All posts tagged: culture

Vaporwave and Simone Weil’s Void

It is so much simpler to bury reality than it is to dispose of dreams —Don DeLillo, Americana Covetousness has always felt like a dreamscape. You are from moment to moment trapped inside of an experience which evades real contact. Being just a simulacrum of a universe, how can it not? The problem is most obvious in consumerist escapism, where the profound disappointment of not being able to have your cake and eat it too is transmuted into the urge to simply buy another a cake. And another. And so on. One disappointed fantasy leading to the next. Look to the Pacific Garbage Patch to see where the material bric-a-brac of our thwarted fantasies eventually end up. A life-destroying gyre aimlessly churning. An inorganic wound on the world. Simone Weil addressed this feedback loop of desire and consumption in her essay “Forms of the Implicit Love of God”, writing that: The great trouble in human life is that looking and eating are two different operations. Only beyond the sky, in the country inhabited by God, …

Work: A Four-Letter Word?

There is a certain ambiguity in Scripture about the meaning and value of labor, and I am aware of no clear and positive statement on the subject by the Church. Rerum novarum and Quadragesima anno just don’t really approach the subject, and especially not from a more modern scriptural viewpoint. What I have to suggest on this topic hardly constitutes an exhaustive treatment of what the idea of work might be for a Catholic, but I do think it might open up some avenues for thought. Genesis has God laboring for six days and then resting (Gen 2:1–4), although this does not seem to mean that labor is tiring even for God; it seems rather to show him as a model for our freedom on the Sabbath day, a gift God gives us by his example. Genesis 3:17–19, on the other hand, takes the position that labor is indeed a curse, at least in the way that Adam and Eve would have to do it after the Fall. Job takes a very negative view of …

Josef Pieper’s Critique of Western Civ

On February 1, 1950, just in time for Commencement Day, the eminent German philosopher Josef Pieper arrived on the University of Notre Dame campus. It was his first visit to the U.S., having finally been recruited by Waldemar Gurian (founder of the University’s notable Review of Politics) to teach for the spring semester. The speaker for the day’s ceremony, as Pieper notes in the recently published second volume of his memoirs, Not Yet the Twilight, was the young Congressman John F. Kennedy, whom he thought somewhat resembled Charles Lindbergh. In fact, two years before, Gurian had asked a Notre Dame colleague travelling in Germany to meet briefly with Pieper in hopes of encouraging him to come to South Bend. He got a message back saying “Nice man but doesn’t speak English.” Two years later, Pieper was successfully—if sometimes haltingly—lecturing to his American students in English. Before his arrival, however, Pieper had been cautioned by Gurian: “Theology, above all, is missing at this University; there is hardly any real philosophizing, and there is nothing of the …

Relegating the Faith to the Private Sphere Generates a Distortion

Culture in the broadest sense can be defined as a way of life. The great historian Christopher Dawson created an entire corpus focused on the intersection of religion and culture. He claimed that four central pillars form the foundation of culture: people, environment, work, and thought.[1]  He describes how “the formation of culture is due to the interaction of all these factors; it is a four-fold community—for it involves in varying degrees a community of work and a community of thought as well as a community of place and a community of blood.”[2] When Dawson refers to the importance of thought, he means especially religious thought, which provides the inner form for the material organization of society. He describes how “every social culture is at once a material way of life and a spiritual order,” because “it is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies a society and a culture.”[3] Although Dawson recognizes that we live in the first secular culture in human history, he also rightly claims that the modern world …

The Liturgical Critique of Technological Culture

  Over the past twenty years, rapid technological developments have completely transformed our social environment, leaving no doubt about the adequacy of Jacques Ellul’s earlier prognostications: ours is surely a “technological society.”[1] Such widespread integration of technology into culture raises a number of important questions for Christians and their calling to be “in the world, but not of the world” (See: John 17:14-17; Rom. 12:2).  I am specifically concerned with the following: how does Christian participation in technological culture affect our perception of, and participation in, the sacramental life of the church? Vice versa: how does our participation in the liturgy and the sacraments affect our perception of the technological society in which we are more and more involved? Such questions can be tackled by turning to the research of Walter Ong (d. 2003) and Yves Congar (d. 1995). By extending and synthesizing Ong’s sociological approach to technology along with Congar’s theological interpretation of Church and culture, I will argue: the liturgy of the Eucharist intrinsically orders the relative goods of all human technologies, for …

