Notes on religious discourse – left and right

10 01 2011

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.

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21 responses

10 01 2011
Turmarion

This rings true to me.

There’s one liberal priest in our diocese whose worldview is stuck in 1973. I’ve been at Mass several times when he’s subbed (he doesn’t have a parish–he’s on the diocesan peace and justice committee), and no matter what the reading, the season, the context, or anything else, he always gives a big social justice sermon. Actually, I’m somewhat sympathetic to him politically, but the man could preach on the Nicene Creed and make it about the plight of Haitians or unjust labor practices in Southeast Asia. Not as if there’s any, you know religion in there. I don’t recall ever having seen him laugh or smile, either.

On the other hand, a very conservative priest in our diocese was at one time the IT administrator for the diocese (having been removed from parish work for being inflexible and dictatorial). Well, the local chapter of Catholics United for the Faith sent out a huge mailing to households in the diocese breathlessly detailing the near-heretical actions of the bishop (he was in support of lay ministers some of whom were-gasp–women). This caused a bit of a brouhaha since CUFF targeted every household in the diocese, despite its low membership.

I don’t know if it was ever proved, but the scuttlebutt was that the aforementioned priest had used his post as IT administrator to get hold of the diocesan mailing list and to sent it on to CUFF–without, of course either the permission or knowledge of the bishop. A couple months later, the priest was expelled from the diocese and sent back to his native England.

I think these are both illustrative of the kind of thing you’re talking about.

10 01 2011
john burnett

You mean— the Nicene Creed is NOT about the plight of Haitians or unjust labor practices in Southeast Asia??

heh heh.

10 01 2011
Wulfila

My principal theological mentor (a very conservative Roman Catholic) began our first conversation ever by informing me without the slightest bit of irony that in the judgement of the Church I am “subhuman”. I am not certain why the relationship continued, but I am convinced it must have something to do with my own masochistic tendencies.

10 01 2011
Brother Charles

Arrived via Lee Hamilton’s link. Made my day. Thanks and God bless.

10 01 2011
Dan Lower

So you’ve got your problem diagnosed: What’s the solution?

10 01 2011
melxiopp

As a non-Catholic, what do you mean by “just as Vatican II was Trent by other means”?

10 01 2011
Paul A. Za.lonski

Truer words haven’t been spoken … at least for today. I wonder if Catholic could ever just live the life proposed by Christ and the Church and let ideologies fall to the side. Credible witnesses are always hard to find. Thanks for the post

10 01 2011
micaela swift

To call people ‘left Catholics’ or ‘right Catholics’ is just seems very out of sight with true Catholicism. You can categorize people through the political spectrum this way (simply because of the issues), but Catholics are either “devout” or a “dissenting”. Political Left and Right is okay, but “Catholic” Left and right? Id try to reconsider those choice of words and perhaps what you are trying to say.

When I think of Catholic Left, I certainly see a dissent to teachings, esp in the most important teachings of sexual morality, and also I see a break from traditional Catholicism and authority in the church.
When I think of Catholic Right, I think of a Catholic who is standing up for those important teachings and who try to keep with those traditions.

If you just look at the Catholic persona as either left or right, you are basically saying that a Catholic can still be true and devout by not particularly speaking out in defense of the Pope, the faith, Church teachings, the Magesterium, and most especially against sin. That is simply not true.

10 01 2011
Chris

Well that’s one way to win a game: simply define your opponent as the loser.

11 01 2011
KarlH

Heh, I like this strategy.

10 01 2011
Sam Urfer

I know plenty of “right-wingers” who are dissenters from Church teachings, just as much or more so than “lefties”. The distinguishing feature seems to be if the dissent is based in economic or genital issues, and both seem rather amenable to various forms of anti-life policy in my experience (where, O where is the seamless garment when you need it?). I also know religiously “right” people who are politically “left” and religiously “left” folks who are highly conservative (even neoconservative) on the political angle, so I agree that the labels might not be super helpful, but it is way more complicated than “good” versus “bad” Catholics.

