Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Modernity: The Return of Manicheanism

"The priest is the law, prohibition, forbiddance," wrote the Abbe Larichesse of Cantal in an 1865 study of confession. Familiar with claims that people avoided church because its doctrines ignored human passions, he did not see laxity as a valid remedy. No wonder that, by 1883, we find the public prosecutor at Grenoble noting that the reserve and mistrust with which the peasants of Isere treated their priests was "a form of self-defense" against the clergy's attempts to trespass on their freedom of conscience in newly reserved domains like family affairs and politics. An article in a clerical review published in the last year of the century summed it all up: "The clergy is unpopular. To men of the people the priest is by definition a hostile being." It was in this guise that many priests worked hard to saw off the branch on which they sat.
Interestingly, Weber devotes two chapters in his book on the transformative changes in the relationship between the clergy and the laity bought about by the process of modernisation. Weber sees the transformation arising as consequence and confluence of many factors,  both internal and external to the clergy themselves.  But I think the important point to remember is that prior to modernity, the Church was in equilibrium with the agricultural society of Europe, the process of modernisation destroying this equilibrium. Relgious commentators tend to see the Church as a victim of modernity, but it wasn't like the Church was passive in these events, it seemed to have responded wrongly and thus further damaged its situation. 

The French revolution had polarised society and established a militant anti-clerical element in it, and its easy to blame the dissolution of religion on forces which openly sought to undermine the Church. Yet this line of reasoning tends to neglect some of the self-destructive actions which the Church took.  Clearly, it mistook what it was up against. Much Christian literature on the subject of secularisation tends to focus on the philosophical dimension of this battle, ignoring the sociological dimensions which were far more corrosive to everyday belief.
Thus clerical or anticlerical politics affected the popular mind indirectly. They helped to sap tradition and disintegrate practices that had been part of life for centuries. But political arguments as the cities knew them would not and could not engage the countryside until the country mind had shifted to the wavelength of the city. This would take a long time. Meanwhile, the existence, the pervasiveness, the vigilance of politico-religious conflicts discredited what had long been undisputed and advanced alternative attitudes. As the century ended, a portion of clerical opinion recognized the  counterproductive effect of political involvement. My own belief is that pettier factors, more closely linked with the personality of the priest and his relations with the  community, contributed at least as much to calling him into question.
It's here where  Weber--and Pope Francis-- seem to have a far more intuitive grasp of the problems of Christianity than many realise. Just as all politics is local, all religion is personal, and the line of argument that Weber advocates is that personal factors rather than philosophical arguments were far more influential when it came to dissolution of religious belief.

Even in pre-Modern times there was tension between the priest and the people. He notes that one of the perennial problems that faced the priest was that of securing an adequate income. This created a tension with the laity who resented the contributions that they were effectively forced to make, especially in the environment of constrained means that many of the rural French lived in. Once again it wasn't the decisive factor but it was one which pushed people away.
The priest often appears as tyrant or exploiter, manipulating his monopoly of the essential rites of passage. Thus, at Bouan (Ariege) the gendarmes reported that he expected gifts or refused the holy sacraments and would not attend the dying, however poor they were, unless he was first paid nine francs. Nine francs in 1862 was a great deal of money! What little success Protestantism had in the countryside at mid-century reflected the peasants' attempts to escape from the high fees exacted by some priests. In Yonne,(Ariege), the Limousin, we hear that "the popular classes" were turned away by clerical demands for money. Protestantism was cheap. A novel about the Limousin countryside (written by a priest) records frequent grumbles about the cost of masses, burials, and other services. A Protestant sympathizer remarks that the Protestant minister provides his parishioners a bench to sit on and a stove to warm the chapel, advantages that one did not find in the Catholic church
There were, however, other factors at play:
The consoling cleric undoubtedly existed, but when we meet the priest he is always saying no. No drinking on the Sabbath, or in periods when a mass is being said, or while processions pass. No Sunday morning markets. Too many pigs-disgusting animals; people feast on them when they should be fasting. The fishermen work on Sundays, the priests persuade fish merchants not to buy fish on that day. The reactions were expectable. At Usclades (Ardeche), the priest entered the local tavern to silence "certain songs," but had to retreat under a barrage of insults, followed by snowballs! In a village nearby the priest ran out of church to put an end to a noisy farandole troubling the evening prayers, broke the drum with his fist, and barely escaped lynching. Men were becoming less willing to accept this kind of interference, and even less willing to admit the priest's right to interfere in their private lives.
