Christianity Gets Normal

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Here’s a rule of thumb: if The New York Times is praising you, you’re doing something wrong.

On March 8, the Times ran an article by Tara Isabella Burton called “Christianity Gets Weird.” It’s about an Extremely Online phenomenon called—yes—“Weird Christianity.”

According to Ms. Burton, what Weird Christians (like herself) “have in common is that we see a return to old-school forms of worship as a way of escaping from the crisis of modernity and the liberal-capitalist faith in individualism.” Weird Christians “reject as overly accommodationist those churches, primarily mainline Protestant denominations,” which have “watered down the stranger and more supernatural elements of the faith,” such as “miracles” and “the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

So far, so good. But Ms. Burton also claims that Weird Christians set themselves equally against the “fusion of ethnonationalism, unfettered capitalism and Republican Party politics that has come to define the modern white evangelical movement.”

 

Ms. Burton identifies some mainstream right-of-center thinkers among the Weird Christians, like Rod Dreher of The American Conservative and Leah Libresco Sergeant of The Lamp.

She also includes folks like John Garry.

Mr. Garry was raised in an ordinary, middle-class Catholic family, but stopped practicing the Faith in eighth grade. He flirted with Marxism but turned to right-wing politics during the 2016 election and wrote a few articles for Breitbart. Then he discovered a peculiar corner of the internet known as “Weird Catholic Twitter.” We’ll let Ms. Burton take it from here:

Weird Catholic Twitter, [Mr. Garry] told me, was “different from both the sort of alt-right world and the middle-class, typically American world I’d grown up in.” It was a community that wasn’t only “radically accepting,” but also focused on something “beautiful and transcendent.” It was a community, he said, where people weren’t only good to one another, but also deeply invested in helping make one another better.

He soon left behind the right-wing world he now describes as “repugnant,” and became both a renewed Catholic, and an established member of the Weird Catholic online ecosystem, under the name “MechaBonald” (a reference to a 19th-century French counterrevolutionary). And while he once again describes his politics as Marxist, he sees them as rooted specifically in a vision of Christianity at “variance with the entire modern liberal capitalist system.”

Before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight: we can’t take seriously anyone who believes that it’s possible to synthesize Catholicism and Marxism. No ideology has been more forcefully or repeatedly denounced by our popes and theologians than socialism. It’s simply off the table. And, while there seems to be some confusion on that point with non-practicing Catholics like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ninety-nine percent of Latin Mass-goers know perfectly well that socialism is antithetical to the Christianity.

Now, I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Dreher and Mrs. Sergeant. It’s obvious that the Times lumped them together with the likes of Mr. Garry in order to paint all Christian traditionalists as attention-seeking hipsters. Anyone who thinks orthodox Catholicism is compatible with Marxian socialism belongs to the same tier of navel-gazing pseudo-intellectuals as those feminists who think the hijab is a symbol of resistance to the “male gaze.” And anyone who can’t see that undoubtedly spends more than four hours a day on social media.

Yet this “Weird Christianity” speaks to a definite trend among conservative Christians. We’re developing a habit of ingratiating ourselves with our progressive masters on cultural issues in the hopes of making the Faith more palatable.

Just look at how many conservatives piled on the Covington Catholic students when they were accused of harassing that elderly Native American activist. Come to find, the activist was harassing them. (He was also joined by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, an intensely racist and anti-Semitic sect responsible for last year’s attack on a kosher market in Jersey City.) These conservatives should have known better than to swallow the mainstream media’s narrative whole. Yet they were so eager to signal their virtue—to be counted among the good, friendly Christians, and not the mean, racist, Trump-voting Christians—that they immediately began condemning the Covington kids.

It was an embarrassing spectacle. But, then, so is this new “woke wing” of Religious Right.

Little wonder the The New York Times would offer itself as a platform for Weird Christians to denounce the President as an ethnonationalist. This point, too, isn’t even worth arguing. Aside from a few ill-chosen, off-the-cuff remarks, there’s no evidence that Mr. Trump harbors any racial animus—much less that he’s working to purge the United States of racial minorities. That’s just absurd.

