Before moving to Washington, DC, I wrote for playboyand ran off with an ex-congresswoman – I wanted to be a catholic monk.
Having grown up deeply Catholic, these paradoxes are not as absurd as they sound. We even have clergy in the family. One of them, a monk named Solanus Casey, is almost a Catholic saint. The Detroit saint died in 1957 and was beatified by Pope Francis in 2017 after a Central American woman claimed he had miraculously healed her genetic skin condition. (Technically, it’s a Vatican-approved miracle that’s not officially sacred.)
My ambitions for ordination (the Catholic sacrament of entry into the clergy) evaporated about the same time I soured celibacy. But you get the ethos: I belong to a jaded group of individuals calling themselves Cradle Catholics.
We were born into Catholicism, many of us fell out of it in adulthood, and we’re the crowd that actually gets caught up in the untold joke in articles like the last one New York Times Column entitled: “New York’s Hottest Club Is The Catholic Church” or the June Vox story that considered Catholicism an “alternative status symbol.”
The play in the Gray Lady suggests that the latest trend among the unwary New York crowd is converting to Catholicism, but it’s more than that. Catholicism is trending among some seedy folk for all the wrong reasons. Every time you open Twitter, some Trad-Cath (online echo chamber language for traditionally catholic) is tweet dusty dogmatism which are no longer relevant since the Spanish Inquisition.
Trad-Caths are a generally white, upper-middle-class, urban crowd with a fetish for the “classical” church. They especially love the Latin Mass, a ritual that brings no additional closeness to Christ—who spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, and possibly Greek. But trad-caths balk at the suggestion that Christ can be viewed as a historical figure.
Trad-Caths glorify the Church in general before Vatican II — also known as Vatican II — a conference in the 1960s at which the Church belatedly endorsed some modern, liberal policies in hopes of breaking out of the cruel and bloody Middle Ages to free.
A representative passage from the documents of Vatican II declares that “some nations with a majority of citizens who are counted as Christians have an abundance of the goods of this world, while others are deprived of the necessities of life and are deprived of hunger, disease and everything else to be tormented a kind of misery. This situation must not continue.”
Those lines are official Catholic doctrine, but if they were recited on Fox News today, they would be derided as rampant globalism. And they certainly contradict the “America First” doctrine of the Trump-era nationalist right.
And as noted by the Times, some trad-caths even attribute to the idea of sedevacantism (this group loves to invent fancy nonsense words), which holds that all popes since Vatican II are illegitimate. Other trad-caths refer to themselves simply as “post-liberal,” an ideology that does not espouse any original ideas of its own, but instead rests on a rejection of modernism and liberalism.
“The Jesus Christ invoked by would-be insurgents is the Jesus of Christian nationalists.”
There is no doubt that the trad cath movement has metastasized and often dovetailed with Christian nationalism through the shared notion that “Western Civilization” is in peril. In a 2014 speech at the Vatican, longtime trad-cath Steve Bannon told attendees, “I believe the world, and the Judeo-Christian West in particular, is in crisis.”
This fear mongering that “Western Civilization” is under threat is a popular talking point among Christian nationalists (not a new idea in America, but one with a new group of speakers). Former GOP Rep. Steve King, an outspoken Christian and Nationalist, was kicked out of its boards after complaining to him The New York Times“white nationalist, white supremacist, western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” Tucker Carlson, another Christian and The nationalist has claimed the Black Lives Matter movement aims to “challenge to western civilization” and the “Western civilization is [George Soros’] target.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene — who rose to power and infamy as a QAnon-supporting GOP rabble-rouser — has spent the last few months telling audiences that she is a “Christian nationalist.” MTG, a mega-churchgoer, is a symbol of the Christian nationalist movement that has been building in this country for decades but has coalesced behind Trump.
That streak of Christian nationalism was evident during the January 6 attack on the Capitol — after one of the rioters stormed into the Senate, shouting, “Jesus Christ, we call on your name!” Moments later, the group took off their hats , as another prayed through a megaphone, “Thank you Heavenly Father for being the inspiration we need…so we can send a message to all tyrants, communists and globalists that this is our nation, not theirs.” The of The Jesus Christ invoked by the would-be insurgents is the Jesus of the Christian nationalists.
A few days after the Capitol riot, Pope Francis told a Canadian news channel, “This movement must be condemned, whoever is involved.” The current nationalism movement, America First, was largely built by a trad-cath: Steve Bannon.
