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October 26, 2004


Enoch Soames

My Dear Mr. P: In answer to your last statement, remember that Pieper also said: "The ultimate perfection attainable to us, in the minds of the philosophers of Greece, was this: that the order of the whole of existing things should be inscribed in our souls".


The use of 'religious' and 'religion' is pretty much a symptom of modernity... Before then, with shared cultures rooted in shared beliefs about the structure of the universe and a transcendent moral order, we had no need to categorise things in that way.

The problem is that it's hard to see how a multi-denominational, let alone a multi-'faith', society could ever achieve such a position. Where the state and church are as separated as they are in today's liberal settlement, we've reduced religious faith to a 'lifestyle choice'. No easy answers here.

Quite agree about reversing the flow from religion>>culture to religion<


There was more to that one - maybe the '<' marks screwed it up, dunno.

The rest of it was to say that to have culture inform religion is absurd: culture as you say reflects underlying beliefs and practices. To use culture instead of religion is to erode source of the accumulated capital on which that culture rests - a vicious circle.

Outer Life

I'm a little late to this conversation, and I'm not familiar with Pieper's position, but I believe "cultus" and "culture" refer to something broader than "religious worship." "Cultus" means "tilling, cultivation, tending." Initially this word was almost certainly used in the farming sense -- growing crows, domesticating and breeding animals -- and later took on the broader meaning of cultivating intellectual and moral development, of refining aesthetic tastes, of understanding and appreciating the human condition.

Religion can certainly contribute to this broad cultural mix (consider the exclusively religious word "cult," also derived from "cultus," and the prevalent concept of "cultivating souls"), and I suppose for some people and societies religion may be the dominant factor in their culture, but I don't believe it follows from this that culture is necessarily "formed by religious practice."

Is "cultured atheist" an oxymoron?


Cultured atheist isn't an oxymoron because it's about a particular person, and also because you can take the culture but choose not to subscribe to all its tenets (where such an a la carte approach leaves the culture is a different matter...).

I wouldn't say culture is only formed by religious practice, but beliefs about the cosmos and how those beliefs are symbolised and reflected in practice must be a critical element. Any culture that cannot give a plausible answer on the questions of existence isn't going to serve a society well.

Point is: how many societies have been founded successfully without a religious basis?

Mr. Peperium

I'm finally able to re-join the conversation; work has been...well, yes. Anyway...

I'm just going to run through your comments, commenting as I go. Mr. Soames, from where does that quote come? I am a little rusty on Pieper (more on that later) and would love to locate that one. It is a good example of one of the glories of Catholicism: the ability to see the wisdom in pagan words and apply them to Christianity. This struck me one day while leafing through Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. At one point Golding, a devout Baptist (or Anabaptist, or whatever they were called in the mid-1500's) feels compelled to explain why he went to all the trouble of Englishing a bunch of heathen fables. My immediate reaction was: a Catholic would have felt no need to do that. (I'm wrong, of course. Chaucer wrote his retraction, too.)

From attitudes like Golding's grows the modern emphasis among many Christians to draw a line between "the world" and themselves. Yes, this view has such august proponents as Augustine himself. But he'd be the first to admit that the dichotomy only goes so far when we recall that since creation the world was "good". And of course the ancients are the supreme expression of delight in the world. It's at times like this that I wonder how anyone could call Christianity "simple-minded".

Yes, Blimpish's doubts about the viability of a multi-faith society are well-founded. We did it here in the good ol' U.S.A., of course, to escape all the errors of the Old World, thus promptly falling into a new batch of errors all our own. Religion as a "Lifestyle choice" sums up the ultimate outcome of those errors suscinctly. In my darker moments I suspect the American experiment is doing what the Soviets always said it would do: collapsing from its own internal contradictions. But those are my very darkest moments and those only come when the bourbon bottle runs dry.

By the way, "accumulated capital on which that culture rests"...very Burkean!

Outer Life, I go with Blimpish's answer to your question because 1) I agree with it and 2) right now I can't think of a better answer. Right now I'll only add that, elaborating on Blimpish, a religion demands a far greater degree of fidelity from the individual than the culture which that religion forms. Hence one can persue an "a la carte" approach to culture in a way that religion (until very recently) has not permitted.

Your comments on "cult" made me go back and actually look at Pieper's book again (I wrote the original post at work, far from our library). To state Pieper's ideas more accurately: Culture is born only when men have a chance to be at leisure. All true leisure (festivals, holidays/holy days) is rooted in religious worship. Hence, culture is born of religious worship. (You're going to have to read the book for all the thinking behind these bald statements; I promise it is well worth it.) But thank you for sending me back to the original. I had over-simplified his ideas as they rattled around in my mind for the last five years or so.


Quite Burkean, although probably in economics graduate language!

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