Dr. H. P. Bianchi is an assistant professor of history at a local community college, where he teaches courses on Western Civilization and Asian history. He received his master’s degree in modern German history from the University of Connecticut and his doctorate from The Catholic University of America. His research focuses on the question of secularization in Britain and the United States.

Dr. Bianchi is happily married and the father of two sons and a daughter. You might find him perusing one of his interests in gardening, disc golf, hiking, cooking and traveling when he isn't working.

Archive

January 2017
December 2016
Go

Email Subscription

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent Comments

Catholics should definitely vote. My article's thesis is that Catholics should not publicly promote either of the major candidates, and when there is a discussion of current problems facing our country, Catholics should not address them from a Clinton or Trump perspective, but a Christian perspective. Thus, the church could serve as a alternative to the current political system.

VIEW POST

If Bianchi is proposing that we not vote at all, he is wrong. The choice is between a woman who could serve as an example of many of the seven deadly sins and a man who has his faults, but the biggest is that he is not a politician and has no experience "playing the game". BUT if the proposal is a write-in ballot for Jesus Christ, then he may have some merit in his thoughts.

VIEW POST

Categories

Catholic Church celebrities confession Faith Family heaven hell parenting Politics Religion saints trends
Fertile Soil

In search of a Catholic mindset



A world Youth Day pilgrim prays at Sacred Heart Church in Krakow, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)


Soon after the terrorist attack in Orlando, Catholic leaders, writers and commentators issued “Catholic” responses to the tragedy. The reactions to the violence, however, were often contradictory and the ensuring debate over whether Catholics should apologize was contentious. Bishops were pitted against bishops, cardinals disagreed with the pope and Catholic bloggers detailed every stage of the dispute.

A similar discord among Catholics can be found in opinions about the presidential election. Certain Catholic commentators claim that a Catholic could never vote for Trump, while others respond that a Catholic could never vote for Clinton. This sequence of disagreement is repeated with every major global event, political issue and election. These “Catholic” responses seem to betray more about the authors’ personal views than their Catholicism. The only common link among all these “Catholic public opinions” is the authors’ claims to be Catholic.

One cause of the bifurcation of Catholic viewpoints is the death of a collective Catholic mindset.

Catholics no longer think like Catholics. They think like Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, socialists or secularists, but not as Catholics.

In the past, historians attempted to categorize the collective thought of a historical group, and numerous books appeared detailing the Greek mind, the Victorian mind or the Islamic mind. Other scholars explored the Zeitgeist or the “spirit of the age,” trying to capture the essence of a particular time period. French historians in the mid-twentieth century looked at mentalite, which could be defined as the thoughts, values and beliefs of a shared community. German scholars used the term, Weltanschauung, or worldview, in an effort to describe the way an individual or group viewed life and the world.

Some Christian thinkers sought to borrow these theories from the social sciences and apply them to Christianity. Harry Blamires, a devout Anglican and friend of C. S. Lewis, wrote The Christian Mind, The Post-Christian Mind, and Recovering the Christian Mind. Monsignor Romano Guardini held the unique position at the University of Berlin of chair in the Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Weltanschauung, and prolifically wrote on the encounter of faith with the world. These past attempts to examine the fundamental aspects of a Christian mindset, however, have fallen from favor.

In the academic world, the broad categorization of a mentalite or zeitgeist is seen as an overgeneralization. Critics claim that no one can summarize millions of individual minds, and any attempt to draw a generalization would merely rely on stereotypes. Current academics seek to disrupt and complicate the standard categories, rather than reinforce them. They look for the female who challenges gender roles, or they highlight the young Muslim who promotes secularism.

From a popular perspective, a collective mentality has a negative connotation, connected to the ideas of herd-mentality or groupthink. This hostile attitude is manifest particularly in an older generation of Catholics who grew up in a church still promoting a traditional mindset but who came of age in a culture that promoted a modern, secular way of thinking. They can promptly recall memorized sections of the Baltimore Catechism, but jokingly refer to it as a form of brainwashing. Modern culture values critical thinking and individualism, and celebrates revolutionaries and trailblazers. Individuals who protest, contest, revolt  and critique are praised; while those who uphold and defend are dismissed. All this, regardless, of the positions held. Thus, not only are the particular tenants of a Catholic mentality under attack, but the very concept that Catholics should think a particular way is questioned.