Of course, not all Trad-Caths are converts (Bannon was reportedly a lifelong Catholic). But nobody who grew up in Catholicism finds it “trendy” or “chic” or “camp”.
When you’re young, Catholicism is mostly dusty rooms, incense, a few robes, and lots of rules. If you examine the trad cath converts, it doesn’t take long to understand what they find attractive about the religion – it’s the pre-liberal tradition of the church. Trad-Caths post photos of themselves in towering cathedrals, silly sacred spaces decorated in the style of the Donald Trump school of interior design. Everything made of gold.
Conversely, if you spend any time among left-leaning Catholics, you will eventually come across this quote from Pope Francis: The church is a love story, not an institution. And the current pope, with his overtly Christian concern for the poor and marginalized, is despised by the trad cath crowd. Bannon has complained that Francis “constantly blames the populist nationalist movement for all the mistakes in the world.”
But the trend toward Catholicism isn’t about the “love story,” it’s about the institution. Trad cath converts are not only drawn to gold, but also to the unconditional faith that Catholicism offers. But that belief, with all its gold and tradition, can at times overwhelm you. Graham Greene’s 1948 novel states: the heart of the matter, The Catholic protagonist eventually kills himself after receiving communion with a mortal sin on his soul. Graham Greene was, of course, a Catholic. He gets it.
Cradle Catholics understand the church on a deeper level because, before anything else, it became a part of who we were. We were kids when the adults in our lives made a big deal of taking us into a sacred broom closet and telling us to confess all the horrible things we’ve done to a man on the other side of a screen should, whose face we could not see. Most kids haven’t done many terrible things, but the atmosphere of the confessional makes accidentally coveting the neighbor’s bike seem like a mortal sin. And sinful ideas are given supreme importance in Catholicism—they must be confessed and prayed away. We learned that we would go to hell for lustful thoughts years before we thought of them.
Those are just the complaints Happy Cradle Catholics. That unhappy Children raised in the Catholic Church endured real horror. The Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandals have shattered the faith of every millennial Catholic I’ve ever known. We had confidence in the undeniable authority of the Church in our lives and suddenly we realized that the same Church – the institution– could be deeply evil.
Gold, dogma, and abuse of power aside, there is one crucial element of faith – central to the teachings of Jesus – that the new trad-caths seem to completely overlook: compassion. A child raised in faith usually understands the simple concept of compassion, even if they have no idea why the priest is speaking Latin.
Most Cradle Catholics understand the teachings of Christ (passed down as oral tradition for decades before they were ever written down) for a set of stories, which they are. There is only so much a child can comprehend, but the strongest images – Jesus choosing to stay at the tax collector’s house, Jesus stopping the crowd from stoning a woman – stuck with us.
And unlike the trendy trad-cath converts, Cradle Catholics have spent much of their lives questioning our beliefs (we even have a fancy name for this spiritual crisis –the dark night of the soul). But I would argue that the dark night of the soul is necessary. I can see no value in faith that has not been examined, measured and tested.
And it’s not just our belief – Cradle Catholics have a Cartesian obsession with our own thoughts. Occasionally this is helpful. You will hear profound ideas digging at the human soul in Catholic sermons. You will also yawn a lot. There are many terrible priests and uninspired priests – but there are also many brilliant, soulful priests.
The church is also still capable of being a force for good, especially in ways that seem off-putting to right-wing nationalists masquerading as Catholics.
In the spirit of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, much of Catholicism places a strong emphasis on giving to the poor. Sure, there’s plenty of gold in the Vatican and you have to buy a ticket to enter the Sistine Chapel, but there are also Catholic clergy (the Dominicans, Franciscans and Carmelites) who take vows of poverty. Most Catholic churches hold AA meetings. They run soup kitchens. And the story of Christ is beautiful.
In the latest book by Irish writer Sally Rooney beautiful world, where are you, there is a chapter centered around a Catholic Mass in which she reflects that she is often “sentimentally fascinated by the personality of Jesus.” This personality is still relevant.
And when people ask me what I am, I’ll tell them I’m a Catholic. And isn’t that all organized religion? A label we impose on ourselves and others.
Like most Catholics, I am webad at following all the rules. But my son is baptized. I go to mass on Sundays. Nonetheless, I would have made a terrible monk in any order.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/im-a-cradle-catholic-i-dont-want-christian-nationalism-in-my-church?source=articles&via=rss I am Cradle Catholic. I don’t want Christian nationalism in my church.