Normally I am not the kind of person who will jump through hoops for the “privilege” of buying something. Telling me that something is “limited edition” is the fastest way to get me to lose interest in it. I sleep in on Black Friday. My feeling is, if you want my money, you had better make it convenient for me to buy your product.
But there was one time, in Japan, when I ventured out to a store to stand in line for a new release (it helped that this occurred at a decent time of day). I was wary, though, halfway expecting a Black Friday-style mob and fistfights, visions of the news coverage on Tickle Me Elmo dancing through my head. When I got there, what I saw shocked me.
Everybody was standing calmly in a single-file line, chatting pleasantly with the staff. When the store opened, they let in just a few people at a time. Nobody pushed. When it was my turn and I entered the store, there was a refreshing sense of space. Classical music played quietly in the background. It was relaxing. I found what I wanted to buy and checked out, a little bewildered at what had just happened. It was so delightfully civilized.
Speaking of orderly lines, something that impressed me when I lived in the countryside was the way kids walked to school. The kids walked with good posture in a neat single-file line along the side of the road. They all wore sharp-looking uniforms right from first grade in elementary school. Whenever the line passed an adult, they would call out “Good morning!” clearly and respectfully. It was so delightfully civilized.
So what’s up with Japan? At the time, the only thing I could think was that it seemed old-fashioned, somehow. I could never quite put my finger on what it was until I returned to the Church.
When I read the Catechism, I realized that a major belief of the Catholic Church is the belief in human dignity. It’s easy to understand this by contrasting it with its opposite: the modern, atheistic belief that human beings are nothing more than animals. As it turns out, this belief manifests itself in many ways in society. When people consider anything other than a desire for food, sex, or lower prices to be “affectation,” we lose a lot of our “old-fashioned” ways that affirm each other’s dignity and worth as human beings created by God.
I find this to be especially apparent in advertising and airports. You know what I notice? The fonts. There is a trend in America nowadays to use the plainest, bleakest, sans-serif fonts. It’s as if the signs are proclaiming, “The ONLY reason this sign exists is to tell you that the razors are in this aisle. Heaven forbid the lettering should witness to the beauty of language or remind you of anything noble in life. This sign will emphatically NOT uplift your soul. If we could mark this aisle with urine instead, we would.”
Okay, so fonts are far from the biggest problem we face, but I do think they’re a visible symptom of a certain mindset. The Church has a name for this outlook: Modernism. My own theory is that, since this heresy is specifically a rebellion against the Church, it never took hold in the same way in Japan, where the Church was never a major influence to begin with (at least openly–but that’s a topic for another post). So we see a situation where Japan is actually acting more Christian than America, because America is trying really hard not to be Christian, even to the point of absurdity.
I think living amidst people who were unashamed of real beauty and decorum in Japan helped to re-racinate me and cast the difference between the traditional and modernist mindsets into sharp relief.
When I finally understood what atheism really was, I stopped being an atheist.