Monday, December 28, 2009

Traditionalism NOT merely an Alternate Globalism

Euro-centrism is a huge problem among traditionalists. For example, I was really offended by this (well-meaning, I guess) post on Rorate Caeli about the death of Europe.

Now, the secularization and decadence of Europe is a problem to be sure, but when they say something like, "And the great malaise one feels around the world today is not, as some suggest, the end of the 'Pax Americana' and the rise of the 'East'. No: it is rather the fact that the source of the European framework within which we all, from Pole to Pole, have existed for centuries is disintegrating before our very eyes" that just really angers me. Speaking of "the European framework within which we all, from Pole to Pole, have existed for centuries" just so wrong. Then again most trads were all opposed to the Aboriginal dancers at the Sydney World Youth Day, and love to see the ICRSS dressing-up Africans in Roman chasubles like good little culturally castrated subservients...

It's enough to make you sick to see them equate traditional Catholicism with "Western Civilization" like that. That's a big polemic it seems these days...attempting to show how "the Catholic Church created Western Civilization". That's a cliche you'll hear from a lot of the "apologetics" crowd these days.

For one, it's an oversimplification to be sure. Obviously, "Western Civilization" has it's roots in Greco-Roman culture before the time of Christ, and though Catholicism was certainly the defining feature of one stage of it (namely the Medieval) has strayed far from that since then, and I would be wary to equate the two or argue that all the "great" things that happened in Modernity were somehow related to medieval European Christendom.

I dont have a hard time believing, for example, that if Rome hadnt fallen...they would have reached the technological level of today, or the level of social organization, etc. They probably would have sooner. To turn all the alleged temporal material "benefits" of the secular civilizing (ie, urbanizing/specializing) process...into an argument for Christianity (by making Christianity and "civilization" into some sort of irrevocable allies)...strikes me as a trivialization and naturalization of the Faith.

What they are attempting is well-meaning: getting "Western Culture" to accept Catholicism again by reminding them how historically tied their society is to it, how it is an important part of their heritage. However, I worry it has the opposite effect, the other side of the coin, namely: legitimizing the expansionist, genocidal project of "Western Civilization" and effectively binding the Church to IT, instead of the other way around. The Church isnt bound to it. For all of Dante's rhetoric about God choosing the Roman Empire as much as ancient Israel...I think we can easily imagine the Apostles having all gone to Asia and having India have been the first and major Christendom. We have hints of what this would have been like in the St Thomas Christians perhaps.

The "choice" of Europe (at least during the middle ages) as the major locus of Christian power...must be trusted as Providential to be sure. But let's not turn that into some big nationalistic polemic. Providence works in mysterious ways to bring about the greatest possible good, and that It arranges for someone to be leader or for success to happen to a particular nation...does not necessarily constitute a moral endorsement or glorification of that.

Ironically, trads are often "against" liberal democracy and see the Vatican's recent cozying up to American-style Classical Liberalism as problematic. I also am very disturbed by that, though, unlike lots of them, not because I have some sort of fascist authoritarian psyche (I think lots of them have daddy-issues, frankly).

To me...that sort of political stance by the Vatican is problematic exactly because it is just another symptom of the binding of the Church with "the West" as anything. Because now that is what is mainstream in the West, and if you bind West and're bound to see that correspondence. It's a form of corruption or peer-pressure or political blackmail in the end. The West has this sort of secular-messianic narrative about the "glories" of "progress," and liberal democracy, and capitalism (though they have exploited more people in the periphery of the world, and the unborn, and their own sheepish masses than any other civilization)...and the hierarchy buys into it just because it is the "mainstream" thing to do, since only "crazy" people question it these days.

Personally, I see no argument justifying it anymore. When "Western Civilization" was still Christian...well, I guess it made sense for the Church, in the political sphere, to be allied with the Christians against non-Christian civilizations. But now...the religion of the West is secularism. So at this point, it would really be just as good to be allied with, say, Russia, or China, or even the Muslim world! The Vatican-Washington axis has got to end.

But, no. The Vatican's "international political agenda" still tied to America/Western Europe/Israel, it seems, merely for historical reasons, not because they are substantially Christian anymore. Of course, the best answer is just to stop "choosing the lesser of two evils" stop being an international political force throwing our weight behind this or that civilization. To stand on our own, not alligned with this or that civilization. I've often said that the Church is paying for the mistake of allying ourselves with American Capitalism and Democracy as the "lesser of two evils" against Soviet Communism in the Cold War...given that it seems to have severely compromised us institutionally (ie, the Americanization and Protestantization within the Church), and when in hindsight it seems that Communism may not have been the greater of the two evils, merely the less subtle.

However, if we must be allied to a civilization, if there is always to be a "secular arm" of the Church in some sense or another...then I think, if we should be allied with any culture at this point in history, it probably should be Latin American culture. That is the best thing we have (or had until just a few decades ago) in terms of a Catholic Civilization. And shouldnt the Church be standing with the Third World, politically, instead of whoring ourselves to the First?

And yet, though Latin America makes up half the population of the Church, it remains peripheral in the Church's international politics. We're still trying to remain cozy with the America/Israel axis of "Western Civilization" instead of just cutting loose and joining a better option like Latin America. Certainly, Latin America is not proportionally represented in the Curia or College of Cardinals or anything like that, and when they are, they are extremely Europeanized men, still sort of an ecclesiastical aristocracy (and then they wonder why liberation theology thrives there!)