Preliminary steps to recover a Catholic mindset

In order to begin thinking like a Catholic, individuals must first reduce their exposure to secular mentalities. Modern American are inundated with beliefs and values hostile to a Catholic mindset, and Catholics need to limit this exposure, especially through the media — television, the Internet and movies. One, for example, cannot listen to heavy metal music or hip hop for hours, and then, attempt mental prayer. Your mind would be flooded with noise. Similarly, if one is inundated with the rhetoric of a secular mentality, you cannot turn it off, and think like a Catholic.

Secondly, a Catholic mindset must focus primarily on religious elements. In the last few decades, ambiguities have blurred the nature of the Catholic Church. Some see the Church as a place for fellowship. Others see the Catholic Church as an institution working for social justice and still others expect to be entertained at church. If a group of Catholics exclusively focus on any of these aspects, they will be an utter failure. Nonreligious institutions are far more proficient at entertaining or political activism.

Catholics need to focus on the church’s fundamental function, the salvation of souls. No secular institution offers this function. There is no competition in this endeavor, the most important task of the church. At its fundamental level, the Catholic mindset thus needs to exclusively focus on religious elements, without the political and social ambiguities.

The Catholic mindset should not seek to compromise on its principles. Progressive commentators often propose finding a theological meeting point between the Catholic worldview and the secular worldview, and they believe this shared intersection could become a place for dialogue. While it is necessary to engage with everyone, the purpose of the encounter for Catholics is to bring others to Christ, and not to change the tenants of the faith for the sake of dialogue.

Compromising the fundamentals of Catholicism will only hurt the church and fail to attract others to it. For current members, the result of a watered-down faith is lukewarm Catholics, who are ambivalent about their faith and immobilized. For those who are the object of the outreach, why would they be moved to join the Catholic Church? Who willingly makes the sacrifice to become Catholic for partial truths? It sounds like common sense, but the Catholic mindset should be unabashedly Catholic.

The only mechanism to ensure a unified Catholic mindset is to control membership. In every example, dissenters within an organization weaken the group. If the Republican Party is run by individuals espousing Democratic ideals, then the Republican Party will do poorly. If a pro-life group has members supporting abortion, they will be removed from the group. It makes no sense for members of an institution to not support its most basic ideals and principles. Yet, the Catholic Church has numerous Catholic politicians and individuals working at Catholic universities among many other Catholics who publicly denounce Catholic teachings.

In order to unify a Catholic mindset, those converting to Catholicism should go through a long process which instructs them in the faith and guarantees that they are serious about Catholicism, and not joining the faith for pragmatic reasons. More importantly, a second mechanism needs to be in place for adult Catholics, who were baptized as infants. The Catholic faith has clearly delineated teachings on numerous issues, and if a Catholic publicly denounces those teachings, then there must be some repercussion. If the church fails to correct erring Catholics, people will not know what Catholicism entails, resulting in confusion over what are the key elements of Catholicism.

Catholics often find it easy to compromise their positions, to water-down the faith in order to accommodate current trends in popular culture, and to ignore Catholics who denounce the faith, but these action harm the church. If Catholics only share what is popular, they will focus on what is vague and fluff, barely moving beyond that God is love.

Conversely, if Catholics collectively followed the preliminary steps I outlined above, they actions will result in an increased level of rebuke and persecution. Quite simply, if Catholics seek to be Catholic and reject secular culture, then there will be pushback from society. People with a strong religious mindset can be difficult to live around. They point out immoral actions, they stand for objective truths, they critique society and so forth. All of these actions can make people uncomfortable and result in an intensification of persecution against Catholics.

The pushback against a stronger Catholic mentality is not necessarily a bad thing. It will lead to unity among Catholics, as external threats typically help to heal internal divisions. Periods of persecution, historically, also led to internal growth. The church grew through the initial persecutions under the Roman Empire, and amid the strong anti-Catholicism in United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In sum, very few Catholics think like Catholics. In order to restore a Catholic mindset, Catholics needs to break away from secular culture and embrace an abashedly Catholic way of thinking. This mentality would focus primarily on religious elements and not compromise on truths. Additionally, the church should have a tighter monitoring of membership and Catholic institutions, and in the face of these efforts, Catholic should expect renewed persecution.

Principles of a Catholic mentality

The above points highlight step towards reestablishing a Catholic mindset, but what are the basic principles of Catholic thinking? What elements of Catholicism are mentioned over and over again for the last two thousand years? What is present in the Bible and repeated in the works of the Church Fathers and saints? I postulate these seven essential points. All Catholics should…

1. Seek to imitate Jesus

2. Place God at the center of all activity

3. Have an eternal perspective

4. Respect tradition

5. Have a missionary zeal

6. Be mindful of good and evil

7. Love selflessly

In the following weeks, I will elaborate of each of these points. They are not the basic teachings of Catholicism. They are the context through which Catholics should see the world, and not merely political or global events. They should provide guidance on everyday events: how to raise my child, how do I divide my time, what media should I consume and countless other decisions we face on a daily basis.


