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Is it appropriation if it's your own culture? - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Zoethe

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Is it appropriation if it's your own culture? [Sep. 6th, 2011|11:42 am]
Zoethe
Two weekends ago I attended my former mother-in-law's funeral mass. The situation was sad and difficult, but I found tremendous comfort in the rituals of the mass. Erin echoed my feelings a day later, writing that her gramma's funeral mass was so beautiful, it made her sort of wish she was still Catholic. I'm feeling some of that. To the point where I asked to accompany a friend to mass on Saturday, if she managed to fit it in before the wedding rehearsal dinner (which she didn't, and which was probably just as well).

My problem is that I want the comfort of the ritual, but I don't want to be bothered with the baggage of, you know, actual Catholicism.

See, I don't buy that whole "Christ is the one way to heaven" bit. I'm not keen on monotheism - I'm currently not sure I believe in A Higher Power at all, but if I do, it's certainly not that patriarchal, bearded dude that Man has made in his own image. And while I respect the consistency of the Catholic Church's right-to-life stance (being anti-death penalty as well as anti-abortion), I completely disagree with their interference with a woman's right to choose and their fetishization of the fetus such that it eclipses the lives of women. I dislike the celibate, male priesthood and the sexism it institutionalizes. I regard the Bible as a mythos, rather than the word of God (in this, I'm in agreement with all the Jesuits I've ever met, so that's not too bad).

So what it is that I like about the Catholic church is the incense and the music and the liturgy. Christianity has all other religions beat when it comes to sacred music, whether we're talking about the music of the great composers or the folk music that sprang up starting in the 70s. I want to attend mass, but with the understanding that I don't actually believe in most of what's going on.

I want to go because it gives me a warm-and-fuzzy feeling. And if I start going, it will be on an irregular basis, dependent on whether I'm feeling the need for warm-and-fuzzies.

I have philosophical misgivings about the whole thing. Because, really, it's cultural appropriation of the same sort that causes people to build themselves sweat lodges, drum for an hour, and then pray to Kwan Yin: hey, that's kinda cool and I want me some of that! It's not respectful of the core belief or the believers. It's only about doing the shiny thing that pleases me. Certainly Catholicism can endure some tourism far better than indigenous faiths, but I can't pretend that what I'm looking for is more than tourism.

And yet, it is the faith of my childhood. So am I appropriating? I am not sure.
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[User Picture]From: usmu
2011-09-06 04:14 pm (UTC)
I've always found that one of the best things in life to be is a ex-Catholic. And that's speaking as someone who's seen quite a bit of the Christian spectrum.

It gives you a proper appreciation for rituals and a better outlook on life than being Protestant. Contrary to Protestants who suffer theirs, they celebrate their faith. Makes you a happier person.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with being a tourist, as long as you acknowledge that you are. It's only appropriation if you start acting like what you're doing is the real deal. That's the disrespectful part as afar as I'm concerned.
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[User Picture]From: mamculuna
2011-09-06 04:24 pm (UTC)
Although I'm a Buddhist, I've been to some pretty joyful Protestant services (with dancing and gospel choirs and everybody participating in the sermon vocally).

Now the people of the Protestant church I grew up in definitely earned their name as "God's frozen people."
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[User Picture]From: cinema_babe
2011-09-06 04:18 pm (UTC)
I'm a practicing Catholic and I think there is a definite line between appropriating someone else's culture and appreciating an experience becasue of what it brings you. You're not professing to believe something that you are not, you aren't doing it for show or to rebel against "the man". You aren't going just to cause a disruption or to mock or for any nefarious purposes.

It's something that brings you a warm fuzzy feeling. Go, enjoy the warm fuzzy. It doesn't matter whether you do it for a few months or it becomes a life long habit; if it feeds our inner self it's all good.

(Actually what I think is an act of cultural appropriation that grates me are people who wear crucifixes as a fashion statement. It's a sacred symbol and we generally wouldn't do it with sacred symbols of other faiths. But that's just my kvetch)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:27 pm (UTC)
I certainly would be respectful. Being divorced and remarried without benefit of an annulment, I am actually excommunicated from the church, so I wouldn't partake of the sacraments.

