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25 August 2008

Cultural Catholicism. I just commented in a MeFi thread about nuns and it got me thinking. [More:] Being Catholic is a strange thing, it's a religion, but a the same time it's almost an ethinicty*. As I said in my comment, I practice almost none of the tenets of the religion I was raised in, but I still think of myself as Catholic, since it rears its head in the ways I mentioned in my linked comment. It may be analagous to the way a non-practicing Jewish person will still always, on some level, think of themselves as a Jew. Any other Catholic raised MeChaZens feel me on this one?

*This perception may be due to the fact that many immigrant groups-the Irish, Italians, eastern Europeans-recieved something of a hostile reception in the US due to their Catholicism in a (then) Protestant nation, among other reasons.
Does this segueyway into a Billy Joel medley?
posted by ethylene 25 August | 17:05
Billy Joel is Jewish, actually.
posted by jonmc 25 August | 17:06
He's part of the Catholic school culture, like knee socks and nuns.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 17:08
I'm not Catholic but I know lots of them and I concur completely.
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 17:12
I also can't figure out why people are obsessed with nuns, or think that nuns doing normal human things is funny for some reason. They're just people!
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 17:13
I'm not Catholic

I also can't figure out why people are obsessed with nuns, or think that nuns doing normal human things is funny for some reason.

Your first statement answers the implied question of your second.
posted by jonmc 25 August | 17:16
Please expound. Are nuns put on a pedestal if you're Catholic? Wouldn't you have run into enough nuns in regular settings to have figured out they were the same old dorks as everyone else?

(I do have a family full of priests, but they're Episcopal, so it's not the same thing.)
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 17:23
I just commented in that thread, too- that phrase you picked out as screwy really offended me. Bleh!
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 17:23
I get what you're saying, but the day I decided I no longer agreed with the tenets of Catholicism, I stopped being Catholic. There's no Catholic bloodline, though there is a Jewish one.

So no, not really.
posted by eamondaly 25 August | 17:25
But can your friends still pick it out in you? I bet they can.
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 17:25
There have been a lot of times when I'm thinking out loud- why is she being so peculiar about X, of all things? (Where "X" usually has something to do with sex or babies.)

And then someone will say- well, her family's Catholic. And it will all fall into place.
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 17:29
Please expound. Are nuns put on a pedestal if you're Catholic?

Oh God, yes.

Wouldn't you have run into enough nuns in regular settings to have figured out they were the same old dorks as everyone else?

I didn't happen to catch the nuns I knew from church or CCD skeet shooting or jumping on trampolines, so I guess the answer is no. The closest I came was when I was working the cash register at a bookstore and I asked a woman paying by check for ID. her liscense said said 'Sister Mary Whatever' (not literally, but you get the idea), and I immediately went into profuse apologies.

But can your friends still pick it out in you? I bet they can.

In my case, definitely. The 'Mc' stands for the first letters of my last name which is a big clue, and plenty of my mannerisms and attitudes betray me, I guess.

Another related anecdote: when I lived in Florida, I was at a party of Pips' grad school friends. One of them was an East Indian girl who was born in Arizona and raised upper middle class American (her parents were oncologists)even though her family were Hindu. I somehow managed to get into a conversation about Catholicism with another party guest and she was looking on agog. 'This is very mysterious and interesting to me,' she said. I had never thought of it as exotic until that moment.
posted by jonmc 25 August | 17:42
I can see it, but not nearly to the degree of Judaism.
posted by box 25 August | 17:44
No, not the same degree, but it's there. It's aprt of our identity, whether we practice or not, which is where the parallel comes in, I guess.
posted by jonmc 25 August | 17:46
(And I suspect that Catholic education is one of the biggest contributing factors.)
posted by box 25 August | 17:49
I thought your last name was Macanudo?
posted by amro 25 August | 17:54
Ha! When I lived in Miami my Cubano co-workers used to call me that.
posted by jonmc 25 August | 17:56
I suspect that most American Catholics culturally identify more in terms of their country(ies) of origin (or example, as an Irish Catholic, or an Italian Catholic), rather than as a Catholic alone. Whereas many Jews identify "Jewish" as their culture, probably because in their countries of origin many weren't welcome (and that's putting it mildly) or invited to participate in society like everyone else. For example, I am an American Jew of Ukrainian origin, but my cultural connections are all to Judaism, and I know nil about Ukrainian culture, because my ancestors were hated there and driven out.
posted by amro 25 August | 18:13
side rant about Judaism which should go into the shouting thread: It is so annoying when Ashkanazi Jews make sweeping generalizations about Jews and Judaism when what they're talking about is EASTERN EUROPEAN culture. Jews from the middle east are different. Sephardic Jews from Mexico are different. Different foods. Different cultures. Different lots of stuff.