August 07, 2016 06:27
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


Time to move the March for Life



Victor Jauquet was one of the younger representatives of Our Lady of Victory in Arbutus at the 2016 March for Life. (Erik Zygmont/CR Staff)

Every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, hundreds of thousands of people from around the country descend on Washington D.C. to petition for the end of abortion and showcase the strength and youthfulness of the pro-life movement. And every year, the weather is horrible. Without fail, it’s either freezing cold or snowing, and this past Friday was no exception.

Media blackout

After attending the march, one feels re-energized about the pro-life cause, and confident the tide has turned on this important moral struggle. That positive energy is dampened, however, when you see the complete secular media blackout of the event or the blatant dishonesty. That is, the national news rarely covers it, and if they do, they give equal time to the handful of pro-abortion protestors and drastically underreport the number of marchers.

Pro-life organizations have documented the lopsided media coverage, and the March for Life organization, under new and younger leadership, have made a point to increase media coverage.

A radical proposal

I do not intend to duplicate their critique of the media blackout, but propose a radical shift in the way the march is organized. That is, the march should be moved to another date. The traditional date - January 22 - is the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, and many schools and organizations have made plans to attend the event on the January date.

It is always difficult to change, but the March for Life should be moved to an early fall date, for example on the last Saturday of September.



Peggy Nichols traveled from Dallas to walk in the March for Life, on crutches, with Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville. (Erik Zygmont/CR Staff)

Weather

No organization would intentionally plan for a major rally in January due to possibility of horrible weather. Some years, it was dangerously cold, and marchers sought out shelter in nearby museums and restaurants. I recall seeing parents desperately trying to warm their children near heaters after spending hours in the cold. The potential for cold weather makes it irresponsible to venture out with small children and attend the march as a family, which seems odd for a pro-life event.

This past Friday, numerous organizers cancelled their buses due to snow storm. Many that went were stuck in bad weather as they tried to return home. I followed the story online as buses from my alma mater, Franciscan University, were stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Go for a million

During a warmer time of year and on a weekend, the March for Life should aim for one million participants. The media can only ignore crowds below a certain number. They can only diminish the numbers to a degree, and their favorite phrase is thousands of people. The more accurate estimates are: “Around 250,000 people attended the march until 2010. Estimates put the 2011 and 2012 attendances at 400,000 each, and the 2013 March for Life drew an estimated 650,000 people.”

Few rallies generate enough interest for a million participants, but the March for Life is nearly there. With a million marchers, the media would be hard pressed to ignore its historical significance. 

Parish and family model

The goal of a million participants is reachable. The final push could be accomplished by a strategic plan to involve families. Marching in cold weather and on weekdays has prevented many pro-life families, both young and old, from attending. The move to a weekend in late September could provide a huge boost with that demographic. It could be easily facilitated by working with church leaders to ensure that every parish in the mid-Atlantic region has at least one bus attending the march (many already do).   

Schools

If you have attended the march recently, you know the crowd is mostly composed of high school and college students, the only age groups crazy enough to brave the harsh conditions. Relying on schools as a means to bring young marchers makes a summer date impossible. The September date ensures that it is early enough in the school year that they could miss a Friday, as a travel day, without major repercussions. One individual from Baltimore informed me that the January date conflicts with midterms and preparations for Catholic Schools Week, making it difficult for local school children to attend the march.

Political pressure

One of the advantages of scheduling the march on a weekday in January was the presence of lawmakers, and undoubtedly, fewer members of Congress will be present on a weekend in the fall. I doubt any politician was swayed by the presence of pro-lifers, but a massive million-person march a little more than a month before elections would provide far more political pressure. In other words, there is more to be gained than lost.

Think outside the box

Strangely, the march may have gotten more coverage this year than in any past years. It was not the events that played out in the nation’s capital. When several buses were stranded in Pennsylvania, the passengers got out of the bus, built an altar of snow, and several priests concelebrated Mass on the edge of the snowy highway. Pictures of the Mass went viral, and the story was covered by numerous news programs across the country.

Involve individuals with huge social media followings. Matt Walsh, for example, is a local pro-life advocate, and he had the most-commentated Facebook post of 2015 (620,111 comments on one post)! He and others could generate attention for the march without the traditional networks.

