Having to Win People Over Is a Good Thing
My husband has a theory that the best cuisine is immigrant cuisine. It doesn’t matter where it came from, just because it had to adapt to a completely different culture it has a chance to combine the best of both worlds. This rings true in my experience so far. I’ve been to Turkey, Mexico, and India, but it was in Berlin where I had my best kebab ever, Austin had the best tacos, and Warsaw the best butter chicken. One glorious exception to this rule is Italian food in Italy, but that’s probably because Italian food abroad rarely gets cooked by Italian immigrants.
Knowing this makes me wonder if the same could be true about religion too. I was shocked to discover many of my Twitter friends in the US are Catholic, and that “traditional” Catholicism is becoming popular among people my age. I grew up Catholic like almost everyone in Poland, haven’t attended the church in more than a decade, and I still haven’t fully recovered from the guilt and shame. My American Catholic friends don’t seem to carry this guilt at all.
How could the same church render such different results for different people? Which version is the “true” Catholicism? Does it even make sense to ask this question, or is it the same as asking “which one is the true kebab”? I know it came from Turkey, but I like the German version better.
When one culture has an overwhelming majority, it’s easy for them to miss the ways they might be falling short. Immigrant cultures start from scratch, and they know they can only survive by winning people - including their own children - over. For the last 250 years Catholicism was deeply intertwined with the Polish sense of national identity, but this hasn’t always been the case. While the rest of Europe was ravaged by brutal holy wars, we’ve had at least 4 major religions peacefully coexisting together.
When I was a kid, every public school had two hours of Catholic religion weekly. They still do, but it’s increasingly common for children to opt out. In my mid-size hometown of 350,000 people, I’ve first met a girl who didn’t attend religion when I was 13. It completely blew my mind that it’s possible for such people to exist.
These days the Catholic Church is slowly sliding into irrelevance, with less people attending the Mass and baptizing their kids every year. During the partition of Poland and later Soviet occupation, the Church was a symbol of our hope for independence. Once we finally won that freedom, there were no longer any constraints on what it could do.
Listening to my Catholic friends in the US, I’m increasingly convinced that having constraints is a good thing. How they talk about their faith is full of nuance and empathy that rarely shows on Polish TV. Perhaps Catholics in Poland will get there too at some point, but I strongly suspect they won’t be majority then.
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