Saturday, July 4, 2009

Better Catholicism through Bolshevism!

I have three kids and I’m pretty proud of them. They are all honest, hard-working, polite, have never been in trouble, have always done well in school. The only thing that disappoints me about them is that my oldest, Pumpkin, is totally secular.

This came up last night when I was having a smoke on the front porch with my son. “Why do you think Pumpkin is so secular?” I asked.

The answer came immediately, “Because she’s bourgeois.”

I understood his meaning immediately. Pumpkin was the very model of bourgeois success. She had excelled in school, won a prestigious scholarship, and is poised to go to graduate school after she finishes college next year. She dresses well, yet is never flashy nor does she stand out in a crowd. She would never say anything that might be called “politically incorrect.” She believes in dealing with things reasonably,” by which she means in a way that is both practical and secular.

I had never thought about it in these terms before, but the logic of it became immediately self-evident to me, and I replied (only half-teasingly), “And I suppose you’re a good Catholic because you’re such a good communist?”

“Being a good communist is nine-tenths of being a good Catholic, and those are the nine-tenths I’m good at.”

[A bit of back-ground here. I had spent the years of my youth and young adulthood as a godless communist and, even after finding God, I never bought in to a bourgeois world view. Let me be clear about what sort of communism I’m talking about here. I was an Old Left, Soviet style, puritanical, party discipline and heavy industry, working class communist, not a New Left, pacifistic, counter-cultural, hippie who simply dressed up his anti-social bourgeois liberalism in Marxist jargon. When I came to God this involved adding to my beliefs more than changing them. I had always renounced those aspects of the Soviet System that the Church had objected to (e.g. political and religious oppression, gulags, torture), so this was mostly a matter of adding a spiritual aspect to my life.]

This sparked a long discussion and, at the end of it, I agreed with him completely. The upbringing he had received inculcated a strongly communist world-view that had not only fitted hand-in-glove with his Catholicism, but had given him the discipline and habits to live a good Catholic life. I think it might be worthwhile now to present our findings.

Being Comradely!

Xeno said that one of the worst reproaches he could get as a child was: “That’s not the comradely thing to do.” Leaving dirty dishes at the table, taking seconds before making sure everyone had firsts, using up something without replacing it, cutting in line, not sharing with your playmates, even crabbyness would garner this reproach. Xeno was taught to pitch-in when there’s work to do, not to slack off until the work is done, never to brag, always to treat people politely. People often comment on Xeno’s respect for his elders and consideration for workers, and this too is because of my insistence upon being comradely.

“I feel dirty about money.”

Money matters were something about which I always demanded extra scrupulosity. Sharp dealing (as opposed to fair dealing) was regarded as a sin which cried to Heaven for vengeance. Whenever Xeno is paid for a bit of work, he is always on time, works until the job is finished, and keeps a better-than-average pace. Around the neighborhood, Xeno is in demand as a dog-walker, baby sitter, and snow shoveler because of his good communist work ethic. Unearned wealth was regarded as the root of all evil, and Xeno takes real pride in always giving full value for his wages.

“You took the glamor off evil.”

We go to a rather conservative parish. You know the type: Latin mass, big families, girls modestly dressed, boys in white shirts and slax. And these are good people, but many of them slip into materialism now and then. They live in the suburbs, drive big cars, have a few possessions of which they are overly proud of. By and large, they are very moral people (chaste, generous, pious) but they have trouble seeing consumerism as being un-Christian.

In our house, consumerism was bad, not only because of a Christian rejection of materialism, but because it makes you the hod-man of the bourgeois. If you never bought into the bourgeois notion that every year you needed a new car, the latest fashions, a larger house, an ever bigger screen TV, exotic vacations, whatever it was that they were advertising now, then you could be truly free. As soon as you want these things, you are capitalism’s slave, and we positively gloried in not having cable TV, not owning an automobile, living in a cramped house, eating home-cooked meals, buying most of our clothes at the thrift store. The things we really wanted were modest: books, really first-rate work boots, a night out bowling.

The communist principle of “production for use” is a further inoculation against consumerism. Xeno has a cell phone (He needs it so that we can keep track of him when he’s at his various after-school jobs.) and it’s old, battered, and has none of the “functions” that people are so enamored of nowadays. When his friends show off their new phones that play games, stream video, and connect to Twitter, he is supremely indifferent. “A cell phone is for communication, not amusement.”

“Consumerism degrades culture”

Even at my own parish I see this. Altar boys exchanging “ghetto handshakes” in the vestry. Admiring talk of violent movies. Familiarity with the lyrics of rap songs. These things are seen as harmless by many parents yet I would not tolerate them in my children.

Bourgeois popular entertainment is aimed at the lowest common denominator to ensure the highest return on investment so it naturally degrades into crap. While Xeno’s friends were going to the newest, most popular movies, I showed him classic films. While other parents listened to soft-rock or “oldies,” I had the radio tuned to the classical station. While I didn’t shun or forbid all popular entertainment, I always made it clear that it was high culture that had real worth.

“A Good Communist Rejects Sexual Consumerism”

Strangely, this is best expressed by someone trying to justify sexual consumerism:

But if the sexual market-place is impersonal, non-judgemental, and pluralistic, it still has its own built-in biases. These biases are covert — invisible in snap-shot impression — and they have more to do with the nature of markets than the nature of sex. The market for consumer goods of any kind is ever-changing, quick to absorb each new novelty and abandon the old … Without novelty and variety, short-term “necessities” and quick-turnover “classics,” our consumer culture would go into decline and, so too, no doubt, would our particular variety of capitalism.

…It is not a sign of moral breakdown or “excessive” permissiveness that the sexuality visible in the consumer culture seems always to be out-reaching old limits: this is the dynamic of the market, and in sex as well as fashion or entertainment, it pushes always and inexorably toward new frontiers.

Thus the sexual market-place both democratizes and INSTITUTIONALIZES (authors’ italics) the sexual revolution. Practices that were once pioneered by a few brave souls become, through the market-place, the potential property of anyone … The perverse becomes the commonplace.

— Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs
Re-making Love — The Feminization Of Sex,
Anchor Press / Doubleday, Garden City /
New York, 1986, p. 110-111.
My son finds sexual excesses revolting, not so much from his Christian morality, as from his rejection of consumerism. The fact that many of these have become matters of commerce (e.g. pornography, prostitution, strippers) actually sickens him, however this is not a prudish rejection of sex, but a communist revulsion at consumerism.

“Proletarian Morality”

A good communist doesn’t waste his time on sexual adventuring, but rather, settles down in a stable relationship and sets about making cadres for the revolution. My son often teases me about this, asking, “How does Proletarian Morality differ from Bourgeois Propriety?” Simple, just as the same revolver has a different meaning when it is in the hands of a cossack or of a class conscious worker.

And this is just one more example, of which there are many, of how my communism has inculcated good Catholic habits into my son.

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