Also: people who call Arabs Anti-Semitic when they mean anti-Jewish.

Thank you. That is all. This isn't even my fight since I'm not Jewish at all. It just annoys me.
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 18:23
I have heard people using that exact phrase "Cultural Catholic," in recent years. It's certainly part of my cultural identity that I came from a Catholic family, even though I wasn't raised in the church. So go for it. It's meaningful.
posted by Miko 25 August | 18:23
I'm not sure your rant about Judaism is appropriate anywhere.
posted by amro 25 August | 18:34
I consider myself a cultural Catholic, and I wasn't even raised in the Church. My mother left it after getting married, my father (I guess) drifted away because she had.

There was a recent post at Bitch, Ph.D. about this subject. The author of that one lists these things as part of her Catholicism, though she doesn't agree with church teachings:

On the other hand, I also believe
- in the value of looking to intercessors
- in the power of confessions
- in the power and beauty of ritual
- in the importance of Good Works
- in the authority and influence of mothers

And that list is, for me, bound up in Catholicism, in my experience of Catholicism.

For me, it's that list, and just a kind of general belief in divine magical interaction -- I don't know how quite to phrase it. James Joyce wrote about the priests doing magic when converting bread into the body of Jesus at each Mass, and I just carry around that sense that, through ritual, one can invoke the divine into everyday things. Like food.

OK, that still came out weird.

I do realize that magic is not uniquely Catholic, but I definitely see that aspect of spirituality coming down to me from my mother, and it was something she very much identified with in the Catholic Church; in fact, she said she left when they stopped doing Mass in Latin and she could understand what they were saying, because it was much less magical that way.

(Oh, and also, guilt. Eternal feelings of guilt. Not so much about sex, I don't think, but definitely just some general sense that I'm going to be held responsible if things go wrong. But I think I got that from my father's Catholic family!)
posted by occhiblu 25 August | 18:36
i had a friend who is Jewish who refuses to believe she is Jewish. She's doesn't get it even though her family is very Jewish, as in openly devout and visibly distinct.
We'd get into this bizarre conversation in which i asked her if she thought the Nazi gave you some Yeshiva test before the harassment. Her response was, "So you're saying I'm an Arab?"
She believed she was German or something.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 18:41
Also: people who call Arabs Anti-Semitic when they mean anti-Jewish.

They're right. Arabs are semitic, but anti-semitism refers specifically to hatred of Jews.

My boyfriend and I are both sort of ritual and tradition fetishists. He was raised Catholic, me Jewish. We're both atheists, but we both think it's icky for the mass to not be in Latin and for Jewish services to not be in Hebrew.

So yeah, I think he's a bit of a cultural Catholic, but like stated above much more so of an Italian Catholic than I am Nationality Jewish. I'm Jewish. He's Italian, and Catholic.

(Side note: I've always been extremely introverted and non-verbal and it plagued me in my childhood that I couldn't become a nun. Like very seriously upset me. I would try to think of other ways in which to cloister myself, and one of my favorites was that I could go crazy and be locked up in a mental institute. But I figured out early on that it's way more interactive (and crazy!) than I really idealized. If only I'd known then about Buddhism.)
posted by birdie 25 August | 18:49
For all my experiences with various religions, i find Catholicism both a novelty and reassuring. Its steady path of logic makes it easily debatable and the pagan ritualism helps reaffirm the old methods of focusing the will.
i always assumed it was about the ability to concentrate, whatever mysterious muscle that was to flex, that made things happen, somehow enabled thew will. All that other jazz was... jazz. Symbolic and interpretive.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 18:58
Oh, and also, guilt. Eternal feelings of guilt. Not so much about sex, I don't think, but definitely just some general sense that I'm going to be held responsible if things go wrong.

Bingo. I grew up with that sense that I could drink, smoke, screw and long as I felt bad about it afterwards. And like you said that nagging sense of fairness and justice.