Install a station of 20 to 30 buttons across Constitution Avenue, and have every marcher hit one as they pass, generating a running total of the exact number of participants. Something unusual, like a Mass on the side of a highway, might create more attention than hundreds of thousands of of marchers alone.

It is time

A few years back, I was caught in a snow storm driving back to Steubenville after attending the march. It was a stressful drive back, and fortunately, we make it back to campus safely. One car that left right after us got into an accident, but no one was badly injured. Parents are going to be more reluctant to let their children go to the march in inclement weather, especially with the thousands of students stuck in this year’s storm. It might be a sign that it’s time to move the march to another date, and the nation’s most important pro-life event will be stronger for it. 

Also see:

Life beats blizzard, say participants in 2016 March for Life

Why I am pro-life

 
 

January 29, 2016 10:24
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


The education of a war hawk


Ten years ago following John Paul II’s condemnation of the invasion of Iraq, I penned an email to my friends and family. I explained that the pope was not speaking “ex cathedra”, but rather, he was making a personal statement. As such, it was not infallible, and Catholics were, therefore, not bound to accept his statement as an official teaching of the church. Moreover, I argued that the pope was wrong, and I cited numerous examples from history when popes erred on political stances.

My email, which still is in my sent box, was riddled with the standard pre-war jargon. It was not a preemptive war, I wrote, but a defensive war against a constant aggressor in Saddam Hussein. We could not appease him, like the great powers did with Hitler in the 1930s. The credibility of the United States and the United Nations demanded action.

I even cited a section of the Catechism: “Peace is not merely the absence of war... Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons.” Thus I maintained, peace could only be achieved in Iraq, if we went to war.

I was wrong. In retrospect, I do not believe the war was justified. From a historical perspective, it was far longer and more costly (in innocent human lives) than anyone anticipated. The current state, 10 years later, is on the brink of collapse, and the whole region is in turmoil.

If there is one bright spot for me in this sad episode, it is that I learned a great lesson. In 2003, I was a cocky, know-it-all 23-year-old, and without consideration, I dismissed the opinion of one of the most brilliant and holiest individuals of our time. Additionally, I believed in our political leaders (WMDs and all) over the wisdom of the church. Today, I am far more cautious.

It seems like déjà vu. Another president, ironically a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is pushing for war in the Mideast. On the other end, a new pope is calling for dialogue and prayer. I do not know what the best approach is to the bloody civil war in Syria, but this time, I am more inclined toward prayers over missiles.

Many people have laid out the case against the war. The prospects of a positive outcome are slim as the rebels are backed by al-Qaeda, and the chemical weapons (as well as American weapons) would likely fall into the hands of terrorists. Even with a victory, a post-Assad regime would mean the elimination of ancient Christian communities and other minorities as well, through mass killings and a forced exodus. In short, the violence and tension would only increase after the regime fell.

Additionally, the United States does not have a longterm plan. Bush argued, with oversimplified logic, that America should topple dictators and bring democracy to the Middle East. It was a plan, a bad one, but people could rally around and fight for the cause of freedom. As I understand our current position, our strategy is not to get involved in Syria’s direct future, but only to supply weapons and launch missile strikes. It does not seem sensible to provide more weapons and missiles to a region that already has too many, and then, just leave.

The Iraq war has left me with a bad taste for war and politics in general. So, what should we do with Syria? The pope has suggested prayer and fasting. To many, he must appear naïve.

At the time of Jesus, many in the Jewish community wanted a messiah to lead a military revolution against the Roman Empire. Instead of a warmonger, they got a prayermonger. On the crucifix, the symbol of our faith, he offered a prayer of forgiveness for his Roman tormentors, not a call for revenge.

In the early church, Christians faced a long and brutal persecution from the same Roman Empire. They did not launch an armed resistance, but like Jesus, they prayed for them. In the end, God rewarded their persistence in prayer.

Sadly over time, the church drifted away from the message of prayer instead of war, but in the last two centuries, stripped of her power, armies, and state, she has rediscovered it. In the world of realpolitik, recent popes would have been bad politicians, and even worse generals. That’s okay, because they have been good Christians.

In the future, military action may be justified, and I’ll support our nation. In the interim, I will follow the call of the pope to fast and pray (especially this Saturday) for Syria. Sorry Obama, this time I stand with the church.

