Something for the Fourth

Garrison Keillor’s run on Prairie Home Companion (PHC) came to an end this weekend. 14 years ago, when I first became acquainted with the show through my former girlfriend’s parents, I wouldn’t have cared less. Like a noticeable contingent of the NPR-listening population, I found Keillor’s voice grating, his humor uninspiring, and his musical choices bland. I thought nothing much of PHC for nearly a decade until it started to dawn on me why so many in my generation—particular white folk in my generation—professed to despise it. Because instead of offering up skewed depictions of American life and culture populated primarily by atheists, tech entrepreneurs, avant-garde artists, and transsexuals, PHC offered up a glimpse of what life is/was/might be like for a sizable slice of Americana who have been, and shall forever be, underrepresented and unnoticed by the sophisticated elites who run this country’s various media machines. It is little wonder then that PHC’s under-50 defenders are quick to point to Keillor’s “Democratic politics” and wry sense of humor to justify the show while quietly setting to the side the show’s willingness to take the Midwest’s (primarily Protestant and somewhat liberal) Christian temperament seriously while casting its gaze on the folk artistry that orientation has produced for more than a century. Though I often felt rather detached from Keillor’s monologues and the quirky observations he made along the way, I grew to appreciate what he was trying to capture without simplemindedly regarding it as “nostalgic,” “hokey,” or (the worst disparagement available) “too white.” Besides, the only times I can ever recall my children imploring me to “turn it up” is when the banjo plucking began or an old hymn recited on Mr. Keillor’s rather remarkable show.

The annual Fortnight for Freedom (FFF)—sponsored by the American Catholic Church—has come and gone, and just like in previous years, the event has nothing to show for itself. It has been several years since I attended any FFF events, and the ones I did go to were only worth attending because some wise men I know decided to drop the gloves by giving frank explications of the vacuous nature of America’s concept of “religious freedom.” Over the years, U.S. Catholics have been forced to watch in horror as the last vestiges of public morality have succumbed to the zeitgeist and those holding to orthodox Christian beliefs are forced to undergo the process of public ostracism. The few remaining culture warriors who hoped there was still a way to pushback against the country’s moral revolution which sanctions abominations too ghastly to speak about are officially a defeated lot. Whatever comes next, whatever there is to be done, cannot be accomplished on the secularists’ terms. And that is the great, pathetic error of the FFF. After everything we have seen for half-a-century, the “elites” running Catholic America are still desperate to play ball with the powers that be—and for what? In days gone by it used to be for a seat at the discussion table; now they’re just elated if their restroom privileges aren’t revoked. Trust me, if the FFF had any force, influence, or widespread support, “mainstream America” would have taken notice and mocked this sorry spectacle some time ago. May this be the last year we cling so desperately to what matters not. (I am not holding my breath, however.)

This leads me to my next point, which shouldn’t surprise a soul. I don’t celebrate the Fourth of July. To me, this day is my eldest son’s birthday and that is all. So, fellow Catholics (and Orthodox and Protestants), feel free to celebrate that or, better yet, put away the explosives, grab your rosary (or prayer rope), and start making reparations for this nation’s great sins which began 240 years ago today.

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9 comments

  1. Interesting, I had the opposite journey with Keillor. I started out, in my late teens, liking him because he was portraying the small town rural culture I lived with, but in a scrubbed up and simplified version that I longed for. But over time I came feel that his affection was fake and paternalistic. I realized that he saw rural folkways as cute and quaint, and that our value claims were just more ‘color’ like our ethnic foods and petty obsessions. I’d be interested what opinion Wendell Berry has of Garrison Keillor’s minstrel show. Not one actually influenced the other, but Berry’s Port William strikes me as what Lake Wobegon would be if it were sincere. Keillor to me sounds like he’s playing to the suburbs. He’s playing on the nostalgia of those who left their small town and farms while assuring them they made the right choice.

  2. American exceptionalism is deeply ingrained in US Catholics, and the older they are, the worse it is, usually.

    One upshot of the irrational US-demystification drumbeat of the Left is that (I believe) it is helping to de-couple Catholic culture from Americanism in the younger generations. While the Left usually does it for the wrong reasons, whatever dethrones the mythos of our historical oligarchs and warlords is a good thing.

  3. I am wondering if anyone who has heard both can compare PHC with Vinyl Café on the CBC.

    I don’t really do Canada Day either, just the fun for the kids kind of things like small town parades of local things, pancake breakfasts, and fireworks. Rather have the White and Gold square on my porch than the Maple Leaf because of wgat it stands for.

  4. So I suppose it’s better to be living where, when? Say, 1920’s Mexico, so that you die with Viva la Christo Rey on you lips? Or Soviet Russia, circa 1929? Elizabethean England? A resident of the Vendee, France, 1790’s?

    Puleeze.

      1. Tru dat, but nobody in America is going to kill you for following Christ and preaching the Gospel. That they may ignore you is hardly reason to hate your country or wish to be somewhere else; if anything, America is ripe for evangelization, having rightly or wrongly rejected whatever passed for Christianity up till now.

        Further, the Church doesn’t teach us to seek out red martyrdom just to die; but She does offer us plenty of nourishment and encouragement for those who would seek white martyrdom. Any takers among you who would either hide or dream of red martyrdom?

  5. I think that it is very much consistent with true patriotism and love of our homeland to be also very, very concerned about the moral decay and laicism that is proceeding apace here. I heard a great Franciscan priest (of Lithuanian origin) preach a fire-breathing homily on this subject for the 4th of July one year, taking off from Ezekiel 9:4-6 (D-R):

    “4 And the Lord said to him: Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem: and mark Thau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof.
    5 And to the others he said in my hearing: Go ye after him through the city, and strike: let not your eyes spare, nor be ye moved with pity.
    6 Utterly destroy old and young, maidens, children and women: but upon whomsoever you shall see Thau, kill him not, and begin ye at my sanctuary. So they began at the ancient men who were before the house.”

    and to the effect that we want to be with those who, in a spiritual sense, have the mark of mourning for the abominations of our country. He noted also that an abundance of blessings upon a country such as ours implies a covenantal relationship with God, much like that of the Hebrews with Yahweh, so that breach of the covenant may be expected to bring down upon the people the sanguinary correction of God just as was done with the Hebrews. No shying away from collective punishment, it is all over the Old Testament (which, as Fr. John Behr points out, are the “Scriptures” in the biblical sense–the NT is theology, he says). Interestingly also, the Navarre Bible commentary to these verses says that while those marked with the Tau would live, they would still undergo the trial.

    I hasten to add that I do not follow the easy idea that all these bad things in the OT were visited upon the Hebrews because they were the people chosen by God to bring forth the Saviour, and thus that the punishments were unique to them to form them properly in view of that mission. Just looking at history shows too many cases where Christian peoples have been similarly afflicted. You will recall Solzhenitsyn saying that he was told by some of the old babushkas that the Soviet regime had been visited upon them because men had forgotten God, and many other instances of the same may be found. If memory serves, Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote to this effect as well as many others.

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