Is a fruitful dialogue betweenLatin-Catholic and Anglophone-Protestant cultures possible? 

by A. Autino

People who have grown up in Latin societies, where the basic religion is the Roman Catholic Church, are equipped, as soon as they come into the world, with a remarkable sense of guilt. The rhetoric of sacrifice and pain continuouslyforces us to impose limits on  ourselves. we are encaged since early childhood. Every time we express a concept or a principle, a plan,or a progressive goal,our God immediately suggests a lot of caveats, aimedat curbing  our enthusiasm. It seems that the God of the Catholics cannot tolerateenthusiasm orcreative joy. He does not tolerate that we expect a just reward when we have had good ideas and have been  able to realize them. It is therefore highly advisable  for anyone born and reared  in sucha society, the following: if you have good ideas, good ethical aims and you wish to gain a minimum of wealth and a just reward for your engagement, you'd better make many spiritual exercises, in order to convince yourself that (i) to have good ideas is not a sin, (ii) to exert yourself to realize them is not a sin of pride, and (iii) to have success, as a reward for your efforts, is not a sin. Further,  that, if a person exerts him/herself digigently ,honestly,and with sincere ethical aims, it is very right and proper that his/her efforts are rewarded. The above applies to us Catholic-Latins.

When I speak about Catholic-Latins I don't mean mainly or only the believers, the practitioners, or those people who try to live according to their Church's precepts. From the anthropological and social point of view the prevailing religious philosophy in a society rules the actions, the behaviours and the choices of the people, whatevertheir religious, lay, observing, practising, atheist, agnostic (or other) creed might be. If it is true that the fundamental paradigm ofCatholicism isSacrifice (the extreme one is that of  Christ, who immolated Himself to redeem the sins of humanity), then all our ideals -- lay or religious -- are oriented tosacrifice. And so the dialectic was developed during the industrial age between Catholicism and Marxism. The Catholic preacher said: you, Marxist, since you are atheist and materialist, you are not able to really sacrifice yourself for the wealth of the others, because only in Christ is to be found the true force and nobility of mind which allows one to really give priority to the wealth of others. The Marxist preacher answers: you, Catholic,are just a bigot, and you aren't able to sacrifice your interests for the common wealth, only we -- communists -- are able to sacrifice all for the revolution. As we can see (or as we are today in the position to see), the social model, for both, is the sacrifice. 

The God of the Catholics is therefore, for many aspects, a moderator, but not a moderator of the many conflicts and inner contradictions ofsociety: He is a moderator ofenthusiasms and ofgoals! The victory of a Catholic is always a halved victory. The conscience of the Catholic is always there to suggest: OK, but don't become too proud, remember that you will pay for each brag. Furthermore, the goodluck-badluck attitude, much present in the Latin societies adds its charming suggestions. Such kind of feelings act not only after victory, but also before, during all the struggle to acheive the goal, and, in some way, it limits the effectiveness of the struggle itself. In his/her heart of hearts, a Catholic is always convinced that he/she does not deserve possible successes and prizes. When he/she accepts them (in fact,self-respect andambition co-exist, often in opposition to each other), always he/she feels a little dishonest, and suchfeeling can lead to other deceits, or to aims of penitence, or often also to throwing  away the possibilities of victory, to resign, to negate own aims and thus set oneself up for future defeats. To all this we ought to add that, in the Catholic countires sex is enjoyed in guilt, that the celibacy of the priesthood endures, and that denial of sex and procreation is seen as the height ofasceticism and spirituality. The foregoing  adds to the culture of sacrifice, and affects, at the ethical level, allhuman behaviour. 

As for people born and reared in Calvinist or Lutheran societies (Protestants), I state beforehand that I know less about this type of society, and I can therefore speak only for what I have come to learn after beginning to discuss and compare - above all through the network -- with peoplebrought up  with that kind of ethical-religious education. 

