Sunday, July 13, 2008

How the Italians became Irish, sort of
More ethnic observations from this essay and Arturo
The folk religion of the contadini was no Sunday affair. Rather, it was a total system of beliefs and practices, a “sacred cosmos.”

For Irish and other
[Roman] Catholics, however, co-habitation with Protestants both here and in the the old country proved to be a tempering element in some of the more atavistic elements of traditional Catholicism.
All the liberalising movements come from the ageing boomers and the generation before them in Protestant countries.
Suburbanization, the emptying of ethnic ghettos, and the generalized secularization of the [Roman] Catholic Church’s practices at the Second Vatican Council also meant that the Italian immigrants became less and less “Italian” and more American. To a certain extent it remained “Irish” in its overall tenor.
Irish tenor. Ha ha.

Thomas Day gets it.
Ironically by allying itself with the forces of rationalization and bureaucratization, the Church facilitated the process of secularization which has eroded so deeply modern man’s capacity for religious faith. The Italian immigrants brought with them an ancient religious culture, a Mediterranean sensibility pervaded by mysticism and passion. The American Church rejected this gift, to its and their great loss.

My own sentiments lead me to be quite skeptical of the attempts at the modernization of Roman Catholicism. In general, the objectors to the traditional religion of the Italian peasants were often either advocates of secular modernity or those who had been contaminated by its prejudices. The Irish, though putting up a brave fight to preserve the Faith of the their Fathers, inevitably adopted many of the attitudes of their oppressors and the Jansenist clergy who had trained them. When faced with a Catholicism that was untouched by the polemics of the Reformation, they felt that their co-religionists would endanger their psychological security in the face of a hostile Protestant environment. The main problem, echoing Vecoli, is that modernity had lost the traditional language of religion, its symbols, passions, and rituals.

Inevitably, the general result was that they did not turn the Italians into good Irish Catholics, but that the descendants of the Italians, as well as of the Irish and other immigrant groups, wandered into the wilderness of secularized American religion, and thus in many cases lost the Faith altogether. The vital question remains if more recent waves of immigrants will follow this same route.

As you (and perhaps Vecoli) intimate, the story of the “Americanization” of the Italian immigrant Roman Catholic religiosity is itself part of a much, much larger story, what Weber and later sociologists have called “the disenchantment of the world”
Comment: I don’t romanticise error but as always Arturo has a point.

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