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The Rural Solution
Modern Catholic Voices on Going "Back to the Land"
By The Traditionalist Press
The Traditionalist PressCopyright © 2003 The Traditionalist Press
All rights reserved.
Ruralism Versus Urbanism
by Bishop Richard Williamson
Q. Surely you are not attacking cities, which have always been centres of Catholic civilization and culture? St. Paul's Letters are all addressed to early churches in cities (Rome, Corinth, etc.). Medieval Cathedrals were all built in cities.
A. Correct. But industrialization, in particular the motor-car, changed radically the structure of cities, and the mentality of city-dwellers. For instance the people who had socialized and the children who had played in the city streets were chased off them by the motor-car. Similarly, as long as the country outweighed the cities, city-dwellers shared more or less of the country-men's common sense (e.g., you cannot fool with day or night, winter or summer), but as soon as industrialism enabled the cities to outweigh the country then that common sense began to be worn away (e.g., with electricity and central heating we can change night and winter). The modern city and suburbs easily erode this natural sense of there being a nature of things. Now without nature, where is grace?
Q. But the suburbs, like television, are merely neutral, and can be used for good or bad. The problem is sin. Attack sin, not suburbs!
A. It is precisely to attack sin that one attacks modern suburbs, because their way of life favourssin. Their softness and comfort favour sensuality (Second Sorrowful Mystery). The anti-socialness and independence of their way of life favour pride (Third Sorrowful Mystery). True, television is in theory neutral, but not in practice. As installed in the (suburban or modern city) home, it strongly tends to be misused, discombobulating mind, will, the sense of reality, activeness, humanness, and family. Similarly the suburbs in practice strongly tend to discombobulate human beings. Listen to the Rock musicians, voice of now two alienated generations (1960's to 1990's). This alienation cannot go on.
Q. But priests (and dinosaur bishops) should be attacking sin, which is the heart of the problem, and not suburbs, which are obviously not the heart of the problem.
A. Granted, of course, sin is the real problem. But if a child complains of its shoes hurting, is it foolish to point out that it has put the right shoe on the left foot, and vice versa? If Catholics complain of finding it very difficult to lead Catholic lives, is it foolish for priests to point out where they are not realizing that the whole context of their lives is carrying them towards pride and sensuality?
Q. What do you mean by "a context carrying towards sin"? Sins are committed by free choice, not by context!
A. Yes, but contexts can exert more or less pressure on free choice, which is why many of them are branded as "occasions of sin," which a Catholic must avoid.
Q. Then you are saying that modern suburbs are an occasion of sin? Ridiculous!
A. Let us take a different example. A car radio is, as such, not the best context for listening to classical music, because I am distracted by driving, I am purely passive to the music being played, I am by my "Seek" or "Scan" buttons master of the Great Masters, to replace them at will with umpteen Rock stations. Now I can listen to classical music on a car radio. But the context of attending a live concert is much better, where I am neither distracted, nor purely passive, nor master of the Masters by the push of a button. Similarly I can lead a Catholic life in the motor-car suburbs, but the whole context is man-made, man-centred, man-controlled. It is a context that shuts out God, making Him not impossible, but rather more difficult, to reach. Contexts count!
Q. You just do not like anything new.
A. Much wiser (Prov. XXII, 28) to like nothing new than to like nothing old, which is the condition and conditioning of modern man! But anything new that will help me to save my soul, like a new set of officials in Rome, truly Catholic, I will grab with both hands! A truly renewed Catholic Church, a new truly Christian World Order, yes please!
Q. But time passes, and things change. It is no use lamenting the "good old days."
A. There is no question of lamenting the good old yesterdays, only of judging correctly our present todays, in order to save as many souls as possible tomorrow. Of course time passes and things change. That is exactly why we must think about what time has brought us to now so that we can make things now change for the better. Otherwise they will go on changing for the worse. Change is inevitable, but God requires of us to direct that change in the direction of His will.
Q. But people have always praised times past as though they were better. Which strongly suggests that they were not really better at all.
A. The arguments for the Reign of Christ the King having – broadly – deteriorated for the last 700 years are clear and convincing. A car without brakes can free-wheel down a hill without crashing for a certain length of time, but finally it must crash. To the remains of Christendom in the 20th century, God sent three major warnings – World Wars I and II, and Vatican II. But still mankind is free-wheeling down-hill, and faster than ever.
Q. But country people are now as full of drugs and vices as city or suburban people.
A. Probably not quite, but that is much more true today than yesterday, precisely because the motor-car with all its pomps and all its works has overtaken the country. When Our Lady (allegedly) appeared in the mountain village of Garabandal in Northern Spain in the early 1960's, it was still an isolated mountain village. Now it is just an outrider of the nearest town.
Q. As for the American countryside, or heartland, it is full of Protestants, the farms are laid out in an anti-social way, and life is led there in a manner downright selfish.