The God of the Protestants appears to me rather devoid of characteristics likesolidarity andlove for all mankind. The concept ofPredestination to success, the concept of being or not being blessed by God leads such societies to high degrees of cynicism and arrogance towards those people who are not, in their opinion, chosen by God. When a society has such an ideological worldview , it is very likely  that a citizen will always claim for himself the best position ( claiming selection by God) and will reserve for others, for various reasons ( for example, race, color, or other), the negative characteristic of notbeing selected by God. This leads people to perceive differences, of which the current racism is only one example. If we go deeper, we notice that the most marked difference is the attitude of the individual towards the rest ofsociety: every individual thinks that he/she is selected and blessed, and considers the others - in the best of cases - a tool to be used to reach his own objectives, when not a mere obstacle to be eliminated. This isquite opposite to the case in  the Latin societies, in which the individual grows with a deep-rooted sense of guilt towards the society and, in his/her innermost self, believes that to get a little wealth is somehow  a theft from the rest of society. 

However, in order to prevent misunderstandings, I am not advocating some religious and/or ideological unification (if it comes, it will surely be positive, but only after a deep understanding, and not in a casual manner,on the wave of cheapsentiment). I am just trying, as a lay person, respectful of the various religious creeds, to analyze the deep characteristics of different types of societies, now that I have the means to do so. Since previously I lived in a de facto philosophically isolated society (where did you ever read about the social differences and behaviors between the Latin societies and the Anglo-Saxon ones?), I am trying to understand which cognitive and evolutionary tools I am lacking, and to advance some hypothesis in order to add some tools to my cultural set. I do not think, in fact, that globalization should mean cultural levelling and a search for a unified ideological jumble, mixing up different social orders. Globalization, by means of properly designed interfaces (an interface is to me a system that includes the processing ofinformation, and not the simple swallowing everything without understanding), to connect the different societies. By means of the proper interfaces, the globalization can be for everyone and for the societies an exceptional opportunity for cultural enrichment, or an  acquisition of previously unavailable cultural tools.

We, Catholic-Latins, should therefore pray for our God to equip Himself with some currently missing  characteristics (most of all the appreciation of talent and creativity), and to suggest that He dampens  that emphasis on sacrifice and pain, which has been developed by the Catholic Church overthe centuries. 

The Protestants should likewise pray for their God to become more compassionate, and to accept  solidarity between equals (which  does not denydignity nor adulthood to people in need). Even within  in the Protestants'scheme of"people predestined and selected by God", at least God could suggest to His Faithful that selected and predestined people can appear in any human context, and therefore in any social, ethnic or religious context. Such a God could also turn with good will toothers, and could suggest to His own followers the concept of aid to others: both to the predestined ones, because a little help is never out of order, and favors the good relationships inside the society; and also to the unselected ones, who are in any case  our siblings and fellow human beings, punished at the whim of a capricious God. We should in any case help raise their children , since, in the lottery of Predestination ( and here I must apologise to the Protestants in case, out of ignorance, I am maligning their creed) these children could be selected ones, or at any rate useful persons, either on their own account or  forsociety at large ( as we  neo-Humanists would say). 

Devotees of bothfaiths (Catholic and Protestant) could well suggest to their God (who was once only one God) a concept of the ethical use of the accumulated wealth. For the Protestants the predestination concept could evolve into the following new concept: if the Lord endowed the predestined people with the ability to have good ideas, tosucceed, and to turntheir ideas into results, -- if we allow that, in any case, the God of the Christians was a God of love -- surely His attention is directed not only toindividuals, but also to the community. Therefore, there should exist, not as a duty (opposed  tosacrosant individual freedom), but a moral engagement, a recommendation to plow back one's own success (not onlyeconomic wealth, but alsoposition,technologies, and skills) for the commom good. There could be a duty to favorprogress, and to study how my success could be an aid and a spur for the success of other people. It could also be that some people, though "selected", do not find practical ways  to develop their potential. Someone who kindly removes some obstacle from their path could be of some help. 

If the Lord of the Protestants and the Lord of the Catholics would agree on the ethical reinvestment ofsuccess we would have: for the Catholics a downsizing of the sense of guilt, a greater drive  to honest success, andless shame when we achieve success; in the Protestants' case we would have a better solidaristic approach towardother people,other ethnic communities, and other countries.

[English translation was revised by Michael Martin-Smith]

[AA - TDF 2/2001 - 17/06/2001]


See also:

The Catholic creed prizes the sacrifice, the Protestant one prizes the success - by Diana Baroni