The problem of cultural bubbles

Richard SontagSpiritual Reflections

A reflection on the difference between a healthy Catholic culture and the formation of any toxic cultural/religious bubble.

I never cared much for blowing bubbles as a kid.  I wasn’t necessarily the kid that went around popping other people’s bubbles but it didn’t bother me when others did.

We take a part of childhood with us when we grow. Many of our values, beliefs and behaviors have chapters throughout life, vacillating subtly here and dramatically there.  One month we can be saints and the next we find it hard to look at ourselves in the mirror because we may be living a lie.  Saint or sinner, change happens because change is part of life.  Saints become sinners who have the opportunity to become saints again.  Sinners become better or worse but rarely are content with their own lukewarmness.  Either way, there is change.

What happens within a cultural bubble, however, is not change.  Like a snow globe, one can shake it and the little flakes move around and are agitated but every one of them settles right back within its limited, domed space.  After settling, the scene within the globe is just the same as it was before the shake-up.  No change.

Cultural bubbles can seem an innocent as the globular, slimy, multi-colored shapes floating forth from a child’s pink bubble wand.  The reality is that when they finally pop against some other cultural bubble or abrasive surface, they create the same sticky mess that results from the child’s wand.

bursting-bubbleWhether religious or political, cultural bubbles may give the appearance of a perfect, domed, controlled world whose flakes, even when shaken, return to the way they were before, but life is not domed and people are not flakes, despite a plethora of convincing examples to the contrary.  Life happens.  Change happens.  To desire a changeless environment to one’s liking is delusional; it escapes reality.  It is, by its very nature, disordered.  No matter how much the little blonde-haired girl with pigtails wants her perfect bubble to last forever, the reality is that its time is less than the grass that withers.  No more than a breath, or two, it doesn’t even gracefully bow and wither.  It pops violently because a bubble’s essence is so very fragile.

Catholics can and ought to strive for orthodoxy; should appreciate and value tradition; strive for justice and mercy; pray; walk humbly with God; love their neighbor as themselves; forgive.  But to work at creating and maintaining a Catholic bubble of these things has disastrous consequences.  Mankind cannot do all or any of these things perfectly all the time.  Writhing in concupiscence, we might accomplish some of those things some of the time.  We are not lifeless flakes swirling and twirling before settling back down.

If you’re into bubbles, blow them away from me; many extreme fundamentalists are into bubbles.  I never cared much for blowing bubbles as a kid.  I wasn’t necessarily the kid that went around popping other people’s bubbles but it didn’t bother me when others did.  No, I won’t chase after them and pop them.  But when they pop, and they will, I’d prefer not to be coated in the sticky, slimy goo left behind that fragile cultural bubble that came to such a quick, violent, messy end.