culture, express a great desire to have what once existed. They are fascinated by the clothes, speech patterns, and lifestyle of an earlier time, one infused with Christian thought and general respect for tradition.

However, as a group these people do not do the obvious thing: live as if the world were how they want it. There are numerous excuses. The most prevalent, and the most easily refuted, is that “the world just doesn’t work that way.” The world works the way people work: when people actively ruin their own society, society is ruined. If everyone who wishes to dress nicely were to do so, society would not only go along with it, it would be society doing it! A similar case can be made with other “traditional” concerns: reverent liturgy, well-made products, small farming, healthy families, well designed cities, good schooling, and so on. All of these are considered difficult or even unfeasible today. However, the only reason for this infeasibility is that people deny themselves what they really want. Its a kind of sick asceticism: we deny ourselves things which we desire, because we feel they in some way cannot exist. It is a modernism of the worst sort: the modernism of people who profoundly wish they did not have to be modernists.

Another common objection is that there were problems in the past, and wishing to return to any kind of golden age is mere utopianism and nostalgia. However, this is not an objection at all. Any traditionalist merely wants to maintain and preserve good things. What was not good in the past can easily be replaced or improved, without throwing out the good aspects as we have done. Furthermore, this may be an argument against the past, but it makes no case for the present. If women were degraded by not being allowed to vote, does this justify degrading them with pornography? If some families were once terrorized by authoritarian fathers, is a modern family without a father good? If physical illness prevailed in the past, should we be pleased that spiritual illness prevails now?  This objection is thus not enough to keep us from having the kind of society where at least we may be somewhat happy.

I do not believe these excuses are true: I think it is fundamentally a matter of laziness.  People do not want the hardship of being different, of fighting for a livable society.  Even most good Catholics are not willing to do the work necessary.  Without a great many people doing likewise, one person’s efforts may prove useless.  However, I think it is possible and in fact necessary that we reclaim and restore that which was good in our society, and institute that which is good, before we lose everything we had.

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My Return

Well, I have now mostly finished my senior thesis paper for my Classics major. That, of course, was the source of my lengthy departure from blogging. Anyway, I am now back, and I have a few ideas which I have been wanting to blog about lately, so you should be seeing a lot more new material here from now on.

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Recently I cracked the LCD screen of my laptop. A black hole with radiating tendrils appeared, looking something like a palm tree, or the Nile Delta seen from the air. I took the computer to GeekSquad as well as another local computer repair place, and they all told me essentially the same thing: it would be extremely expensive to fix, and if I did not get it fixed it would spread. They told me I ought to just get a new laptop. So, I believed them, and started looking at new laptops. However, I kept using this one in the interim, and I am lucky I did: the crack has healed itself! There is now, instead of a large black hole, merely a tiny black line near the top of the screen, which is quite “live-with-able”.

Anyway, if any readers can offer any insight into how that happened, I would very much appreciate it. It is strange to watch a lifeless machine heal itself.

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