And it's not nefarious, but I can't decide if it feels honest to be there when I don't believe. Still, it definitely touches me in some way.
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[User Picture]From: dylia
2011-09-06 04:19 pm (UTC)

"Some of the Hymns That They Sing are Nice, but the Lyrics are Dodgy"

It sounds more like nostalgia than appropriation to me.
In case you haven't heard it, "White Wine in the Sun" by Tim Minchin pretty much exactly sums up my feelings on the matter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCNvZqpa-7Q

I often miss the feeling of community associated with going to church.
Every once in a while I get a serious yearning for a potluck lunch full of chicken & dumplings, corn pudding, watermelon, etc.
I miss sitting between my grandparents--both gone now--listening to my gran's flawless operatic soprano, & watching her hold court during the annual Apple Butter Cook.
(((And now I'm crying...Stupid hormones)))

I do not, however, miss the judgmental attitude, the willful ignorance, the partitioners' pageantry or the hypocrisy of the whole thing.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:38 pm (UTC)

"Some of the Hymns That They Sing are Nice, but the Lyrics are Dodgy"

Wow. I've never heard him before, but that song made me cry - I'm still crying, in fact.

I get some of the community with my Goddess Temple, but we just don't have the sheer numbers and weight of traditions yet. And those childhood associations aren't there. I do miss that. I think you are right about nostalgia.
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[User Picture]From: mamculuna
2011-09-06 04:19 pm (UTC)
I know so much what you're talking about. For years after my beliefs had pretty much crystallized around Buddhism, I kept going to the Episcopal church, happily mouthing a creed I didn't believe a word of--just because it was the ritual I'd followed since childhood. I don't think it's appropriation--following the rituals is one aspect of culture and keeping the beliefs they express is another aspect of culture.

Happily for me and a good assortment of other Episcopalians and Catholics, it turns out that it doesn't have to be that particular ritual, after all--I eventually found rituals that fit with my beliefs, and now they're the familiar ones. But I don't believe every single tenet of this religion any more than I did Christianity. I suspect everyone is a heretic in her heart...

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[User Picture]From: tylik
2011-09-06 04:33 pm (UTC)
So what variety of Buddhism? (The whole tenet thing... There are plenty of things believed by some buddhists somewhere that I'm totally not into. I don't think I've found any in the order I'm a member of - and I'm kind of a bitch, and was at first a little embarrassed to be a member of a buddhist order - long story - so I really did try. Mostly, they're not really big on tenets.)
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[User Picture]From: mysticjuicer
2011-09-06 04:20 pm (UTC)
My girlfriend told me the same thing a couple of years ago, when she was still unsure if she identified as a Catholic: regardless of her crisis of faith, she found the rituals and pageantry of the church she belonged to extremely comforting.

If it gives some measure of comfort, I'd say go for it. The only thing that I noticed and you may find as well, is that the things that bothered her about the church became amplified to her. When the week's sermon was particularly conservative, or the hymns were bad one week (and good lord are there some stinkers), or what have you, it was more difficult to ignore.

I'm inclined to think the same thing will happen to you, but that's because I've only the one annecdote to go on. The cognitive dissonance of going to a place of worship when you don't believe tends to be hard on smart, honest people.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:42 pm (UTC)
Cognitive dissonance is a good way of putting it. I stayed in the church for the community when we were in Fairbanks, because we had such a great community. I will definitely be doing some parish shopping here if I start going back.
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[User Picture]From: scarfman
2011-09-06 04:24 pm (UTC)

This may or may not be the answer to your question or the answer to your dilemma, but qtrhorserider and I satisfy our weekly lapsed-Catholic craving for ritual without pretense of Catholicism at Methodist services.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:45 pm (UTC)
I may have to check that out. My problem is being very non-Christian. We tried going to the Unity church once and it was too silly for words.
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[User Picture]From: tylik
2011-09-06 04:30 pm (UTC)
Have you checked out the Episcopal churches? My experience of them* was that they kept most of the cool stuff from catholocism, while inserting a lot more room for individual autonomy and progressive politics. (Though I know some flamingly liberal kinky polyamorous Catholics, so.**) And it's hard to imagine anyone getting upset about people doing cultural appropriate from Episcolians. How could you keep a straight face? Anyhow, they want people to be there, even if you aren't totally committed. It's kind of part of the game plan, y'know.

