Friday 13 November 2015

A Catholic Country

Yes, it's Polski Piątek, and an opportunity for me to ponder in public all kinds of old-fashioned ideas like social cohesion. To give you an example of social cohesion, I will begin with an edited conversation I had in a shop in a small town in the Scottish Borders this week.

Canadian lady of Scottish extraction: Do you have any cheesecloth?
Scottish lady: Cheesecloth?
Canadian lady of Scottish extraction: For wrapping my Christmas cakes.
Scottish lady: Ah, muslin squares! I think we have two packages left. I'm making my cakes this week. What do you soak yours in?
Canadian lady of Scottish extraction: Brandy.
Scottish lady: Oh, I find brandy too bitter. I use port.
Scottish husband of Canadian lady: I like port.

The conversation had a slightly rocky start as I asked for the Canadian "cheesecloth" instead of the local "muslin squares." However, you will notice that the woman knew at once what I meant by wrapping my Christmas cakes, and that she herself was making them. It was all very chatty because Scots are chatty and obviously we had something in common. We have something in common with thousands of women all over Scotland in that we were making a traditional British Christmas treat that has to sit around in booze for weeks on end. Also, of course, we speak English, celebrate Christmas, are open to small talk about our domestic baking, wear ordinary western dress and had our faces uncovered in public. Our discourse was--despite my colonial diction--friendly, easy and celebrated sameness even more than diversity. I use brandy; she uses port. But the fact is, we both make Christmas cake.

[Update: Thanks to an email from a reader, I realize I should explain that what I find so amazing in this is that it is increasingly unlikely I would have such a conversation with a woman in a shop back home. I imagine a third-generation Lebanese-Canadian in my parents' intensely diverse neighbourhood would have a similar feeling of epiphany and connection in Lebanon. When I write about these issues, I am doing it from the point of view of a person whose home neighbourhood is in constant cultural flux and who is now an ethnic minority in that neighbourhood..]

Of course, I was educated in extraordinarily diverse Toronto, so I do value diversity. I think that it is okay to have highly multicultural towns and countries as long as there are also relatively monocultural towns and countries. How boring--and non-diverse--it would be if all towns and countries were as multicultural as Toronto and Canada--although possibly boring is not the word I want.

For example, despite the fact that it is over 90% Catholic is due to a hideous catastrophe wrought upon the country by invading foreigners, I think it is very interesting--and diverse--that Poland is such a Catholic country. (I have never been to a country so wedded to Catholicism as Poland, unless you count Vatican City.) There is a diversity to Poland's Catholicity, too. I will give two examples just from the past two days.

Example One

My Polish teacher writes monologues and dialogues about a Polish family of four, and the father is having some sort of mid-life crisis. In the monologue we were assigned for last night's class, the father reflects on a homily he has heard at Mass about how real love--love of family, love of Christ--is not like "Hollywood" love. After four years of class, this is the first time I have seen Chrystusa in a lesson, so I was quite thrilled. There are two Catholics-who-are-Catholics in Polish class, another Trad Mass-goer and I, and our classmates look somewhat blank as we answer the question "What do you do this weekend?" with "I went to church" or "We went to see our friends, who are nuns, in their abbey in the Isle of Wight." I can reassure the secular powers of Edinburgh Uni that our teacher is not evangelizing her post-Protestant and indifferent-Catholic students.

So I was thrilled again when our teacher played this song, whose title means "Be not afraid"--a phrase that should make any adult Catholic-who-is-a-Catholic think at once of Sw. Jan Paweł II:
The refrain goes, "Be not afraid, be not afraid/I am by you every day./Be not afraid, be not afraid/I am by you, don't be scared." Obviously "Arka Noego" (Noah's Ark) is a children's choir, and the song is--despite the punk rock riffs--rather sweet.

Example Two

So yesterday I mentioned the Polish Independence Day March in Warsaw, and it turns out I had friends among the 50,000 there. This was not a surprise. What was a surprise is that a young priest there gave a homily about preserving the Catholic nature of Poland and the Polishness of Poland with great noisy vigour, leading the crowd in such religio-patriotic slogans as "God, Honour, Fatherland." I've never heard a priest--let alone a young priest in a cassock--shout like that before. Here is a video of him:

"The Gospel, and not the Koran!"

Here is the Church coming to the aid of the state, that is, to the aid of the wishes of the people (or at least 50,000 of them), to preserve the integrity of their borders, borders--let me  remind you--that have been erased or dismantled dozens of times, leading to the deaths of millions of people.

Depending on how you feel about priests shouting and large crowds holding the same flag, you may find that video unnerving. Personally I am impressed that people care that much about their social cohesion, their ordinary life, and their freedom from the challenges of Islam. What shocks me so much about the "migrant crisis" is that what started as acute anguish and anxiety for the Christians and other religious minorities persecuted (e.g. robbed, raped, tortured, killed) by Islamists has become a flood of Islamic migrants into what remains of Christian Europe.

This is a scary The-Emperor-has-no-clothes thing to say, but the Poles are not afraid to say it. [Update: Okay, maybe I went too far there. But one thing commentators do point out is that most of the rich neighbouring Muslim countries have closed their borders to refugees. Saudi Arabia has offered to build 200 mosques for them in Germany, though!]

