While driving home late last night, I caught the tail end of Terry Gross interviewing Dusting Hoffman. I didn’t know at the time it was Dustin Hoffman, having tuned the station to the middle of one of his responses. I simply heard a distinctive voice telling me his father was essentially an atheist. And that, as a child, he would lay on the grass in the backyard, looking up to the sky, and talk to God, asking him questions – and hear God’s answers.
The discussion then turned to ‘being Jewish’ as a cultural phenomenon vs. a religious one. Hoffman said he most definitely identified with his Jewish heritage, given from where he and his family hailed, his culinary likes and traditions, the idiosyncratic sense of humor. But it was only a cultural connection, not a belief in or adherence to organized religion.
And it occurred to me – is there such a thing as a cultural Catholic?
Those who pray to St. Anthony when they lose something, but don’t attend mass. Those who break the commandments knowingly, yet still feel the immense pressure of Catholic guilt instilled in them since childhood. Those who dangle the rosary from their rearview mirrors yet never recite the prayers. Those who don’t consider an Ash Wednesday, Christmas, or Easter complete unless they’ve attended mass, but don’t darken the door of the church any other day of the liturgical year. Those who don’t get married in the church, but insist on baptizing their children. Those who believe we’re all made in God’s image, but support abortion. Those who are proud to be part of the institution, but don’t uphold its tenets.
Catholic means universal. There is no one language, tradition, race, or cuisine that defines it. So I suppose there is no one way to practice it. And it would be impossible to divide it cleanly into two halves of religion and culture as one could argue with being Jewish. But there certainly seems to be a human inclination among some believers to keep secular routines and discard the spiritual aspects. To consider oneself Catholic, but not practice it. To tow some of the party line, but not the parts of the Catechism that drag them down.
When I first heard what I learned afterward was Dustin Hoffman’s voice and heard his responses before Terry Gross’ questions, I had no context in which to place them. They were pure thoughts and information – no judgment, no interpretation. And the thoughts and questions they provoked here are just the same. It is what it is. This is what I see.
I simply wonder if there is such a thing as a cultural Catholic.