Money, Death of Culture

“In the end, therefore, money will be the one thing people will desire, which is moreover only representative, an abstraction.” -Kierkegaard

When a male of the Mandan Indians fasts for three days, shaves his head, and hangs from splints pushed through his skin to prove his manhood to the universe he is not thinking of traditional Mandan culture. He is becoming a man.

Nor is the Mexican Catholic, crawling on her hands and knees to venerate an image of the Blessed Mother, “participating in traditional Mexican culture” by way of “religious activity”. She is crawling on her hands and knees. It’s the touristing graduate of World History II who — grimacing over his tequila like a pansy — scoops the value from her act and labels it a “cultural phenomenon”.

From the anecdotes to the point:

To speak about something is to assume a place outside of it, referring to reality as an objects perceived. But culture is that lens of tradition and value by which we perceive reality, and a man cannot perceive a lens any more than he can his corneas. Thus nobody living their culture refers to it as “culture”, and you’ll seldom hear an Italian say “let’s be real Italians and eat tortellini” except in reflection, jest, or to white people. From curry to bar-mitzvahs, cultural things are things done, not labeled, lived, not spoken of, real, not reflected on.

Talk-about-culture makes culture an object of academic discussion divorced from life, which is precisely what culture isn’t. Talk-about-culture is the death of culture and the birth of tourism, for talk-about-culture puts labels on traditions, customs, values and events, and removes them from the human experience which is their soil. It follows that the signs of a land-without-culture would paradoxically include a preoccupation with talking about culture, of celebrating culture and diversity, of touristing, and of all the while not doing anything interesting.

So I must argue — quite unwillingly — that the typical denizen of the United States — of which I claim no exemption — has no culture.

It would be ridiculous for a Native American tribe to arbitrarily select a symbol of their culture. Had a meeting of elders released a statement to the world saying “We have decided, as of Wednesday, that the pinecone is the appropriate signifier of our existence, and request all referring to us to bear this in mind”, none but those most diseased with political-correctness would be able to shake from their eyes visions of headdresses and war dances, of peace-pipes and the mighty bow. Why? Because you don’t talk about culture, and you certainly don’t speak culture into being.

Yet this is precisely what the United States attempts in its ridiculous and arbitrary creation of public holidays and days of remembrance. Cut off from any authentic concern, once removed from the experience of human life, our President declared that January 16th is to be Religious Freedom Day, an event as artificial and arbitrary as Black History Month, and as obscure Labor Day — that national Holy Day characterized by the fact that one in a thousand has any damn idea why he isn’t laboring.

The opposite of culture is fashion, for fashion is manufactured need, and thus it makes a sad sort of sense that the primary association the world has with America is our fashions, our banal pop-stars and ever-changing shoe styles. One might try to argue that “American culture” manifests itself in owning Japanese technology and wearing jeans, but these were given to us in the same manner Religious Freedom Day was given to us: artificially, marketed for our consumption for the profit of a few. A culture advertised and sold as culture violates the first rule of culture, and thus there’s a certain edge of despair that comes with acknowledging the fact that the great unifying symbol of our youth is:

 

Which brings me to my point. When anything authentic does happen, when any hapless, white American invents the bow or the headdress (so to speak) this minutia of culture is labeled, exploited, and sentenced to death, in that order. I’ll take for my example the Farmer’s Market.

Assumedly a Farmer’s Market was once a farmer’s market, in which a farmer sold you his food in a real and entirely human exchange of goods and good-wishes. It was something done. It was a part of the human experience. So how is it that I can say the words “Farmer’s Market” and fix in the heads of all my readers a movement and a certain type of repeated event that has a label, an ideology, and a life outside of itself — that is, an event entirely outside of culture? From whence came the capital letters?

Money.

We loved the farmer’s market and saw it become a trend, but a “trend” in a materialistic society is not allowed to remain a word we use to describe authentic, widespread enthusiasm. A trend is an opportunity to make money.

As a money-making opportunity it had to be given a label (God forbid it just keep happening). Once it had its label it could be grouped with a multitude of other labels — like “small business”, “local”, “green”, “organic” — and a whole host of Hot Titles! divorced from the human experience and banished to the Babylon of national politics, no longer words but baptized, born-again Buzzwords, the stuff advertising is made of. “Buy a cabbage from a cabbage-grower” is a suggestion that can’t last in the United States. It must become “go green!” or perish.

