Why you need a community

Something that has come up again and again in discussions on this blog and elsewhere in response to what I’ve written is the need for community.

The loss of community is one of the many scourges of the modern age, particularly in countries like Australia. Unlike many older countries, we do not have the customs, traditions and rituals built up over centuries or even millennia that define culture. This is why, in this country and elsewhere, we see so much segregation of racial and cultural communities. Shared customs and traditions unify us, as do beliefs and values.

We in the Church actually have greater access to community than most. The Maronites, in particular, have very strong communities in this country, based on cultural, racial and religious foundations. So why do most of us seem so fragmented? I’ll share some thoughts on this from some of my readers:

It’s completely fair to say that until recently, stable marriages leading to families were the naturally expected norm. Normal propagation of the species, go forth and multiply, basic stuff like that. Everyone in the species used to play a role in making that happen, by participating in the social life of a functioning community. In the last generation or two, the Catholic Church has simply stopped doing that, and those of us who would have benefited from a helpful nudge toward other eligible singles (to whom we might at least consider marriage) are the victims of that benign neglect.

From another reader:

It does no good to bang the podium and say “Man Up!” over and over and over, when plenty of men exist who have done all the things you requested – they are confident, educated, socially and financially competent, and even still attend church! – but have no opportunity to meet any eligible Catholic women, because parishes no longer provide any social assistance in that regard.

And what do I mean by “social assistance?” Dating services? Singles groups? No, none of that. I mean that parishes no longer function as communities. There are no social events where a single man can show up to volunteer and demonstrate his character, so that a grandmother might notice and suggest to him “you should meet my neighbor’s granddaughter’s co-worker, who attends XYZ parish in the next town over, I think you might be a good match”. Especially for men who have “separated from their family of origin”, this is so desperately needed now.

This from a reader and from my previous post:

I don’t think we need more singles events. I think we need more interpersonal connections across groups within the church. I’ve seen singles groups, married groups, even “dating couples” groups. It’s highly categorised. I think it would be good for couples, families and singles to mix more.

I’ve been thinking more and more about this. I’ve had so many letters and messages from older men and women who have lamented the lack of community events that used to characterise parishes. Forty or fifty years ago, they say, it was common for dioceses to hold inter-parish social events like picnics and dances.

I think this lack of community is a terrible loss to the Church and I would love to see this kind of thing resurrected. Of course, one of the compounding problems is the lack of priests, who have to do so much these days they don’t have the time or the energy to get events like these started or keep them going. It thus falls to the laity. Perhaps these sorts of things have always been run by the laity and we’ve gotten out of the practice as parishes have shrunk in size and the collective age has grown steadily older.

As for practising what I preach, I have spoken to my parish priest about getting some of these events going again. Perhaps a series of inter-parish soccer or cricket games, group picnics and/or social dances?

I don’t think this will solve the Church’s problems, but I would very much like to see measures put in place which attempt to redress this loss of community. I don’t even know any young men and women outside of a dozen or so parishes in Sydney, and I think this is one of the things compounding the marriage problem. Perhaps, as some of my readers have suggested, we singles would be more likely to find each other if there were events to facilitate meeting? Of course this also depends on people actually turning up, but maybe we could even use these events as opportunities for introducing our non-Christian friends and family members to our church communities?

What are your thoughts? What else could we do to help revive our Christian communities (including Benedict Option-style)?

18 thoughts on “Why you need a community

  1. There’s a massive elephant in the room which nobody, particularly not the church, ever seems to address these days. I should make it clear in advance that every human is made in the image of God and I’m not condoning racialism or crude bigotry.

    Ms Hitchings touches on the issue of culture and ethnicity in the opening paragraphs of her post. The simple fact is, people want to live among and marry within their own kind. And religious people in general tend to be far more ethnocentric than non-religious. Until the Church gets serious about the importance of the nation (as in ethnicity, in the true biblical sense, not the modern, secular watered-down version), you’re not going to make any progress.

    Like nearly every institution in society, the modern church is obsessed with ‘diversity’ and fighting ‘bigotry’, and welcoming people from ‘diverse backgrounds’ as a way of filling pews. The massive problem with this is that people soon find themselves sharing church space with others with whom they have nothing in common outside religion. People share one or two hours together on Sunday morning and then scurry off home. Eventually they look for another church or stop attending altogether.

