The Long View 2005-05-13: Exculturation and Pure Stupidity

In 2005 there wasn't much to make it look like Catholicism was withering in France, but twelve years later, it stubbornly refuses to die, and even shows unexpected signs of vitality.

Exculturation and Pure Stupidity

Here is a new buzzword for you: exculturate. The opposite of "inculturate," it means to make culturally alien or irrelevant. By some accounts, this is what has happened to the Catholic Church in France, to such an extent that the "world" of French Catholicism has ended. The term occurs in this article in Chiesa:

Secular culture is largely winning, and sociologist Danièle Hervieu-Léger announces the end of French Catholicism. But the Church bears part of the blame. Gianni Ambrosio explains why...In short, it seems that the process responsible for marginalizing the Church has gone hand in hand with the Church's exclusion of itself, through its dispersive strategies that hampered the transmission of lived religious experience, until it left behind that "civilizing work" and that production of meaning that French Catholicism knew how to offer in the past, even amid polemics with the "République" and with modernity....

The demand for a missionary pastoral approach brought a very critical response to the pastoral plan that was implemented. However, no precise and workable pastoral proposal was offered after the devaluation of the religious heritage, cultural influence, and ritual gestures handed down by Christian tradition...

One path was left behind as out of date, while some other possible paths were pointed out in view of pastoral renewal, but these were based on a utopian model that refers only to community, fraternity, small groups, and individual choice.

As I understand it, the argument is that the French Church tried to divest itself of its traditional associations. Instead of appealing to history, it sought to become a Church in which, to use Hocking's phrase, "there are no converts at second hand." The problem was that Hocking was talking about the most fundamental kind of personal religious experience; he was not talking about the sociological predicates that are needed to keep a large institution in being. By trying to move toward a church of small groups and studied informality, the French Church dispensed with the proximate reasons that actual Frenchmen had been going to church on Sunday. The result was not so different from what happened when the Coca Cola company tried to replace its signature product with New Coke, except that the company realized the error of its ways before it went bankrupt.

Still, what the French Church did was not irrational: the Coca Cola company did not have to live down the Dreyfuss Affair. The mystery is why the Church in other countries, where it had no such baggage, tried to do the same thing, usually with no better result.

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Mark Steyn is still going on about why the Tories made scarcely any progress in the recent British elections. Here's a quote to put on your bumper:

[S]uccessful conservatives don’t move towards the ‘political centre’. They move the political centre towards them. That’s what Thatcher and Reagan both did. Whereas if you move towards the political centre, all you do is move the centre.

A former governor of Texas (not the one currently in the White House) put it more tersely:

Ain't nothin' in the middle of the road but white lines and dead armadillos.

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Speaking of people who have to live down the Dreyfuss Affair, Patrick J. Buchanan has been concocting more embarrassing counterfactuals about the Second World War.

The occasion for this latest round is President Bush's recent trip to Europe for the 60th anniversary of VE Day. To the considerable consternation of the Russians, the president took the opportunity to apologize to the former Soviet satellite countries for the fact that President Roosevelt had agreed at Yalta to include them in the Russian sphere of influence. This was a not-so-subtle allusion on the president's part to one of the tenets of his foreign policy: to trade freedom for stability is a longterm threat to peace.

The indefatigable Buchanan put a somewhat different spin on the president's remarks in a column entitled: Was World War II worth it?

If the West went to war to stop Hitler from dominating Eastern and Central Europe, and Eastern and Central Europe ended up under a tyranny even more odious, as Bush implies, did Western Civilization win the war?...

If the objective of the West was the destruction of Nazi Germany, it was a "smashing" success. But why destroy Hitler? If to liberate Germans, it was not worth it. After all, the Germans voted Hitler in.

Reaction to these sentiments has not been universally positive. One might note that, in this column, Buchanan does not go so far as he did in his book, A Republic, Not an Empire, in which he suggested that the United States had no business in the European war even after it had begun.

To answer his question, though: World War II was pure loss for all concerned. Fighting for your life is rarely a profitable enterprise. You should still do it, though.

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Has anyone seen the Google beta service, Google Scholar? By focusing on peer-reviewed and otherwise professionally endorsed sources, the service seems designed to make Internet research more trustworthy. I don't find it particularly helpful, but then it is new.

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Another reminder for anyone who is planning to attend the local Tridentine Mass at Holy Rosary in Jersey City this Pentecost Sunday, note that it is at 9:30 AM, not 12:30 PM.

Another point about the future of the Latin Mass: whether or not it gains a wider following, Benedict XVI is likely to give it some sign of favor in the near future, so we are almost certainly going to be hearing more about it soon. Journalists would do well to make some contacts now with the non-schismatic organizations that have been promoting it. If you don't know what "schismatic" means, you should transfer back to the Arts & Entertainment section of the paper.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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