(This explains why there are humans who react with inhuman anger to a farmer selling his cabbage. It’s not because they have anything against the cabbage, it’s because they have much against the Green Revolution and Organic Food, and the cabbage-selling-farmer has been assumed and dissolved into these abstractions. He is rejected for the ghosts that surround him.)

Successfully removed from authentic experience, the Farmer’s Market is whored out to commercialization. Its values — that once existed for their own sake — are devoured by corporations and manipulated so as to serve the grand purpose of nothing ever changing, of food remaining some combination of bad, nationally owned, and bought and sold by corporate chains — all for the sake of money.

So now McDonald’s advertises “fresh” and “local” produce. Trader Joe’s has a monopoly on organic, simply-labeled food, printing off nutrition facts that look like your grandma wrote them. Local is defined as somewhere within 400 miles — which means that if you live in Maryland, your Indiana potatoes could very well be “local” — every food corporation became “green” overnight, and thus the final stage of the life of that authentic exchange between one man and another who grew a cabbage is born: Death.

Our obsession with money kills culture. It is the Ultimate Abstraction, a demon that seeks to devour every authentic act of human experience. Anything simply done has the capacity to be done not for itself, but for money.

If authenticity is marketed, sold and negated into fashion, culture is impossible. If the authentic actions of a community are deemed “trends” and manipulated to serve the pockets of the powers, they are stripped of their human value and cannot become all that we envy when we fly to poorer countries and take pictures of their dances, their markets, their food and their joy. What’s needed is a belief in things that can’t be sold.

I’ll be writing more on this, I can promise you that.

  • cowboy

    I believe there are areas in the United States that there is culture. We live in the west and we are truly apart of the cowboy culture (I’m not joking, we are ranchers in an area where horses are still used and we rope cattle with lasso’s). I had a friend who thought people were just “dressing up” when really that’s their normal attire. However, lots of people want to crush the cowboy culture, by not allowing rodeos, branding and allowing God to consistently be apart of the schools. What cultural influences are in the United States are trying to be crushed by today’s “normal.” We love living in the west and wish people would leave us alone and let our traditions thrive, since it was the cowboys that founded the west.

  • http://twitter.com/PoetAndPriest Paul Hughes

    Awesome stuff. The thing I’m not sure of is where you write, “Because you don’t talk about culture.” And I think you meant, “Because you don’t ‘talk’ about culture” … and this means further, “talking about something isn’t doing it.”

    That’s extremely important, the point of the post, and virtually forgotten. So all in all, a great corrective effort here.

    We could still talk about culture, realizing we’re not doing it when we’re talking about it. Like we’re doing now, for instance. It’s useful, even if it’s not culture itself — e.g., I could see talking about it as helping to correct errors?

    But again, great stuff. You can’t choose your own nickname, and you can’t invent out of whole cloth the thing you are.

  • Loud

    Ah… all the time i see something that looks, i dont know, squashed. There is an air about my homeshooler/christian school friends, the way they talk, their active faith and work, the way they dress, our choice of activities (primarily religious) that is picked not because we are conciously trying to be differant but because thats how we are, thats what we enjoy. But its squished down, it hasnt blossomed to what it could be. Its more of an atmosphere than a culture because it isnt big enough to develop and the culture of death openly resents our differances and tries to belittle them outof existance.

  • Exponent

    While I agree with your annoyance with marketing, and with your noting how it can corrupt, I think you cross a bridge too far with “Money is the Ultimate Abstraction, a demon that seeks to devour every authentic act of human experience.”

    Money is a tool. Its great value comes from the fact that it is such a malleable tool – it can be turned into so many types of real tools used for specific, directed purposes.

    There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of tools, PROVIDED one was moral in the acquisition of those tools, and one is moral in the use of those tools. In other words, let love (and a very moral, analytical, yet fierce love) govern one’s management of money, for it often is the tool we have that can heavily influence the world. Money a “demon”? Hardly. Lack of love is.

    • Marc

      Fair distinction. I suppose a more appropriate title for my meaning would be “Money Love, Death of Culture”, or something of the sort. Thanks for the comment!