    As St Augustine says in book 19 of ‘City of God’:

    “For if two men meet, and are forced by some compelling reason not to pass on but to stay in company, then if neither knows the other’s language, it is easier for dumb animals, even of different kinds, to associate together than these men … So true is this that a man would be more cheerful with his dog for company than with a foreigner”

    And even when we speak the same language, various cultural practices and preferences will make us unwilling to go out of our way to spend more time with someone if we don’t have to.

    My church is predominantly Anglo-Celtic, but I’ve had old church ladies try and introduce me to a young Chinese, Indian or African girl who’s attending church. They may be a nice person, but I’m simply not interested. Apart from not being physically attracted, there are also broader cultural issues and it’s pretty well established that mixed marriages break down far more often. Other people I know at church have tried to put together the sort of social events that Ms Hitchings suggests with people my age, but many of them are non-Westerners. They may be friendly and good people, but I don’t feel any genuine sense of connection. There isn’t that shared and unspoken sense of cultural understanding.

    The Church has been one of the biggest cheerleaders of mass migration of non-Western peoples into Western countries. Unfortunately, as Robert Putnam famously showed, as communities become more diverse, people stop identifying with the broader community and social cohesion and interpersonal trust break down. Slowly they withdraw to their own little niche and avoid venturing out. Note that our parents and grandparents grew up in a society that was largely European-Christian or even completely Anglo-Celtic, and this didn’t change until 30-40 years ago.

    The Church needs to get serious about the importance of the Nation and its traditions and culture, rather than continually cherry-picking verses such as Galatians 3:28 (‘neither Jew nor Greek’) whenever they want to get on board with the secular multiculturalism project (which is actually a form of enforced unity, not diversity).

    The Orthodox churches have a bit of a problem with phyletism, and to a certain extent you might call them ethnic social clubs, but they seem to have a bit more luck preserving and defending their traditions by combining religion with a strong national identity. While they often overdo it, I think this is generally what was intended for the Church from the earliest days.a

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Very interesting comment! I’m from the centre of Canada, and live in a very multi-cultured city. However only 2 generations ago, we all still lived in our cultural groups (neighbourhoods) yet in the same city. Churches were founded (planted?) that way here as well. Mennonite/Ukrainian (Orthodox)/Roman Catholic/United/Anglican etc… were all in certain areas of the city… where the people groups lived/settled.
      And even though our city has grown in size tremendously, I still find comfort in what is familiar. I actually just thought this was me and a few others. I too was asked what cultural group I am (or not) attracted to and I had never thought of that before.
      At the mega church I used to attend and still enjoy… I don’t think they get community. It is large and in the dark (ie the lights are on the stage). Everything is done amazingly well (worship/prayer/message), but I’m surrounded by strangers in the dark. Even when I volunteered for 5 years 3x a week (this is their solution to meeting people), I only stayed connected to people I saw outside of church (ie we were social away from big church, in a home bible study group). Now as I get to my 40s, there is no specific single group my age. Their College/Career nights stopped a long, long time ago, and I really have the energy anymore to volunteer for such a large amount of time (I realize how ironic this sounds).
      I would love to join a home bible study group, but of course since I don’t have a home church, this is hard. The young family picnics are awkward. I definitely agree with the sectioning off of the age groups in church. Child care age/Youth groups/College Career/Young marrieds/Family age/(Skipping the 40/50 age group)Seniors?! Why did church evolve into this? As I mentioned above although I volunteered for so long at the mega church, I always wanted to hang out in the seniors lounge, where there was coffee and fresh baking brought. They all gathered around tables, sat down and talked. Although since I left the mega church 10 years ago, this room and 3 others has been turned into mini “Starbucks” inside the church.

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    2. Yeah, but the non-Anglos are probably the only reliable source of young blood in the RCC in Australia. The number of young Anglos in the pews in Australia can’t be very high.

      I was in Ireland a few years ago. I went to Mass at the chapel of the Holy Ghost priests. Most of the people were seniors, some of them with their grandkids. I can’t imagine that the typical RC church in Australia is much different from that.

      The RCC in the US pushes for emigration from Latin America to bolster the numbers in the pews. Without the Hispanics, the Church would be far worse off than it is. I believe that the majority of Catholics in the US under the age of 18 are of Hispanic origin. I’ll have to check that stat, though. The attention given to Hispanics is quite remarkable, given how anti-ethnic the US Church often was in the past.