(My conscience is troubled by the fact that we are not doing enough for the people of Syria, and perhaps, the missile strikes will help them. My position against the strikes, however, is confirmed by the numerous westerners and western religious living in Syria that have asked Obama not to expand the American war effort)
 
 
  
 

September 03, 2013 04:42
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


The Church and Politics

I disagree with most pundits, and perhaps, most Americans. We deserve our politicians and our laws. Candidates feed us a fictitious narrative that Washington is broken (this much is true), but the American people are exceptional. They tell us: send me to Washington, and I’ll fix it by restoring honesty, transparency, and a spirit of cooperation. It is a popular message, resting blame on someone else. Politicians blame each other and citizens blame politicians, no one accepting fault for any of our problems.

If Washington is the problem, the solution is fairly easy. Vote incumbents out. Yet, how many cycles have we seen over the past few decades? How many waves of new politicians have promised change, but Washington seems to have more in trouble than ever?

For a second, consider the current political circle as a reflection of our society. That is to say, the partisan nature of Washington is a reflection of the steep divide in the electorate. The moral confusion of our laws is a reflection of the relativism of contemporary American culture.

When the housing market crashed, causing a major economic recession, politicians were quick to play the blame game. Republicans insisted that government-backed loans distorted the market and helped create an unsustainable bubble, which eventually burst. Democrats countered that the deregulation of financial institutions allowed risky, predatory loans to flourish without any oversight. Government guarantees and deregulation made the housing crisis possible, but these measures did not cause the bubble and subsequent crash. The root cause was greed. Millions of bankers, brokers, real estate agents, and home owners knowingly participated in unsound purchases, but they overlooked this concern in order to reap huge short-term gains.

No politician discusses the pandemic of greed that plagued the housing market crash. If avarice is mentioned, it is reserved for the CEOs of top banks; it is not referred to as a societal issue. Moreover, government cannot effectively deal with some of the problems facing our country. Political leaders cannot legislate honesty or thrift, especially with the current amoral and secular view of the state.

This era should be golden age for the church. People dissatisfied with the government are meandering around, searching for an upright institution which they can trust. In addition, religion offers precisely the answers to many of the problems facing our country. Is not the church best suited to offer a critique of greed and illustrate the importance of charity and moderation?

I am concerned that this moment might be squandered. Church leaders, seeing politics in chaos and experiencing direct attacks from it, have entered the fray, hoping to provide some moral guidance. I have supported the efforts of the bishops, applauding their stance against the HHS mandate, but a more political church could also stand to lose more than it gains.

Politics has toxicity, affecting everything that comes into contact with it. As soon as the church enters a campaign, some individuals are turned off, and that’s fine. The church is meant to stand up for truth and not for what is popular. Problems arise when clerics working with Republicans on traditional marriage are viewed as supporting Republicans or when church leaders allying with Democrats on immigration are seen as backing Democrats. Charges of a partisan church are unfounded, but they are numerous. In many ways, I am not arguing against what the church does, but how it is viewed, especially through the lens of a distrustful media. Non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics mainly hear about the church through news stories, and the media overlooks its spiritual and charitable activities and focuses exclusively on the church’s scandals and political actions. Many outside observers have expressed the opinion that the church resembles a political party more than a religion.

Practicing Catholics face a different challenge if they have an overly political worldview. If my predictions hold true, the church will face and lose many political challenges in the near future. Some religious institutions have had to reduce services or close down all together due to recent rulings; more will follow. Several religious leaders and schools have faced charges of intolerance and discrimination; this will only increase. If individuals place too much emphasis on political rulings, overturning laws, or getting favorable politicians elected, they could despair in the coming years.

Jesus lived at a time which was not unlike ours in some respects. The Jewish community was at the mercy of the Roman Empire, and they faced severe limitations in the practice of their faith. Jesus, however, had very little to say about the Romans. In his encounter with Pilate he remained uninterested in political power: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18: 36). Numerous political writers speculate if Jesus be a Republican or Democrat. I wonder if we are reading the same Gospels. If Jesus returned today, He would not be seen at conventions or campaign stops. He would be at the back of our churches, asking people as they left: remember me, my teachings, and my commandments? His harsh words were not directed towards the Romans, but members of his religious community that drifted away.

What is the main political problem facing the church? It is not that religious freedom is under attack. It is that many Catholics either support these measures or do not care about them. The elephant in the room is that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who implemented the mandate, is Catholic. The Vice-President, who advised on the matter, is Catholic. The Speaker of the House when the healthcare bill was passed is Catholic. Furthermore, the majority of Catholics voted for the current administration, and they will likely vote the same way again, even after these matters have come to light. If the majority of Catholics upheld the teachings of the church, there would be no political struggle, no attack on religious freedom.    

We do not need political reform. We need spiritual reform. We do not need another political party. We need an alternative to politics.