    • http://www.facebook.com/marcjohnpaul Marc Barnes

      Fair distinction. I imagine my meaning would have been made clearer with a better title: Love of Money, Death of Culture. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/RebeccaAMcEvoy Rebecca McEvoy

    I enjoyed reading this article Marc and I look forward to hearing more of your ideas on culture, food, and social change! I am a Development Studies student from Canada and an armchair theologian. The whole notion of the co-optation of culture and how moral theology colours the issue is the sort of thing that I grapple with daily. Looking forward to reading more (and providing you with some food for thought) from Antigonish, Nova Scotia!

  • Dunadan
  • Samuel

    Personally I put the dawn of recorded media as the first domino in our tragic loss of culture. It turned music, one of the greatest sources of folk tradition, into a marketable commodity. From that point every aspect of existence slowly became something ad men could shove down our throats… God help us.

    • Sophias_Favorite

      There are effects observable in the folk music of the Nahua (“Aztecs”), Japanese, and medieval French of the precise same thing happening, long before recorded media. Francis of Assisi, whose real name was John, got his nickname (Francesco=”Frenchy”) for his obsession with French poetry.

      Recorded media just increased the pace.

  • http://twitter.com/lomuscio James Lomuscio

    Mark, come to the Pittsburgh Distributism Meetup this Saturday at 6pm. We’re meeting at the Pittsburgh Oratory.

    This month we’re discussing corporate legal structures, and how they influence business decisions, and in turn all of society.

    • Denise

      Interesting you mention Distributism because this post reminded me of an article by Thomas Storck titled the Catholic and the Bourgeois Mind. http://distributistreview.com/mag/2012/12/catholics-and-the-bourgeois-mind/ I just recently (within the last 6 months) began reading their articles, and my mind isn’t yet made up, but Thomas’ article intrigued me.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000909947326 Nick Corrado

        Word of warning: If you’re six months in and haven’t made up your mind there’s a good chance you might never. I’ve read every article on that site and my mind still isn’t made up. =/

        • Denise

          While I haven’t read every article I am certain that Distributism does reflect and is compliant with Catholic Social Teaching, which is why I am so intrigued by it. My reservation is with my own conclusion that so much of it makes sense, simply because I am not an economist. Just because it sounds good and makes sense to me doesn’t necessarily mean it will always be practical. The Distributists themselves are aware of this criticism. If anything their articles certainly aren’t boring and they have my interest.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000909947326 Nick Corrado

            That was exactly my problem. It does seem to be an excellent reflection of CST; but is it viable? Like, really for real viable? For all the articles the Distributists write explaining it is and why, I remain unconvinced. That it remains such a small voice in economics despite its allegedly successful track record (I particularly enjoy the articles about distributism in Romania and Spain) makes me suspicious. I think part of that could be due to the fact that all their successes are simultaneously claimed as successes of anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism, etc., by louder Internet proponents, but I digress.

  • MichelleJBarrett

    And what of Catholic culture? I’m a cradle Catholic, but my mom was not. My father was, but it seems that it’s the women who pass down the traditions. I strive now to create a Catholic home for our children, but all the while I’m so very conscious of what I’m doing. I wish that it came naturally for me, but it doesn’t. I hope that my children will absorb it all and pass it on easily to their own kids.

    • Renee

      Many people are culturally Catholic, but do not practice. I dislike when individuals here in the New England, talk about Catholic identity. We have our faith in Catholicism, not our identity. I just don’t identify with it, I am it.

  • Rai

    You know, maybe you shouldn’t say “The U.S.A have no culture”. I am
    Italian, and I can say that from my perspective your nation has a
    culture- something, a particular quality in an object, an idea, that
    makes me say “yes, this is distinctly American”. It’s as you say- living
    inside your own culture makes it difficult to see it. It’s the same for
    everyone, not just Americans. For me, Italy has only the culture form
    her past- i would be very hard pressed to find something
    “modern-italian” which is not a trite stereotype.
    Obviusly various
    elements of a culture can be shameful, but they are elements of it
    nonetheless. “go green?” Commercial buzzwords? In one thousand year,
    they will be part of what is perceived as “american culture, turn of the
    millennium.” In fact, those are parts of what is perceived as
    “american” now. But I think you already know that. What I want to say is
    that you have a culture, and that culture is produced right now by you
    and your fellow citizens. You say that your culture is exploited by
    capitalists: nothing new under the sun. You think that Ancient Romans
    polished every day the colums of their temples for the moral edification
    of posterity? They used their cultural archetypes as a mean to
    political, economical, in general personal ends exactly as now. As an
    example, they made cheap roman knockoffs of expensive Grecian statues in
    the same spirit as that of modern tourists who buy cheap Chinese
    knokoffs of original goods. It’s exploitation of other cultures, but the
    concept is the same.
    It’s interesting the fact that many of those statues are all that remains, as the originals are often lost to history.
    In
    the end, I agree with you- but I would be more preoccupied with the
    kind of culture I am producing than with the lack thereof.
    Looking foward for your next posts- you’re an amazing writer!

