I passed a betting shop this afternoon and noticed that there weren't any women in it. And my sister, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, perhaps not, upbraided me for having dropped in for tea with two bachelor flatmates.
"I was with you," I said crossly. "Anyway, I'm a respectable early-middle-aged married woman."
The year that ends tonight is 2010. It seemed very odd, in 2010, to be walking home with my shopping, declaring myself to be a respectable early-middle-aged married woman who therefore can drop in on bachelors for innocent cups of tea. I have led communion services, for heaven's sake. I once gave the reflection at a college reconciliation service. I earned the first diploma in Lonergan Studies ever awarded by my college. I have frightened lefty priests into fits. I was the first woman boxer at my boxing gym. I was a pioneer---or so one of the only women on the theological faculty told me, little realizing how much the idea of being a pioneer repelled me by then. Do I have to obsess over the fine shades of propriety like a Georgette Heyer heroine?
I pondered the sea, and the past week, a week of church (mostly men, as Trid congregations seem to be mostly men), pub (mostly men), football (mostly men) and last's night Hogmanay fiddle concert in Edinburgh, of which B.A. said during the intermission, "It could be 1956." The comedian's jokes were of an ancient, gentle order, not so much family-friendly as old-fashioned-lady-friendly. When we got home, B.A. did imitations of the Edinburgh ladies the jokes were chosen for.
Sometimes I wonder if I haven't fallen into a parallel universe where people in 1960 took a look at the future and firmly said, "No, thank you." Obviously history still went on, but in a different way from everywhere else.
But surely this cannot be geographical. Although the male/female divide is sometimes astonishing, Edinburgh is not Brigadoon, and it is a world capital. It must be as post-modern and post-Christian as any other city in Europe (excluding, of course, those of Poland and Slovakia). So why is it that I seem to live in a society where the women do these things and not those, and the men go here but not there, and my old theology school, where we took Elizabeth Johnson and Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza seriously, seems a million miles away?
And, believe me, I know I am myself a willing participant in something that strikes me as decidedly old-fashioned. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis's distinction between Albion and Britain, or Tolkien's Faerie alongside the ordinary world, or Aelfheim beyond Midgard, or J.K. Rowling's Wizard community hidden in what its natives call "the U.K."
We've been hearing a lot about "parallel societies" in Europe, although usually these parallel societies are not Christian, but Muslim to some degree or another. The epitomic figure of a parallel society is the rural Turkish or Pakistani woman who lives in Berlin or London and cannot speak a word of German or English. However, I imagine only a tiny number of Muslim women live this way. Surely the rest drift from society to society, group to group, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, creating their own hybrid, slightly solipsistic, Berlin or London.
And I wonder today if this is not what is happening to Catholics--by whom I mean Catholics who actually think about being in a state of grace and therefore don't miss Sunday Mass--these days. Mainstream society and Catholicism seem to have parted ways forever and Catholics, always considered slightly odd by the majority in English-speaking countries, now find themselves more out of step than ever with cultural mores.
Society believes in women swallowing pills to make ourselves infertile 24/7. Catholics don't. Society believes that women should be able to kill their children for any reason whatsoever--even for just being a twin or female--as long as they haven't been born yet. Catholics don't. Society believes that choosing not to have any children is moral and virtuous. Catholics think it is rather sad. Society believes certain kinds of sexual partnership are equivalent to marriage. Catholics do not. And in all those respects we are like most people of our countries in 1960.
"In the world but not of the world"--I was taught as a child that this is the place of the Christian. Our true home is heaven. But what is our place in society, then? There used to be something called Christendom. Have we relinquished it, or is it just underground?
Feel free to chime in in the combox. Perhaps living in a parallel society is the ultimate form of post-modernism. At any rate, there are some among us with apocalypic ideas that we'll have to go underground one day. But my question is, are we already halfway there?