Friday, December 17, 2010

That's Funny: You Don't Look Catholic

Folks have odd ideas sometimes.

Take religion, for example, back in my 'good old days.' In the time and place where I grew up, "Christian" and "Protestant" where interchangeable terms for quite a few folks.

Then there were assumptions about religion and ethnicity. Many, if they thought about it at all, 'knew' that:
  • Buddhists lived in Japan
  • Hindus lived in India
  • "Christians" were 'regular Americans'
    • And the folks living in northwestern Europe
  • Catholics lived in Italy and Ireland
An oversimplification? Certainly. Did all the folks where I grew up make these assumptions? No.

But quite a few did.

Folks with a college degree under their belt, or who were college students, seemed less apt to make those assumptions about religion and ethnicity. That's the good news.

The bad news is that a fair number of the college crowd had other clinkers in their thinkers. Like confusing Christianity with racism and European imperialism. And assuming, if they thought about it at all, that Christians didn't like science and education: and of course didn't 'believe in' evolution.

No wonder I don't admit to being nostalgic very often.

'Stereotypes are Stereotypes for a Reason'

Stereotypes - 'conventional or formulaic conceptions or images' (Princeton's WordNet) - are not, I think, a particularly good tool for understanding the real world. On the other hand, I think that stereotypes often have some basis in fact: no matter how unrealistic they become, once cut free from the space-time continuum.

Like the 'Buddhists are Japanese' thing. Turns out, a little over 71% of the folks living in Japan follow Buddhism. As of 2005, anyway. In 2001, a bit over 80% of the folks in India were Hindus. ("India" (last updated on December 9, 2010), "Japan" (updated December 7, 2010), The World Factbook, CIA)

Who Believes What and Where

After a little checking, I see that there are about a half-dozen or so 'world religions.'

My guess is that not everybody would agree with this list: but I think it's good enough as a 'for instance:'
I may have left out someone's favorite, like Shinto or Zoroastrianism. No disrespect intended.

The unreadably small map up there links to a discussion of religious demographics in a Wikipedia article. The point is that folks in different parts of the world do tend to follow one religion more than other faiths. Which is probably where notions like 'Buddhists live in Japan' come from.

But it's a sort of 'on average' thing. That photo shows what was left of the Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, after the bomb went off. Quite a few Catholics died that day.

Does that mean, by the way, that I hate America and writhe in agony that allied forces didn't invade Japan the old-fashioned way? No.

I do think that it would have been nice if what we call World War II hadn't happened. But the world is not always a nice place. I've discussed that sort of thing before (October 27, 2010, June 7, 2009; Another War-on-Terror Blog (October 16, 2009))

Urakami Cathedral, Nagasaki, Japan, by Kzhr (December 3, 2004), via Wikimedia CommonsThe Urakami Cathedral? We built another one. The bomb didn't wipe out all the Catholics, and that's another topic.

Back to assumptions about religion and region or ethnicity. One might think Judaism was an 'ethnic' thing - but there are folks like Sammy Davis Jr..

Christianity: A 'European' Religion?

I've run into folks, on and off campus, who seem convinced that Christianity is a European religion. They've got a point, sort of.

There was a time, about nine centuries back, when Europe was the world's 'cathedral central:' Gothic architecture and all that.

When folks in Europe were sorting themselves out into nations, a cross got worked into quite a few national flags.

Then there's the Holy See: in Rome, Italy. Europe again.

Two millennia back, though, Rome wasn't so much part of Europe as it was the political and economic hub of the Roman Empire. It made sense to set up headquarters there. The city's still a reasonably central location for an organization that has branches on every continent.

Except Antarctica, apparently. My guess is that there are Catholics there, too: but so far the permanent research stations are staffed by folks who are 'just visiting.' And I'm not going to get off-topic.

I've heard Christianity called an 'oriental mystery religion.' (March 17, 2009) I didn't argue the point: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and points east are part of 'the Orient.' (Princeton's WordNet) But the Catholic Church isn't any more "Oriental" than it is "Western."

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that Catholicism is Oriental. And Western. And everything else.

The Catholic Church is "Universal:" Literally

A dictionary I use quite often defines "catholic" - lower case "c" - as "free from provincial prejudices or attachments." (Princeton's WordNet)

That doesn't mean that Catholics aren't part of the culture we're born in. I've discussed that before. (August 26, 2010, and elsewhere)

For example, I speak English with an accent that's pretty close to the old 'broadcast standard.' That's partly due to having parents who were slightly deaf, and that's yet another topic. I also like lefse, hamburgers, and spaghetti: reflecting the regional and national dietary customs in my homeland. (Lefse? Sort of like a limp tortilla, except made from potato flour.)

None of which makes me less - or more - of a Catholic than someone whose cradle tongue is Japanese, who would just as soon not eat spaghetti, and who loves playing pachinko.

Finally: Another Report from the Department of Unintended Consequences

I doubt that the radio ranters, a half century ago, realized that their (colorful?) depictions of the Catholic Church would indirectly lead one of their listeners to become a Catholic.

I'm also fairly sure that professors who explained multiculturalism during my college years did not suspect that at least one student embraced the idea - so thoroughly that he would eventually join the Catholic Church. I've written about that before. (July 14, 2010

It's one thing to teach that the cultural preferences of 'those people over there' are no better than those of an even more distant group. When someone turns around and suggests that your own cultural preferences may not be the hub around which the world turns - that's still another topic.

Related posts:
Somewhat-related posts, in another blog:
  • "Religions of the World," Sara Wenner, EMuseum @ University of Minnesota, Mankato (2001)
  • The World Factbook, CIA
    • "Antarctica" (last updated November 16, 2010)
    • "India" (last updated December 9, 2010)
    • "Japan" (updated December 7, 2010)
  • "Sammy Davis Jr."
    Beth Weiss, Jewish Virtual Library


Brigid said...

Maybe 'rather than' or 'more than'? "folks in different parts of the world do tend to follow one religion than other faiths."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. The funny thing about the 'Buddhists are from Japan' thing is that Buddhism started in India. And, if I recall correctly, was imported into Japan from China.

Also not sure that Shinto would really count as a 'world' religion, as to the best of my knowledge, very few people outside of Japan follow it.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Right you are, about the missing word.

As for the pieces of real estate we call India, China, and Japan these days: As I've said before, change happens.

Shinto? Quite right. Which was my point. Jainism, for example, made that Mankato list - but it's not as widely distributed as some. Back to Shinto: I realize that's it a quite 'Japanese' phenomenon. On the other hand, by fiddling with the controls of the mind's eye and turning the contrast way down, Shinto starts looking a lot like the practices of my forebears, with their nisse, kobolds, and all.

Not that I'd argue that, seriously. Any more than I took the 'all religions are the same' line, in one of my 'good old days.'

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.