A. As December's letter said, Protestantism is the heart of the problem of "suburbanism," so that to attack the symptom of suburbanism amounts to a way of alerting Catholics to how the disease of Protestantism is most likely infecting them withouttheir realizing it. To be Catholic is, in itself, far more important than to live in the country, but, circumstantially, not living in the country can incline many Catholics to cease being Catholic at all. Accordingly, let any Catholic think twice before he moves away from the Mass to be in the country, and let him think thrice before moving into the country to recreate suburbs there, or to rejoin an industrialized, mechanized, anti-socialized way of life.
Q. Yes, we Catholics are not Amish!
A. By the Truth of our supernatural religion, no. But does that mean that there is nothing in their natural way of life from which we could profit by imitating? Not necessarily. There is "method in their madness." To live on the land is not the same as to live off the land.
Q. OK, OK! Supposing I do move into the country, close enough to get to Mass each day, with time enough to recite the Rosary each day, and on too few acres to get sucked into industrial farming. What then?
A. First, let no suburbanite pretend that the move back into the country is easy. Farming is a hard way of life, which is precisely why many people in the 20th century left the land for the cities. Cows take no holidays, they must be milked every day, which includes at dawn in the dead of winter! But "no sweat, no sweet." In the hardness of the life lies its salutary discipline, for youngsters and oldsters. If people had stayed on the land, Communism could never have arisen. Who would dream of going on strike against land, animals or weather? Conclusion: in order to achieve what you would have moved to the country to achieve, do not expect, and do not re-construct, the easy life for yourselves. "In suffering is learning." Secondly, proximity to the Mass would be a crucial part of your move into the country, not only because of our Sunday duty and absolute need of the sacraments to save our souls, but also because of the Catholic's need of community. If Catholics fled the modern city or suburbs because of that whole context damaging to the Faith, it would not be worth fleeing into a Protestant context of isolated and individualistic country life, where there would be no Catholic families for miles around. In the early Middle Ages (500–1000 AD), the villages, towns, cities of Christendom formed around a monastery or church.
Q. But in the Middle Ages the altars of the Catholic Church were rather more stable than they are in today's crisis of the Church!
A. As we look back in time, it may seem so, but at that time amidst the ruins of the Roman empire and the threat of barbarian invasions, the altars may in fact have seemed hardly more stable than they do today. At some point God requires of us to take reasonable risks and to trust in Him for the rest.
Q. So I flee the suburbs and I re-locate in the country within striking distance of a group of Catholics where there is the Mass. What will I have achieved positively?
A. In the country, much more of the environment is God- made, or natural, instead of man-made, or artificial. Every creature of God speaks directly of God, if one has ears to listen. So if one moved into the country, one should not make the move too humanly abrupt, with too many sudden changes, because the temptation might then be to come racing back to the good old suburbs one is used to. On the other hand one should envisage leaving behind, little by little, more and more of those artificialities which are the pride and consolation of suburbanites, and which fill the glossy colour catalogues stuffing our mail-boxes. Life in the country should simplify, and as it did so, the important things in life would come back into view, presently blocked out by multiple artificial distractions.
Q. But no museums, no concerts, no culture – just the beauties of Nature? How boring!
A. Moving into the country would require a period of adaptation, to survive which I would need to have well thought out why I had moved into the country in the first place. But if I had thought it through, I would stand a good chance of adapting successfully. For instance, in the cities, museums have constantly to make up new exhibitions from the same old artists, or else patronize the modern anti-artists. In the country, no two sunsets or sunrises are exactly the same, and each one is a fresh masterpiece painted in moving techno-colour, but of course one must have eyes to see. Similarly concert-halls have to go round and around the same favourite pieces of the classical composers, or else descend into the bear-pit of "modern music," whereas in the country each dawn-chorus of birdsong is a new symphony conducted by our Maker, but concert-hall ears have to be adjusted to hear it. (In one sense, the museums and concerts died some time ago.)
Q. But life in the country would be boring!
A. The adults would have to adjust, for sure, and the older children, but the younger children should take to country life like ducks to water. Most parents can see how much more healthy it would be for their children to grow up in the country, only circumstances of all kinds prevent them from thinking that they could make the move.
Q. What is the advantage for children?
A. Fresh air. Freedom to play outside. Manual labor, apt to teach discipline and responsibility. The handling of live animals for which children have a God-given affinity, and which by their God-given nature can teach many lessons of life that no machines can teach. For instance, what child born and bred in between stallions and mares, bulls and cows, cocks and hens, is ever going to buy into the absurdity that there is no difference between males and females? Dare I say that the animals without reason will have taught the child a significant part of the difference between males and females that have reason?
Q. But all of these advantages of country life are situated on the merely natural level. It is grace, or supernature, that counts for salvation!
