I wrote a post a while back called St. Kateri and Incarnation, in which I discussed the Franco-Iroquois town of Kahnawake and the canonization of St. Kateri, a Mohawk girl who died of fever. In the post I praised how the gospel can allow cultural synthesis, in contrast to the Babyblonian approach the fearful New Englanders engaged in.
I still love and praise the beauty of cosmopolitan places. Multi-cultural coexistence is majestic. Unlike the banal and ugly attempt at New England monocultural imperium, Kahnawake exemplified how peoples can learn from one another. Whether it's Chang'An, Samarkhand, Rome, Constantinople, Paris, New York, Palmyra, Baghdad, Alexandria, Timbuktu, wherever, cosmopolitan ethos can defuse insane nationalism and allow humanity to shine through. It leads to strange, novel, creative, and ultimately beautiful, cultural syntheses to happen that otherwise would never occur.
Of course there are downsides too. The mix of cultures can create a heated environment. Crime and poverty tend to thrive in such an environment. It's a part of the cost of many differing peoples existing together where central authority is more about maintaining the peace rather than imposing any single vision of order. These tend to be places where the Gospel of Jesus Christ can thrive.
In fact, the gospel implies a relativizing of all cultures. It's not that all cultures are good in of themselves, some possess virtues others lack, others suffer from vices that can overwhelm and poison. Rather, the gospel does not promote a single culture as belonging to God. This was a part of Paul's mission to the Gentiles and his war against the Judaizing heresy among the Church in Galatia. The Jews are the first, who were given the oracles of God, but they are not absolutized.
The Church should work to promote a multi-cultural environment. However, there is cosmopolitanism and there is cosmopolitanism. A certain kind of relativizing of cultural absolutism by coexistance can happen anywhere among any kind of people. It does not imply a Church who advocates that, in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile, Greek or Scythian.
In my prior post, I was allowed to be seduced by an accident of history for a theological program. The French and Iroquois mixing in Kahnawake was instituted by economic prerogatives. The French lacked the kind of anxiety the English had about their own identity, which, among Puritans, was only amplified by their separation from the motherland and their theological paradigm. The French in Canada were lesser nobility and peasants. They lacked the kind of nationalism that would result in the French Revolution, where Enlightenment discourse met a Francophile vision of the world. High philosophy and base cultural prejudice and bigotry embraced in a near apocalyptic cultural upheaval.
What this was not was something inherent in Roman Catholic theology. I am not throwing all the missionaries and Jesuits under the bus, but it was less a robust vision of the Kingdom rather than an imperial policy of forming alliances. The French did not feel the need to convert the Natives to French ways. This may be out of cultural relativity or racism against the savage. Probably both existed in different degrees among merchants, farmers, missionaries and magistrates.
My original sympathy and reading were due, in no small part, to a growing love for Rome's cultural vision. I bought into the propaganda. I was tempted to believe that Rome may in fact be the Church, the tangible, visible hope in the World. I suffered with a kind of inadequacy, feeling separated from the brethren. But this was allowing my eyes to be dazzled by impressive ad campaigns to sweep away the evils of the past. This was the kind of historical phantasm I alluded to elsewhere. I wanted to believe in some neat and easy historical progression. I confess this because any writer, even on a stupid blog, ought to be responsible for his words.
I keep the old post up as a reminder, but also because I don't see any serious errors in it. By the grace of God, Holy Spirit prevented me from making obscene statements. I still affirm the good of cosmopolitan environments and the need for the Gospel to both relativize and enter into different cultural situations. However, Roman Catholic theology is no solution. In many ways, the Native American tribes saw the missionaries as connects to greater European contacts. Missionaries were weird, tolerated, emissaries of far-away princes.
Despite large failure, widespread bigotry, and many times weak theology, the widespread evangelism by Revivalist preachers brought Christ to Native Americans. It was not a large scale movement, it was still tied to English/American imperialism and land-theft, it was widely dysfunctional and rejected. However, American Indians did form church communities to worship Christ. It's this kind of Christianity that exists, in whatever form, in American Indian reservations. Roman Catholic theology did none of this, and largely disappeared in North America as the French and Spanish disappeared.
If one wants to see the fruits of Roman Catholic popular missions, observe Dia de los Muertos and the Mexican cult of Santa Muerta. Central and South America maintained adherence, even as Spain left, on account of the creole, mostly racially mixed, elite that dominated the new republics. But on the popular level, many pagan practices became synonymous with Roman Catholic practice. Thus, death can be worshiped. Church is the haunt of effeminate men and women in Latin culture.
I'm not saying that there is no good in Roman Catholic theology or practice. I can still appreciate the defiance of an Oscar Romero. However, in many cases, the hierarchy was only an aid to the status quo. One can read William Cavanaugh (a Roman Catholic scholar and ethicist that I deeply admire and respect) document and criticize the ecclesiastical silence during the despotic reign of Pinochet in Chile. Some have criticized the Roman Pontiff Francis for his relatively quiet activity in Argentina during the fascist-lite days of the Perons.
The Church is that woman in the desert who is hunted by the Dragon. The Church exists in the non-ostentatious life of Mary, who gave birth to God, and yet remains a relatively quiet figure, only lifting up her voice most prominently in the Magnificat. Perhaps, Mary should be remembered when we begin to look for an Imperial Church that can make or break princes or presidents. She is hidden and her sons are many times not obvious when one goes looking for historic titans That's a lesson I need to remember when I begin a vile love affair.