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      1. I’m pretty ashamed of my fellow Anglos with respect to their church-going habits. That said, the Church’s tactic here reminds me of that old Bertolt Brecht quote about democracy, ‘would it not be easier in that case for the government to dissolve the people, and elect another?’

        For a start, it seems to be about the Church following the people into godlessness and getting involved in politics, rather than standing their ground, weathering the storm and waiting for renewal. Whenever the Church gives ground by embracing the secular agenda (such as by ordaining women or gays) they expect to get more parishioners, but instead people just lose respect for the institution.

        Secondly, it’s very short-sighted. The churches end up filling a few more pews and maybe get some more funding in the short-run. Meanwhile, Hispanics are used as political leverage by the Democrats to attain more political power, and end up pushing a radical anti-Christian agenda. This is a bit like any immigrant group, which tends to be socially conservative but ends up giving its vote to left-wing secular political parties.

        Thirdly, it ignores the social disruption and loss of community which takes place outside the Church from mass immigration. This loss of community infects the Church in turn.

        Perhaps lastly (for now), it just shows that they view us as interchangeable, which is kind of insulting.

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      2. Hispanics have been part of the Catholic Church in the US for a very long time. You can debate about whether we should have more immigration, but Hispanics certainly aren’t a new entity in the US Catholic Church.
        In the town I grew up in there are Hispanic families that have roots there going back 100 years or more.

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  2. Actually the first two quotes both came from me. I am glad to see that the message is being received.

    I want to clarify that when these events existed (being a generation older than you, I can remember them from my early youth), that the priests were not involved in event planning. Indeed, it was all planned by various long-standing groups or committees in the parish who had been doing it for decades or even generations. Priests enjoyed the social benefit of these events as well – I can remember our Father walking the grounds of the annual spring picnic, with handshakes and slaps on the back for everyone in attendance.

    I wish I knew why these events simply stopped. Perhaps due to insurance concerns in this more paranoid age. Perhaps the organizers hung on to their roles too long, and they didn’t train anyone to take over. Perhaps there was no one to take over, in this age where people have left the Church in ever increasing numbers. But for whatever reasons, the role of parish social life in forming Catholic couples and Catholic marriages was never truly appreciated.

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  3. And to your comment about speaking to your priest about reviving social events. If you got any positive response at all, I urge you to run with it. My experience with asking about events for single adults to attend (admittedly, speaking only to low level parish staffers or people organizing events advertised as being for families- not bothering priests about this) has ranged from an insincere “give us your name and we’ll get back to you” which never happens, or outright dismissal, usually with an attitude of disbelief that single adults exist and are reduced to trying to intrude on “family” activities.

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  4. Dimitri-

    I could not have said this better myself. I agree 100%. This is a line of thinking that needs to be developed further, and not just in theory. This used to be simple common sense and as I see it, anyway, is fully in line with the natural law.

    I have been thinking about this same issue in Aristotelian terms. Something like:

    Happiness = an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.
    Virtue = a mean between two extremes, e.g., courage is the mean between rashness and cowardice.

    In terms of ethnos the extremes would be:

    1. Ethnocentrism = my group right or wrong, The moral law comes second to the good of the group, i.e., the ends justify the means.

    2. Social atomization/Bureaucratic Individualism = The isolated consumer “liberated” from all non-elective affinities and protected by the ever-expanding omnicompetent state.

    The virtue between those extremes one might call ethnophilia = an ordered love and responsibility towards those to whom we are closest i.e. family and extended cultural-kinship groups. A moderate in-group preference that is open in love and justice to the stranger, the broken and the outcast

    It’s a sign of our disordered times that number 2 above is seen as the only “enlightened” and even permissible option.

    Two books come to mind:

    1. “Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It” and 2. “The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command,” both by James Kalb, a Catholic.

    Sincerely,
    Underground Thomist

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    1. Thomist,

      In your comment below you note that the word ‘community’ has been rendered almost meaningless these days, since it’s been divorced from the idea of having something in ‘common’ (I’m sure the etymological link is not lost on you).

      I’d argue another word that is incredibly overused and misunderstood is ‘love’ – particularly in the biblical sense. It’s really a sign of our debased society that this word almost always connotes having warm fuzzy feelings for somebody or something. But this was not what Jesus was talking about when he commanded us to love God and our neighbor. He did not use the word ‘philia’ (affection) or ‘eros’ (physical attraction), but ‘agape’: a word that doesn’t really translate well into modern English, but implies more a sense of duty to act in good faith and in the best interests of another. This might even mean ‘tough love’ and denial or punishment on occasion. God loves us, but he certainly doesn’t spare the rod.

