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A Comparison of Secular and Catholic Culture

by Jill Knuttila

Through my experience of finding a genuine church, I have come across some pretty interesting findings. One, which this article is all about, is how our culture today is much different from Catholic culture. I will compare the two by explaining the two opposite cultures and end with my conclusion. Just keep in mind that this is strictly from my point of view, and that I am rather new to the whole catholic tradition, so if you disagree, that is fine by me. Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinions.

Secular Culture

First, I begin with our culture. Our culture focuses on success. You cannot be someone unless you are successful. Pressure is put on us every second, every minute, every hour to be successful. People put aside their families like a rag to become successful. People cheat, lie, and back stab their friends, co-workers, and in some cases their own families, just to "get to the top."

Second, we are told we have to be "entertained" all of the time. Examples of this entertainment include TV, movies, video games, and PC games. This type of entertainment puts us on a "high" so to speak. Entertainment now is like a drug. Our culture craves for it so we can be put on a "high." As I see it, this is meant to be a quick fix to fulfill our empty hearts. Eventually, this high ceases and we bring ourselves back down, wanting more and more "entertainment." This shows that we have to be "high" all of the time, and thus, this "high" is our only valid emotion. Since when did humans have only one emotion? In my opinion, this is a very shallow way to live.

Third, individualism is pushed to the extreme. I do agree that having some individualism can be satisfying, but it is only good to a certain extent. There are times when we need to get help from another. Hollywood displays this as a weakness. How so? Look at all of the action movies. Take the Rambo series for an example. Here we see one good guy going against all odds to defeat the bad guy. He receives some help, but in the end it's all about him. He is the one who gets all of the glory. There is nothing mentioned about the group of people who had helped him along the way. Another two series I will mention are the Scream series, and the Home Alone series. Each one has one individual against all odds, but they become triumphant in the end. The point I am trying to get across is that our culture focuses more on the individual effort instead of the group effort.

Last, let's look at love. Our culture believes in conditional love, not unconditional. For example, social circles, and even some churches, give this message: We will love you and accept you if you follow these rules/guidelines we have set up. Once individuals go against these "rules," the love stops, and they are ridiculed and frowned upon. Some communities even go to the extent of shunning (JW's have been known to do this). The signal the enquiring individual receives is, "how dare you go question or against the system?" Suddenly, the individual is no longer worthy to be associated with. Tell me, is that love?

Another point about love is that our culture puts a huge emphasis on the romance part of love. This type of love is only skin-deep. The culture sees romance as a hero rescuing a heroine from whatever situation she is in and they "fall in love." This falling in love is described as the "jittery feelings in your stomach and heart." This is attraction, not love. Once this emotional high has gone, it is said that the couple has "fallen out of love," and are thus ready to move on. Unfortunately, such a weak and sterile "love" is based on an emotional "high."

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Catholic Culture

Now I will discuss the Catholic culture. I have just begun my journey into this culture, but I have already found many differences.

First, let me revisit the excitement point. Like I mentioned earlier, our culture seems to believe that we need to be entertained all of the time. As for catholic culture, the sense of excitement is at a much deeper level, and it doesn't require bright lights and action. The excitement the church provides in this environment is very fulfilling and not based on an "emotional high." When one is going through his/her rough periods, (everyone goes through them. You wouldn't be human if you didn't.) the clapping and upbeat music are hard to bear. The liturgy itself provides a type of excitement (meaning) to the Christian, and does not require clapping and upbeat music to force it. Instead, the liturgy brings a sense of peace to the troubled individual. This peace is what's exciting, because you can feel the presence of God.

Take communion for example. The communion is held every Sunday service, unlike the Protestant churches that hold communion one Sunday a month. Communion is not designed to get us worked up as certain sermons are. Rather it reaches to something deeper.

The liturgy prepares and invites us to come into God's presence, even though we are sinners; thus the words "Lord, grant me a sinner, have mercy on me," are spoken. The Lord, in His mercy, invites us, imperfect beings, to be in His awesome presence. As a Christian, isn't that more exciting than watching a movie, or singing along to upbeat music? I think so.

Next, what does the catholic culture believe about success? As Romans 3:23 states very clearly "For all have sinned have fallen short of the glory of God", EVERYONE has failed in their path to success when it comes to walking the path towards God. Though that may sound harsh, God had made it easier for us to be in His presence: Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord". As you can see, not only does the culture point out that everyone fails (so you can't feel alone in this department), it also gives us hope that we can reach success. There is not cheating or back stabbing here to reach success.

Individualism is next. The catholic culture applauds those who are able to achieve some things on their own, but it points out the Christian is part of a huge family: the Church. We pray for each other, we ask the Saints to pray for us, and we help each other out when needed. The Catholic culture realizes that we cannot make it on our own. Besides, didn't Jesus say, "love thy neighbor as you love thyself"? Don't these words insinuate that we are to celebrate and lift each other up?

The last, love, differs the most between both cultures. The Catholic culture expresses the unconditional love God has for us: John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life". God sacrificed His Son, fully God, through the incarnation, for us. Can anyone truly say that we would do the same thing for everyone?

Unfortunately, there are some churches that don't express this sacrificial, unconditional love. Take my Baptist experience for example. I have not seen a lot that shows me God's love. Baptist theology plays more on individualism than communal love. Many Baptists believe that Christianity consists of getting people in, and emphasizes little how we treat others. We do not see God's sacrificial love in this belief of simply wanting to get others "in" and not meet their basic needs or treat them with dignity. Though often I heard love spoken of, underneath there was fear, uncertainty, jealousy, and even hatred in their hearts. Even the meanest and most hateful comments were always done "in love," cheapening the meaning of love. This is not love.

There are many evangelical churches out there that have set of rules to follow to be a true Christian. One quick example is that you have to be happy all of the time, and if you are not, there's something wrong with you. Instead of receiving sympathy and advice, the individual receives a lecture. That's not love; it's demeaning.

The Catholic culture seems different. It opens its doors to everyone who wish to take part in the worship (liturgy). To newcomers, they are there to help them with whatever they need. If you fall, they will lift you up (either by confession or some other means), and will help you continue your journey. When I cannot pray, the community, by praying as "we," prays on my behalf. If I am too weak to confess, by confessing as "we" and not "I," they confess on my behalf. You will never be ridiculed, and will have an ear that is willing to listen.

One more note to make is that this culture accepts you as you are. You can come to worship no matter your past, or present. Your personality is what attracts the culture, thus you will find many different types of people in the catholic culture.

In conclusion, I will say this. The two cultures are very opposite from each other. I am sad to report that there are churches out there that are more concerned with the outside culture than what is the true culture of Christianity that Jesus brought and what the apostles spread across the world.

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