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How to Build a Healthy Culture

Culture wars, like most wars of attrition, are wearisome, enervating affairs. Competing and irreconcilable accounts of what it means to be human – and, thus, of what the proper ends of human life and action ought to be – are a source of unrelenting friction, not only in our politics but also within the Church. Those screeching friction points are familiar to most of us; they are all around us.

As George Weigel once put it, “You may not be interested in the culture war, but the culture war is interested in you – and everyone else.” The current of our culture is not headed in a healthy or humane (or sane) direction, and if one is not conscious of the running tide or is unwilling to swim against it, one is liable to end up adrift at sea.

In our own American instance, the problem is made worse by the fact that too few of us really seem to understand the terms of the engagement. I don’t mean that Americans are ignorant of the particular issues that constitute “the culture wars.” Nor is there a lack of pathos. Plenty of people, on both sides, see the various conflicts as fundamental, even existential crises.

But few people, on either side, seem to have a clear conception of what a healthy culture would even look like if their side were to “win.” We got a taste of what I mean in 2022 when, after fighting to overturn Roe v. Wade for fifty years, the Dobbs decision exposed the pro-life movement (insofar as that is a coherent thing) as woefully unprepared for victory.

Fighting the culture war may be necessary, even noble. But one should never confuse winning a cultural fight for building a culture worthy of the name. The latter is far more difficult.

Culture is one of those things that tends to get fuzzier the more closely one examines it. We all know what culture means, more or less. We speak of it and hear of it constantly. In the Church, we speak about a culture of life, a culture of death, a throwaway culture. Yet for all this, culture – both in general and in particular – is stubbornly difficult to define.

What, for example, does one mean when one speaks of “American culture”? Those of us who swim like fish in that particular sea have one sense of it. Yet a Texan and a New Yorker (or, say, a Catholic and a Baptist) are likely to describe it very differently. The distinctions required to describe just what one means by culture can be dizzying.

There is broad agreement that culture consists, in varying degrees, of a people’s religion, history, language, food, art, and so on. We often speak about politics and culture as distinct (e.g., when people say “politics is downstream from culture”). Yet American culture is difficult to conceive of apart from the American experiences (good and bad) of politics and self-government. We speak of subcultures (or, at times, the subculture) and of mass culture and pop culture.

Read more at The Catholic Thing 

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