  • Mark

    Awesome post!!!!!!

  • Joseph

    Hmmm, so I guess Michelangelo, Bernini, and all of them artists by which we as Catholics use to help define our culture painted and sculpted and architected all those magnificent works just for the sake of it, eh? Not for money? Somehow, methinks not.

    • Blake Helgoth

      There is a vast difference between knowing you will be compensated for a work of art and money being the end for which you work. Think of a great choir or symphony recording a performance, verses the latest pop artist creating the next ear worm.

  • James H, London

    Point of order, Mr Chairman:

    Money cannot do the thing mentioned here. Avarice, however… Now, that’s the thing. One of the 7 Deadlies.

  • Renee

    For years, my city has tried to sell its culture to suburban tourists. We have a large Folk Festival and highlight the immigrant communities. I find it dehumanizing how culture is done for show and not for purpose. They even did a mock Buddhist Wedding ceremony so everyone could observe (gawk at).

    Every see the documentary, the Venice Dilemma?

    http://vimeo.com/24874188

    IT was featured on PBS and is worth the hour to watch.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    I’m afraid I must disagree with quite a few of your points, so I’ll try to be brief.

    “he is not thinking of traditional Mandan culture. He is becoming a man.”
    Yes, he is. “Traditional Mandan culture” is our label for a set of behaviors and traditions that we do not perform and/or believe in/conform to. “This is how my father became a man, and his father before him,” is probably what he is thinking, and it’s just two sides of the same coin.

    scoops the value from her act and labels it a “cultural phenomenon”.
    Again, wrong. He has distanced himself intellectually from a practice that he has never performed or conformed to, so how has this act ever held value for him? It hasn’t, so no value is removed from the woman’s actions. She is not doing it for his edification or pleasure. She is doing it for her own reasons, her own beliefs, her own religion and relationship with the Divine. The act is only cheapened if she allows it to be. If she allows an outsider to plant a seed of doubt. (Which leads me to…)

    Successfully removed from authentic experience, the Farmer’s Market is whored out to commercialization.

    The “green” movement is capitalistic exploitation, nothing new in this country. It’s what this country was founded on, why this continent is populated by predominantly white people (and forgive me for pointing out: why there are black people in North America at all). Like the Mexican woman, the original act or market is only altered to the extent it allows itself to be. There is a thriving farmer’s market with local growers and craftspeople every week half a mile from my house. Sure, some of them got into it to make money, but there are no corporate logos, no slogans, and no endorsements to be seen. It remains what it is despite the cultural attempts to steal its essence because it is confident and firm in what it is and what it will continue to be.
    It seems to me that your real complaint is the continual (attempted) cultural shift to convenience over legitimacy. It really is easier to get that “organic” cabbage from Kroger than to wait until the next Saturday and buy it from a truly local grower, but then that’s still more convenient to spend money on the local grower than to spend the months of cultivation required to grow it yourself. You’re arguing against the foundation of the world post-industrial revolution (specialization and stratification of labor), something I don’t see changing any time soon.

    Edit: Brief-ness fail. Apologies.

    • Guest

      So, the question might be, did the industrial revolution destruy culture?

    • Blake Helgoth

      So the real question might be, did the industrial revolution detroy culture?

    • Edward

      On your first objection, may I politely suggest you investigate the difference between the ‘enjoyment’ of something, and the contemplation of it?

