An Alternative American Culture II

In this issue, we continue the thoughts we began in «Ad Rem» N° 81. Originally, I thought I could put down some worthwhile considerations on this topic in two editions of the Ad Rem, but I find that there is too much to say for that. Or, rather, I hope to avoid being too lengthy in any one edition. God willing, these thoughts will conclude with a third entry on the topic, in which I hope to offer a small catalogue of worthy aspects of American culture.

Curing Ourselves. Keep the temples, destroy the idols. Whatever is good, keep and transform for a holy purpose; whatever bad, destroy. That is a program for Christening a nation. And if the barbarians of pagan England can thus be evangelized, so, too, can be the modern barbarians in our own midst. It has to be admitted, that most American Catholics — even those few who think America ought to be Catholic — do not hold a candle to Saint Augustine of Canterbury or Saint Gregory the Great, neither in sanctity nor in cultural achievement. So we need to cure ourselves and cultivate (the word is deliberate) our own society. How to do that?

Just as the dietary barbarian had to learn about food, so our cultural barbarian has to learn culture. The good news is that there is a wealth of decent American music, letters, arts, and crafts that are still within our reach. We can keep these temples as we destroy the idols all around us.

The Basics. The basics have to be kept in mind, beginning with traditional home life, the nexus of any sound culture, as it is the fundamental building block of society. For instance, every culture in the world valued the family meal, which is where we learn manners, polite and stimulating conversation — as well as service to, and consideration of, others. It teaches us reverence by the seating of parents, grandparents and others in higher places. We learn consideration by keeping silence while others speak, passing dishes to them, and pouring them beverages. We learn moderation by not eating or drinking too much, and by pacing the meal with the conversation.

All this is in marked contrast to what often passes as a family meal, wherein a gathering of narcissistic monads slap grub down their gullets until sufficiently gorged, at which point they stagger over to the television, where digestion will be stimulated by 150 channels of (mostly) idiocy.

The Rest. After the basics from the family meal, the all-important “table culture,” we can speak of story telling, music, and dance, which all cultures valued. Generally, innocent folk dancing is meant here. Beyond this are letters (poetry and prose), and the rest of the fine arts. Finally, we have philosophy, which includes (under ethics, believe it or not!) politics and economics.

In writing about “an alternative American culture,” I should make it explicit that I am trying to avoid two extremes while achieving two goals.

The Two False Extremes. The two extremes are, first, the very real danger of assimilating our modern American culture, lock-stock-and barrel. This “culture” is really an anti-culture which is inimical to Faith, Hope, and Charity. Second, I hope to avoid the less common, but real pitfall of many Catholic Traditionalists, who would throw the baby out with the bathwater by affirming that the USA were begun in revolution from a traditional monarchy, were based on a constitution that is Masonic in nature, and, further, that these United States were never Catholic and have no sound principles which are conformable to Catholicity. There is some truth (and much half-truth) behind these assertions, but the conclusion that the entirety of the Republic’s patrimony is a massa damnata is ridiculous.

Our Two Goals. There are authentic strains of Christian cultural heritage preserved amid our erroneous baggage. We cannot forget that as we work to achieve the two goals I spoke of. And what are they? First, we hope to find those authentic strains of Christian culture so we can live them. We wish to ferret out what in the past and present American landscape conforms to the true, the good, and the beautiful. What is in conformity to the Natural Law, and what is Christian in origin? We wish to embrace the good culture while rejecting the wicked so that we live lives that are virtuous and fruitful. We don’t merely want to be “safe,” by hiding in our own little corner of the world and avoiding sin. Surely, we have a duty to avoid sin, but we also have a duty to God to be positively holy, and a duty to our children to show them how to live life to the fullest: intellectually, morally, and spiritually. It is not simply a matter of being “safe.” It is matter of really living. Father Feeney used to say, when he went to the Italian-dominated North End in Boston, “These people know how to live! Look at these children!” And the robust culture of those poor immigrants — with their packed churches, parish festas, good food, good drink, good music, and ubiquitous offspring — put Father’s statement in Technicolor. Father loved the Italians in Boston because they represented something he wanted to see all across America: an integral Catholic culture.

The second goal we wish to achieve is missionary. I wrote in the earlier piece of “baptizing” a culture, and cited Catholic England as my example. Beginning on the wholesome ground of our Republic’s good patrimony, we wish to make it a holy patrimony. That is, we wish our culture to become that integral Catholic culture Father Feeney saw among the Italians. Not that it would be Italian, no more than it would be Irish, English, German, Yankee, Southern, or Angeleno. The fact is, it should be all of them. In a gigantic nation such as ours, their should be regional cultures, as there, indeed, always have been.

When I go to Lafayette, Louisiana, I would hope to find Cajuns eating gumbo, playing their own fun music at the Fais Deaux Deaux (a traditional dance gathering), and even speaking Cajun. I would also hope to see them saying their Rosaries daily, praying devoutly at the Traditional Latin Mass (quite available in Lafayette), and having numerous children, some good percentage of whom embrace religious and priestly vocations. I would expect a different picture among German Catholics of the Midwest: They would have great cheese, beer, and brats (as in bratwurst, the sausage, not naughty children!) instead of Cajun fare. They would also, I hope, have German folk music and dances. Their churches would be dedicated to Saint Boniface and other German Saints, while the Cajuns would be under the patronage of French saints (as well as the Cajun Patroness, Our Lady of the Assumption). Among Armenians in Detroit, or Lebanese in Boston, or Cubans in Miami, or Polish in Chicago, etc., I would like to find their respective unique cultural tapestries, all woven through with Catholicity. Similarly, I would like to find Anglo-Americans in Appalachia singing their own very rich music, dancing their sweet dances, wearing their homespun clothing, eating their wholesome foods — and being Catholic. Ditto for Yankees. Ditto for Texans. Ditto for Wyomingites. The thought that a Catholic America would represent a complete cultural homogeneity is silly. This country always had distinct regional flavors. Catholicity would merely add the supernatural “spice” to those good flavors.

Again, in the next Ad Rem, I hope to offer a concrete catalogue of good American traditions in the areas of military culture, thought, statecraft, music, film, and letters. Until then…