Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The '50s: High point or the Sixties waiting to erupt? A trad Catholic conversation

One thing I've learned being ensconced in the Long Island Trad Catholic scene and familiarizing myself with its history is that the only Catholic culture the suburbs can sustain is "1950's-ism," which lays the seeds of its own destruction.

A friend once said something to the effect of "Rigorism combined with bourgeois priorities is a deadly combination," and I think that captures the problem with 1950's Catholicism. Catholics wanted to have their cake and eat it too; they wanted their consumer products and worldly respect, and also to save their souls. The peaceful coexistence of comfy middle class materialism and a Faith that is militant in theory was a greedy delusion. Meanwhile kids were presented a choice between a comfortable life or a hard one — a choice that made itself. You just can't be a Carthusian in the suburbs.
Of course I think that's too harsh — we "arrived" by the '50s, becoming American, and America embracing us (from The Song of Bernadette to Perry Como to Phil Rizzuto), WITHOUT us compromising, but you and similar critics have a point. Vatican II came from a '50s mistake, a belief in never-ending progress and a perceived need to space-age streamline the church.

Hollywood had been making pro-Catholic movies since the '30s. The Sixties (1968-72) ended all that.

Most Catholics aren't called to be Carthusians! We're a church, not a cult, a mistake many latter-day traddies make.
So Rob, you mean something between a "Catholic village" (which Monaghan has built in FL) and the Amish rural self-dependent community? I lived in Ave Maria, Florida for a little while. I don't recommend it.

Ave Maria, Florida is an artificial suburban "village" in the middle of a swamp. Takes an hour to drive to the movie theater. Good if you enjoy the company of lifelong homeschooled college students and alligators. There's an unsightly spaceship church towering over everything else, which is effectively Tom Monaghan's private chapel. If you go for the "conservative Novus Ordo" thing, not much to complain about. For anything more substantial than that, you are SOL.
Tom Monaghan probably meant well, but yeesh. Just about anybody could have predicted that something as artificial as Ave Maria, FL, would fail.
I think Trads who are so inclined should move into the old urban neighborhoods that were once Catholic. Think of it as traditionalist gentrification.

Isolated farmsteads are Protestant (read: Anglo-Saxon). They don't exist in traditional (read: Roman) society. If you want to live like a Protestant, on an isolated farmstead, go for it. Just don't try and pass off that arrangement as "traditional" for Catholics, because it is not our tradition.
Rob, regarding traditionalist gentrification, from your mouth to God's ear. We could have the best of both worlds: the old neighborhood and parish back, and I could do my copywriting from home via telecommuting through this very medium.
The 1950s-ism you identify is a problem. Though I think the Traditionalist criticism is also one of the problems that led me away from being a Trad, viz. that it assumes the spirituality of a lay person should be based on that of a monk, or that the spirituality of a monk is in some way normative.

So, maybe the return we need to envision is one that harkens to the 50's — the 1350's. I mean... hey, the EMPs will take care of all that comfy-coziness when humanity starts anew. But don't bother opening up a horse and carriage business just yet.
"It assumes the spirituality of a lay person should be based on that of a monk, or that the spirituality of a monk is in some way normative." That's Orthodoxy's problem, not 1950s American Catholicism's. Owen White once pointed that out. Most of Orthodoxy is unworkable in modern America, so most born Orthodox blow it off under "economy." They're making it up as they go along so it's Talmudic: for every rule there's a counter-rule. So: divorce & remarriage and contraception, under a traditional veneer.
John: By the way, the Carthusians line was just an expression meant to describe the unrealistic expectation that some Trad families have that their children maintain a level of higher-than-average discipline in an environment that quite simply works against it.
And it's also not like real '50s American Catholicism; it's careening into cultsville.
The reason I raise the specter of the '50s (which I admit is a little unfair, considering how much of a punching bag the era has been for the Left) is because in these parts most of young Trads are following the example of the older ones who are simply recreating what they remember, with all its faults (over-reliance on Low and Dialogue Masses, Rossini Propers, etc.).

Few, and by that I mean one or two, of the Latin Masses I've been to failed to internalize the habits and mistakes of the '50s Church.
I'm not all that religious. What religion I have is non-Vatican II Roman. I believe with the church that High Mass is the norm, and I love my Sung Mass, but sometimes it's nice to have Low Mass at 7 Sunday morning and have your whole day free for recreation. That's how a church, not a cult, acts.
The bourgeois are both important and a curse. In a republic, like ours, they really are very important economically and socially. But because of their desire to maintain wealth and social status they often are harmful to Christian culture. They prefer the egalitarian model without realising the importance of hierarchy. The only model to them in America is that of their overvalued Founding Fathers. They cannot understand the beauty of Europe and monarchy. Europe for them is nothing more than a tourist attraction and monarchy, at best, is the glory of the royal wedding and royal babies.