A. Of course, but grace builds on nature. Grace does heal nature, but it does not violate it. Grace works against sin, but it works with nature. That is why a wise education works with grace and nature in tandem. The problem with the ever-increasing artificiality of suburban life is that nature is being so shattered that grace has nothing left to work with. The total suburban context makes stony ground onwhich the seed of grace has little chance. That is a major reason why so many pious suburban parents see their teenagers become disinterested in the Catholic religion. Grace and nature, as presented to the teenagers, just do not integrate or fit one another.CHAPTER 2
Two Pigs and a Cow
by Christopher McCann
Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution there has been an incessant worldwide influx of people into cities and industrial manufacturing. This transition has not been without its share of those who point out the material abuses, particularly the denial of the right to organize trade unions, unemployment, inhumane living and working conditions, low wages, interminable hours of work, and exploitation of all sorts. But there is a much more serious and more elusive problem with urban industrial life and it is spiritual in nature. I shall call it alienation.
This is not alienation as the Marxist sees it, which is an umbrella term for various economic theories such as alienation of need, alienation of useful labor and alienation of use-values which supposedly prove that for one man to work for another is an essentially unjust relationship. No, a Catholic understanding of a different alienation will unfold in this article based on the assumption that God created man to interact in harmony with the rest of creation and that this harmonious interaction was damaged by original sin but not destroyed by it. Thus alienation is in the sense of "what God hath joined, let no man separate."
This article aims to point out that urban industrial society tends to pull apart this natural order and that living on the land is not only the antidoteto the problem, but also the ideal to strive for, especially for the Catholic family. It should be stated that a life on the land is not a guarantee of holiness. Certainly not. Neither is city living a guarantee of moral degeneracy. However it is certain that each exerts an opposite influence on the individual and the family – one for the good, and the other towards evil.
The Church Leads the Way
Among modern social critics, there are a few who speak out against such alienation. I will call them agrarian-decentralists. It is no coincidence that many of them are Catholics and those who aren't (or who give no indication that they are) often recognize the Church as taking the leading role in fighting for the true dignity of man. This is of no surprise as only the Catholic Church has preserved an understanding of the true nature of man.
E. F. Schumacher (economist, former head of planning at the British Coal Board, and, oddly enough, a modern-day Distributist) states in his book Small is Beautiful:
Over the last 100 years no one has spoken more insistently and warningly on this subject than have the Roman Pontiffs. What becomes of man if the process of production takes away from work any hint of humanity, making of it a merely mechanical activity? The worker himself is turned into a perversion of a free being.
Schumacher then quotes Pius XI: "And so bodily labor which even after original sin was decreedby Providence for the good of man's body and soul, is in many instances changed into an instrument of perversion; for from the factory dead matter goes out improved, whereas men there are corrupted and degraded."
Again Schumacher states:
Above anything else there is a need for a proper philosophy of work which understands work not as that which it has indeed become, an inhuman chore as soon as possible to be abolished by automation, but as something decreed by Providence for the good of man's body and soul.
It is no accident that Pius XI's statement draws attention to man's composite nature, i.e., body and soul, because it is here, inside each individual man, that industrial alienation begins to tear apart the natural order. Fr. George Speltz explains these words of Pius XI:
It is understandable on Thomistic principles why men should suffer degradation through such types of factory labor, and on these same principles the work of the husbandman will be seen to be capable of perfecting man, and compatible with the good life. According to a Thomistic principle of metaphysics and psychology, when man acts, he acts as a person; such is the union of all his component parts and faculties under the rational soul. In all his acts, such as the act of one's hand in labor the person acts; not merely the bodily member. Consequently, the manual labor of a man is more than the repeated physical movements of the members of his body. Manual labor is performed by the person who is endowed with intellect and will. Herein is its dignity. Granted a worthy end, it retains its dignity as long as it involves the functioning of the intellect and the will.
Rev. Speltz further clarifies by stating:
Now, the husbandman is in a better position to work as a person than is, for example, the factory worker who must constantly repeat the same simple operation or limited number of operations, and who is in a sense determined ad unum. Under this aspect the latter has become dehumanised; and the more complex the machine, the more its operator is determined to one course of action, and the less human is his work.
So if you refer to your work as "mindless," if you sit at a machine doing nothing more than pushing a button or if your work could easily be done by a robot, then your work is degrading you. It is alienating you by continually calling for your will to move your body, but never requiring your mind to do a thing. It is certainly not fulfilling God's desire that your work be for the good of your body and soul.
Neither the Church nor this author is saying that such work is immoral, nor are we saying that such work cannot be meritorious if done with the correct intention and dispositions. What we are saying is that such work is not ideally conducive to the integral well-being of the human person.
Excerpted from The Rural Solution by The Traditionalist Press. Copyright © 2003 The Traditionalist Press. Excerpted by permission of The Traditionalist Press.
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