Sadly, we deserve our politicians. Our government has faltered due the lack of morality in our country. New laws or new politicians will not correct the course of this country, only a return to morality. I look expectantly at the church and its leaders to lead the way.

(I am in no way discouraging Catholics to vote or become involved in politics. It is a Catholic duty to perform these actions. I am merely stating the priority of the church to be a spiritual entity over its role in politics, and its primary mission is to lead people to God rather than seek success in politics.)

September 21, 2012 08:19
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


Suburbanization and the declining importance of the parish


Jennifer Fulwiler of the National Catholic Register recently blogged about the advantages of living within walking distance to your parish. She argued that some of the benefits were more frequent reception of the sacraments, a stronger bond with the parish community, and increased friends and socializing at the church. It would be redundant to restate her arguments, but in the following paragraphs, I would like to add some context by analyzing the history of the walkable parish community, its decline, and the decline’s impact. 

If you have ever toured the European countryside, you are familiar with the layout of the traditional farming village. Designed before the advent of automobiles, the towns are small clusters with houses grouped close together, surrounded by communal fields. The parish church is typically located off the central square, within walking distance from every area of the community.

The church was not only the geographical center of the village, but also the main meeting place for the people of the town. In the pre-modern period, people would gather for Mass every Sunday and holy day, and they would return repeatedly for devotions, processions, and other public prayers. In short, the parish was a central hub for spiritual and social activities. 

The rise of industrialization ended the farming village’s place as the main organizational unit of European society. Starting in the late 1700s, former farmers rushed into urban areas to find new jobs, and the mass migration destroyed the local, religious culture of the village. In the cities, young people found themselves unrestricted from traditional moral parameters, no longer a part of religious community, and susceptible to new secular ideologies, such as Marxism. Many of the new, urban poor, therefore, dropped their attachment to religion. 

The fall of the village parish is part of the theory of secularization, often overshadowed by more well-known elements of the thesis, including the modern state's replacement of the church’s role in education, health care, and welfare, and the secular intellectual shift during the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. The link between industrialization and secularization, however, was not lost on some contemporary Catholics who created the Catholic Land Movement in order to recreate the traditional farming community as a means to revive the faith, a movement that ultimately failed.

The American story runs counter the European experience as our country was founded by primarily by agrarian Protestants. Catholic immigrants did not arrive en masse until after industrialization and settled predominately in urban areas. Unlike their European counterparts, American Catholics recreated their parish communities in urban areas, spurred on by intense anti-Catholicism that excluded them from most of society. In cities across the United States, Catholic ghettos grew in numbers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, organized along ethnic lines and centered around the parish church.

The ethnic, urban parishes had separate schools, associations, social clubs, festivals, and a slew of religious activities such as Masses, novenas, and Forty-Hours' devotions. At the height of these parishes, typical American Catholics lived in close proximity to their church and visited it several times a day for educational, spiritual, and social activities. Outside of the home, their lives revolved around the parish.  

The typical American parish began to unravel in the 1950s as Catholics moved out of the city to the suburbs, a result of post-war prosperity and raising tensions in urban areas. Suburbanites might live a ten-to-fifteen-minute car ride away from their parish, nixing frequent visits to it, and they more frequently opt to send their children to public schools instead of parochial schools, further rupturing the connection between parishioner and parish. Consequently, today's Catholics only visit their parish for Mass on Sunday.

The new suburban attitude compounded the negative effects of the new geographic layout of the parish community. Prosperity did not bring a fulfillment of material desires, but a want for more. People’s highest concerns were for a larger house, a nicer car, and more household items; thus, materialism supplanted religion. In the 1950s, American had just survived the Great Depression and World War II, and Americans were living a much more comfortable life, a life which did not need spiritual intercession; accordingly, attendance at parish events declined. The suburban life also offered much more competition to parish activities. Children were placed into recreational sports, music and dance classes, and a number of other activities. Families were so busy that attending a church activity on weeknight became impossible. 

It is bleak period for parish life. While some parishes are thriving, many urban churches are closing and some suburban parishes are being merging. Sadly, most Catholics think they are “active” members of their community, if they attend a donut social after Mass. 