11 01 2011
sortacatholic

A subset of this phenomenon might be the strategic positioning of various “orthodox” positions in an attempt to block a basal fear or concern. For example: a person might spin complex theological/ontological arguments against women’s ordination, only to concede after thorough cross examination that sex and/or gender is no inherent impediment to the exercise of Christian pastoral, homiletic, or liturgical office. At this point, the bedrock of obtuse ontological argument barely conceals misogyny or even a homosexually affective appreciation of liturgy (e.g. “gin and lace”).

11 01 2011
Turmarion

You’re exactly right. It’s always hilarious to watch “right-wing” Catholics who go on and on about “cafeteria catholics” and “dissent” and “submission of the intellect” to authoritative teachings, etc., do backflips to argue how support of capital punishment or opposition to Papal criticisms of capitalism isn’t “dissent”. “Left-wing” catholics aren’t the only ones lined up in the cafeteria.

You’re also right that religious and political views don’t always line up. The most famous example is Dorothy Day, who was politically more or less anarchist, but who was also, from all accounts, quite traditional and conservative theologically and liturgically.

The thing about ordination reminds me of something I read awhile back, I think from Eamon Duffy, that historically the Church’s prohibition of women priests really was based on a view of women’s inferiority. Thus, since the modern Church had rightly rejected that view, it was left with no really valid justification for the all-male priesthood, and has ever since been knotting itself into increasingly arcane and unpersuasive arguments to support the status quo. Because, of course, Catholic teaching is unchanging–except when it changes. Oh, well….

11 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

I view this as the perennial problem of the separation of the sacred and political power. In other words, I don’t think these were as separated as we might think, even in recent memory. St. Paul said that he would not suffer a woman having authority over men, but did he only mean this in the religious realm, or possibly, by extension, in the family realm? If we are prepared to have women in leadership and even combat situations, why can they not lead in the Church as well? Why must the Church be some sort of zoo of atavistic practices long abandoned by the rest of society? This goes back to people like Chesterton, really, who thought that the only way reason could be reasonable was if some sort of absurdity was at its heart (religious faith).

Official Catholicism would have us believe that the sexism inherent in clerical culture is necessary so that there can be real progress and equality outside the church walls. I don’t think anyone buys it. For all the talk of the theology of the body and how gender determines our personhood, in the end the Church is pretty darn wishy-washy about what that means in general society. The logical conclusion is someone like Bishop Williamson of SSPX fame, who thinks women should not even go to college or wear pants. At least he is raging against a certain cognitive dissonance, even though he is crazy.

Here I would put the caveat of “of course, I don’t believe that women should be ordained”, etc., if I cared anymore about the issue. As it stands now, I hang out at some Latin Mass at seven in the morning on Sundays, and see as few of the members of the Corpus Christi as possible. For those who have some mortal fear of change, it should be pointed out that for a few of us things have changed too much already, and we’re pretty darn jaded about it. History will tell who is right, and even if women one day ascend the altars, don’t worry, all of you who opposed it will be reconciled to the Church through a “hermeneutic of continuity” long after your bodies have decayed into dust.

10 01 2011
micaela swift

…and to add, it is always good to remember devout or dissenting Catholics are never “perfect” creatures. All are prone to human weakness, but it is in the devotion to prayer, to the sacraments, and growing in catechesis and good formation in the teachings, sharpening our consciences (As true Catholics) that we become stronger in Christ-and thus, “Good and True Catholics”

10 01 2011
john burnett

What i notice about the video is the music, though of course the words fit. I heard years and years ago that many of the writers of the (then-) ‘new liturgical music’ had day jobs at Muzak®, and it certainly made sense. As it turns out, I didn’t remain much longer in the RCC, though it wasn’t the nascent aesthetic that made me leave— but i surely could *never, ever* go to a church now, where the reigning aesthetic was supermarket music.

