The Abject Failure of Boomer Conservative Christianity

How lonely sits the city
that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
    she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the cities
    has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
    tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
    she has none to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
    they have become her enemies. (Lamentations 1:1-2)

Here is a piece detailing the reaction of the Freak Show to calls for bare minimum human decency in the midst of a plague that has killed nearly a million Americans and is now in its fourth wave. It is aptly titled “America, This is You. Grow the Hell Up“. It could more accurately titled, “American Conservative Christianity, This is You. Grow up, for Christ’s Sake”. And I mean that literally: for the sake of Jesus Christ:

“A real life look at each of you, to capture all that style,” goes the theme song to the beloved ABC found-footage tragicomedy America’s Funniest Home Videos. “You’re the red, white and blue, oh the funny things you do,” the peppy singer sings, as the squirrel frightens the baby or Grandma face-plants into the birthday cake. And then finally, cruelly, peppily, as the puppy escapes the bath or the party on the dock goes ka-bloop into the lake, “America, America: this is you.”

The camera really can reveal our truest selves. It’s a mirror, often a harsh one under unflattering light. This has perhaps never been truer than last night, outside a school board meeting in Williamson County, Tennessee, as a mask mandate was reinstated for elementary school students, teachers, and bus drivers. Take a good look, because America, America: this is you.

“You have a place in Hell,” screams a furious young man at a health official, voice raw from what must have been a long time of furious screaming. “You will never be allowed in public again.” “We know who you are, you can leave freely but we will find you,” an older guy threatens the same health official, in full view of the police officers who are one foot away.

This level of demented fury is directed at masks. Not at vaccines, which would also be ridiculous, but then again, some people have a thing about needles. At masks. At small, thin pieces of fabric you put in front of your nose and mouth to reduce your vulnerability to and potential spread of a respiratory virus that is once again overwhelming emergency rooms in a new and more communicable variant, months after vaccines could have moved us past all of this. Masks, so that your kids don’t get each other and their families and communities sick, so we can get back to our lives already. The highest level of rage, pointed at the least we can do.

The antichrist MAGA “prolife” cult, which used to boast that it would die for Christ, now offers “The highest level of rage, pointed at the least we can do” as the Spirit ask, not for seven Herculean feats, but for utterly trivial inconveniences for the sake of the vulnerable.

This is Tennessee, so it might be tempting for us Catholics to chalk all this up to Bible Belt Fundamentalist wahoos. But this Freak Show narcissism commands the minds of millions of white conservative Catholics too. Bishop Joseph Strickland blesses anti-vax nuttery and insane conspiracy theories and is lionized by Catholic Answers. Fr. James Altman, disciplined by his bishop for, among other things, calling sane public health “godless” has hundreds of thousands of dollars rolling in from self-pitying MAGA Catholics who see in him a Deliverer from the Liberal Church that asks them to observe common decency and not spread plague. Normals in the Church look on in horror as legions of “Real Catholic” lunatics who believe themselves martyrs selfishly inflict death and suffering on others–and discover only too late that their radical selfishness is often a death sentence for themselves.

That’s a huge part of the heartbreak for me. A people who taught me, “If any man would be my disciple, he must take up his cross and follow me”, when put to the most minor test of common decency and consideration for others, reacted with the selfish, irrational fury of a one year old when the day actually came for them to consider anybody but themselves. Generation Narcissus–my generation–has led the way on this, showing the poisonous fruits of the Me Generation–but also demonstrating that nobody internalized that more than the Greatest Christians of All Time, who once fancied ourselves a light for revelation to the Gentiles.

Paul once remarked:

According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble— .each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. .If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. .If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

He is thinking, of course, of Judgment Day. But as history has often shown, every day is Judgement Day and Christ’s parousia happens again and again not only when the Eucharist is consecrated, but when we meet our neighbor, especially the least of these.

“If you do not see Christ in the beggar at the Church door, you shall not find him in the Chalice,” says St. John Chrysostom. My generation, challenged to put up with the most trivial inconvenience for the sake of old women and children coughing up blood as they gasp out their last breaths in isolation wards staffed by exhausted health care workers, instead chose to be a pack of sociopathic narcissists claiming the name of Christ while screaming like devils at this request for a sacrifice so trivial that calling it a “cross” is an insult to every saint who ever gave his life for Christ.

Meanwhile, it is the despised liberals, the James Martins, the “CINOs”, the quiet people who, without fuss or self-aggrandizement or fanfare have gotten the shot, worn the mask, put up with the inconvenience, borne the scorn of the Greatest Christians of All Time, cared for the sick, shown consideration for those in their parishes, schools, and communities who cannot be vaccinated, and humbly thought first of others who have passed the test and who continue to be the real backbone of the Church that actually obeys Christ rather than using him as a mascot for dreams of selfish, nihilist power. That is roughly half the Church in the US, which is a sign of hope. But the MAGA cult still has an awful lot of power and money and remains a deadly threat, both spiritually and physically, to the rest of us.

In the end, it comes back (as I should have known all along), not to loud boasts of superior morality or “Real Christianity” or any of the culture war crap that now bellows its defiance of the Holy Father and the actual guidance of the Church, but to simple obedience to Christ and elementary commands like “Love your neighbor” and “You shall not kill”:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Mt 7:15–23).