[This comment brought to you by an agnostic Chan Buddhist.]

* Based, I should add, on attending for a year or two when a close friend was considering that she might have a vocation.
** The line "The communion line at the 5pm contemplative mass at St. Joe's is one of the best places to pick up hot goth chicks..."
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[User Picture]From: merle_
2011-09-06 04:58 pm (UTC)
The Episcopal church did keep some of the cool stuff like the swinging braziers of myrrh, but for sheer awe they are too staid to compete. (based on my experience, which was about a visit a month while growing up -- my family did a lot of Christian church-hopping. Sadly they would never tell me much about or let me go see the one Unitarian church in town...)
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[User Picture]From: merle_
2011-09-06 04:55 pm (UTC)
So what it is that I like about the Catholic church is the incense and the music and the liturgy.

The Catholics (well, they were just generic Christians back) spent centuries being persecuted, persecuting, and honing to perfection methods of conversion. You throw on the glitzy circus act but infuse it with interesting smells and altars of gold and glazed windows and show the hoi-polloi "see how cool this faith is?". Even for those who don't want to convert they know how to throw a good party pull out the rites and rituals that awe and impress. They've been around for long enough to know exactly what to do.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:50 pm (UTC)
Very true.
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[User Picture]From: jojomojo
2011-09-06 05:10 pm (UTC)
Technically, the Church of England is an option (Episcopalian, round these parts). Depending on the church they still do the smells and bells, mass and all, and depending on the church they're rather more liberal minded; either way, definitely no pope to worry about.

(though my understanding is that smells and bells and conservatism do tend to go together)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:51 pm (UTC)
If I bought into the Jesus thing, that would be where I'd head. As it is, though, that feels even more intrusive and appropriative than tourist trips to Catholic mass.
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From: anonymousalex
2011-09-06 05:13 pm (UTC)
I don't have any answers or even suggestions, just an "I know what you mean" about that sense of misgiving that comes from being there.

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:52 pm (UTC)
I wasn't really expecting anyone to provide me with the perfect answer, just rambling about the stuff in my head. Good to know I'm not alone, though.
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[User Picture]From: kyburg
2011-09-06 05:28 pm (UTC)
Let me toss out the website to my slice of fun: http://www.ucc.org (They'll tell you anything you ever wanted to know.)

My bunch is currently doing a progressive theology series, and if I'm not imagining things, the whole 'Christ as a person vs. Christ as a concept' thing is probably on the table for discussion. We also do great music and liturgy - incense optional - but the whole 'who can come in here and who we don't allow' is absent.

For me, this is far more of a meditation of the ideas presented, either to prove or not is beside the point. We're not looking up to a guy wearing robes in the clouds - we're looking to where the materials fits in to life as we know it, to make us the people we want to be. No matter who we are.

(I always found Mass to be something of an aerobic workout, to be honest. There was always something you needed to be doing. Sit, stand, bow, kneel...repeat. And rigid? Yikes.)

You want the warm and fuzzy without the guilt, check out a UCC near you. Let me know how it goes?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:55 pm (UTC)
Mass is great for those of us with ADHD because we get to move around a lot!

There's a UCC down the street from us. Maybe I will check it out. Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: draxar
2011-09-06 06:05 pm (UTC)
My father once told me that what he enjoyed about the church was the gentle ritual and the sort of people he met there. To be fair, the fact that my mother was quite a believer was probably also an influencing factor in his attendance.

I have to say, I agree with him at least somewhat. I don't like it enough to attend regularly, but when I find myself in a church, despite the fact I'm an agnostic who defaults to atheism, it is quietly reassuring.

And I pretty much always enjoy chatting with Church of England priests. They tend to combine intelligence, interesting coversation, usually some level of gentleness and laid back-ness about things, all of which combine into nice people to be around.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:56 pm (UTC)
I agree with your dad, too. And I always like Jesuits for the same reasons you mention about C of E priests.
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[User Picture]From: phillipalden
2011-09-06 06:15 pm (UTC)
I was raised in the Catholic Church, although it was Palo Alto, CA Catholic Church, which is about as liberal as the church could get. I never went to confession and I was never "confirmed."

I abandoned the Catholic Church at age 13 when my parents stopped making me go.

