June 27, 2013 by lucieromarin
I’ve written about the different ways in which the members of the various conservative subcultures of the Church can end up as the spiritual equivalent of roadkill alongside the Catholic highway. So it has to be asked, then – why don’t all members of these subcultures end up this way?
See, it’s easy to tell someone – or to tell yourself – that the problem was only and simply the fact of being conservative, and to infer from this that the solution is to abandon the whole thing. This, however, means that the question, “Why isn’t everyone else like this?” produces dichotomised answers: they don’t think, and I do; they’re bullies, and I’m a victim; they’re religious hypocrites, and I’m sincere, and so on. But this is wrong; it’s wrong, not because these dichotomies contain no truth at all, but because they flatten reality too much. Everyone on the planet, no matter what his religion, exercises both virtue and vice in his daily life, which means that everyone who exists will sometimes cause his fellow man to suffer, and sometimes cause him to rejoice.
There is no single us/them reason why some conservatives end up in the ditch and others end up pocketing the tolls. I’d like to suggest a few other reasons why some of your friends clearly flourish and are happy in the conservative loop.
1. They’re not disappointed in their vocations. Disappointment in vocation is the number one reason my friends asked me to start this blog, but disappointment isn’t common to most people. (Not that I have actual stats on this point!) Thus, the aspects of the various subcultures that are agonising to the unvocationed (such as the millionth sermon about the holiness of marriage) are going to be the very reason that the vocationed like their subculture so much. Their subcultures delivered everything they were promised; of course they’re happy.
2. They’ve had different experiences outside the loop. Religious experience doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s influenced by your home life, school life, and work life. For some people, those lives are exhausting. Your home was weird or cruel or abnormal; your teachers, lecturers, colleagues or friends really thought that constantly insulting your religion was clever and fun; your work wasn’t satisfying. All of this affects your spiritual life; it affects how the sermon sounds, how important a parish social life is to you and the consequences of having or not having one; it affects not only what you pray about, but how you pray.
Furthermore, your experiences outside the loop affect your experiences within it: how quickly you brush off a crazy man or bounce back from pious tactlessness; how readily you resist gyrovagues, or whether or not they notice you at all. Conservative Catholics are the same as anyone else: those who come from supportive families, or satisfying work, or for whom verbal attacks on the faith are rare, enjoy a more confident and positive relationship with their religious communities because of it.
3. They’re secure in their friends. Even people who have complaints with their communities experience those communities differently once they enjoy the company of like-minded friends. (In fact, those friendships will probably turn out to be the most treasured of all friendships, because they really are exhaustion-free. You don’t get attacked for being Catholic, and you don’t get attacked for not being Catholic enough. Your love for the faith is understood, and your preference for skipping that talk in favour of a night of sci-fi is understood, too. It’s great!)
4. They don’t brood. I don’t mean to say that phlelgmatics and sanguines can’t or don’t suffer. They can and do. However, sanguines are blessed with a natural ability to bounce back, and phlegmatics are blessed with the ability to not get knocked down in the first place. And either way, they tend not to brood over injuries, whereas cholerics and melancholics, each in their own way, do. Obviously, this isn’t healthy.
5. Likewise, the behaviour that leaves the melancholic feeling bullied just feels to others like the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life. The melancholic, too, will take to heart the most depressing aspects of his subculture (doom-laden sermons, for example) and let that depression grow within him, while the sanguine, who sat thrilled and transfixed by the same sermon, will forget it five minutes after Mass because she spotted an amazing pair of shoes.
6. They’re getting enough recreation. Not everyone gets physically burnt-out because not everyone gets physically and psychologically over-committed in the first place. And that recreation provides psychological – as well as physical – refreshment.
7. They’ve come from something worse. Ask your convert-friends.