On That Day, I think an atheist who got the damn shot and wore the damn mask to protect her neighbor from getting COVID will hear “I was immunocompromised, and you had my back” from the Great King while the selfish narcissist Christian who shouted “I DON’T LIVE IN FEAR” (while packing heat to Home Depot) and killed his neighbor by insisting on spreading COVID will… require a helluva lot of mercy from God if he hopes to be saved.

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12 Responses

  1. Slight change of subject, but related:

    When you brought up neglect of the command to love your neighbor, (and love your enemies) I was reminded of Vigano’s “Letter to Confused Priests” of January 31. That’s the one where he discussed praying for the death of the Pope; Aquinas’ criteria for whether regicide is licit, and mentions “assault the Sacred Palace in order to drive out the unworthy guest”. As I asked the combox on LSN and the Register (which never made it past mods if memory serves ..) does this sound like a Christian, let alone a Catholic to you?

  2. “ In the end, it comes back (as I should have known all along), not to loud boasts of superior morality or “Real Christianity” or any of the culture war crap that now bellows its defiance of the Holy Father and the actual guidance of the Church, but to simple obedience to Christ and elementary commands like “Love your neighbor” and “You shall not kill”:

    I’m not going to say I told you so, but “mmm HMM hmm hmmmmmmmmmmm.” But then, I have been listening to the MAGA cult for nearly all of the 50 years I have been out, long before it was a MAGA cult, back when it was simply the religious right seeking power (and making pots of money doing it) over the lives of everyone, not just my own tribe.

    Back when Former Guy might have been a simulacrum of a decent human being, I was warning people decades ago of what was hiding behind all of that Qhristian love. We ___ * people were not the only targets. Their contempt for their fellow humans was clear— as clear as their blood lust as they joyfully showed photos of bloody body parts, as clear as their funny-down-there, oh-so graphic descriptions of whatever they imagine other people’s sex lives (not just mine) to be, as clear as their joyful hate as they solemnly pronounced ANATHEMA and THEY DESERVED IT over the graves of wonderful young men for their “grievous, grievous sin”. One of the sweetest, gentlest, and kindest men I have ever known got that from his talibornagain, loving sister.**

    As ye sow, so shall ye reap. Whited sepulchers. Laying of burdens. And on and on and on.

    mmm HMM hmm hmmmmmmmmmm. End of rant.

    * I won’t change the subject.

    *I replied to her, after she delivered herself of that baby, “Inez, if god were handing out diseases as a punishment for sexual sins, both you AND your illegitimate daughter would be first in line at the Free Clinic tomorrow.” Yeah, i knew their story— all of it. Last time I ever spoke to any member of his loving family. I, the Living Reprobate, cared for him in his last months. They were nowhere to be seen or heard. I carried him in my arms to the hospice bed. I scattered his ashes, as far away from that Qhristian love as I could.

      1. @ mark

        I’ve been saying it for all of the time i have been on your blog— four years now?

        It has nothing to do with my “smugness”. It might have something to do with YOURS, however…

        … not wanting to be lectured by the likes of me. Look to your own house. Not mine. Oh, wait! That was what your article was about.

        YOUR house. Not mine.

  3. Mark,

    Have you read “Jesus and John Wayne”? Dr. Kobes du Mez is mostly writing about Evangelicals, but the cultural currents she highlights in her book are VERY similar to what you write about here.
    – joel

  4. @Ben,
    Why do we have to claim the selfish, delusional sinners for our house and you don’t have to claim the selfish, delusional sinners for yours?

    Mark’s message is for *human beings* of every stripe, but the ones who claim Christ, who claim to carry the cross of Christ (straight and gay) are particularly egregious if they succumb to conspiracy theories, and by doing so behave selfishly. Christians have been primed for conspiracy theories. I would imagine that gay Catholics, who have suffered because of their identity are the wiser for it. –Black Catholics too.

    (Anyway–by Mark’s standards or Joel’s or even yours, you might think *I’m* behaving selfishly by waiting for full FDA approval for my prepubescent 12-year-old kid that is back in school. I agonize about it every single day. It’s not all black and white.)

    But back to my point: I’ll be really happy when gay people are finally accepted 100% into society. Until then, I think you are a mouthpiece for great good–but I look forward to the day when a more holy day will dawn and people will simply identify as *humans*! ( and keep their eyes on their own paper!) Life shouldn’t be an “us vs. them” mindset.

    Ben, do you remember my friend who is a priest in D.C. that I told you about? He met my husband and I for dinner in Mill Valley a few weeks ago. We were so happy to see him. It’s been years and years. We wore masks and sat six feet apart outside for dinner. The setting was beautiful, (the grounds of an old sawmill with a backdrop of the redwood forest and little lights strung in the trees and above). Most of the evening we laughed and swapped funny stories. He’s known my kids in their thirties when they were still in diapers. I first noticed the hostile glares when we were in line to order. An old friend of my third son who was with three friends gave me a warm hello and a big air hug, but he looked shocked to see my friend. His friends turned around to gawk and laugh among themselves. The air was thick with it. People looked downright confused like a rare, nearly extinct specimen had wandered in. (Those were the nice ones). More and more, priests are being forced into hiding their Roman collars so they can take some time off. It’s true that priests like my friend are becoming more and more rare here. I pretended not to notice, and ignored the looks, but I felt this clenching in my gut, and a feeling of sadness. THE MAN HAS GIVEN HIS WHOLE LIFE UP FOR OTHERS. I’m proud of him for not finding a rock to hide under because of the SINS of others. Devastating sins. Duplicitous and debauched behavior of the FEW. Yes, the few. He shouldn’t have to end his faithful life like this. But I know him. He’s not butthurt. He has this tiny little smile that is always tugging at the side of his mouth. He is willing to suffer persecution for the greater good–to be more identified with Christ who was spat upon. It is so sad we have been reduced to such a thing. We have barely evolved.

    1. @ Taco

      It’s all not all black and white, I agree. One thing that struck me about US policy in this matter, is that, while both you and us in Europe recommend vaccines from the age on twelve onward, your authorities seems to be much more in favour of young (6-12 or even younger?) kids wearing masks, whereas, as far as I know, most health officials on this side of the ocean are (strongly) against it.

      Or am I wrong?

      1. You are right. In the county where my children are enrolled, someone sued, so now the school kids don’t have to wear them *outside*.

        I feel really bad for the little guys, but we allow them to take “mask breaks” outside.

        My 17-year-old will snark at me sometimes saying “masks haven’t been proven to work”. I did read yesterday that a sweeping study in India proved mask wearing to be highly effective, but I didn’t click on the article because I think it’s better to err on the side of generosity either way. They seemed to be effective last year. Interestingly enough, when I likened mask wearing to any other form of Catholic mortification –like fasting, my son nodded thoughtfully, and agreed that it is the right thing to do whether he is wrong or right.

        In Northern CA people seem to be far more somber and very willing to respond to health directives–virtue signaling is unfortunately real too. In SOCal, there’s more of a casual attitude. Our downtown was stuffed with tourists for the long Labor Day weekend. The entire downtown has transformed. I’m afraid that Meghan and Harry have highlighted us on the map and people from the far reaches of the planet are visiting.

  5. @ taco

    First, thanks as always for your spirit of love and inclusiveness. That’s why I like you. 😘😀👍🏼

    My response to mark’s column is based upon what he said. none of this is new. I’ve been writing about it for decades. Mark’s response to me was based upon what he is assuming I said, not on what I actually said. He’s done this many times before. He has yet to apologize to me for it. I’ve told him several times, “if I am wrong, if i’ve said something untrue, correct me and I will apologize (and I have)… or delete my response, or ban me from your blog”. He’s never done either of those two. I can draw my own conclusions from that.

    I wasn’t being smug. I stated a fact.

    You answered your own question of the first paragraph in your second paragraph. Mark is writing about his house. I know of no national organization for atheists that is anti vax, procovid, anti mask, pro conspiracy, pro Former Guy. There might be one, but no one I’ve come across in my reading, and as you know, I’m on the web every day. Likewise, I know of no national gay organization, except perhaps the log cabin Republicans, that is anti-VAX, pro Covid, anti-mask, pro conspiracy, or pro former guy.I’m not even sure if they are, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were the case

    And I am deeply ashamed of what the logs have become. But I have never been a member, and I personally have spoken out against what they do many, many times.

  6. @Ben
    Thanks. My point is about tribalism. You have helped me in the last five years to dispense with some of my little grudges, and to understand how much those who thirst for goodness and justice *authentically* are the same. I’m not a finished product of this earthly sojourn yet, but I’m trying. One of the greatest breakthroughs has been deciding that we are all in the same house. The MAGA dupes seem to be doing everything in their power to throw themselves out. It’s terribly ironic, but even Jesus stated it bluntly, “not everyone that says Lord, Lord…” I’m afraid for them (and afraid for me sometimes). Perfect love cast out all fear (and grudges).

  7. @Mark
    I remember almost 10 years ago now, the stand you took against Romney/Ryan and their libertarianism. So, I think you “knew” a long time ago 🙂 Unfortunately since then, we have seen the GOP with Trump veer even further into the extreme right.

    The 1st Amendment is a beautiful thing about America, but also paves the path for its downfall. Foolish talk, lying, and outright bullying all masquerade as “Free Speech.” This can be overcome with education, but nowadays we are seeing hostility to intellectualism, education, and critical and logical thinking.

    As a result, QAnon has infected almost every philosophical movement in America. The LA Times recently reported that QAnon has infected the yoga and wellness community. Meanwhile, Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, sincerely seek online to further their faith, but instead run into the QAnon toxicity, and from there it goes from the virtual to the real world in their parishes and churches.

    I would have hoped that Catholicism, with its strong spiritual and intellectual rigor, would have strongly dismissed QAnon. Instead, we see charlatans like Altman, Strickland, Burke, Vigano. All in the American church.

    So yes, disappointing. But in God we trust, and I am sure there will be an equitable solution and outcome.

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