It goes to show that “Weird Catholic Twitter” is more Twitter than Catholic, and it’s only “weird” to its fellow Christians. Really, traditionalist Catholicism would hardly be the strangest lifestyle choice in the progressive Left’s rainbow coalition. As long as someone’s willing to vote for Sanders against Trump, why should the mainstream media care if he attends a Latin Mass or a witches’ coven?

Meanwhile, back in reality, Mr. Trump announced on Friday that religious services would henceforth be counted among the “essential services” in all fifty states.

Say whatever you want about “liberal-capitalist faith in individualism.”: thanks to Mr. Trump, thousands of Americans attended Mass on Sunday who otherwise would have been livestreaming it from home, yet again.

And, look: I don’t say any of this because I think Donald Trump is the apotheosis of Catholic social teaching. He’s not. (Though he’s a heck of a lot closer than Bernie Sanders) I’ve written in these pages about my support for distributism and communitarianism. I’m a big fan of After Virtue, The Benedict Option, Why Liberalism Failed, and all the other texts so near and dear to “Weird Christians.” I go to the Latin Mass. And I can name a million reasons why a Millennial or Gen-Xer would become disillusioned with modernity and embrace Christian orthodoxy. That’s what I did.

But let’s be clear. Catholics are not “weird.” Evelyn Waugh put it best: “We are normal—it is the irreligious who are freaks.” From the Edict of Milan until the Storming of the Bastille, the West was predominantly Catholic. The last two hundred years of fitful, fleeting revolutions are nothing compared to 1,500 years of Western civilization, and no enduring social order has ever succeeded Christendom. The last time there was any semblance of normalcy in this hemisphere, we were it.

It’s true that the world will always be against us. But that’s not a good thing. The fact that mankind has become estranged from God—from all that’s Good, and True, and Beautiful—isn’t something we should relish because it makes us “edgy.” It’s something we should mourn—and, in time, rectify.

We are not a counter-culture. We’re the culture. We’re not revolutionaries, but counter-revolutionaries. We fight, not to occupy new territory, but to reclaim what rightfully belongs to Christ and His holy Church.

Restoring Christian culture, then, begins with putting butts in pews. And President Trump has helped to make that happen.

This will often be the way, you know. Sometimes, counter-revolution means defying “mainstream” conservatism, which is unthinkable for those who crave power. Sometimes, it means going along with those “mainstream” conservatives, which is equally unthinkable to those who consider themselves avant-garde.

But the most counter-revolutionary act is showing up for Mass. So, when the nation’s leading conservative offers to serve as usher, just say, “Thank you.” Mr. Trump might not be the RadTrad philosopher-king, but he’s our friend. We’re not so pure as to stain ourselves by accepting his help.

None of which I say to be cruel to our Weird Christian friends. I say it because—well, it’s true.

I promise you, the real counter-revolutionary won’t get a nice profile in The New York Times. He’s more likely to be called “dangerous” and “authoritarian,” which is how Harvard Magazine described homeschool parents in that toe-curling article “The Risks of Homeschooling” (May–June 2020). That’s how the progressive establishment deals with any actual threat to their cultural hegemony. They don’t praise its originality: they denounce it, defame, it, and demand that it be outlawed.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda almost found himself in the same position recently. On May 21, he announced that parishes in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis would be permitted to resume public Masses, despite the state of Minnesota’s shelter-in-place orders. The members of his flock “really depend on the Eucharist to get through the challenges of their lives,” he told reporters. “The reception of the Eucharist is extremely important. We can’t have the opportunity for communion by livestreaming.”

President Trump’s declaration that religious worship would be deemed an “essential service” was issued the very next day, short-cutting any public backlash against Archbishop Hebda. Still, we should acknowledge what a brave and necessary act of defiance that was. Christians who demand their right to worship have been cast as the great villains of the Covid pandemic.

Yet, as Crisis has been saying all along, whatever the government wants to do with grocery stores or hospitals, they have no right to ban the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—never, at any time, for any possible reason. The Church’s liberty is absolute.