Update: I have just received an outraged how-dare-you-you-are-not-a-Christian email from, I think, an American not up-to-date on the migrant crisis Europe is embroiled in. For one thing, she doesn't seem to realize that the migrants aren't all refugees. (I have linked to the most sympathetic-to-the-migrants article I've found so far.) Just a reminder that I usually publish comments of people who disagree with me, as long as the language is suitable and you all don't call me names.

Update 2: Incidentally, I am sympathetic if you are shocked to your marrow at the idea of a country not wanting to take in people very much different from themselves. The majority of my readers are in Canada and the United States, and so most of us come from immigrant stock. We're used to the "Here comes everybody" approach to nation-building; at least, we're used to it in Toronto. What we're not so used to, of course, is open provocation and challenge of what turns out to be bedrock values shared by almost--but only almost--all the other ethnic/religious groups. And that said, what has hitherto worked for Canada and the USA will not necessarily work for European or Asian or African countries.

Update 3: Also, I will point out that there is a difference between a refugee who has the good fortune to get to a safe (if not ideal) place like peacetime Turkey or even Greece or Italy, and the one who leaves the safe space to seek his fortune elsewhere. Once you cross from safe country to safe country to safe country, you're not usually a refugee anymore. This is why I have donated to charities working in the Middle East but not, for example, in Calais.

Update 4: Speaking of France, a terrorist attack is taking place in Paris right now.


  1. Niech Żyje Polska! God Bless You Seraphic!

    Your Very Single Polish Reader :-)

  2. Thanks Seraphic, for having the guts to talk bluntly about this issue.

    Tragically, with the Paris attacks it looks like you were prescient, writing on the difficulties of integrating vast numbers of people who reject the fundamental tenets of the societies hosting them (like freedom of speech, freedom for women to drive, attend school, etc).

    And your comment was spot on, when you noted the bizarre shift from concern about Muslims persecuting Christians in Syria morphing into demands for Middle East Muslims to get free entry into Europe. If it looks like colonisation, smells like colonisation, ...

    And I say that as someone with 3 of 4 grandparents having been migrants! I'm all for migration, when societies can cope, and the recipients respect their host nations. Sadly, we aren't seeing that.

    We'll just have to pray more, especially for the French.
    Southern Bloke.

    1. Thank you. I don't know what else to say except that it's no accident that this happened in Paris, not Warsaw. Oh, and to pray not especially for the French but for all of Western Europe. Last night I thought "Paris today, London tomorrow?" and indeed this morning Gatwick Airport was evacuated for some reason. I keep thinking about the terrorist attack on Glasgow airport, how the terrorists were subdued (and beaten) by Glaswegian men, and how there hasn't been an attack on Glasgow since. Thank God--but also, I suspect, thank you, Glaswegian men.

    2. Heather in Toronto16 November 2015 at 15:50

      Of course it's no accident that it happened in Paris, not Warsaw. Paris is still a potent cultural symbol of the West and it's guaranteed to get a huge outpouring of Western media attention. People are less likely to be traumatized over something that didn't happen where they went on honeymoon, or at least thought about going on honeymoon, or at least think it's the kind of place you go on honeymoon.

      That at least one of the attackers was apparently born and raised in Paris doesn't overly surprise me, either. I don't know if I'd even call it a matter of failure to inculturate. After all, when your history lessons tell you that it's a long standing national tradition to engage in violent uprising when society is not to your liking...

      ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is a literally demonically insane doomsday cult that is the unholy lovechild of Islamic extremism, the breakdown of social order due to war, and American foreign policy that continues to believe against all good sense the idea that the enemy of their enemy is their ally (and therefore should be armed, trained, and encouraged, even if they are a demonically insane doomsday cult). Most of their victims are not in fact Christians and other minorities, but other Muslims whom they regard as apostate because they are insufficiently insane. And so it's no surprise that most of the people fleeing them are Muslims.

      I am all for doing a better job of ensuring adequate security screening, particularly for adults traveling alone. But I have seen some absolute filth being spewed on social media about "shutting out the barbarian hordes" when in fact, no, the only real tie between the terrorists and the people fleeing the Middle East is that these terrorists are the reason they are fleeing. That a handful of criminals were able to gain entry into another country under false pretenses in order to commit a terrible crime doesn't mean that the overwhelmingly vast majority of those fleeing are not criminals. Equating the two is kind of like blaming the primarily black church down the road for the actions of the KKK just because both self-describe as Christian.

  3. Brava, Dorothy. Very prescient of you to put your finger on the issue of the moment before we were collectively plunged back into the conversation by the tragedies of yesterday. Fr. Schall has a book on the Regensburg lecture I now feel compelled to purchase; I think we should not only look at this issue from the perspective of cultural cohesion and nationalism, but also straight fundamental ideologies. He links secular liberalism's (read: post-Enlightenment world's) idea of God with that of Islam, both being keen, he observes on theological voluntarism. Divorcing the will from reason, from nature-- God's will and human will alike-- these are the bitter fruits of Descartes, Kant and Muhammed alike. Who would have thought?

  4. Yes, I think it is very important that we have grown-up conversations about this and encourage young college students to get beyond the emotional thrill of tweeting the "Peace in Paris" sign, "Refugees Welcome", "No Borders", etc. (How to do this in light of the insanity uncovered by the "Mizzu" nonsense in the USA is another problem.)

    I see by the news that UK Special Forces are out in the streets en masse today. I wonder if any of them are on Edinburgh streets. I think it unlikely that Edinburgh would be a target however, for various reasons. That said, may God hold His protecting hand over us, and all the UK.


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