I was watching a TED talk by Andrew Solomon on unconditional love and it occurred to me that there are parallels for love and acceptance that can teach a lesson in love for the Catholic Church.
The lesson can extend to ecumenism, but why not begin within our community.
Andrew began his talk by defining culture where people don’t typically see one.
“I became convinced that deafness was a culture. That people in the deaf world said ‘we don’t lack hearing,’ ‘we have membership in a culture,’ ‘we’re saying something that was viable.'”
“It wasn’t my culture and I didn’t particularly want to rush off and joint it, but I appreciated that it was a culture and that for the people who were members of it, it felt as valuable as Latino culture, or Gay culture, or Jewish culture. It felt as valid as even American culture.”
What most people see when the discussion involves deafness, dwarfism, homosexuality, etc. is an illness, a defect, or a weakness. Perhaps you and I see it that way still. We must understand that there are people who live in that culture who see it differently.
It takes empathy to understand how other people see their culture. It may not be a culture we desire to embrace. That does not make it a less viable culture.
Similar to the deaf culture, which is made up of the people who see themselves as members, there is a diverse Catholic culture. This culture is also made up of people who see themselves as members. We see might require empathy to understand the viability of the culture, but that is an expectation of love.
Andrew went on to explain how cultural identity is perceive.
“There are really two kinds of identity. There are vertical identities that are passed down generationally, from parent to child. Those are things like ethnicity, frequently nationality, language, often religion. Those are things you have in common with your parents and with your children. While some of them can be difficult there is no attempt to cure them. Nobody is trying to ensure that the next generation of African Americans and Asians will come out with creamy skin and yellow hair.”
“There are these other identities which you have to learn from a peer group. I call them horizontal identities because the peer group is the horizontal experience. These are identities that are alien to your parents and that you have to discover when you get to see them in peers. Those horizontal identities, people have almost always tried to cure.”
As the human race goes, we all begin with the same vertical identities such as gender, ethnicity, etc. It is the horizontal identities that fill out the shape of our Catholic culture. This is also where people perceive a threat to their Catholic culture.
If we only see another person’s Catholic’s culture as an illness requiring a cure, we will see them as a threat.
It is empathy that will allow us to see another’s Catholic culture as viable.
We may not be willing to join them and be a member of their culture, but the viability of that culture can still be acknowledged.
Andrew went on to explain that with time we can accept the cultures of others as part of the broader human experience.
“There were three levels of acceptance that need to take place. There’s self acceptance, there’s family acceptance, and there’s social acceptance. They don’t always coincide. Acceptance is something that takes time. It always takes time.”
Accepting that there are a wide variety of Catholic cultures and identities that are all valid will help to unify the Catholic Church.
“Stories of families negotiating these extreme differences reflect to the universal experience of parenting. It turns out that each of these individual differences is siloed. There are only so many families dealing with schizophrenia, there are only so many families of children who are transgender, there are only so many families of prodigies, who also face similar challenges in many ways. There are only so many families in each of those categories, but if you start to think that the experience of negotiating difference within your family is what people are addressing then you discover it is a nearly universal phenomenon. Ironically it turns out that it is our differences and our negotiation of difference that unite us.”
Within the Catholic Church our differences and can unite us. The dialogue around negotiating the differences between, say – traditional and non-traditional cultures, is universal with negotiating the differences between other Catholic identities and cultures.
This dialogue all begins when we recognize viable cultures and identities. We then validate the viability of the culture and accept it as part of the Catholic Church.
For example we can recognize that there is a pre-conciliar Catholic culture. This culture cuts across many identities, but it is a viable Catholic culture.
We can also recognize that there is a post-conciliar Catholic culture. This culture cuts across many identities, but it is a viable Catholic culture.
If we can negotiate the differences between these seemingly competing cultures, and they each accept the other, these cultures can become united within the Catholic Church. As a consequence the Church becomes stronger and we can ensure that there will be a Catholic Church in the future.
It will take courage from the Church hierarchy and laity to take these steps, but I believe we can do it.