Monday, November 24, 2008

True Counter Culture

For those somewhat acquainted with the cultural anthropology of René Girard, it is an accepted tenet that culture itself is a remnant of an originary act of founding violence. Conventional culture maintains itself by gradually spreading and accruing in its multifarious manifestations three elements vital to its self-preservation: ritual, myth, and prohibition. This is why at the center of every human culture there is an altar; for religion (Girard's "primitive sacred") is and every will be absolutely necessary for healthy culture to continue to exist for any length of time. Our time will be remembered for both its denial of these cultural realities and its sad displays of trying to erase them whenever it either was caught or caught itself in the very act of performing them.

For the hyper-vigilant - obnoxiously so at times, it must be said - searching and finding these culture-founding, culture-maintaining elements can become a near full-time preoccupation.

So, thankfully, one can from time to time also discern a fully different set of culture-founding, culture-maintaining elements, also starting at an altar, but now instead of a self-righteous mob accusing and scapegoating its victim de jour, the worshipers identify with and, indeed, glorify the victim.

Daniel Mitsui offers one such instance in his offering of the words of Sir William Chambers (1759) on English Gothic architecture. Here is a concretization of the Christian faith (as A. W. N. Pugin would also observe in the 19th c.), one far different than the architecture that has absorbed the seeds of nihilism and spewed forth a view of the worthlessness of human life and dignity.

To note this is to come to realize that there truly is a counter-cultural force still at work in the world, even today. It is the Catholic Church. And the Church gathers around the "Lamb slain since the foundation of the world" in loving adoration. For this we give thanks.

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