Weber notes that there was a change in the nature of the French clergy during the 19th Century resulting in it become more austere. It went puritan.
One thing it sought to lick-and with a determination that cost it even greater popular sympathies-was the festival and the vulgar rejoicing that accompanied it[ED]. In Morbihan a local man of letters expressed regret in 1863 that priests, who once, far from condemning dancing, had given it tacit approval by coming to watch and applaud, had become rigorous and reproving. The permissive priest of yore was gone. For the new, stern cure, popular feasting went on for far too long. [ED] It kept a man from work not only while it lasted, but while he painfully recuperated in its aftermath. In any case, as the Oc ditty had it, "There is no feast without a morrow." A feastday was likely to run into two or three, its participants carried away by the unaccustomed respite. What was much worse was the abandoned behavior: the unchaste dress of women and lewdness of the men, the return home at dawn, the drunkenness and debauchery without measure.
There has been some discussion whether the "Jansenism" of many graduates of nineteenth-century seminaries contributed to what has been called deChristianization- itself a misleading term if it suggests more than the abandoning of church rituals. As early as 1828 an old Yonne priest, trained before the Revolution, had criticized his younger colleagues: "The young reformers of humankind flatly refuse absolution to all but girls who do not dance and lads who never go to taverns ... and in this way they avoid the trouble of confessions." Doubtful about this view, Latreille and Remond remark that after all this was no more than "a certain moral rigorism or harshness, ... frequent in that clerical generation." Yet moral rigorism should not be underrated when its effects touched every aspect of popular observance and turned the priest into a killjoy [ED]-a resident and interfering Mrs. Grundy.
We have seen that straitened means condemned the priests to rapacity. There was less excuse for their authoritarianism. The best historian of the French priesthood in the nineteenth century, Father Joseph Brugerette, has attributed the unpopularity of priests to their "absolutist and retrograde ideas," which in his view ran counter to the ideals of greater social and political independence that were gaining ground. My own view is that the tendency toward independence, itself a product of novel possibilities, did not suggest rebellion against the priest or a complete break with him; it simply made it possible. Like the stern schoolteacher, the authoritarian priest was the product of an authoritarian family in an authoritarian society. They would all be challenged in due course, when  opportunity offered. The priest's immediate problem was not that he was too absolutist, but that he was less retrograde than the villagers he sought to direct. Venality lost friends, but attempted reform lost more.
What's interesting to see here is the transformation of French Catholicism from a "traditionally" more permissive variety into a more austere one. Weber raises the subject of Jansenism as being a potential source of this transformation, but in my opinion pseudo-Jansenism i.e Manicheanism is the more likely culprit.  Faced with the challenge of the modernity the Church retreated into a an austere spirtuality as a means of escape.
"Modern" religion extolled new cults (the Virgin, the Blessed Heart of Jesus, the Holy Sacrament) over familiar ones, and sought to purify practice. The clergy had always shown a certain hostility to popular rejoicing as essentially pagan; feasting was gross, libertine, leading to violence and keeping peasants away from church services. Unable to eliminate such feasts, the Church incorporated them but did not cease to treat them with suspicion [ED]. Around mid-century the hierarchy set about purification. Balazuc, in Ardeche, boasted a Confrerie de Saint-Antoine (better known as the Fraternity of the Cow, because its members killed one every year and distributed its meat to the poor). In 1845 the priest found the fraternal banquets were too washed down with wine and suppressed the confrerie. His action set off a riot, but it was final in Balazuc and representative of a wider trend. Religious congregations and fraternities, especially penitents, had lost sight of their original purpose, which was to aid the poor, bury the indigent, honor their members in death. They had become social and drinking societies-blancs le matin et gris le soir, they said in Velay-or political clubs, their chief public function restricted to marching in processions wearing colorful, awesome robes and hoods. "This form of devotion no longer corresponded to the mentality of the population," commented a canon. Certainly not to the mentality of reforming clergymen. Far gone in their worldly ways, the penitents were reformed to death and left to expire slowly in the first two decades of the Third Republic. They were replaced with  associations specifically dedicated to prayer and to pious works. The result was a setback on both sides: the new associations, which the clergy sponsored, sometimes wilted or died; meanwhile, the old groups, abandoned by the clergy, withered badly also. "In a few years," wrote Edward Harrison Barker in 1893, "there will be no Blue Penitents at Figeac. As the old members of the confraternity die, there are no postulants to fill their places.
