A Terrible Reason for Becoming Catholic

So here’s a weird piece that ran in the NY Times recently called, “New York’s Hottest Club is the Catholic Church“:

As senior churchmen seek to make Catholicism palatable to modernity, members of a small but significant scene are turning to the ancient faith in defiance of liberal pieties. The scene is often associated with “Dimes Square,” a downtown Manhattan neighborhood popular with a pandemic-weary Generation Z — or Zoomer — crowd, but it has spread across a network of podcasts and upstart publications. Its sensibility is more transgressive than progressive. Many of its denizens profess to be apolitical. Others hold outré opinions, whether sincerely or as fashion statements. Reactionary motifs are chic: Trump hats and “tradwife” frocks, monarchist and anti-feminist sentiments. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this contrarian aesthetic is its embrace of Catholicism.

Urban trends can shape a culture, as millennial Brooklyn did in its heyday. The Dimes Square scene is small, but its ascent highlights a culture-wide shift. Progressive morality, formulated in response to the remnants of America’s Christian culture, was once a vanguard. By 2020, the year of lockdowns and Black Lives Matter protests, progressivism had come to feel hegemonic in the social spaces occupied by young urban intellectuals. Traditional morality acquired a transgressive glamour. Disaffection with the progressive moral majority — combined with Catholicism’s historic ability to accommodate cultural subversion — has produced an in-your-face style of traditionalism. This is not your grandmother’s church — and whether the new faithful are performing an act of theater or not, they have the chance to revitalize the church for young, educated Americans.

Honor Levy, the fresh-out-of-Bennington writer who co-hosts the trendy podcast “Wet Brain,” recently converted to Catholicism and lets you know when she has unconfessed mortal sins on her conscience. The podcast’s beat is pop culture, literature, politics and religion — including practical tips for warding off demons. Dasha Nekrasova, a Catholic revert and actress with a recurring role on HBO’s “Succession,” is a co-host of the scene’s most popular podcast, “Red Scare.” On an episode during Lent this year, Ms. Nekrasova focused on esoteric Catholic topics such as sedevacantism, the ultra-traditionalist notion that the popes since the Second Vatican Council are illegitimate.

The confluence of New York’s young, right-leaning intellectuals and thinkers like Ms. Nekrasova, who was once better known for her irreverent socialist critiques, might suggest that the rising interest in Catholicism in certain social circles is just another way of being ironic or chasing a trend. Nekrasova calls herself “Catholic, like Andy Warhol.” In a scene indebted to Warhol, the self-proclaimed “deeply superficial” pop artist, is Catholicism just another provocation?

Faith, to these trendsetting Catholics, may be partly a pose — a “larp,” in internet slang. But as Ms. Levy explained on a recent episode of “Wet Brain,” “You just do the rituals, and then it becomes real, even if you don’t [initially] believe in it.” She added, “That’s what religion is.” Ms. Levy’s co-host, the casting director Walter Pearce, agreed: “There’s not a problem in the world that three Hail Marys can’t fix.”

There’s more, and you can read it if you want, but you get the idea: some Reactionaries are adopting Catholic chic, not out of a desire to be disciples of Jesus Christ or walk in his way or to love God or neighbor, but in order to say, “Screw you!” to libs.

Of all the reasons to convert, converting to Make the Scene is the worst, save one: converting out of pure spite. However, as Tom Kreitzberg observed long ago, a religion that practices infant baptism is a religion with extremely low entrance requirements. What is often forgotten is that two wills are always involved in any conversion, one human and the other God’s. God will shamelessly use anything to draw people to the person of Jesus Christ (which is the only good reason to become Catholic). Those who dink around with him are often surprised to discover that he is not dinking around with them. He is deeply and intensely serious as only a lover can be and will treat their unserious promises with earnest seriousness.

So, just a reminder to the unserious convert who thinks the gospel is just a way to pull the nose of a culture war enemy and never meant it to come to things like self-sacrificial love of enemies:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mt 13:3–9)

Or, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

You are welcome to dabble in the Faith. One of the things that the invaluable Sherry Weddell points out is that it is normal for converts to pass from distrust to basic trust to curiosity to openness to seeking to intentional discipleship. Many people grow into love of Christ having started from a place of dinking around with the gospel. But if you are just into wearing rosaries to accessorize when you go clubbing–or saying Rosaries because you think it will piss off the libs, be aware that Jesus will still call you further up and further in and it will require real choices.

One thing you will discover sooner or later is that many of the libs you want to piss off are themselves very serious disciples of Jesus Christ and that the spite you feel toward them will have to be crucified with him and by him if you really want to follow him. You will also discover that even if the people you hate and want to spite are not disciples of Jesus, he still commands you to love them. You will find such choices to obey him liberating if you choose to be a disciple, but you will also find them challenging.

In short, lots of people discover that what started as a lark becomes a passion, because they find out that Jesus is passionate for us. “I thirst” was among the last words he spoke from the Cross, not only because he was physically thirsty, but because he thirsts for our our eternal bliss.

Take this seriously, if you are drawn to him. The Faith means nothing apart from him. The one and only reason to be Catholic is Jesus. If you do it for any other reason, you will be steered toward him and, if you refuse to be so steered, you will the seeds of the word eaten by the birds, withering, or choked by the thorns. He is not here to service our politics, our culture wars, or our aesthetics. He is here to transform us, divinize us, and make us participants in his Trinitarian life. All other agendas are idols for destruction.


5 Responses

  1. I find the inverse to be true as well. I am not a MAGA Trumper and find everything about him and his supporters despicable. However, I find myself in a community where many have an ardent loyalty to Trump. I have found it necessary to look through the outward political stance of a person to see the heart in love with God. He thirsts for them too.

      1. I’ve come to the conclusion that God doesn’t care much about our little opinions. A person’s opinions are the least interesting thing about them. I try instead to find out what they like.

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