Eventually, after years of spiritual seeking and reading both spiritual books and holy texts, (like the Koran,) I finally settled on Taoism. It doesn't have the coolest music, but what Lao Tzu wrote makes sense to me.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:58 pm (UTC)
I'm struggling with a crisis in faith at this point, but mostly been happy with my pagan practices. It just doesn't resonate on that childhood memory level.
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[User Picture]From: matt_doyle
2011-09-06 06:30 pm (UTC)
If you're feeling uncertain about this, my own advice would be to check at the source if it's okay: ask the priest at the church you'd like to attend how he'd feel about it. I would guess, in a welcoming community, that they'd be more than happy to have you in the pews, though probably not participating in the sacraments.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 06:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, would definitely not participate in the sacraments. But you make a good point.
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[User Picture]From: reynai
2011-09-06 06:39 pm (UTC)
Myself and a friend of mine were feeling somewhat of the same. She grew up pseudo-Catholic, and feels a longing for the getting-together of a Sunday in fellowship, even if she doesn't actually believe in the same god as them, while I grew up Orthodox Christian (the only people who could perhaps out-ritual the Catholics), and kinda miss the ritual. I've reconciled that I need just to get new ritual and flash in my life, instead of returning to the old.. and I'm not sure what she is going to do.

But as far as appropriating, one of the requirements, IMO, of appropriating is that you have to have the power to change the perception of things. Your presence, as long as you aren't disruptive, will have no effect upon the services and the way that the services are perceived, so I would say it is not appropriative.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 07:12 pm (UTC)
An interesting definition of appropriation. It would seem to let most people off the hook, provided they aren't actually producing appropriative items for distribution to others. I mean, how would my having an altar with Bast, Coyote, Artemis, and Thor really change anyone else's perception of those faiths? Yet I think people would regard that as a tasteless appropriation. (I'm not trying to be confrontational, just trying to figure this out.)

Making my own is something I've done a bit, but it doesn't have that bone-deep sense that comes from a childhood association.

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[User Picture]From: libco
2011-09-06 06:48 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure they would love for you to come. Technically despite being excommunicated you are still supposed to be a member, go to services, etc. You are only barred from taking part in the actual service (lay reading etc) and taking Eucharist. They probably would love for you to "visit" so they can work their wiles on you.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 07:14 pm (UTC)
LOL! My experience is that you can be pretty anonymous in most Catholic communities, so I doubt they will even notice me unless I volunteered my time - which they would gladly use.
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[User Picture]From: fallconsmate
2011-09-06 06:49 pm (UTC)
i felt welcomed by the lay minister at the catholic church my first husband and i attended (he was a lapsed catholic, considering rejoining the church, i went because i was trying to be a good wife). the priest gave us grief about going out of our parish...which only had a spanish-language service, and we are so white we damn near glow in the dark.

but the service itself...that felt good. it had the same feeling as i used to get as a child when we'd have service (and we had weird service, we shared the minister with a church in another town, if he was ill we didnt have him at all, he only did the other town service) without the minister. those sundays we still met, but we did a "song service". we always had a few special songs, then people could basically call out a number in the hymnbook and we'd sing it.

it was a REALLY small church, over half of it were members of my extended family. i'm decidedly pagan now, but i still remember the song services fondly.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 07:17 pm (UTC)
I remember my mother fighting with the priest about us going out of parish when we were kids. It was a continual battle. The service appeals at a very fundamental level, though/
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[User Picture]From: wdomburg
2011-09-06 06:52 pm (UTC)
I can't see attending mass as being offensive. I suspect most would welcome respectful attendance, even by an unbeliever; perhaps especially by an unbeliever, in the hope that it represents a journey toward (back to) embracing the faith.

What would be disrespectful is participating in the sacraments.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 07:18 pm (UTC)
And I would NEVER participate in the sacraments from my current state of non-grace.

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[User Picture]From: wdomburg
2011-09-06 07:06 pm (UTC)
So what it is that I like about the Catholic church is the incense and the music and the liturgy.