This is an extraordinary passage which shows the damage an "excessive sprituality" can inflict on a public faith. It also shows the symbiotic nature of spirituality and corporeal practice. Separate one from the other and they both die, and it's a great example of what happens when you try to clericise the laity. Reading these passages makes me want to go Protestant. Where, for goodness sake, is dancing prohibited in the Bible, or reasonably derived from it? An yet this is what a generation of clergy thought of as sin. It wasn't moral rigorism as much as it was a distortion of Christianity.
Dancing, in any case, competed with the contemplation and the prayer that should command Sundays-the day of the Lord. "Today Sunday does not belong to the Lord, but to dancing," sighed La Semaine religieuse of Montpellier in 1877. But Sunday brought for most the only intermission in hard labor. They wanted to enjoy it as they could, and there was a widespread custom that after mass or vespers people danced. Priests denounced this, and also railed against the reels and jigs that joined on saints' feast days and pilgrimages. They tended to react to local fiddlers as if they were unclean sinners. We hear of one in Vernajoul (Ariege) who made a scene when the minstrels scheduled to play during the afternoon's celebrations of the Emperor's Day, August 15, escorted the mayor to church service in the morning. The report of the incident cites "his well-known feelings against music, dancing,.........A folklorist of the 1880's expressed regret at the oversensitivity of priests and warned that when these diversions held on pilgrimage days ended, the pilgrimages would end too. He was not fundamentally wrong. Pilgrimages endured, but when they were no longer part of popular rejoicings they represented only a religion from which the life had been drained away. Moreover, the danger to such institutions of the Church was all the greater because the Church was becoming more dispensable. Around 1900 the priest of Morette (Isere) refused absolution to a girl unless she promised to give up dancing. "If you don't want to give it, keep id" answered the girl.
Modernity gave people options, but the Manichean transformation of the Church worked to repel them from the old order. The destruction of the the faith was not a one sided affair. Many were working from within to undermine the old order.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Modernity: The Forces of Secularity

IN THE MID-1870's 35,387,703 of the 36,000,000 people in France were listed in the official census as Catholics. The rest declared themselves Protestants (something under 600,000), Jews (5,000), or freethinkers (80,000). The secular clergy of the Catholic church alone included 55,169 priests, one for every 639 inhabitants. Roman Catholicism remained, as it had been in 1801, "the religion of the majority of Frenchmen."

One of the things which completely blindsided the Catholic Church was the collapse of the faith among ordinary people following Vatican Two. This in turn has clouded many of the "interpretations" of the Council, with many of the Traditionalists blaming it for the Church's problems.  Yet astute minds had recognised long before the Council that serious problems were fermenting. In 1944, two french priests involved with the care of the working class published a survey of the state of the faith in that demographic. France, Pays de Mission?, shocked the clerical establishment in its estimate that eight million of France's working class were essentially pagan. What had happened in the period since 1870?  Remember this was 1944, well before Vatican Two.

Most analyses of secularisation tend to take a intellectual approach to the problem of the loss of faith but in my opinion this tends to focus on that small element of society that actually thinks and ignores the mass of men who experience their faith rather than intellectualise about it. This in turn leads to "intellectual" approaches towards re-Christianisation which have largely failed.  Weber, in my opinion, sees the practice of religion as being a consequence of an interplay with a wide variety of social and personal forces and in my opinion gives a far more convincing analysis as to why religion collapsed  in the face of modernity.

As mentioned before Weber paints a picture of a pre-modernity equilibrium between social circumstances and religious faith, weak or strong, which favored religion. But astute observers noted that much of the relgious zeal of the past was intermixed with intermixed with a great deal of worldliness. In a strongly "local" world the church had both a religious and sociological function, with each underpinning the other, and what modernity did is totally undercut the sociological dimension.
