site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of December 26, 2022

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Goodbye to one of the last great men of Christian Europe, an apostle of being to a nihilistic world, and one of the few contemporaneous people I look to as a genuine example for my life. I am sad that he is no longer with us, but more sad for us than for him. For as the pagans recognized, "all who have duly purified themselves by philosophy...pass to still more beautiful abodes which it is not easy to describe, nor have we now time enough." (Plato, Phaedo)

I'm not sure if this needs a statement of culture-war relevance, but Benedict XVI is the closest person I can think of in our age to really living out the west's classical paradigm of an excellent human life: to be a wise, cultured, orthodox Christian gentleman. The value of this paradigm will likely be discussed and debated within the coming days.

In truth--one thing is certain: there exists a night into whose solitude no voice reaches; there is a door through which we can only walk alone--the door of death. In the last analysis all the fear in the world is fear of this loneliness. From this point of view, it is possible to understand why the Old Testament has only one word for hell and death, the world sheol; it regards them as ultimately identical. Death is absolute loneliness. But the loneliness into which love can no longer advance is--hell.

This brings us back to our starting point, the article of the Creed that speaks of the descent into hell. This article thus asserts that Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness, that in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he. Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it. Now only deliberate self-enclosure is hell or, as the Bible calls it, the second death (Rev 20:14, for example). But death is no longer the path into icy solitude; the gates of sheol have been opened.

(Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity)

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

(Ratzinger, homily, Missa pro eligendo Romano Pontifice, 18 April 2005)

So. I buried a beloved uncle this week and was asked to be a pallbearer in a Catholic mass. I said yes on the spot because it was unthinkable to say no to a grieving widow, someone I also love dearly.

I quickly Googled what was involved operationally (how much to lift, how many of us would carry, etc) but stopped there. I'd have carried it miles if asked so the details didn't matter.

I hadn't realized I would be bringing it into a Catholic church, with all mourners at the service watching, and be met by the priest near the entrance. I had begun crying while carrying it, and when we passed through the door the priest said something to the effect of "we receive in the name of the father, son and holy spirit"[1]. He had a mic on his lapel somewhere and the words echoed through the church. As we brought it to the alter there was a chant or song I can't really remember the words to, but it made me really tear up.

I found it both very painful and also very beautiful.

I know this is a fairly cookie cutter thing but it may as well have been a spiritual experience for me. Something about carrying the body of someone who had lost absolutely everything, like 100.00%, to their resting place, was a powerful symbol of mercy.

This act is clearly ceremonial and unnecessary. We could easily use machines to do this and spare the pallbearers the emotional gut punch of carrying their dead loved one. But the whole funeral is just as unnecessary by that logic. That's not the point.

I am as cynical an atheist as they come, but the comfort and beauty of this process was not lost on me. At all. Ideally when a loved one passes you would all get together and bespoke produce exactly the most beautiful, memorable and touching experience to honor them. But that's not something most people can do. It's even more challenging that the people who know best what the deceased would want are often too stricken with grief to plan anything. It's another form of practiced mercy to offer this.

The Catholic Church has a lot of problems but as far as traditions go, it's pretty good at this transition from life to death thing. This is to say, I found these quotes from Ratzinger very timely and as something to reflect on.

Thank you.

  1. I'm paraphrasing. If anyone knows exactly what he would have said please let me know. I was so shocked I'm drawing a blank.

Thanks for this comment, it was touching to read. Very sorry for your loss and wishing peace and consolation to you.