      It’s well articulated by CS Lewis, as summarised here:

      http://www.leadingcaptivitycaptive.com/2010/01/cs-lewis-on-enjoyment-and-contemplation.html

  • futurepriest

    yes, yes, and yes

    and perhaps we can add God to the list – the endless theological talk about principles and rules and concepts and …. have completely removed God from the equation – He has become just one more part of the equation that can me manipulated and controlled and discounted

    • Blake Helgoth

      This is why the whole mega church thing and the ‘Christian’ music scene (and now the ‘Christian’ movie genre) seems like a cheep marketng ploy. Evangelization and marketing are two very different things indeed.

    • Maria

      You’re entirely correct. Whatever was that Aquinas chap thinking?

    • Sophias_Favorite

      It ill befits a spouse of the Word to be stupid.
      —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

  • Blake Helgoth

    Just a few intial thought sparked by your great post. First, we have no culture, or very little culture because the vast majority or incredibly shallow. Second, we got that way because a few of the elites decided to exploit and control the masses for their own gain – wether that be money, power or both. When a totalitarian view of the world dominates, that a few should control the many, culture dies. It dies because everything becomes a tool of exploit. Culture will only return when deep thinking and deep spirituality return to more common practice. Some are waking up to the realization that their lifes have been exploited, many are not. Those that are turn to things like homeschooling, true intellectual pursuits (not for the sake of industry), and spiritual pursuits. When several of these people are able to join forces, culture begins to develope anew.
    As a side thought, I think many realized that the political forces that be have been exploiting the pro-life movement for years (not that great pro-life work doesn’t continue is spite of political forces). Culture seems to be a very differnet thing than protests and revolutionaries.

  • Howard

    I think the gist of this is correct, but a number of the details are incorrect. We do not have MUCH culture in the United State. But…. The things that really make up our culture are the things that seem so natural to us that we only recognize them when we move to a foreign environment. I’ve lived in Japan, which has every problem you can associate with the US. They are much more fashion-conscious than we are; they are self-conscious about culture to the point that almost everything is a deliberate, though idiosyncratic, imitation of either China or the West; they are very much “into” money; and they have an even bigger culture of tourism than we do. In spite of this, there’s no mistaking Tokyo for New Orleans or even New York. There remains a real difference in culture, and you prove that it is indeed culture, by your own standards, by being unaware of its existence.

  • Steve Nicoloso

    So I must argue — quite unwillingly — that the typical denizen of the
    United States — of which I claim no exemption — has no culture.

    That’s pretty funny what you did there… The fish obviously doesn’t notice he’s wet, so whenever you notice a fish noticing he’s wet, you can bet your bottom dollar that that fish has stepped outside the lake and is, if not dry, at least drying off. And as for me, I am a fish, and can definitely say that I am not wet–what the hell does “wet” even mean?

    The takeaway, Marc, is that yes, dear denizen of the US, you have a culture. There’s plenty to like and not to like, but it’s not as though you’d actually notice it in the act of, ya know, being a culture!

  • Sarah B.

    I liked where you were going with your discussion of culture, but you utterly lost me at Farmer’s Markets. The Farmer’s Markets that I have been to in and around DC have zero to do with corporate profits. What could be simpler than buying from the farmer? This way the farmer doesn’t get scammed by the corporate supermarket, and the consumer knows where his food came from. People who get angry at the concept of “going green” as a catchphrase need to get off their high horse. There is nothing wrong with and everything right about making an effort to protect the earth. The problem here in my mind is the two party system. For some reason, it’s cool for Republicans to pshaw about the environment. Not sure which planet they are expecting their great-grandchildren to grow up on.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bergerdanielj Daniel James Berger

      Yeah, but. Except for roadside stands directly operated by some local grower, you have no guarantee that the produce is really local. When I frequented a farmer’s market in St Louis, it was clear that a fair bit of the produce came from as far away as Florida.

      Even the local grower’s roadside stand might be getting produce from elsewhere, to fill in the gaps left by real crops and their real problems.

  • http://wasteyourtime.mtgames.org/ Scaevola

    Go see New Orleans…it’s currently mardi gras season.

    • Johanna

      Are you the same Scaevola that I used to message on the Seton message board and your real name is Burger?