      The type 2 view you describe above utterly discards this understanding. The parable of the Good Samaritan then becomes about showing an open-ended commitment to love (that is, show a kind of meaningless and saccharine affection) towards humanity at large, rather than about an act of unmerited forbearance (mercy) between two individuals. The Good Samaritan certainly didn’t ‘love’ the beaten stranger in the way we would now understand the word.

      It reminds me of those people who, when you ask them what kind of music they like, will say ‘I love all music’. They may as well say they don’t really like music at all, since they apparently don’t care about it enough to develop favorites. The same with love; the fact that we love someone shows that we inevitably prefer them to others. St Augustine and Aquinas understood this well, and that is why you see the theme of concentric circles of love and duty extending out from the individual to encompass ever more distant groups.

      The West has adopted the type 2 ethos of the ethnos, and unfortunately it leaves us open to exploitation by those groups who have preserved the type 1 ethos (extreme in-group preference). Unfortunately, even at a relatively theologically conservative church, I’m bombarded with sappy type 2 sermons each week. This is an extremely difficult issue to navigate, and it’s sad that nearly every Western church has climbed on the ‘diversity’ bandwagon when we most need their moral guidance.

      I’m going to wager that the type of upstanding, traditional man whom Miss Hitchings would like to meet will inevitably have a healthy love of God, kin and country. The Hitchingsian Conundrum will not be solved while such men decide to steer clear of the church when they hear it imploring the West to commit cultural suicide.

      And thanks for the book recommendations, I’ll check them out!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Miss Hitchings-

    Community, or lack thereof, is the heart of this problem. The Hitchingsian Conundrum cannot be solved, save in piecemeal fashion, without first solving this.

    This word, “community” must be one of the most abused words in our language at the moment. It is misused in exact proportion to how little community exists. The LGBT community! The Facebook community! The stamp collecting community! It is now considered possible to be part of a community with people one has never met and might live a thousand miles away from. It is as odd as it is incoherent.

    I will give a provisional definition of community as follows: a people, rooted in a place, with shared values and a shared history. Or more colloquially, community means not only having someone you can borrow a cup of sugar from but that your Grandmother frequently borrowed a cup of sugar from her Grandmother.

    I keep harping on the social teaching of the Church, but the theory of this is all there. Instead, the rules many now follow are the rules of liberal individualism. The first commandment of which is, “Thou Shalt always maximize your own preference and personal advantage.” Follow *your* bliss!

    If the rule you followed has led you to this, of what use was the rule?

    Am I willing to sacrifice my own preferences to live in solidarity with and proximity to my Christian brothers and sisters? Would I forgo a job opportunity to stay in proximity to a community? I would like to find out.

    I think Miss Hitchings has some good, practical steps to try and get this started. We certainly need more suggestions of this kind (I don’t know how to play cricket, though). The wider and deeper the connections between us the more likely it will be that we can find someone compatible for marriage, or friendship, or a book group…a true community.

    This is going to take reinvigorating social virtues and breaking many long-standing bad habits. But the hunger for being in a community is real and it is growing.

    Sincerely,
    Underground Thomist

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  6. Yes, you do need a community, even if you’re just trying to live happily as a single person.

    You need to find your tribe and stick with them, and build good friendships that can help assuage loneliness and isolation.

    Your community gives you purpose and gives your life meaning, and if you are involved in it and giving a lot to it, you can retreat to your own place at the end of a tiring day and be really glad you’re alone!

    Again, it shouldn’t be about finding a spouse. It should be about connection and communion, helping others, offering your gifts for use, and incidentally taking good care of your mental and physical health at the same time.

    The Catholic Church is not a dating agency. You have CatholicMatch for that. The Catholic Church is the Body of Christ, and we all belong to it, and need to grow in that communion over time.