To be more specific, what characterizes that muzak is its sheer *sentimentality*, and I think that’s where both the Catholic ‘right’ and Catholic ‘left’, as you call them, both come together *and* diverge: they both turn christianity into 100% pure “feelings”, but (prescinding from the political issues) the difference between them is really only the feelings they like to cultivate.

The words of the above song, which i could bear only for about 1/4 of the way into the tape, are an example of the same kind of cheap sentimentalism; nothing particularly ‘lyrical’ about those ‘lyrics’ *except* that, with the music, they convey the same smarmy sentimentalism that is about all our civilization is capable of at this point. One thinks of… i dunno… women of a certain age who have settled for their lives a little too finally, and are now spending their days in the artificially scented dreams of daytime tv and romantic novels.

it’s also notable that there is nothing *at all* scriptural in the lyrics, at least as far as i could stand listening to them. Just a romantic idea of Jesus as our lover.

So while it’s nice to think, micaela, that ‘in the devotion to prayer, to the sacraments, and growing in catechesis and good formation in the teachings, sharpening our consciences (As true Catholics) that we become stronger in Christ’, but in fact people are staying away in droves. And in fact the forms of prayer, sacraments, catechesis, formation, and conscience that are in vogue are mostly just about strengthening people’s delusions about Christ ‘who loves us soooooooooooo much!!!!!!’ (sniff).

I can see why Buddhism is attractive to so many people nowadays, not a few of whom are ex-Catholics. It promises and even attempts to *deal* with feelings, instead of trying to manufacture them.

10 01 2011
Liberl or conservative???

I think perceptions of “left” or “right” depend on your own ideology?

So AV does that make your version of Catholicism the best one?

It is easy to define people and put them in boxes even if they do not fit and give them labels that insult their temperments and sincerity. That does not mean there are not some valid criticisms or for academic reasons to make classifications–but this essay is not it.

11 01 2011
Manuel

The last two paragraphs really sum up what most Catholics would are. Really, who has time to ponder such things which used to be left to “those who prayed”? Most of us are “those who dig” but like to think we are “those who fight” or even try and join “those who pray.”
Sometimes I think most parish priests are happy that enough parioshers showed up so they can cover expenses. And what is wrong with that?

11 01 2011
M.Z.

This seems up your alley and apropos. The competition for the most insufferable is pretty intense. My life became so much easier when I just started going to my neighborhood parish. Once I become truly comfortable with the fact that no one is sitting around and waiting for my opinion I might possibly have arrived at my destination.

I understand the distinction you are making and can see some truth in what you say, at least as far as generalities go. Liberal liturgical catholics are in the power structure and act like. Conservative (traditional) liturgical catholics are outside that power structure and act like it. I don’t think either group has a whole lot of respect for the average pew sitter. Both camps seem to be little bourgeois parties, just different costumes.

13 01 2011
Chris Bilardi

Arturo,
I think what you’ve just written about is really a pan-Christian phenomenon. I was raised Catholic, but then became a Neo-pagan (of varying shades), which lasted for about 20 years or more. I came back to Christ after really studying and practicing the Christian Germanic folk healing called “braucherei”.

Now, I have been horrified by the almost Inquisitorial zeal of the “leftists” and their “social justice” schtick, and equally appauled by the fascist Fundies who see people like me as ‘fake’ Christians. The Born Again evangelicals are the most maniacal in their condemnation of my work, as I am in their eyes nothing more than a naughty little teufelsdiener.

I think both the Right and the Left are misrepresenting the teachings of Christ, which is unconscionable. Today, I am a Lutheran heretic (I’m being sarcastic) in pastoral formation. I’ve seen this same exact behavior that you write on in Lutheranism, the UCC, etc., etc.,…

9 02 2013
Crashing the Gate at Legatus

[...] what I’m really looking for is some sign of gaiety, or even decadence. In his blog, Reditus, former SSPX seminarian Arturo Vasquez writes that “right-wing Catholics are far more pagan and enjoy their religion more [than other [...]

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