"Sunday, the peasants go to church," wrote Madame Romieu at the end of the Second Empire, "some moved by religious feeling, most by habit or by fear of what people say." One went to church because it was the thing to do on Sunday, because it was one of the few social occasions of the week, because it was an opportunity for talking business or meeting friends, acquaintances, relatives. It was--especially for the women, once men had grasped at the opportunities that fairs held out-the sole occasion to escape the isolation in which many lived, the major recreation or diversion in a restricted life. Observance business, and pleasure were combined. One went to mass wearing one's Sunday best, and given the muddy cart tracks, this often meant special paths, mass roads, chemins de messe. Public announcements were made by the village crier as the  congregation left the service, public sales were often timed to fall after it, one could slip off later to call on the notary or the doctor, or drop in to the tavern, circle, or cafe. Even if a majority did not attend the service but went about their work as on any other day, "a multitude of peasants gathered in front of the church, discussed politics, made deals, filled the taverns."
In a world where entertainment was scarce, church provided a certain festive diversion. Those attending might well "love the high mass, the rich ornaments, seeing a great many statues of saints in their churches." Writing about his grandmother, Charles Peguy presented church attendance as a treat for the lonely child raised in a woodcutter's hut in Bourbonnais in the early 1800's : "When she was good, she was allowed to go on Sunday to mass in the village she wore her sabots because one doesn't go to church barefoot, and she was happy because that's where everybody met, where they exchanged news, where one heard about deaths, marriages, births, where gossip flowed about what was going on, where servants were hired."
Technological limits placed practical restriction on the ability of people to leave their local circumstances and the only show in town was the Church. What modernity did is give people alternatives.
We see that in the churches, as in the schools, non-attendance is a way of measuring ineffectiveness. The growing numbers of migrant workers going to the cities added to this trend. Urban workers worked Sundays and holidays, or did so very often. The more earnest the man, the more he worked. The less responsible were the more likely to get drunk during their free time. The Church did not see them either way. Like the Revolution, acquaintance with the city did not destroy religious sentiment. It simply made nonconformity possible or created another kind of conformity. Men who attended church at home because their peers did ceased to attend church where such attendance was  exceptional. The city merely provided an opportunity for the collapse of practices "shallowly rooted in the personality." Returning migrants may well have lost whatever impulse to religious conformity they had left with. They did not necessarily bandy this about so long as the priest retained his influence in the community. But they were ready to welcome emancipation when it came.
At any rate, all observers seem to have sensed the shallowness of faith behind the slackness of observance. In Beauce respectable farmers, "preoccupied by the care to augment their fortune, work to this end even on Sunday during the services, so that the churches are deserted." Not that they lacked respect for religion, "but they consider that the time they would spend in church would be lost for their work and their fortune."  Not challenge, but indifference and hardheadedness. One farmer declared that he would rather go to hell, since heaven was too high and far away. He was not interested in salvation ("it's not in my way of thinking; ... it's not done"). The paradise he sought was here on earth. "The absence of religious sentiment [in the countryside, especially] is such that there are communes where scarcely one marriage in six is blessed in church" (Yonne, 1862) .
What Weber argues is that modernity gave the people the real world option of not practicing religion in a way that was not possible prior to modernity. It's true that there were modernist elements that actually tried to stifle religion but the real solvent were the new opportunities afforded by modernity. City life, particularly, was different and provided for more anonymity--and opportunities for alternatives-- than life in the village. Life in small local communities is difficult to live anonymously and peer pressure tends to encourage conformity, not that there was much else to do. What all observers seem to note is that religious rot did not really set in till the last two decades of the 19th Century, just as French modernisation was gaining steam and well after the French Revolution with all of its Enlightenment Ideas.
In 1874 the bishop of Limoges bewailed "this grievous inertia of the masses." Alain Corbin, who has found no evidence of a great increase in religious indifference in the Limousin before 1870, notes a "brutal fall of religious practice" just about that time~not yet the godlessness the bishop of Limoges described in 1875, "but indifference, an incurable apathy, the total abandonment of religious duties, [and] universal disaffection." In the Limousin the Church's identification with the Moral Order brought anticlericalism. But even there, as almost everywhere, the most detached or hostile
maintained their loyalty to rites of passage and local festivals. More generally, as in Puy-de-Dome, "the religious question leaves our countrymen indifferent." though they "continue to go to church on Sunday out of habit."