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  7. In South Bend, Indiana, St. Patrick’s is about 1 block away from St. Hedwig. St. Patrick’s was primarily Irish, St. Hedwig primarily Polish. That each community — still within the Latin Rite — saw a need for its own parish tells us something. Now, “ethnic” parishes CAN be problematic for the “outsider,” but they DO have a cohesiveness (aka community) that creates and preserves social capital:
    * A family has “known” another family from the “Old World,” so providing funds so that a newly-married couple has money for a down payment on a house is not considered risky.
    * A banker that attends the ethnic parish has met and become friends with a young man who wants to start a restaurant, so it may be much easier for the budding entrepreneur to obtain financing.
    * A couple with children pass on their “baby items” to an expecting younger couple, thereby saving the new parents quite a bit of money.

    All this is not to say that ethic-centered parishes cannot have problems: they can and do. Nevertheless, they also have intangible benefits to their members that we often overlook. With the loss of the ethnically homogeneous parish comes a loss of at least some social capital.

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  8. @Underground Thomist.
    The virtue between those extremes one might call ethnophilia
    There is actually a term for this, it’s called Homophily, and its a fairly well established observation of social science, rooted in human nature.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophily
    In fact, the Church’s current position on things such as borders and identity clash directly with this notion of human nature. Which raises deeper questions with regard to the relationship of human nature and Church teaching. It is my understanding that till recently, the Church thought it legitimate to have a preference for “your own kind”. That of course did not legitimate hatred to others, but simply recognised the natural human tendency. A tendency which now seems to be illegitimate.
    Virtue = a mean between two extremes
    G.K Chesterton would disagree with you about this. He would argue that courage is a balance between competing qualities which retain their distinction, not a dilution of both.
    Sorry for the long quote but I think it illustrates a very important point. From Orthodoxy:
    Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if we will risk it on the precipice.
    He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying

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    1. Fluvox-

      Thank you for the Chesterton quote. Much to think about. If there is, in fact, a disagreement it is between Chesterton and Aristotle. I am but a bystander! Though looking at the Chesterton quote above I am not entirely sure that there is any fundamental disagreement but rather a different way of saying the same kind of thing. I won’t say that definitively without further reflection. Besides, it was merely a tangent to my main point.

      As to the main point, you are correct. Sections 384-387 in the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” [linked below] indicate, both directly and indirectly, the reality and licitness of ethnophilia (I think homophilia might be a less useful term for obvious reasons). That much of Christianity has joined in with progressive liberalism to vilify the natural affection we have for those close to us, says more about what has happened in the Church than to the validity of ethnophilia.

      I would submit that without a healthy ethnophilia what one loves and values will be far less likely to survive.

      Sincerely,
      Jack

      http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html

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  9. We churchgoers just don’t have the numbers anymore. A while back I estimated that ca 1985 my town had something like 40-50 Masses a week at five churches and at one hospital chapel. Today there are about 9-10 Masses a week. So we’re talking about a 75-percent (or more) decline in the number of Masses in the last 30 years or so. And 30 years ago each parish had its own events (fish-frys during Lent, craft shows, salad luncheons, etc.) Most of those are long gone. The numbers don’t look good.

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  10. Miss Hitchings-
    You asked for ways we can revive our Christian communities. I’ve thought about this over the past few days and so far I have this to offer:
    It would be a very good thing to start meeting on a regular basis outside of church. I have seen this practiced by Evangelical friends and it really seems to have worked wonders for them. It has created a very real community and from that marriage and from that helping to raise families together. Even if it starts out sparsely attended it would still be worth continuing. It would help those few who do show up as a remedy to the isolation of the virtual age.
    It could take the form of a book group, bible study, a pot luck meal and of course by praying together (for Catholics: praying the Rosary together). I think it should take place in our homes and not in some church basement.
    The eventual goal might be to start moving closer to one another. I have attended an FSSP parish that sends out flocknote messages regarding nearby houses for sale. There goes the neighborhood!
    Finally, I will offer something a bit eccentric. Buy some quality writing paper, a decent fountain pen and start writing handwritten letters. Write them to anyone and everyone you can think of. To friends across the country, or even someone across town who you don’t talk to as much as you’d like. Or to a writer or thinker you admire, or merely to a person you find interesting. A handwritten letter is a very different beast than an email. Try it and see.
    Sincerely,
    Underground Thomist

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    1. The FSSP parish I attend has a social with food provided by the different parish organizations on a rotating basis after the two most heavily attended masses (the 9 am and 11:30 am) every single week. People often hang around for hours. And during the summer we have a lecture series going on with wine and cheese that ends right before sung Vespers. It’s really not complicated, you just need a parish hall and a little planning.

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