(I find it very cool that two people as different in many ways as me and you find common ground here. Bless you, my child.)
posted by jonmc 25 August | 19:01
also, occhi, what's your Confirmation name? Mine's Xavier. I chose it cause I liked the idea of an 'X' in my name.
posted by jonmc 25 August | 19:03
We're all a product of how we were brought up, not just Jews and Catholics, even if we later reject some of the tenets that we were taught. Those were our formative years, when we were literally learning how to think, and how to process the world, so of course people with similar backgrounds will recognize traits in each other.

Long before I had it confirmed, I had guessed that Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street, Last House On The Left, Scream etc) was raised Baptist. I don't even know HOW I knew, but there was something in his outlook that I sort of recognized.
posted by BoringPostcards 25 August | 19:03
My wife always describes herself as a "cultural catholic". She has a big affection for the traditions and practices of Catholicism but doesn't actually believe in the religion anymore. Naturally, we're Unitarians. I think that half the unitarians that I know describe themselves as "recovering catholics"
posted by octothorpe 25 August | 19:04
I love the name Xavier.

I was not confirmed. Or even baptized. When my mother left the Church, she left it good. :-)
posted by occhiblu 25 August | 19:06
I went through the whole deal, baptism, confession, confirmation? Does it show?
posted by jonmc 25 August | 19:16
Yes, you reek of early sacraments.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 19:27
In a lot of ways, Catholicism is a way of indoctrinating obsessive compulsive behaviors, and yet vampires and the devil are always obsessive compulsive.

i picked my American name while in Catholic school.
You should sign up as Xavier and use it as the persona of who you want to be.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 19:33
The Omen, Exorcist, etc. would have lacked greatly without an insight into the big C.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 19:35
The Omen, Exorcist, etc. would have lacked greatly without an insight into the big C.

I learned a little about this when that re-release of The Exorcist came out in the late 90s... I took a couple of younger co-workers, one Jamaican, one Brazilian, who'd never seen it before. The Brazilian guy literally got on the floor a couple of times, and afterward told me he was never going to watch another horror movie for the rest of his life. Oopsie.
posted by BoringPostcards 25 August | 20:08
i wasn't far from Amityville when that was big.
Hauntings and the anti christ informed a lot of stuff in the 70s/80s. Revelations and bible tracts were a huge focus of curiosity.

Then later, the religions that incorporated Catholic symbols like voodoo, santeria, mexican symbolism--
posted by ethylene 25 August | 20:24
Heh, that 'cultural catholic' label fits me pretty well. I go to a Methodist church now (full member and everything) but I still identify with the mexican catholic culture. (except for Dia de los Muertos, never could get into that)

My folks are atheists, but we went to catholic schools, so we went the whole route, baptism, communion, confirmation, etc. And like johnmc, we had the courses in Advanced Guilt Religion every day.

I went to a few different types of churches with friends, finally ending up at a Methodist church because 1) the communion service is very much like a Mass, and that was strangely comforting to me, 2) the Methodist quadrilateral, and 3) it wasn't like the other Protestant churches, denying that they'd ever been Catholic.

Now if I'd hung out with a different set of friends, I might have ended up Episcopalian. Or some other Catholic.

And yep, Las Monjas (Sisters and Nuns) are imbued with saint or god-like attributes. God or Sister (most likely both) is always watching you.
posted by lysdexic 25 August | 21:07
I was raised Catholic, but born Atheist. I refused to be confirmed, although I attended classes and enjoyed arguing with the priest, who I respected a good deal.

Like anything you go through as a child, it does give a frame of reference. And I'd say it can be a fairly heavy one. Depends.
posted by rainbaby 25 August | 21:19
I might have ended up Episcopalian.

aka Catholic Lite.
posted by jonmc 25 August | 21:25
aka Catholic Lite.

Hee! Yes, Methodism is the wine cooler of the bunch.
posted by lysdexic 25 August | 21:30
My mother was raised catholic. She went to Catholic schools, was confirmed, the whole nine yards. I was baptized by a priest. When we were young we went to a non-denominational Christian church because my father was raised Baptist.

We haven't been to church in years. She left the church long ago and both of my parents are not religious in the least. They don't believe in a higher power. My mom is respectful of religion. When I was a smart-mouthed and uninformed and immature teenager I said something slightly derogatory about the Pope and the Catholic church. My mother was quick to correct me. My mother has an aura of dignity and decency about her. I think a lot of it has to do with her Catholic upbringing.
posted by LoriFLA 25 August | 21:41
Which would make Unitarianism, like, Vitamin Water or something. Catholicism would be fine cognac. Baptists...would be bourbon. Pentecostals would be corn liquor. Greek Orthodox? ouzo. Anglicans? gin.
posted by jonmc 25 August | 21:44
Unitarianism would be more a decent table wine or a clean beer.
Catholicism a brandy maybe. Wasps and gin but i dunno about the rest.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 21:49
Why cognac? Shouldn't papists be grappa, or eucharist wine?
posted by birdie 25 August | 22:07
cognac is refined, deep and complex. grappa is great, but it's a little raw.
posted by jonmc 25 August | 22:11
Also a lot more ritual associated with cognac. (So maybe scotch would be better?)

Grappa's more of a gulp-it-and-go sort of thing.
posted by occhiblu 25 August | 22:15
Brandy is often blended for whatever agenda and christened many a stripper.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 22:16
The Pope drinks cordials garnished with fresh pineal gland.

In vodka, the orthodox drink you.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 22:21
I once heard Episcopalianism described as "the gilt without the guilt", which I thought was pretty good.
posted by BitterOldPunk 25 August | 23:19
I was raised as pretty much nothing, but went to Catholic school for 12 years. I'd say I'm a cultural Catholic, but without any of the sacraments, although I did watch my classmates participate actively, while I participated passively. I managed to end up with some of the guilt.

My Dad was raised Catholic and my Mom was raised mostly Methodist. They did their best to teach me just to be a decent human being.

If I had to pick at church at gunpoint, it would be Episcopalian, Unitarian, or Methodist, in no particular order. My husband was raised Presbyterian, and seems to have inherited the work ethic, so I'd likely consider that, too.

Tequila and whiskey and rum, in that order, are my favorite recreational beverages, if that makes any difference.
posted by lilywing13 26 August | 00:37
jonmc, I went with Francis Xavier as my confirmation name so I'd have 1) two names, 2) the awesome X, and 3) a guy who went to Japan, which I was totally obsessed with at the time.

Just call me Xavi from here on out.
posted by mdonley 26 August | 02:04
My mother's family is deeply Catholic--there are a whole bunch of daily-Mass-attenders and Eucharistic ministers and mission-goers and whatnot. My grandmother had a bunch of those prints of the Sacred Heart and Jesus shaking hands with JFK in her house. My father's family isn't quite as active, but they're strong cultural Catholics (mmm, Friday fish fry).

Beer rule of thumb: if there's a monk on the bottle, it's probably pretty okay. If it was made by monks, it's probably pretty good.
posted by box 26 August | 06:33
Oh, box, I need caffeine. I first read that as "the Sacred Heart of Jesus shaking hands with JFK."

posted by lysdexic 26 August | 07:07
How did I miss this thread? Possibly being culturally catholic is different in NZ, because it's less tied up with the whole immigrant Irish/Italian thing. Although my family are all Irish Catholics. Lace curtain Irish. Most often seen at funerals, which are steeped in Jamesons. And I was a whole nine yards catholic schoolgirl, baptized, communioned, confirmed.
posted by gaspode 26 August | 08:14
Speaking of Jamesons, she's probably the queen of cultural Catholics.
posted by Hellbient 26 August | 11:47
jonmc, I went with Francis Xavier posted by mdonley

with that combination of names you should've become a cop or a priest, dude.
posted by jonmc 26 August | 20:17
I wonder if this "cultural Catholicism" doesn't have a sister component in other cultural settings. There is a group within the larger group that can't buy in to the hard core aspects but still identifies with the group/culture. I'm my case I'm thinking about being a Southerner. I'm proud of and embrace my heritage but I don't get the folks who display the stars and bars in public. I look at it as a white multi-generational southerner and it means one thing to me but I can certainly understand why it would be offensive to African Americans. It's sort of an exercise in holding onto the things about that culture that are dear to you and finding a way to ingnore/abandon those aspects of it that are not dear and even possible offensive. I may be making to much of it. Southern Whites cannot justify slavery and Catholics cannot justify the inquisition,etc..
posted by Carbolic 26 August | 21:43