And, as we’ve been reminding our bishops (though charitably, I hope, and in a spirit of loving obedience), depriving Catholics of the sacraments due to a potential risk to their health was unprecedented in the history of the Church. Never before have the Successors to the Apostles placed the faithful’s physical fitness over their spiritual well-being.

Anyway, did we ever really think Covid posed a greater threat than the Black Death or the Spanish Flu? Should the Church not have sent Jesuit missionaries to England and Japan, at great risk to their own lives? What about the underground Church in the former Soviet Union and Communist China? Were they wrong to place themselves in danger  by defying state orders in order to receive the Sacrament? And should the Christians being assassinated by Islamists throughout the Middle East simply do the sensible thing and apostatize?

When the bishops suspended public Masses, was their decision consistent with the example set by their successors, the martyrs of ages past, and our persecuted brethren around the world today? I’ll leave that for you to decide. But Archbishop Hebda’s decision to resume Masses undoubtedly was.

Way back in March, Cardinal Burke published an open letter to the faithful dissenting from the trend of banning public Masses. “In considering what is needed to live, we must not forget that our first consideration is our relationship with God,” His Eminence wrote. Just as folks continue to go to the grocery store and the pharmacy, so, too, they “must be able to pray in our churches and chapels, receive the Sacraments, and engage in acts of public prayer and devotion, so that we know God’s closeness to us and remain close to Him, fittingly calling upon His help.”

That is a truly counter-revolutionary statement. Cardinal Burke doesn’t see the Gospel as a political tract, but as an account of the Father drawing nearer to His creation—of God taking on their flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and then entering our very bodies in the Holy Spirit.

Contrast Cardinal Burke’s statement with the one issued by Archbishop Wilton Gregory when he announced the suspension of public Masses in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. His Excellency assured his flock that his “number one priority” was “to ensure the safety and health of all who attend our Masses, the children in our schools, and those we welcome through our outreach and services.”

An authentic Christian traditionalism—a true Gospel radicalism—rejects the purely material view of human beings with purely material needs, where religion is little more than a hobby, and the churches must be closed with the roller-rinks and bowling alleys so that truly vital institutions (pot dispensaries, sex shops, etc.) can stay open. It recognizes that man’s first needs are spiritual needs. That’s why religion is an essential service. In fact, it’s the only service that’s really essential.

This is the Christianity that strikes the powers-that-be as really weird: as foreign, dangerous and more than a little unsettling. It will never be regarded by our elites as anything other than a hostile, alien sect which has inexplicably taken up residence in their nice, progressive society.

Of course, they’d rather forget that we’ve been here all along.

They’d rather think of the traditional Catholicism as a curious new “lifestyle choice”—one that might be grafted onto their new order. If they can’t destroy the Mass, they’re happy to see it become a faint echo of a once vital tradition: what postural yoga is to Hinduism or mindfulness meditation to Buddhism. The rosary will become like a dreamcatcher: a meaningless historical artifact used to decorate a society which has evolved beyond the need for spirituality.

Once they submit to the secularist, materialist regime, the churches can be regulated. They may be closed on a politician’s whim, like a pottery studio, while the real centers of our new religion—the abortuaries—continue to do a healthy business. Kill the Christians’ faith, but let them keep their zombie rites. Melt down the blade, but let them play with the hilt.

If you’re content for Catholicism to be yet another Millennial fad, like Tik-Tok and Lululemon, then no matter. Throw your arms and embrace this “Weird Christianity.” Enjoy being modish until you’re declared a subversive and suppressed for the good of the body politic.

But, if not, remember this:

What few friends we have in government are not to be found in the Democratic Party or the mainstream media.

Our allies in the Republican Party and the institutional Church are admittedly few, but they’re growing day by day.

Man is a spiritual being; his first needs are spiritual, not material.

The Church’s liberty is absolute, and religion is the only “essential service.”

Every act of worship is, by its nature, counter-revolutionary.

And we Christians are normal—it is The New York Times that is weird.

Image: The Blessing of the Wheat by Jules Breton

Michael Warren Davis

By

Michael Warren Davis is the editor of Crisis Magazine. He is a frequent contributor to The American Conservative and the author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021).

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