From the Church's point of view, every innovation only made things worse. The bicycle was blamed for enabling young people to avoid mass. Tourists, visitors, and returning emigrants felt increasingly free to speak of their indifference to religious practice or even their scorn of it. Military service side-by-side with "pagan" urban workers made some peasants ashamed of a show of piety as a mark of their bumpkin backwardness. Finally, with war in 1914 there came a culmination of the pressures toward detachment. Yet, how far and fast would all these factors have worked if religion had been solidly anchored in personality?
Weber hits the nail on the head here by recognising that a "personal" faith "anchored in personality" is a different thing than an apparent faith of custom, habit and convenience. What modernity exposed is that the "personal faith" was strongly lacking and that a lot of religious practice was a habit contingent upon circumstances. Modernity changed the circumstances and exposed the shallowness in religious belief.  What Weber is hinting at--in a roundabout way-- is the notion that a strong faith is not opposed to modernity its just that weak faith is corroded by it.  And pre-Modern Europe had a lot of weak faith. What Weber is getting at is that  Modernity is not a solvent of religion, it is a solvent of weak and superficial religion, it separates the wheat from the chaff.

The other element at play here was not so much the philosophy of scientific materialism but the practical consequences of it. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, in a world where life was precarious and the means for mastering nature extremely limited, prayer and religion were of some utility to the peasant:
Living was marginal, disaster inexplicable and uncontrollable. This added to the countryman's Winnie-thePooh syndrome of seeing the trace of fantastic monsters in tracks that he had made himself. Where harm and ill-fortune were swiftly come by, nothing was easier than to claim that they were punishments of heaven. Long centuries of trying to mollify and coax the powerful conjured up a religion where fear almost excluded love, a faith bent to flatter and do honor to the heavenly lords in order to obtain their protection or avoid their ire. Power and irascibility were what impressed. The peasants would not work their cattle on the feasts of the nastiest saints, the ones most likely to resent and revenge any irreverence; they sought to discover what "thrashing saint" lay behind their illness. Kindly saints could be invoked when they were needed; in grimmer mood, they evoked well-conditioned submission. 
God was far away. The saints were near. Both were anthropomorphic. Saints were intercessors. One did not address God directly, but prayed to saints to request his favors, rewarded them if the crop was good or the weather fair, ....
Practical science gave men some form of control over the environment and was therefore more useful than religion. Whatever its philosophical underpinnings--something the average man doesn't even consider---the insights and power bought about by science had practical consequences. Why pray to God when chemical fertilizers will do the trick?
A peasant quoted by Gaston Mery in 1907 explained: "We compare what the teacher gives us with what the priest can give. Well, he gives us more. It's the teacher that has taught us how to read, and that is useful in life. He has taught us how to reckon and that is even more useful ... and then that is not all. If we need advice for our taxes, for our business, we just go to see him. He's got books and papers about farming, about fertilizer." The things one could see, the things one could touch, were taking over; and the school rode forward on their tide. The peasant's need had shifted from consolation to advice on concrete matters; and on this level, at this time at least, the presbytery could not keep up with the school.
Yet phosphates, chemical fertilizers, and schooling had spelled the beginning of the end. In 1893, a drought year in Bourbonnais when many men were having masses said for their emaciated cattle (which died anyway), the priest reproached Henry Norre, a self-taught man who farmed not far from Cerilly, for not attending church. "I haven't got the time," he answered. "And really, I haven't got much confidence in your remedies for the beasts. My remedies are better; you can check." Daniel Halevy quotes another story about Norre. This time the farmer returned from the railway station with a cartful of fertilizer and met the priest. "What are you carting there?" "Chemicals." "But that is very bad; they burn the soil" "Monsieur le cure," said Norre, "I've tried everything. I've had masses said and got no profit from them. I've bought chemicals and they worked. I'll stick to the better merchandise." It was the requiem of nineteenth-century religion.