Crunchy Catholicism

Me? I like my beer cold, my cars fast, and my Catholicism — thank you very much — crunchy.


"If we took the bones out, it wouldn’t be crunchy, would it?"
— Monty Python, The Confectioner’s Sketch
Me? I like my beer cold, my cars fast, and my Catholicism — thank you very much — crunchy.
It was non-Catholic-turned-Catholic-turned-ex-Catholic journalist Rod Dreher who, a couple of years ago, got himself a book, a blog, and a cottage concept by coining the expression "crunchy conservatism." The idea was to plant a banner for political conservatives whose cultural preferences were nonetheless more Pacific coast than Panhandle: conservatives who drove hybrids, ate range-fed chicken, made clothes for their homeschooled kids, and now and then took a little granola (hence the name) in their organic yogurt.
But I’m not talking about Catholics who wear Birkenstocks and live in yurts. By "Crunchy Catholicism" I mean to signify a religious approach or attitude; not quite as lofty as a "spirituality," perhaps, but along those lines. Call it a mode of interaction with the Faith: the sum of a set of related preferences that make up a particular flavor of Catholic practice. Or better, per 1 Corinthians 12, a distinct but integral part — dem crunchy bones — of the Mystical Body. It is both an end — arrived at by an interplay between grace, learning, and a certain human temperament — and a means or heuristic: a standard by which to make necessary judgments and a chart for navigating the jagged rocks of Catholic life.
Crunchy Catholicism is set apart from other popular flavors, not all of them, alas, healthy. For example, there’s Creamy Catholicism, whipped full of air and served at room temperature, made to pass blandly over the tonsils. An emotionally comforting, morally undemanding approach to the Faith, Creamy Catholicism finds its expression in angel figurines, Michael Joncas hymns, and the Joshua series. Liturgical high points for the creamy Catholic include the Sign of Peace and Applauding the Folk Group at the End.
Moving on, we can also observe Chewy Catholicism — in which the deposit inherited from the apostles is thoughtfully masticated, sucked for its flavor, and occasionally picked off the teeth for inspection, but never swallowed. Chewy Catholics display the Bible (TEV) on their bookshelves next to The Da Vinci Code and The Secret, and see fit to boast how their personal spirituality is informed by all three. Chewy Catholicism finds the apex of the liturgy in the homily — especially if Father can draw out the similarities between Jesus and Buddha, or explain how our Lord fed the 5,000 without any tedious mucking about with miracles.
I imagine too that somewhere beyond the scope of our purposes there is also Spicy Catholicism, Smoky Catholicism, and Lemon-Fresh Catholicism with Ginseng. But like I said, I take mine crunchy. What is Crunchy Catholicism? We can identify it by what it does.
Crunchy Catholicism likes to touch and see. It craves a religion fully loaded with accessories; it wants to wake up and smell the incense. Derided as superficial or merely reactionary by neo-gnostics and "noble simplicity" aficionados, the Crunchy Catholic’s love for bells, beeswax, and basilicas, for shiny censers and stone statues, is really rooted in a joyfully incarnational religious sensibility. Crunchy Catholicism likewise wants to remember — to gather round us like a familiar blanket the saints and martyrs, the stories of great battles and simple souls, keeping them alive and relevant in our practice of the Faith today.
Crunchy Catholicism distinguishes.Ours is a both/and religion, we’re fond of saying, and true as that is, there’s a lot of either/or-ing to go through first. Crunchy Catholicism takes a sword and cuts the world into its necessary contraries: life and death, good and evil, heaven and hell. Valid and invalid, too — you’re baptized or you’re not, you’re married or single, ordained or lay. God has allowed the Church to invoke His power, and the effects that power produces, however invisible, are real — not a product of our mood or fancy. When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last month responded that the baptismal formula using the terms "Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier" for the Holy Trinity was invalid, it acted crunchily. When the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Brisbane then assured Catholics there that past baptisms performed using those words were "administered wrongly" but still valid, he did not.
That’s because Crunchy Catholicism holds that Church teachings are a true (if imperfect, for we do not yet see "face to face") statement about the way things are. Thus they’re non-negotiable and impervious to our feelings. Thus the distinctions the Church makes are not merely an academic or bureaucratic exercise, or at best an attempt to wrestle with the ineffable by distant analogy, but a means of ordering — and sorting out the consequences of — real truths. Crunchy Catholicism recognizes that we Catholics are cooking with gas, practicing with live ammo, firing on twelve cylinders. One second, wafer; next second, Eternal Master of the universe. No qualification needed — or possible.
It follows, then, that Crunchy Catholicism engages the intellect. Crunchy Catholics like saying the Creed; they savor the formulae from Nicea and Chalcedon; they mop up theology and apologetics until their eyes bubble. Characteristic pitfalls thereby await our Crunchy Catholic, of course: for living the Faith can’t be reduced to the act of assenting to a list of propositions (and such assent is impossible without the grace of God first moving in our hearts, to begin with). Surely pride, uncharity, spiritual aridity, and ultimately heterodoxy lie in store for the man who tries it. But still, God created us as rational, and in the Incarnation revealed the logos of His nature and made it accessible to our reason. If He is infinitely ineffable, He is also infinitely knowable. Crunchy Catholicism, while not forbearing to love and serve God, wants to know Him. The revealed objects of that knowledge are what give Catholicism its crunch.
Bones of the Faith? Surely. You might also say that the bread of life is crusted with diamonds. Chew carefully.

Todd M. Aglialoro is the editor for Sophia Institute Press and a columnist and blogger for


Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

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