Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A short post on (my) religious identity

Over at Unlocked Wordhoard, I made the comment that I'm "culturally Catholic, but not actively religious." You don't really need to read the whole comment, but I link to it as a reference and courtesy. To give you some context: it's a small part of a long-winded comment in which I try to explain where I was coming from in a previous post because Dr. Nokes misunderstood it. That misunderstanding I attribute to bad writing on my part -- assuming all of my audience has deep knowledge about where I'm coming from.

But that's not the point here. Rather, right after writing that comment, I turned to Bullock (or rather, called from my study to his) and asked, "Can a person be 'culturally Catholic'?" And his response was an immediate: "Yes. You are."

But what do you think? Is there such a thing as "culturally Catholic"?

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Btw, this post may be confusing to readers who remember the two or three times I've called myself an "atheist." I really shouldn't toss that word around since it implies an active disbelief in a god or gods (not to mention the connotations it has for some people of being actively anti-religion) and I'm just not that adamant. Conflicted, maybe, but not adamant. "Agnostic" is probably more accurate, but I have a hard time with the wishy-washy connotations that term has developed alongside its more precise meaning. It's not like I'm flaky and can't make up my mind or something. While it's true that I'm "without knowledge," I choose not to practice any kind of devotion, and I do so rather continuously, day after day, with a lot of thought and sometimes even angst involved. And yup, there goes my chance at ever running for higher office in the U.S. (Or can I claim plausible deniability with an anonymous blog? Te-hee!) Not that I was planning on it anyway.

12 comments:

k8 said...

I get that. I was raised Lutheran and while I haven't attend a Lutheran church for quite some time, I still see that as being a huge part of who I am and where I am from. Maybe all of the "training" (catechetical classes, etc.) have something to do with that, too.

Michael said...

Makes perfect sense to me, even tho' I'm a convert, pious, and conflicted.

the Cranky Professor, who still can't make blogger recognize him in comments. Oh, well. He offers it up.

Dance said...

I think you can be culturally Catholic. I know quite a lot of lapsed Catholics and I don't think it goes away. I am not Catholic, but I went to a Catholic high school for four years, and it left a mark on me, even if I wouldn't call myself culturally Catholic.

Karl Steel said...

I'm was raised Fundy, but I'd say I'm now culturally atheist (as in, I define my culture in part by its opposition to the piety endemic in American culture, particularly the corporate media), but I'm philosophically secularist, which, in this case, I define as being concerned with the world and not concerned, not at all, with divinity. How's that?

Matthew Gabriele said...

Count me "culturally Catholic" too. In fact, I think that describes the situation quite well. I'm not an active Catholic anymore but I certainly feel that I understand the Church and still feel some (admittedly strange) affinity for it.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely there is such a thing as "culturally Catholic." While I haven't been a practicing Catholic since college, I too feel affinity to the Church and a certain investment in it. Other ex-Catholics I've talked to feel similarly.

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

I can't figure any way someone could be culturally Catholic, considering Catholicism is transcultural and is therefore expressed differently in different places (not to mention different centuries). When I lived in Lithuania, they were really very Catholic, but my Canadian Catholic friend didn't feel much affinity toward them (though interestingly she felt a greater affinity toward Estonian Catholics).

Reading the comments here, it strikes me that maybe what we are calling "culturally Catholic" is shorthand for something closer to "culturally American Catholic apostate," or if "apostate" hits the wrong nerve, perhaps something like "culturally American ex-Catholic."

Matthew Gabriele said...

But Richard, just because your Canadian friend felt out of place in Lithuania doesn't mean that a Catholic (even an "apostate" -- which is just seems to be a ridiculous term to use unless you're Innocent III or Charles V) can't feel familiarity at attending a service (anywhere) or recognizing the meaning behind the ritual of the mass?

And besides, isn't the whole point of Catholicism that you don't necessarily feel affinity to other Catholics themselves so much as Catholicism itself (the doctrines and hierarchy of the churches)?

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Yep ...

Dr. Virago said...

I didn't mean to imply that "culturally Catholic" meant that there was a single Catholic mono-culture, because there's certainly not, nor has there ever been, especially not on the level of lay practices (contrary to some of my students assumptions about "the" medieval Church). So yes, I suppose I did mean "culturally American Catholic" (no need for the apostate or the ex- since the one could be culturally Catholic in my formulation and either practicing or not).

I guess I'm using it in the same way many American Jews use "culturally Jewish," and certainly American Jewish culture is not the same in every way as every other Jewish culture, nor are all American Jewish communities the same.

Let me give you an example: if Dateline does a story on Irish Travelers in the US and rails about their supposed "child brides" -- little girls dressed in bride-like white dresses -- I know immediately that it's just a freakin' First Communion dress and I don't think there's anything necessarily weird about it (unless I really start to think about the whole practice of singling out the girls with symbols of their purity...but that's another story). And a Mexican Catholic, a Polish Catholic, and a French Catholic (just to take three random Catholics from other nations) would also probably react the same way. There's *some* shared culture.

And as Matthew suggests, it's not about affinity with individuals. Heck, I don't get along with or agree with everyone I grew up with in the same parish, let alone in the world wide Catholic Church!

In short, I think I'm using "culturally Catholic" as short-hand for all the ways Catholic life and belief might still influence me, but yes, in my case, it's more specifically American Catholic life, or even more specifically, middle-class midwestern Catholic life (because there are ways my parish and schools were about as WASPy as a Catholic community can get).

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

By Matthew's definition, I'm culturally Catholic too, which just doesn't seem right.

Maybe the definition we're looking for is the one Kingsley Amis uses in Lucky Jim: "He was of the faith chiefly in the sense that the church he currently did not attend was Catholic."

Dr. Virago said...

Te-hee! Works for me!