Reestablishing vibrant parishes is fundamental to reviving Catholic culture. Primarily, the local church needs to be a destination for prayer. In addition to attending Mass, parishioners should be encouraged to frequent confession, adoration, stations, and other religious devotions. Parishes also needs to be reestablished as a place for education, providing accessible and authentic Catholic education for school-age children and ongoing adult education with Bible studies and other classes. Next, parishes would benefit from the establishment of numerous associations: youth, young adult, women’s and men’s groups. Membership in an organization, such as the Knights of Columbus or Legion of Mary, undoubtedly brings an individual closer to the parish community. Lastly, parish communities could add a social dimension by sponsoring more events like movie nights, dinners, or dances. It is the duty of the laity to help organize all of these events, support them by being present, and encourage other individuals to attend them as well.   

Like the European case, the decline of the parish was only one piece of the puzzle in a increasingly secular America. The cultural revolution of the 1960s and confusion over the implementation of the Second Vatican Council added to the reduction of parish activities. Nonetheless, I see the revival of the parish as a tightly knit community - physically, spiritually, and socially - as foundational to the resurgence of American Catholicism.    

July 12, 2012 03:07
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


Facebook as the new public square: Debating religion by updating your status



 
When I first joined Facebook, status updates focused on recounting mundane daily activities, such as: “I had a great omelet for breakfast,” or “Found some great deals at the grocery store.” Fortunately, our use of social media has evolved, and amid the traditional pictures, comical forwards and announcements, a growing number of people are now sharing links to online articles and blogs. Depending on your friends and subscriptions, your Facebook feed could serve as a veritable gateway to the news. 
On the one hand, the distance of social media allows people to express their religious views more boldly. While I am hesitant to bring up religious topics with my acquaintances in daily encounters, sticking with the noncontroversial topics of the weather and sports, I have no reservations about posting religious articles on Facebook, clearly visible to my diverse collection of friends, representing a hodgepodge of different faiths as well as non-believers. 
 
On the other hand, the separation of the online environment that allows us to be bolder with our religious activities also enables more bluntness in the comment section. People tend to be more civil in face-to-face discussions, avoiding confrontation and using veiled criticism, but individuals online are more inclined to be direct and frank with their comments.
 
Mix the extra brashness of Facebook users with the intensity of recent religious debates, like same-sex marriage and the HHS mandate, and a highly contentious atmosphere emerges.  In short, Facebook is the new arena for the masses to debate, replacing the Greek agora, Roman forum, medieval university, and Enlightenment salon.        
 
I make it a habit to NOT get involved in online debates due to my lack of time and what I see as the tendency of many people to only state their opinions rather than engage the other side. Nevertheless, I have been drawn to read many threads, intrigued by the style of argumentation rather than the content, and I have noticed a pattern emerging in many of the debates. Similar arguments appeared regardless of the topic, and in following paragraphs, I want to address four claims repeatedly leveled at people posting religious links.
 
Claim 1: Religious individuals are judgmental, intolerant bigots full of hatred.
 
Unfortunately, some Catholics are very hateful, and this was even more of an issue in the past. The official position of the church, however, is to love everyone, regardless of their actions or beliefs. We should not judge any individuals, and we should be tolerant of every person. 
 
When the focus shifts to the realm of ideas and actions, we can and should be judgmental, and in some cases, reject and even hate ideas. Am I bigot or hater because I judged murder to be wrong? That is absurd. 
 
The distinction between judging people and ideas is essential to maintain when debating online. Point out this difference often, and never slip into a personal attack, which undermines the Catholic position and drives people away.
 
Claim 2: It is wrong to assert general statements.
 
Even when one cautiously avoids discussing individuals, some people attack the ability to propose any universal statements. For example, X is wrong. This position is an extreme form of relativism and impossible to justify. The claim is a self-contradiction as it contains at least two universal propositions:  (1) General statements exist. (2) They are wrong to assert.  Typically, it is easy to debunk this line of reasoning by citing the numerous general statements made by the other individual. 
 
Claim 3: A general statement is offensive to people who disagree with it. 
 
This claim might be true, but I would counter that Catholics are more concerned with truth than not being offensive. If we are being polite, speaking the truth, and not discussing individuals, it is not wrong to offend someone. As a teacher, I might offend Johnny by instructing him that two plus two does not equal five, but I need to be truthful and correct him, even if it hurts his feelings.
Secondly, I would point out that religious individuals are not any more offensive than any other person holding a position. Every proposition is either true or false. If Catholics believe X is wrong and dissenters hold X is right, their position is also a universal, and is it not equally offensive to Catholics who disagree with it? The whole concept that religious people always think they are right and everyone else is wrong is a scam. Everyone does! 
 
Claim 4: Since the church has so many problems, it should not tell other people what is right and wrong. 
 
