Sunday, June 7, 2009

Are You a Prude?

I would like to post here comments I made (with a few slight changes) on a thread at The Linde, the blog of my friends at The Personalist Project.

In her post, Katie van Schaijik asks, "What is prudishness?" What entails being prudish as contrasted with simply having a proper sense of decorum, modesty, propriety, social grace, etc.? It may seem a simple question, but it strikes at something rather deep in American culture and is very relevant to the complicated relationship between American culture and being a person who strives to live as fully Catholic a life as possible here in America.


Is the following instructive to ponder in light of the subject of prudishness and American culture? Think of the example of the “Christian Temperance” movement of the early 20th century, which resulted in the (to me) very silly and ill-fated Prohibition laws banning alcohol. What does this show about the more fearful segments of (Protestant) Christian influence upon our culture? It seems to me that anything like Prohibition would have been considered absurd in any majority Catholic nation.

Wasn’t Prohibition roughly around the same time as a surge of Pentecostalism (born-again, spirit-led, Bible-only, morally heavy-handed) in America? (not to blame this on Pentecostalism alone)

American culture does suffer, I think, from its Christian roots being essentially Protestant (not denying that there are many good things in Protestant Christianity!). How? It seems to me (and I used to be one) that Protestantism has a very hard time seeing that potentially dangerous aspects of life do not have to be entirely walled up and kept at bay like dynamite in order to remain safe. This is why Prohibition is instructive. Instead of realizing that one can—through a grace-assisted cultivation of virtue—use alcohol in a culturally healthy, beneficial, even life-affirming way, America chose instead to deal with its potentially dangerous aspects by simply banning it altogether. This is an approach that makes a certain sense if you have little understanding of the real possibility of cultivating supernatural virtues (together with ordinary virtues) in any human life lived in close relationship with God. It gets down to having a truncated view of the interplay of nature and grace in this life.

So, while a fundamentalist Baptist, for example, might shun things like gambling (in any context), drinking, and dancing, as too dangerous to handle, a Catholic—in moderation—does not fear a decorous use of alcohol and dancing and gambling because he has hope in the possibility of grace and human virtue uniting in such a way as to transform the use of these things into not only acceptable, but positively beneficial, culturally enriching, sacramental signs in themselves.

Though I think many Catholics today do not have a sense of this, nonetheless, it seems to me from the witness of human history that believing, practicing Catholics have the fullest potential of attaining a firm hope for the possibility of baptizing many aspects of human culture in this life—a hope that flows from a healthy awareness of the power of grace-infused virtue to liberate culture from the severity of all types of prudishness.

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