If you sailed down the Rhine not more than two hundred years ago, in what would soon become Germany, you would pass through regions with a variety of dialects, dress, food, and cultural norms. Every region brewed its own kind of beer, sang its own kind of music, and wore its own style of trachten (traditional dress). This multiplicity was made possible by a shared Catholic, and later merely Christian, identity which allowed each region to fully embrace its particular identity without compromising their unity as the Body of Christ.
This is in stark distinction with our modern day, where it has become near impossible to distinguish between even an American and a Russian based purely off of lifestyle. Where once there was a variety between the food, dress, and lifestyle of different cultures, now it’s blue jeans and McDonald’s everywhere you go. It might be trendy to overemphasize the “Murican” tendencies of Americans or the “traditional” tendencies of the Slavic regions, but, in reality, they both watch the same Hollywood garbage in their free time. Rarely are “Shenandoah” or “The Song of the Volga Boatmen” sung; all that can be heard are the popular sounds of Taylor Swift.
There is no real discernible difference between peoples and groups, but at the same time it seems as though everyone is LARPing the character that they wish to be associated with: Conservatives all sound the same, Liberals all look the same, Americans are loud and obnoxious, the French are rioting again, Russians are international bullies, etc. It’s like we all went to a list of stereotypes and tried to fit into one of the many premade roles that would allow us to conform to some identity group, as we sit alone in our rooms staring at bright blue screens. We have no identity except the ones premade for us. As the world falls apart, we play dress up.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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As terrible as this is, it is to be expected. With the breakdown of Christendom and the loss of any sort of Christian identity, we are experiencing a period of cultural homogeneity determined by the reigning power. Unless various cultural groups share a common religious idea that provides the freedom and unity necessary for real difference, they will inevitably dominate each other into cultural submission, thereby producing a sort of homogenous empire.
Case in point: following the Second World War, Europeans act and dress more like Americans than they do their pre-war ancestors. This phenomenon does not require political submission (although that may come as well), but it does include a rewriting of another’s identity, a fate worse than death. It is also to be expected that those subdued cultures will attempt to reassert themselves against the reigning hegemony and seek their revenge (hence the rise in nativist and nationalist groups). Without a common Faith, there can be no “coexisting”: there will only be a cycle of domination and subjugation, a certifiably damnable “City of Man.”
In response to this, we should look to the height of Christendom and its coat of many cultural colors. This is not to suggest that we glorify it as a utopia, nor to suggest a wholesale return to the 13th century. We must return to a Catholic Christian identity as the practical solution to an international political evil. We must remember that there was in fact a time when Christians would reconcile with their brother on their way to court (Matthew 5:25) and that there is nothing stopping us from doing that again. We must return to a Catholic Christian identity as the practical solution to an international political evil. Tweet This
It is historically possible for Catholics to act like Catholics in a social, political, communal manner. It is possible for a variety of different peoples to exist in unity without uniformity. It has been done, and it can be done again—but only within the bonds of the Body of Christ.
There is a road map to achieve this, and it has been proven true again and again. The first step is to reassert a vibrant Catholic identity in our own personal and familial lives. The modern pagan should be able to look at the way we order our lives, homes, and schedules and recognize us as Catholic. An old professor of mine used to say, “Show me your schedule and I’ll show you your god.” This means that we must return to the Sabbath, celebrate feast days, develop a regular routine of prayer, and nurture a palpable relationship of love between family members and friends. Each family and tribe will do this differently, and that is not only acceptable but very good.
The second is that our Faith should affect the place in which we live. This is not merely the “Take up space” battle cry; it is that Catholics need to build institutions which promote a naturally healthy and Catholic life. This means excellent Catholic schools, beautiful churches, walkable neighborhoods and downtowns, roadside shrines, Catholic businesses, good food, Eucharistic processions in the middle of downtown, local farming, Catholic hospitals, healthy common spaces, communal feasts and parties, Catholic trade schools, all those things necessary for a good life in a particular place.
The third is that once you find a place, you make a commitment to it, sink into a community, and grow roots. “Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no roots” (Matthew 13:5-6).
Don’t be discouraged when those places aren’t holy when you find them—“a thing must first be loved before it can be lovable,” and that includes places and communities. In time, these communities will begin to take on a shape and color which is particular to them. They will begin to develop their own character, their own Catholic culture.
They will be as divergent as Spain and Poland, and just as unified. This is the glory of Christendom, that all nations shall kneel side by side before the Crucified Lord and each become more of who they are. As the great C.S. Lewis said, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.”
Over time, these various communities will grow, saints will rise up, the institutions will become strong, and the balance of power will shift out of the hands of the City of Man into the hands of the City of God. The solution to the end of the world is sanctity, not merely in a private personal sense but in a communal and public sense. Holy people make holy families, holy families make holy communities, holy communities make holy societies, holy societies make up Christendom.
[Photo: McDonald’s restaurant in Paris, France]