The 2018 Best Picture Nominees and the Script of Transcendence

The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced on 23 January 2018. In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences received harsh criticism for a lack of diversity among its nominees which many interpreted as an indication of the Academy’s lack of cultural awareness in general, and many people have simply written off the Oscars as an awards show that only means something for people of a certain gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation. This year, thankfully, the nominees include a more diverse array of incredible talents, but the perennial conversation serves as a reminder of the fact that movies and awards, like most everything else, have become politicized, and it’s not necessarily the best picture that wins “Best Picture.” But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter which film wins the top honor year after year, for in reality, every film in the category is worth our attention for one reason or another. What matters is the fact that the stories told in these movies have the potential to change …

African Catholicism: The Birth of the Liturgical Vernacular in Igboland

Catholic missionary efforts on the shores of Nigeria began with an initial attempt by Portuguese missionaries in the 15th and 16th centuries. Though their first attempt was unsuccessful, these missionaries persisted and in the 19th Century, there was a successful expansion of Christian missions in Nigeria. [1]  By the 1800’s, various parts of Nigeria had a rooted Catholic Mission presence. In Southeast Nigeria, Igbo Catholicism began with the arrival of Father Lutz at Onitsha in 1885, and thrived with the efforts of Bishop Joseph Shanahan (1905-1931), and Archbishop Charles Heerey (1927-1967). The mission was dire, as these men had no knowledge of Igbo (the language the people spoke) and were unable to grasp the deep and sui generis religiosity embedded in the cultural life of the people. With resilience and perseverance however, the missionaries ultimately succeeded in sowing the seed of the new faith in the hearts of a people that have since become harbingers of Catholicism in parts far beyond Igboland. In general, the advent of Catholicism in Igboland is divided into three phases. The first phase …

The TOP 25 Church Life Journal Reads of 2017

Church Life Journal is back from its Christmas hibernation. We promise that plenty of reading adventures await you on these pages in 2018. But before that starts in full force, take a meditative glance back at Church Life Journal’s most popular posts of 2017. The rankings are based on pageviews. The titles of the pieces are linked, just in case you missed these pieces, or, would like to revisit them. A Happy 2018 to you and yours! Human Dignity Was a Rarity Before Christianity by David Bentley Hart Editorial Musings: The Charism of Infertility by Timothy O’Malley The Perfect Family is an Idol by Anna Keating The Sex Life of Joseph and Mary by John Cavadini Life After Life After Death by Timothy Kelleher 97 Aphorisms Adduced from the Thought of Benedict XVI by Cyril O’Regan Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: Cultivating the Christian Imagination of the Child by Jessica Keating Black Bodies, Kneeling, and the Liturgy by Eric Styles Single Life Is More Fundamental for Christianity than both Married and Religious Life by Michael …

Religion and the Arts: Augustine’s Netflix

Binge-watching is America’s new pastime. Netflix alone currently boasts 43 million subscribers and counting, who—to adopt a wry turn of phrase from an article in The Economist—are “living the stream.” Netflix­ and its competitors Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video, HBO Go, et al have revolutionized how and how much we watch television and film. They have commercialized entertainment ad infinitum: drama, humor, insight, and a good plot line compel our attention as a kind of dramatic watering hole, something we come back to again and again during our given work week. The plot lines of our favorite shows are familiar, quirky, and dependable like a close friend, and online streaming has only expedited this quality time. Each show and movie slowly gives shape to an entire life that we imaginatively inhabit. In a certain poetic sense, it is not a coincidence that the plot diagram itself figuratively (and literally, if you consider the shape) imitates the human pulse. Thus the comfort and autonomic vitality of a continuous stream of plots packaged in episode form: exposition, …

Catholic Culture in the Classroom

Last summer I took a course on Catechesis and how to approach the work of sharing the Gospel through education. At some point during the course I was confronted with the question, “What is the culture of my classroom?” I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Initially, I thought about the experience my students have in my class, the generally positive student evaluations I receive, the comfortable relationships I have with the vast majority of my students. Then I thought about what my classroom actually looks like and how that informs the cultural milieu of the class: plenty of crucifixes, icons, and religious art, some Notre Dame swag (pennants and such), and half the Ignatius Press catalog on my bookshelf. Then I realized I have a rather shallow understanding of culture. In Truth and Tolerance, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that culture “has to do with perceptions and values. It is an attempt to understand the world and the existence of man with it . . . guided by the fundamental interest of our existence.”[1] …