Oh, on a side note, the revised edition of the Roman Missal is taking effect on the first Sunday of Advent (November 27th), so the liturgy will soon be slightly different than you've experienced.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 07:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, man, I remember the outcry from the last time they changed it - people actually blamed the young new priest who had the misfortune to arrive just a week ahead of the new Mass. They were sure he'd brought on these newfangled missals - as if a guy right out of seminary had the power to change the Mass!
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[User Picture]From: shezan
2011-09-06 08:13 pm (UTC)
It's not the fact that it is the faith of your childhood; it's the fact that the Church welcomes everyone who takes comfort from Mass. (Whatever may happen to you there is left to God.) So go!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 08:14 pm (UTC)
Good point!
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[User Picture]From: finding_helena
2011-09-06 08:30 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's appropriating if you aren't doing anything in the public eye that takes off on somebody else's ritual. It's different than that sweat lodge thing. All you're doing is attending without making any attempt to change what they're doing or make your own version of it... that's no more appropriating than, oh, going to a fish fry when you're a vegetarian and just not eating any of the fish.

Or something.

Anyway, I personally would feel okay being one of those Catholics who disagree with the Church, but I didn't feel okay about putting money in the collection plate that would go to causes I fundamentally disagree with. So I ended up becoming an Episcopalian instead.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 10:41 pm (UTC)
A possibility if I wasn't stumbling over that whole "God" thing.... ;-)
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[User Picture]From: tormentedartist
2011-09-06 09:23 pm (UTC)
I think the main reason that Catholicism survives is because the church feels like a sacred space rather than a big warehouse. Yes the money that is spent in these places could go to feed the poor...but that is totally missing the point. The church is supposed to be a place where you get in touch with your God. You are leaving your profane reality and entering a sacred one. Perhaps you could incorporate that sense of entering a sacred space in your own religious practices.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 10:50 pm (UTC)
I've tried, but I just don't have the history, the physical spaces, or the Bach substitute. ;-)
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[User Picture]From: butterandjelly
2011-09-06 11:07 pm (UTC)
When you want to go, you know who you can come with! I'd love to have the company.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-06 11:30 pm (UTC)
I appreciate that, my dear! I will definitely be in touch with you about going.
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[User Picture]From: kenp_v3
2011-09-07 04:22 am (UTC)
Speaking as a Catholic I'd have to echo everyone else here. Regardless of your beliefs- there's no problem with you attending Mass. I can't see any Priest having a problem with it. The only thing they'd ask is that you not receive the Eucharist. And having visited many random Catholic churches in my travels I've never run into a situation where I've felt noticed by the rest of the congregation as an "outsider".

Even as a Catholic I've certainly been a tourist in many churches. I've been to plenty of churches in Europe, Montreal, even Boston where I only went in there to look at statues and stained glass windows.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-07 04:27 am (UTC)
I wouldn't take Communion, but I may well go back. Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: kittydahlerina
2011-09-07 02:07 pm (UTC)
I read all 93 of the above comments, and yet as a practicing Catholic with a heavily kinky side and a deep respect for paganism, I think there's still room for my input here. Maybe my mother didn't "do it right", raising me in that post-Vatican II Church of Baby Boomers, but I was brought up going to psychic fairs on Saturdays and Mass on Sundays. My general feeling on the matter, seemingly much like you (if I've gotten the right gist of things here), is that you understand and respect the rules of Catholicism - not participating in the sacraments - but you're looking for the environment of the Church. I, personally, know that I'm not "right with the Church" in a number of ways... My IUD alone raises hairs if mentioned around any of my aunts and uncles, and that's not the height of my insubordination. Still, energetically, there's a *thing* that exists in Catholic churches and chapels that I've not been able to find anywhere else, in other denominations/faiths/spiritual practices. It's that palpable reverence and tradition that keeps me from choosing any other as my primary practice of worship. I call it God, for simplicity, but I acknowledge the Energy in every thing and every situation, and whether Jesus was man or Son of God, he taught people good stuff. I'm content to leave my "personal relationship with God", as protestants call it, at that. Personal.

In short, go. Do. Seek. It's yours and it's personal. We all have to find our own way, and we won't know until it's too late who was right, anyways.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-07 05:49 pm (UTC)
Still, energetically, there's a *thing* that exists in Catholic churches and chapels that I've not been able to find anywhere else

Yes, that's it exactly. I think I'm quite a bit like you.
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