This claim represents a simple ad hominem argument, a common fallacy that seeks to discredit an argument by attacking the messenger. We would all be in trouble if only perfect individuals could give instructions. There would be no instructions. 
The best way to defuse this argument is acknowledge the errors done by church members, starting with the denial of Peter and continuing to the present day. The church is composed of men, and all men are sinners. It does not mean the message is wrong.    
 
Conclusion
 
What can we learn from this review? One glaring consistency is the hypocrisy of some of the claims: hatefully calling someone a hater, condemning general statements with a universal, claiming offense while equally offending someone else, and instructing someone not to instruct others. 
 
I am, however, very sympathetic to the last claim. We need to look inward before we look at others, being the hardest on ourselves, the next toughest on those closest to us, and the most lenient with those who disagree with us. Sadly, we often do the reverse. 
Lastly, the main point of this article is that the method of argumentation is much more important than the content. Onlookers will forget the syllogisms but remember the tone of the exchange. Convince people with your charity more than your rhetoric.       

June 14, 2012 02:53
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


Why we are bored at Mass

A few years ago, a family friend from France visited us for a few days, and in an effort to expose him to American culture, we took him to a baseball game. Expectations were high as we drove to New York to attend a highly contentious game between the Yankees and Red Sox, but after a few innings, our friend was nodding off. I quizzed him, “Isn’t this awesome?” He simply responded, “I am bored.”

How could he be bored? The game was the height of excitement, a storied rivalry, the electricity of a sellout crowd, and the stadium a rush of sounds, smells, and sights. On further review, my friend’s boredom makes sense. He did not know the rules of the game, the cheers and chants, the players, or the history of the teams. The unfolding game, which many Americans would enjoy and pay good money to attend, was meaningless for him.

For most people, their experiences at Mass are like a French person at a baseball game. They do not know the symbols, the text or the movements. Due to their lack of knowledge, much of the Mass is meaningless, and therefore, it is boring. Unlike baseball, Mass nevertheless does have intrinsic value, and even without knowledge, a person could experience a profound feeling of mystery and awe.

Furthermore, some liturgists have added numerous aspects of American culture, including popular music, dance and other elements, in order to allure people back to church. This method may be good in bringing people back to Mass, but it is only a first step. It also might be dangerous as amid the new trappings of the liturgy the true meaning of the Eucharist is harder to discern. Returning to the initial analogy, my friend might have enjoyed the baseball game more while indulging in foie gras and a glass of Chardonnay with eurodance blaring over the speakers, but a baseball purest would be horrified. The only way to appreciate something one does not understand is to immerse one’s self in its culture.

Recently at a meeting of a Catholic men’s group, the speaker began by asking the attendees why they attend church on Sunday. People discussed receiving the Eucharist and the graces that accompanied this gift. Many individuals suggested that going to Church was like attending a communal meal that unites the members of the parish. Undoubtedly, one receives many blessing by attending Mass, including forgiveness of sins, unity of the community and receiving Jesus in Communion.

Another essential aspect of the Mass is the sacrificial dimension. Catholics believe during Mass the priest offers the sacrifice of Jesus dying on Calvary to the Father in atonement for our sins. After watching the movie, The Passion of the Christ, I wondered how life changing it must have been to witness in person the final events of Jesus’ life, yet I am bored at Mass, forgetting the same sacrifice is unfolding in front of me.

How can one better participate in this mystery? I often thought that I needed to sing louder (I apologize to every person that has ever sat in front of me), say the responses without any errors, or make the sign of the cross with exact precision to better partake in the liturgy, but if Mass is a sacrifice, my participation is connected to my offerings beyond any activities that I might perform during the Mass. We could offer specific sacrifices, such as fasting before mass for an hour or giving a material possession away or accepting a particular suffering. In short, we are called to offer our lives to Jesus, who gave everything, including His life, for us, and thus unite our small contribution to His perfect and infinite sacrifice.

Initially, our men’s group expected to receive numerous spiritual benefits by going to Mass, and it is right to desire these graces. Our relationship with God, however, cannot be one sided. As I learned more about the Mass as a sacrifice, it became apparent that we needed to give as well as receive at Mass.

Our culture is centered on activities that excite us and entertain us. Going to a movie or concert, we walk away from these events judging them by what we got out of them. Mass is a cultural oddity, a baseball game in France. For once a week, it is not about us. The concept of attending an event to make an offering is strange. The whole concept of sacrifice is peculiar to many people today. Since the fundamental concepts behind the Eucharist are foreign to most people, we often sit in the pews bored, wondering when the entertainment is going to begin, not realizing we are not fulfilling our role.

 

 

 

June 08, 2012 03:38
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi