On Beige Catholicism and Its Challengers

Recently, I have been noticing lots of complaints about so-called “Beige Catholicism”. The complaint is that the Church is losing people because of dull liturgies or preaching that is not theologically pure and correct and what we need are robust Defenders of the Faith to (in the words of one combox commenter) “strengthen the brethren, to comfort, reassure them they’re not alone, remind them to fight the good fight.” To which I reply, “Against who?”

My friend David Mills notes the same bellicosity and empty sense of persecution behind this mentality and remarks over at the Book of Face:

A friend shared an article about beige Catholicism emptying the churches. I commented that one doesn’t want to be cranky, but the article was what? the 10,000th article that’s made the claim in the same way and with the same images, and with the same generality. (The writer referred to our need to be salt, for example. In these articles, salt is often invoked. But what exactly the salt is and what exactly needs savoring is never explained.)

What does this kind of article do besides make people happy to be the kind of Catholics they are? Because no one thinks of himself as a beige Catholic and everyone likes to think the other guys are driving people out of the Church.

Has a single Catholic of the kind who reads such publications ever said, “Wow, I never heard that before!” or clutched the front of his shirt and said, “Oh no, he’s talking about me”?

I’m not arguing that points don’t need to be repeated, and regularly. Anyone who writes a lot would be sunk if they didn’t. But does *this* point made this way need to be repeated, over and over and over? I have my doubts.

David is a nicer person than I am. My own take is that nearly every article I see on “beige Catholicism” by people who advocate “being salt” makes clear that what they really get off on is being salt in the wound, not being salt that makes things taste better. It’s always about being Culture War Aggressors, never healers; fighting back, never being peacemakers; crushing the Enemy, not forgiving him; or maybe, just maybe, considering the possibility that he is an enemy because we’ve been absolute dicks.

Two readers over at the Book of Face commented on this as well, and both remarks are worthy paying attention to:

It’s old and tiresome. My family stopped going to Mass not because Kayla didn’t get to dance or Bob didn’t get to display his felt banners. They stopped going to Mass because Mr Thomas Aquinas Athanasius knew how to attend the Latin Mass but not love his neighbor.

***

I lurk in a lot of ex-Catholic online spaces. The number of people who say “the reason I left the church was because it was too lovey dovey” is zero. I have never met an ex-cat who left because of kumbaya, hand-holding, or felt banners. Most people who leave do so because of people like the person who posted the article. Or because they are LGBTQ and the church is a hostile place with a hostile theology. Or because they were abused by clergy. Or for a host of other reasons that made the pain of living as a Catholic bad enough that the Eucharist couldn’t compensate for it.

It is lack of love–and what is worse, contempt for love or even common decency–not theological imprecision or liturgical sloppiness that does not merely fail to attract people to the faith, but actively and viciously drives away people who would be naturally drawn to Jesus Christ. (Remember him? That’s what all this Catholic stuff is supposed to be about).

Deacon Steven Greydanus gets the real nature of problem.

What *is* it with liberals? They don’t believe Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, merely because the people who are the loudest about claiming that they do believe it think it is awesome to torture people, horde guns in fear of “invaders from the South”, laugh about Trump’s rape and sexual assaults, claim the women subjected to mass hysterectomies had it coming, defend kidnapping children into rape camps and deporting them without adult accompaniment, cheer for tax fraud, and threaten to start shooting if Trump loses. And all while using the unborn as human shields for the lies, cruelty and death they labor to defend instead of defending the unborn.

“God’s Name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:24).

The early Christians lived lives that were inexplicable apart from their faith that God had become man and conquered death. They did not clutch their possessions, but gave freely to whoever asked. They did not use violence, but went to their deaths thanking God. They bore the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. They did not live in fear even though they were hated. They returned blessing for curses. They saw their money as a gift from God for those who did not have it.

MAGA Qhristians live lives that are completely explicable as the products of a fearful ideology that leaves them on their own in a universe where they must fight, oppress, and kill the weak in order to clutch at their little piece of gold and their little stab at power while they dream of one day becoming the orange god who uses them and could not care less if they live or die.

Human hearts are still looking for Christ. The MAGA cult is one of the most effective tools Satan ever devised for keeping them from finding him. Far more than its devastating effects on the country, it is its devastating effect on the witness of the Church that is what earns it the curse of God. I pray every day that God destroy it for the sake of the gospel, for the liberation of the Church’s witness from its black shadow, and for the salvation of the slaves who are trapped in it. It is an evil thing and it comes from hell.

Until we face the colossal scandal we present, not as disciples of Christ, but as people who appall non-Christians with our selfishness, we will continue to hemorrhage as a Church.

Judgment begins with the House of God. (1 Peter 4:17)

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28 Responses

    1. Nah he’s just pointing out the fallacies of the idea that “beige Catholicism” is driving people out of the Church.
      Variations of the “beige” argument have been around since the 70s and 80s.

    2. It will be so nice when Catholics can reclaim the medieval ideal of arguing about ideas and not turning everything into a personal grudge match. I am grateful to Bishop Barron for many things. That does not mean I agree with him on all things. Grow up.

  1. This post of yours makes many good points as usual. However, I am a little perplexed by the term “hostile theology” since the Church teaches love and respect towards LGBTQ persons. In my “conservative” (orthodox) Novus Ordo (no Latin Mass) parish, everyone is welcome and I have thankfully NEVER seen anyone who is “different” be treated with hostility in any way.
    When I was catechized in the 1990s in RCIA,
    we were taught that DELIBERATE spilling of the seed outside of the woman’s vagina (not talking about wet dreams or unintentional accidents between validly married couples) was mortal sin (Sin of Onan?). I don’t see, but then again I’m just an ordinary Catholic with no degrees in theology, what machinations the Church could come up with to say “We got it wrong for all these centuries. It’s OK to ejaculate onto the floor, or into someone’s mouth or colon, or wherever it pleases you.” There are many people of all sexual persuasions who are hoping that the Church will do exactly that, and until that happens and marriages between homosexual couples are officiated at by priests, they are NEVER coming back to Church, no matter how nicely they are treated by the other Catholics.
    Sexual abstinence is a cross but Jesus helps us carry all crosses. He came, after all, for our salvation, not to make sure that we are having enough sexual pleasure.

    1. Mark was quoting someone else, not stating on his own that the Church’s theology is hostile to LGBT people. But as a gay former Catholic, I’m happy to point out that your comment here is very hostile, what with the reduction of our relationships “not having enough sexual pleasure.” Yes, the RCC officially teaches that LGBT people should be treated with charity and respect but is rather hard to square with how we are actually treated and spoken about in real life – when even the LGBT people who *do* accept the Church’s teaching and submit to celibacy are still looked at as fifth columnists.

      Then there is the instruction given to RC legislators that it is their duty to vote against any provision for affording the benefits of secular civil marriage to same-sex couples. That was the line in the sand for me. It’s one thing for the Church to regulate the lives of those who willingly submit to it; to attack the civil rights of people who aren’t necessarily Catholic or even Christian was just malicious and spiteful and hardly a demonstration of the love of God.

    2. Hi, bisexual Catholic here.

      The theology may not be overtly hostile as you’re looking for, but believe me, it is.
      Let’s think for a moment just how parishes are oriented for their communities. In general terms, most are set for married couples, with kids; then empty nesters, then, if anyone remembers they’re there, single adults or even single parents. That subtle culture current is there, and it’s easy to feel like as a single person, your first duty is to get married and get to baby making; when the best way to serve not just the church but humanity at large isn’t necessary just to have a family..

      But let’s say you have orientation feelings you didn’t expect. Let’s say that you’re not necessarily attracted to the opposite gender, or if you are- like in my case- you’ve got feelings for the same gender too. How does one process that?

      Unfortunately, that message of homosexual actions as intrinsically disordered is more often than not reduced to a broader of all non-hetero options- thoughts, feelings, or actions- as intrinsically disordered. Suddenly that faith you take comfort in, that you’ve been taught to respect turns on you- you’re not “normal;” you’re inherently bound for hell, you’re a predator – despite having done nothing wrong.

      And what support does the Church have for people like me?
      Courage – which at it’s most benign just encourages abstinence, but there are more than a few horror stories out there of that ministry doing real harm, real trauma to LGBT catholics looking for support, be it deliberate or inadvertent outings, “reparative or conversion therapy”, etc.

      So the easier option is to stay closeted, if you want to have any kind of parish life, because the *second* you choose to come out to anyone in parish life, instantly everything changes. Suddenly, you’re a threat, a predator. That you don’t belong in any job, volunteer or service effort because you might prey on people or lead others to scandal just by existing. You’re tossed to the back of the room if not encouraged to leave your parish, left alone in the cold.

      In light of all of that, are you so certain that theology isn’t hostile?
      Everyone is welcome, but only if you look and act the same as everyone else.

      1. I find bisexuality a curious thing. I mean, being hard bisexual implies that you have strong desire for a sexual relationship with at least two people at once (of two different sexes).
        At least I always took this that bisexuality differs from heterosexuality and homosexuality that a bisexual individual feels torn when in a relationship with only one person of (of same or opposite sex), finding it ultimately unfulfilling.

        Don’t you find the requirement of absolute fidelity more restrictive than no acceptance of anything other than heterosexuality?

        And that’s before getting into polyamory or pansexualism.

        What I find problematic with LGBT communities is that they conflate the issues of homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, polyamorous, etc. individuals into one cohesive group. Accepting homosexuality implies you need to accept bisexuality (and further expressions of sexuality), which leads to the problem when faced with unions where absolute fidelity is an impossibility.

      2. @ yahoo

        “ I find bisexuality a curious thing. I mean, being hard bisexual implies that you have strong desire for a sexual relationship with at least two people at once (of two different sexes)…”

        I have been a gay activist for nearly 50 years, and I came out 50 years ago this month. Happy anniversary to me.

        In that 50 years, one of the things that I have found invariably true is that the people most willing to pronounce “the truth“ about gay people, a category in which I include bisexual people as well, simply don’t know anything about the subject, don’t care that they don’t know anything about the subject because all they really care about is what they think about gay people, bi people and trans people.

        In short, the many problems they seem to have with gay people in general are not really all that relevant gay people, but only relevant to what those people think about gay people. Your statement is a classic example. Bisexuality implies absolutely nothing of the sort. It simply means that you are attracted to both sexes. as I’ve said many times on these very pages, heterosexuality isn’t “normal”, it is simply common. And exclusive heterosexuality is far less common than many people are desperate to think. As we always like to joke, a major difference between a gay man and a straight man is a six pack of beer and the wife away on a trip.

        “ What I find problematic with LGBT communities is that they conflate the issues of homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, polyamorous, etc. individuals into one cohesive group.” Yet another statement that indicates that you haven’t the slightest understanding of the issues you are pronouncing upon. No, that would be the heterosexual obsessed and the religion obsessed, not the gay community. Polyamory has nothing at all to do with sexual orientation. We do not conflate homosexual bisexual and transgender (Most. Emphatically. NOT. Transexual— An old word that reveals an ignorance of the issues.) That would be the religiously and sexually and genderly obsessed. What we recognize is the common thread of oppression, bigotry, and despite, usually religion based, that unites gay people, bi people, and trans people. “God made you THIS way, and not THAT way.” Followed by “you are in rebellion against god becuase you are choosing to ignore him” followed by “ whatever we do to you people is completely justified because you’re not listening to God and you’re not listening to us about who you truly are.”

        In short, what you just did. Please educate yourself.

      3. I fully expected you to pounce on this.

        Nobody invited you to be his or her advocate and I wanted to talk to AnonCollie about his or her personal experience with this rather than yet another fruitless discussion about the ever-morphing philosophy.

        You’re here with your usual holier-than-thou attitude about how LGBT is not about the public’s general perception of your actions, about how I’m using a dated word, etc., and then you bring out this zinger:

        “As we always like to joke, a major difference between a gay man and a straight man is a six pack of beer and the wife away on a trip.”

        So you’re not about casual relationships, but here you go, trivializing them. This quote right there.

        I’m not interested in having a debate with you before you get off your high horse and actually address my points rather than trying to belittle me by challenging me with terms evolved in the LGBT discourse over the last fifty+ years, introducing ever-fresh newspeak that is only self-serving for the sole purpose of belittling your opponent.

        I simply find your eristic rhetoric tiresome.

      4. @ yahoo

        I’m Glad you expected me to “pounce”. Rawwwwrrrrrrrrr..

        And i find you completely missing the point and proclaiming your persecution also tiresome. But “nyuhh-uhhhh” isn’t a refutation. What you said about bi people is completely untrue.

        I’m Not being Anon’s advocate. He is quite capable of doing that himself, as I have observed over the several years I have been reading what he has to say,

        Nowhere did I say I have any issue with casual relationships. I try hard not to stick my nose into the business of other people. I can say that back in my dating days, I met far too many men who were in heterosexual relationships, but who were cruising the Internet looking for anonymous sex with gay men, or Indeed, any man, all the while claiming that all they were looking for was just the right man to rescue them from their prison of heterosexuality and expose their true nature . What a load of crock. Weasels, these fauxmosexuals, every single one of them.

        Get off your persecution high horse, honey, and understand that just because someone disagrees with your ignorance does not mean that you are being hated, persecuted, or even being mean to. Your statement about bisexual people was wrong. The use of the transsexual word simply means that you don’t understand the issue, not that I expect you to.

        I didn’t belittle you at all. I pointed out or you were ignorant and wrong. Deal with it.

      5. @ Anon

        Of course it is hostile, even when it is trying to be benign. It Takes something normal and natural for gay people, something that is as fulfilling and necessary for us as it is for heterosexuals, and turns us into walking sex acts, and turning what is normal, moral, natural and fulfilling into something dirty, nasty, perverted, and worthy of pariah status.

        And this is true, despite all of the fecal bleating about love and god’s will.

        And let us not forget what I have become increasingly convinced of over the last 48 years of activism: so much of this comes from some of the worst people on earth, the homo-hating homos that infest Qonservative Qhristianity, all of them trying to deflect attention from themselves, exorcising their real demons will pretending to exorcise my completely imaginary ones.

        ted Haggard, Lonnie Latham, Cardinal O’brien, archbishop Nienstedt, Father Ted- and a host of others.

      6. “I try hard not to stick my nose into the business of other people.”
        “(…) What a load of crock. Weasels, these fauxmosexuals, every single one of them.”

        Yeah, kind of hard to take you seriously.

        “Nowhere did I say I have any issue with casual relationships.”

        I’ve yet to find anybody in the LGBT community who would have an issue with casual relationships. I’ve read advocacy for complete freedom in relationships, and I’ve seen critics of casual relationships silenced. In reality, LGBT stands for casual relationships with no reservations. Out of curiosity, how could you reconcile this with a claim that this is in any way compatible with Christianity?

        “The use of the transsexual word simply means that you don’t understand the issue, not that I expect you to.”

        Says who? LGBT used that very word before shifting the goalposts. If you don’t like the word “belittle”, how about: it’s newspeak that aims to make your opponent’s opinion irrelevant.

        Suppose I even adopted the word “transgender”, next thing you know, you’re back with some other term and tell everyone to use that, instead.

        https://web.archive.org/web/20160304090430/http://www.gendercentre.org.au/resources/fact-sheets/transsexualism.htm
        Thing is, “transgender” is an exceedingly broad category that revolves around culture instead of personal identity. A lot of transsexuals reject this idea precisely because it was originally made for politicization of this issue.

      7. “And let us not forget what I have become increasingly convinced of over the last 48 years of activism: so much of this comes from some of the worst people on earth, the homo-hating homos that infest Qonservative Qhristianity, all of them trying to deflect attention from themselves, exorcising their real demons will pretending to exorcise my completely imaginary ones.”

        It’s wrong to hate other people, unless they’re your enemies, in which case it’s perfectly fine, normal and expected.

        I know you’re not bound by any Christian values, but you’re really undermining the points you’re trying to make if you present them this way to people who, at least overtly or ostensibly, claim to love another.

      8. “I find bisexuality a curious thing. I mean, being hard bisexual implies that you have strong desire for a sexual relationship with at least two people at once (of two different sexes).”

        That’s a really odd take. Bisexuality implies only that a person has a wider pool of potential partners than someone who is exclusively straight or exclusively gay. There are quite a few straight people who have “strong desire for a sexual relationship with at least two people at once.” Bisexual people can be just as monogamous and just as promiscuous as everyone else.

      9. @ yahoo

        In your several posts, you have presented more straw men than I can possibly find the time to respond to, laced with a healthy dose of faux persecution, faux sympathy, and your own, highly biased point of view.

        You have a nice life.

    3. @ yahoo

      Sorry, yahoo, I hit post accidentally before I was finished.

      “ LGBT stands for casual relationships with no reservations.”

      And here it is, the casual, offhanded bigotry that infests any discussion of gay people by allegedly straight people. As I just pointed out, and which you just joyfully proclaimed all by yourself, so much of what passes for discussion of gay issues has absolutely nothing to do with gay people at all, but is solely concerned with what some (allegedly) heterosexual people think about gay people.

      Just two more statements from you about a subject you clearly know nothing about, and you’ll hit your Bigot Bingo.

      goodbye.

      1. Oh my, you showed me!

        Hurr durr. Hellfire. You damn librulz.

        Did I hit the bingo?

        Great conciliatory tone there. Good job. You really put me in my place.

  2. Great column, Mark. Here’s an example of MAGA Zeitgeist where I live: In Colorado Springs we have a men’s apostolate that is very professional, with glitzy graphics and savvy marketing. This Wednesday, they are hosting a “fight club” where they will take on, of all things…Critical Race Theory! What the hell? I am sure there won’t be an academic, an attorney or a person of color there and they will beat on that straw man until there’s nothing left. These greatest Catholics of all time will congratulate themselves on identifying a threat, reasoning past it and having their kids be cultural war victims at the hands of the evil, godless culture.

    As a fun thought experiment, think about inviting Jesus himself to talk about CRT at Colorado Springs Catholic men’s Fight Club! What might his reaction be?

      1. @Yahoo, I just learned something new. My oldest daughter has a good friend (gorgeous girl) who came out as bi-sexual a few years ago. She had been in a long relationship with a guy. She met a girl, and they eventually became engaged. BUT,apparently some of the lesbians questioned her authenticity. My daughter told me that there is a kind of lesbian called a “gold star” lesbian because they’ve never been touched by a guy.

        I find labels highly problematic. Someday I think we will dispense with all of the little boxes and humans will get to identify as being simply human again.

  3. >To which I reply, “Against who?”

    There is only one fight worth fighting, and that is the fight within.

    “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” (A.S.)

    >Human hearts are still looking for Christ. The MAGA cult is one of the most effective tools Satan ever devised for keeping them from finding him.

    Exactly. The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;

    I am a reader at a liberal blog, (started by an ex-Republican Iraq-vet who left the party because of the Iraq war) Many readers of this blog would have no sympathy for that place. I read them since no other place on the internets posts about the workings of medical insurance in a way common people can understand

    Yesterday they had a post about the desecration of the human body for $$$, titled “The Worst People In The World, Utterly Toxic Capitalism Division” . The post, if one were to read it, it would be right with JP2’s theology (without intending to do so). (And the comments.. “Humans are resources. Cogs in the soulless machine of wealth generation. Nothing more. No truth. No art. No beauty. Nothing sacred. Just money. Grind away until you die..” )

    These are the people who, according to “Real Catholic Inc(TM)”, are baby killers.

    They have not experienced the faith other than through the MAGA lens, and would 100% never even think that the Catholic faith will meet their spiritual needs. And the MAGAs want to keep it that way.

  4. Salt – I have, taped to my screen as a reminder to my over-weening sense of self-importance, this quite from St Josemaria:

    “You lack character. What a mania for interfering in everything! You are bent on being the salt of every dish. And … you haven’t the qualities of salt; you can’t be dissolved and pass unnoticed, as salt does.”

    Salt!

  5. Beige Catholicism. Hmmmm, makes me ask myself why we went to mass yesterday. A few random thoughts:

    Our pastor usually gives pretty engaging sermons. You can tell he prepares, which I appreciate, but that certainly isn’t why we go. We go because of Jesus. At our old parish we went because of Jesus despite our not very nice pastor who also gave pretty good sermons.

    My three youngest *like* that we go every Sunday. The ritual is reassuring in their lives. It is comforting–spiritual solace. My 15 y.o. was especially glad to be there, as he swears he saw a ghostly creature in our house Friday evening. Lol) There was some beige there yesterday, but hey, what do people expect? Mass is where the divine intersects with the beige. For a few fleeting minutes the soul perks up and is thrilled to think, “it’s Jesus! Jesus with me –of all incredible things!” And then the beige kind of seeps back in. Isn’t that how life works?

    Maybe the people who are haunted by the beige have false expectations and are having some kind of crisis of faith. Most of the time we aren’t going to feel like that Bernini sculpture of St. Teresa. Even Jesus, Mary and Joseph for the most part, put up with a lot of beige. That’s part of the beauty of their faithful lives.

  6. @ Mark

    Your last sentence has it precisely. “ Until we face the colossal scandal we present, not as disciples of Christ, but as people who appall non-Christians with our selfishness, we will continue to hemorrhage as a Church.”

    I have mentioned before my oldest friend in the world – nearly 60 years now. He is a fervent evangelical Christian, a former minister in his denomination, and politically slightly liberal. after the last election, when he found out that most of the people in his congregation had voted for Former Guy, and were side-eying the non MAGAts, he told me he was so appalled that he was considering not staying in his denomination.

    Knowing him as I do, that was quite a statement coming from him

  7. I’ve met plenty of people who think if only the priest talked about Hell and sin more that the pews would fill up. It’s bizarre to me.

    I agree that dull liturgy doesn’t drive people away, but it doesn’t stand in the way of those who are leaving either. Most of the lapsed Catholics I know would cite the reasons Mark gave for why they left, but they almost all consider it a bonus to not have to sit through Mass anymore and have no longing for it.

  8. Cause and effect are being muddled here. No form of worship has a monopoly on “beigeness” or on life spirit and colour. If your services are beige it is because the Spirit is lacking – the Spirit is not lacking because the services lack more lights and a bigger band going one way, or more robes and smells and bells and beauty and solemnity of language and music going the other. The excitement of the service is God, the peripherals merely facilitating encountering Him. Admittedly, if God isn’t there you might keep coming slightly longer for a 2nd rate pop concert or if the biscuits are better than otherwise but really the final outcome is the same.

  9. Bishop Barron is the main source I’ve ever heard use the term. I kind of took it to mean the kind of Catholicism which loses its Catholic distinctiveness. e.g.. if what we say always sounds like it could just as well been written by a Protestant, never mentioning BVM, the Sacraments, the Communion of Saints, etc. I don’t think it was originally intended as a political move, one way or another. But I could be wrong.

    I think the big elephant in the room that we Catholics must tune into is that a boatload of people leave the Church because they no longer believe the doctrines. That’s the bottom line. Of course that doesn’t excuse us, in the meantime, of being jerks in how we present the doctrine or how we use apologetics, We shouldn’t trample on anyone while we’re teaching them the truth. But I think we do have catechesis problems, and thus I don’t have as big of a deal with “beige Catholicism” as a label being applied to catechesis programs that do not truly teach people the faith. I know a woman who is probably in her 60s who has been a regular Churchgoer for years as far as I know, who did not know until just a few years ago that you’re supposed to go to Confession once every year, for example. The particular parish she had never seemed to have any line for confession on Saturday afternoons when I went.

    But anyway, the problem was hit on the nail in the article you quoted; generally we tend to see the “other guy” as the one who’s beige, and ourselves never. And therein lies the rub. I don’t really know where to place myself inside of these intra-Church political debates, but it’s become obvious to me that right-wing Catholicism is just as beige as more left-leaning variants, and often-times even more so on some doctrinal points (what could be more like Protestant than constantly attacking and dismissing the Pope??? and thus “beige” seems to apply to the right wing as well).

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