Thursday, July 06, 2006

But culture, and my culture?

(yes, I do intend to beat Ezra Pound into the ground. Why do you ask?)

And I've actually appended this comment from DAS to this post, but I thought it fit in well with it:

I am reminded of the debate in more "traditional" (e.g. the traditionalist wing of the conservative movement and orthodoxy) Judaism about the role of women ("egalitarianism" in the Jewish lingo): a son of a promenant Rabbi taking a middle of the road (for the traditionalist folks) position makes a distinction between "Halachic non-egalitarians" who sincerely do want to follow what they perceive as tradition and "sexist non-egalitarians" for whom tradition is a cover, and a very flimsy one, for their own personal sexism.
This question of church and culture is another interesting nit to pick (Richard Niebuhr wrote a fascinating study of the question which, in true scholarly fashion, came to no satisfactory conclusion). Some of the Episcopal bishops say church and culture must be distinct from one another, and I agree: but how is that to be done? Clearly with the agreement of the dominant culture.

Julian of Norwich was an anchorite, which is to say, she lived in a small cell within a church sanctuary, where she could still communicate with the outside world (as she did with her Shewings), offer counsel and spiritual guidance, etc.; but once she entered that cell, she could never leave it, for one simple reason: symbolically (the medieval mind loved symbolism in ways that would make English professors weep with envy), the cell was her tomb. As an anchorite, she was already dead, the better to prepare her soul for the life to come; and, not coincidentally, to pass on such spiritual insights as this condition might afford her. There was a ritual before she entered the cell; she was literally able to attend her own funeral, in effect. And this was fully supported by the culture.

But try imagining it today. Would the culture support it? Would the church?

Hildegard von Bingen lived in the cell of an anchorite (proof, again, that anchorites were not hermits!). She was placed there in her childhood by her parents, who had dedicated her to the church before her birth. Again, the culture supported this practice, one we would consider, inside and outside the church, bizarre and barbaric and certainly in violation of several laws for the protection and welfare of children. But in medieval Germany, neither of these practices were even blinked at; indeed, they were encouraged.

It has ever been a problem for Christians (as Niebuhr pointed out in excruciating detail) to be in the world but not of the world. And the only point here, with these two examples from the thousands available, is to remember that what is considered "church," and what is considered "culture." is never quite so clear; even in retrospect, when we are often quite sure history is nailed down and no longer subject to movement. It's an issue that, in today's world, I call "living backward." But that's a subject for another post; or even a book, if I ever stop blogging long enough to sit down to it.

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