      • http://wasteyourtime.mtgames.org/ Scaevola

        Sadly no…I was MODG. :(

        • Johanna

          Haha, I just didn’t think that was a common moniker but I guess I was mistaken. Catholic homeschoolers still rock no matter what their program. Seton is still the bet though. PAX

  • Karen

    So, are you opposed to money? I read this post four times and still have absolutely no idea what you mean. I can’t remember who said it attribute the quote, but here, you’re not even wrong. You haven’t made any point anyone can refute. To use one example, I have no idea whether you approve or disapprove of farmer’s markets, organic food, Apple, or tourism. Does the fact people can buy things cause you pain? What do you wish the world looked like?

    • GoodCatholicGirl

      Thank you – I thought it was just me. There is nothing wrong with having money, even gobs of it. Money doesn’t corrupt, if you don’t allow it to. While I write this, the bottom of my page features an ad for Pottery Barn Kids, a site that sells mostly overpriced items not so much for children but really for the parents and let’s not forget that you can connect with Patheos on Facebook, a site that has made quite a bit of money for it’s owner. Any objection to that?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Kniesler/687710875 Patrick Kniesler

        Indeed. The jump from “you certainly don’t speak culture into being” to “Money” misses that point. Money is nothing but a fluid state of redeemable exchange for your talents. The problem will always be with people, not money.

        People commercialize things that should be left alone, but moreso the problem are people who do not realize these are not products they need to be buying – moreso are the teachers who let education become meaningless. I could go on, but there are many people to blame.

        Badcatholic said almost this much “So I must argue — quite unwillingly — that the typical denizen of the United States — of which I claim no exemption — has no culture.” but then got lost. We have abused the ability to Meta-ize things.

  • TJ

    So, there ‘s deep reality here that you’re seeing a piece of. Another piece that my gut says is relatsd though I’m not entirely sure how is when I realized it has been decades, if not longer, since anyone in this culture produced any poetry worthy of the name. A culture that cannot produce poetry is a culture that has nothing poetic about it – and that culture is dead already, even if it doesn’t know it already. We produce music like crazy, but no actual poetry.

    • Maria

      I don’t really keep up with the latest poetry, so I only know of one current poet I can use to refute your rather sweeping dismissal—the excellent lyric poet Richard Wilbur, last book (Anterooms) published in I believe 2010. I won’t even try to defend him. His work speaks for itself. You need to read it. Here are a couple to start you off (though I don’t know the year either were written): October Maples, Portland; and Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning.

  • JethroElfman

    Indeed the Mandan tribesman doesn’t recognize his own culture from within. He is honouring Lone Man. When the white man came and began corrupting his culture, he saw it as an offence to Lone Man and the spirits of the universe. He opined that if his children didn’t keep to the old ways, the spirits would bring doom upon them. He told them to cling to things that can not be sold, such as worship of the spirits within all living things. It’s only when free of such religious dogma that you can see it as merely a cultural trapping that you wear over your head and pretend that it shows you the truth of the universe.

    When, for instance, French Canadians enact language laws to preserve their culture, or teenagers select goth modes of dress, or Shriners wear their fez, they are at least being honest that culture is merely a distinguishing characteristic that marks them as a unique society. When religious fundamentalists bring God into the conversation it is an attempt to pull the cowl further over their eyes and wonder why everyone else doesn’t see the world in the same colours as them.

  • Claude

    Oh cultural tourism is bad. Oh the president makes me so mad. Oh how I long for authenticity. Oh the US has no culture. Oh commodification is the root of all evil.

    Were you getting high in your dorm room when you wrote this?!

    • Sophias_Favorite

      Plainly you should’ve popped an upper before you wrote that.

  • Catherine

    Marc, I’m a bit confused on a couple of the points you made: (1) “You don’t talk about culture.” Certainly, we shouldn’t be all talk and no doing. But your statement is a bit hasty for the obvious reason that, well, you’re talking about culture in this very article. Isn’t thoughtful discussion about culture is a very valuable thing? Both in itself and for the purpose of encouraging and/or inspiring subsequent contributions to our culture? I can only speak for myself, but I can’t help but think that anyone who has read “Liesure: The Basis of Culture” would agree. (2) “You certainly don’t speak it into being.” That seems wrong, unless I misunderstand you. God absolutely speaks culture into being: for instance, He sets aside the Sabbath, or He creates the specific cultural laws of the Old Testament. Man continues what God began and attempts to imitate; or maybe I should say interpret God’s design for us: St. Catherine Laboure under Mary’s orders “creates” a devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal; the Church proclaims that Jan. 1 is to mark the celebration of Mary, Mother of God. Perhaps the key here is that it’s God’s intent, not an arbitrary design of man. God spoke all other existence into to being. Without the Word was made nothing that was made. Your choice of phrasing, then, is unfortunate. I wish you would explain what you mean by “you don’t speak culture into being,” since that seems to be precisely what God did in the beginning, and what we try to enlarge upon now—when we have the original Word in mind, of course. Can someone help me out here?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    What if the worship of mammon, IS the culture?