My point in favor the bourgeois is that the most powerful countries in the medieval world (per capita) were bourgeois city-states and small republics: Venice commanded a navy four times that of England's. Florence grew large enough to snub the Holy Roman Emperor with impunity. The Swiss could hire themselves out to fight in every side of every war, yet maintain the most secure borders of all. All the above have the highest concentration of civic Gothic architecture in the medieval world because, quite simply, they could afford to build a town hall like a cathedral.

The cult of 1950s America really turns a lot of young people off from the Faith. The Church is not trapped in amber. We preserve tradition to meet the challenges of our own time.
News to me. The average people at my Mass are couples in their 30s with three or more children.
Regardless if it's appealing or not the problem with the '50s thing is that it's unhealthy. The same cultural stultification happens at most Novus Ordo parishes, but with 1970s-ism instead.
Yeah, I don't understand '50s-bashing. You're talking about your parents' youth, this is where you come from, what made the people who made you. That apparently mindless jingoism was a courageous defiance flung by ordinary people in the face of total war. Those people had survived nightmares, or their parents had, and they were shutting all of those memories out and focusing on ordinary life. It only looks twee and kitschy to us because we are so safe.
For me it's not kitsch.
It depends on which '50s thing you mean. When it's the Ozzie and Harriet '50s thing, that's not even Catholic. If it's living with a sense of historical continuity so that you have to specify *nineteen* fifties, because otherwise people will get confused about which fifties exactly you mean? That's normal and healthy.
I love my town, perfect for the good idea Rob had of rebuilding urban, real Catholic communities. It's an inner suburb, about 125 years old, almost next to the city but without its problems, livable in theory without a car, things close together.

My town has the potential to be the best of the city and a small town. So many Catholics — Irish, Italian — moved to Delaware County from South and West Philly in the '50s, then the council went and ruined everything. Low-church liturgy, bad catechesis... a culture almost obliterated.

My girlfriend lives in a suburban non-community, a place that was farms 50 years ago: no downtown, no main street; you need a car.

The South Shore of Long Island is Brooklyn and Queens East Annex. Very Italian, very Catholic. If Vatican II had never happened, it would have been great.

Again, by the '50s, a great time for ALL Americans, Catholics were thriving. You had great advances (from jets to the polio vaccine) and beautiful style, AND the old values. Things didn't go bad for Middle America until the rot set in around 1968.

In every age of man since Christ, in all nations and stations, the Catholic Church simply is. Not tied down to any one form, unlike the Byzantine Orthodox.
I'm not mindlessly bashing the 1950's--my problem is that we have people here who should be fighting to build a more timeless culture but instead are internalizing the blemishes of the era simply because they were of the era. It doesn't have to be like that.
Half my parish's music is Anglican. No mindless repetition of errors here.
Lincoln Square of the 1940s-1950s may have had more faithful massgoers than Scarsdale, but you wouldn't want to raise your children in Lincoln Square — unless you were ok with your boys joining the Jets.
There is nothing wrong with the priorities of 1950s Catholicism---in any year between 1950 and 1959. The issue is: is it the Church that you love, or the secularism of a certain era? I feel the same way for the live action role-playing traddies who want to bring back Richard the Lionheart, because *real* Catholicism can only be medieval. The real challenge is to know history enough to generalize what is the Church through time, and what are the accidents of a certain era.
"I feel the same way for the live action role-playing traddies who want to bring back Richard the Lionheart, because *real* Catholicism can only be medieval." Ridiculous in my view, and I'm not being hypocritical, because that tradition is extinct; mine's not. It never died out; many of its original practitioners are still with us, passing it down to us, making sure we do it right. The use of Lund, Sweden, for example, went extinct; while we can try to revive it, that probably wouldn't work and anyway the result would be artificial, hokey.

"The real challenge is to know history enough to generalize what is the Church through time, and what are the accidents of a certain era." You just described much of what's wrong with the Orthodox. They're really worshipping tribe and culture.

1 comment:

  1. -
    '"traditionalist gentrification" could work over time, but apparently it doesn't even currently work where it most likely would be expected to work because just like everyone else traditionalists completely schedule their children's lives so that living next door is really not any better than living cross town.

    Nevertheless, if I had the money, I would do what what done in Florida.


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