And yet, the neocons, and many trads even...seem largely behind continuing the old alliance. As much as they may rail against "democracy" or "capitalism" or "American Imperialism" or "Zionist influence"...they ultimately dont actually seem to desire allying the Church with a
different civilization. They merely want the "Western Civilization" to return to some sort of late medieval or counter-reformation mindset...but they still want it to be Western Civilization. They're own civilizational pride wont let them imagine China becoming the next Christendom, or Africa, or Latin America, etc...not unless those places are thoroughly Europeanized first, not unless they become essentially colonies of Western Civilization.

It's really a sad situation. But the fact is, lot's of peoples have been the victim of colonially imposed cultural self-hatred and inferiority complexes. Neocolonial assimilationist mentalities are a huge problem, and represent the psychological castration of a people. Let's not romanticize the "culture cringe" colonial mentality.

I adore Ethiopian liturgical music (there is, after all, a whole Coptic Ge'ez Ethiopian Rite, and sub-Saharan Africa is really within the Canonical Territory of Alexandria, not Rome). But am I going to switch Rites or start requesting that Ethiopian liturgical music start being used in my Western Latin-rite parish? No, of course not. As a Westerner, that would be rightly be seen as incredibly affected and esotericist.

And yet when the "good little" acculturated Africans and Asians do it with "western civilization"...lots of trads think it's so great. It is scandalous to the entire movement, which is supposed to be about tradition, not about globalization (which is its opposite).

It really upsets me to see trads equate traditional Catholicism with "Western Civilization". Because then there is no basic attitudinal difference between us and the globalists. Then we are just fighting over WHICH culture should be hegemonic, when really we should be disagreeing with the whole idea of hegemony in general!!!

To me, traditionalism is a fundamental outlook that values tradition
as such. In this way, it is inherently local, rooted in individual and communal history and memories, and is absolutely opposed to globalization or any other attempt at hegemony.

Sadly, it seems, for many trads..."traditionalism" is not about valuing tradition at all, but simply about wishing that a different "culture" was hegemonic in the Church. But they dont disagree with hegemony. They just wish it was 1950's-Latin-Rite hegemony instead of Novus Ordo hegemony.

Likewise, the cheerleaders of "Western Civilization" among trads dont particularly disagree with globalization (however much they might critique it in certain conspiracy-theory type contexts). They ultimately love globalization, in theory, they just wish it was Counter-Reformation Western Culture that was being globalized instead of Modern Secular Western Culture...

So it becomes merely a clash-of-civilizations type thing, not a fundamental disagreement with the whole paradigm which makes people think a "clash" is inevitable in the first place. It's simply wanting a different team to win, not questioning the whole game.

Anyway, I think these three concepts are very interesting and important to a lot of what we discuss when it comes to this question:

Cultural Alienation is an inferiority complex that shouldnt be encouraged. I mean, as a white, I know it's a fine line to walk between right-wing eurocentric attitudes that would encourage it, and patronizing liberal attitudes that, essentially, tell the other culture how they are "supposed to be" and insist on a purism that has never existed anywhere, some exchange always does happen.

But I think I can call it when I see it pretty well, and the SSPX dressing little African boys up in suits and ties for their first communion, or the ICRSS turning Gabon into 18th-century Vienna...scream cultural cringe and neocolonialism masquerading as evangelization.

Africans can love Gregorian Chant all they want, just like I can love Ethiopian. That doesnt mean that is appropriate to either of our native local liturgies.

The role of the universal church is supposed to be for the building up of the local Churches. The Pope is not supposed to be the hegemon, but rather the protector of the local churches and traditions.

And I think he could have a very good effect in this way. If he used his position, his power, his tell the Africans or the Asians that their culture ISNT inferior. That they should be proud and sternly RESIST "westernization," globalization, or Europeanization. That "Western Culture" has been successful NOT because it is superior but, frankly, just because it has been willing to be exploitative and (for various geographical-historical reason) is at the core of the current world system. That the sort of cargo-cultism where, for example, the Japanese started wearing western suits and hats because they thought that would help make them superior...must be renounced.

I think John Paul was actually somewhat good at this, whatever else I might think about his papacy. Much better than the whole "Missa Luba" model of inculturation (beautiful music Latin?)...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I must say this is the best commentary on the relationship between Christianity and the West I've ever seen. I must admit that a history major and a medievalist I often subconsciously fall into the "Church as the basis of the West" trap. Yet, I think what you pointed out here that deserves mentioning is that the Church should never be allied organically with one culture but merely act symbiotically with it. In other words, the Church could do equally well with a non-European culture. Otherwise, Christianity becomes the codeword for Western imperialism - which it was during the so-called "Age of Discovery." In many ways, Buddhism experienced the same phenomenon - especially in Japan. Both Christianity and Buddhism became allied to legitimizing the current social structure even to the point of becoming inseparable. Even Eusebius of Caesarea fell for that trap. While I love "Hellenized"/Aristotelian-Platonic Christianity, I loathe the cultural insinuations. Maybe the decline of Christianity's relevance to the West and the rise of Postmodernism are good things in this respect. Maybe St. Hildegard of Bingen's (and Pope Benedict's) vision will come to pass.

I think this also calls, however, for brutal honesty of the Church in realizing just how much - especially in the Discovery, Confessional, Rational, and Industrial Ages - they turned a blind eye to - and in some cases, aided - cultural imperialism and the Darwinistic "western superiority" thesis.