  • http://rosenzweigshmuesn.blogspot.com/ daniel imburgia

    Hi, I’m new here. Interesting post and comments, I will be back to visit (although I usually avoid Patheos blogs because of all the advertisements and their influence on the blog content). But let me just comment that most folks have encountered this quote by Joseph Goebbels, “Every time I hear the word culture I reach for my pistol.‘ It sort of just seems like the kind of thing a Nazi Reich minister of propaganda might say. Turns out though it was really the nazi poet laureate Hanns Johst. Johst wrote: “I shoot with live ammunition! When I hear the word culture, I release the safety on my Browning!” As you can imagine after the war Johst’s status as a celebrity poet took a bit of a tumble. Perhaps “language is the shepherd of being” as Heidegger argued but in the hands of Johst and Goebbels words were shot into the darkness like Ack-Ack hunting down any incursions into the canon of acceptable national socialist speech acts. Here is a sample of Johst’s poetry:

    I Feel Her

    She left me
    yet my hands clench
    and I feel her.
    I feel her breathe.
    I feel her chest rise as she sleeps
    next to me -
    as she slept
    long since past
    next to me
    I feel her still.
    So still
    the night.
    My rope-veined hands
    knot and clench
    hold her
    as I lie
    and do not sleep.

    Smells more like teenage angst than the classic musings of a poetic Ubermensch, still I have read worse poems (*note, Johst was rehabilitated and after the war started writing schlok copy for supermarket tabloids under a pseudonym). Yet with all the negative associations of nazism in this cultu….country, it’s significant that there is a thriving community of WWII reenactors in the USA! Recall that Republican house candidate Rich Lott was doomed when he was found to participate in this hobby as a Wehrmacht soldier! Even being defended by his Jewish friend and porn movie actor/director Richard Gabai could not save his candidacy!

    One wonders about these nazi, civil war, even medievil times reenactors, including things like Celtic festivals and holidays like Easter and the fourth of july. My own family has a long history of involvement with the Knights of Columbus associated with the Catholic church. Now I may be one of a few white people ever invited to witness a Lakota sun dance at Pine Ridge in South Dakota. I declined but my wife attended and has kept her oath of silence about the sacred ceremony ever since. But given the persecution of Native Americans and the repression of Native rituals, sometimes in order for indigenous peoples to perform some of their historical rituals it was necessary for them to consult the written history of the very peoples that tried to destroy their cultu…their heritage of life-ways and ways of being in this world. But I don’t really think that that is what my grandfather and father were doing at the wednesday night spaghetti feeds at Saint Angela Merici, not entirely. Of course those swords they carried around are only symbolic know, but back in the day, well, let’s just say that the Catholic church’s crackdown on indigenous cult worship took a serious toll on native Angelinos, confirming that like the differences between languages and dialects a religion is just a cult that has an army and a navy. Obliged.

  • Catherine Edmund

    Check out the song “Sold” by Dan Mangan. It is a nice, catchy reflection of this post.

  • Guest

    I’m pretty sure making money is a big part of American culture. Isn’t that what the Boston Tea Party was all about? Tea smugglers wanted to get rich by selling their tea without paying taxes. Aggressive capitalism has been a part of American culture since the beginning.

    I also disagree that being able to analyze your culture means you don’t have one. I think that examining culture and working out what serves you and what doesn’t is a valuable thing to do. And, the whole tradition of analysing cultures in a ‘detached’ way is a product of western culture anyway.

    People are always complaing their culture isn’t what it used to be. To me, it seems like rose-tinted nostalgia. Culture changes over time, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there anymore.


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