Above: People taking their religion far too seriously. Really, to sing this with a straight face, you would have to, wouldn’t you?
We interrupt this otherwise serious blog to talk some serious smack:
In general, I think right-wing Catholics are far more pagan and enjoy their religion more.
In general, I think liberal Catholics are far more devout and serious about what they believe.
I mean neither of those things in a good way.
I have been around both, either by choice or by circumstance. The liberals are those I encountered in the institutional religion of my youth. Now, after three decades of religious education, I have to conclude that they are the most pious in one sense. They went for the resurgence of “interior religion” hook, line, and sinker. By far, they seem to take it way more seriously than anyone else. They come across as a bunch of sanctimonious killjoys. I analyze the speech of left wing nuns, liberal priests, and so on, and they are by far those who put the full weight of solemnity behind every iota of what they believe. When I read America Magazine or Commonweal, there is very little sense of humor or auto-critique, and when there is, it is of the most puerile kind. God forbid we use sarcasm! We would go straight to Hell, or at least get rapped on the knuckles by Sister Mary Margaret of the Blessed Thumbscrews.
The Catholic right is far more sinister. I really have to believe that they don’t really believe in anything at bottom. I think it really is just a game for them. For example, I suspect they read the Sermon on the Mount with a highlighter constantly putting, “but” in the margins. “Love your neighbor”… but find ways how speaking badly about him and speaking of him as a subhuman is really “loving your neighbor”. That is the essence of charity: use theology to get in the way of the Gospel. A rich man will not enter the Kingdom, but make an eye of the needle the size of a city a block and see what happens. There is a bizarre jouissance acquired in these games; in the face of a pluralistic world where they have to “be nice” everywhere else, when they act in their play-fantasies as “real Catholics” they can be naughty, crypto-fascists, and sadists. They enjoy their religion more, but it is a perverse joy.
That being said, voluntarily I choose to hang out with the Catholic right, but I don’t socialize with them. I am hooked on their accoutrements and their sense of style, and even the perversity of their rhetoric, but I sanitize myself by not hanging out with them socially. It’s my one very bad habit.
This sort of reminds me of an anecdote Slajov Zizek tells often in his talks. In the Communist Party of his native Slovenia, he says that most of the bureaucrats didn’t really believe a word of the Party line, even the higher ups. It was to the point that two unfortunate bureaucrats who did believe in it were removed from their posts because they were regarded as being too dangerous. A really sane Catholic approaches his religion similarly, I believe. Indeed, I think the Vatican curia is like that, even the Pope himself, which explains why partisan pundits are always so confused by it.
Most people in the pews are neither left nor right. I believe most people in the pews are mildly stubborn sheep who need a lot of coaxing from their rather inept shepherds to do anything. Most of them are “decent folks” who may not be the most informed in the world, but still have some sense of right and wrong. The left-wing Catholic is the old church lady archetype continued by other means, just as Vatican II was Trent by other means. The right-wing Catholic seems a more interesting creature: a continuation of the militant Catholicism born after the French Revolution – not as tragedy, but this time as farce.