August 27, 2010
In a piece for Salon, Emily Matchar, a self-described overeducated, ambitious atheist, confesses an addiction to Mormon lifestyle blogs. There is, she says, an odd allure in the bloggers' lives of simple faith and endless childbearing. When my generation wanted a break from urban anomie, we found ersatz wholesomeness in shows like Little House or that one with Wilford Brimley and the pre-Brenda Shannen Doherty. Matchar, that lucky duck, can get a whiff of the real deal.
For my part, I love to visit Catholic webpages, including the Anchoress Blog and the sites for America Magazine, First Things and National Catholic Reporter. But unlike Matchar, I don’t go looking for sunny professions of faith. These about, but I skip over them; they bore me. Instead, I find myself inexorably, appallingly drawn to the comments -- specifically, to the posts made by the sorely aggrieved, the easily enraged, the monomaniacally obsessed. Not only can a quick peek in their headspace make me feel much better about myself, it’s good sociology. These people are the descendants of the flagellanti, the butchers of Acre and Monsegur. Anyone who wants to forecast the future of the Church should be aware that they walk, and troll, among us.
For the curious, I’ve prepared a brief field guide to some recognizable types. Hopefully, it’ll tempt a few readers to join me on safari:
1. The chief mourner: For this nostalgic soul, spiritual perfection was realized in some Church figure of his or her youth. When that paragon passed from the earth, what remained was an unfillable void. Who qualifies for such extreme adulation? Take your pick: Dorothy Day, Abp. Sheen, Cardinal Bernardin and Popes John XXIII and John Paul II all have their fanboys and fangirls, ready with a quote from their hero for every occasion.
2. The closet sedevacantist: To all outward appearances, this character is a perfectly loyal and obedient Catholic. If you ask him his opinion of Vatican II, he'll tell you it was the work of the Extraordinary Magisterium, and is therefore above criticism. But deep down, he thinks the Council dealt Christendom its worst blow since women got the vote. If it's taken fifty years to reform the reforms, he thinks, wouldn't it make more sense never to have passed those reforms in the first place? Though he'd never say so openly, his ears are not wholly closed to the idea that Good Pope John had been inspired by the Freemasons, the Devil or both. If it should rain on the day he washes his car, he silently blames the Jews.
3. Casper the Friendly Ghost The closet sedevacantist’s natural counterpart and constant incubus, this person pines aloud for the Spirit of Vatican II. This spirit, he is convinced, consisted of a boundless open-ness to change, aggiornamento without borders. Were it still at large, the Church would surely be ordaining women and married men, and bishops would spend their time picketing army bases. But no, Paul VI, that hack, had to kill the spirit when he took a dive and issued Humane Vitae. Since then, it’s been one long slide back into the ooze of clericalism and superstition. Touchingly, this person holds out hope that the concilliar spirit, like Tinkerbell, can be brought back to life. Vatican III may be right around the corner.
4. The Heretic Hunter: If there’s one thing this lady or gentleman simply can’t abide, it’s dissent. To this uber-ultramontanist, it doesn’t matter whether a particular teaching has been defined infallibly; if a pope scribbled it on a cocktail napkin, it’s a nugget of pure truth. Seeing no particular value in subtlety, this culture warrior lacerates his foes with bons mots like "The Catholic cafeteria is closed. Didn’t you get the memo? CLOSED! From here on out, we only serve box lunches!" He would equip EMs with tazers to drive the unworthy from the Commmunion line, and dreams a world where all Democrats are buried at the crossroads with stakes driven through their hearts.
5. Dopus Dei: This bundle of nerves is convinced the Church is writhing in the steely grip of a personal prelature with 90,000 members. Not only has Opus Dei controlled the Curia ever since it bailed out the Vatican Bank, it controls the Supreme Court through Chief Justice Scalia, and American Mideast policy through Erik Prince. This conspir-o-holic regularly scours the Opus Dei Awareness Network website for gruesome stories of abuse and betrayal. Though he might spare a discouraging word or two for other ecclesial movements, like Focolare or Neo-Catechumenal Way, he finds them too mundane, at bottom, to make good bugaboos. Nobody combines "sinister" "authoritarian" "elitist" and "weird" like Don Escriva in his tight cilice and Phil Silvers glasses.
6. Fetus Frenzy: This pious and tenderhearted Catholic is the best friend the unborn will ever have -- just ask her. Not only does she organize funerals for aborted babies, sewing cloth baby footprints to her dress to mark the occasion, she can turn any conversation into a rant against abortion. In fact, she’s practiced this trick to the point where she can always find a logical segue from any topic. For example, the weather: "A shame you were caught in a hail storm on the golf links. Multiply that sense of disorientation by infinity and you’ll know how it feels to be vacuumed out of your mother’s womb."
7. Seamless Garment: Meet Fetus Frenzy’s arch nemesis. This natural-born contrarian is a firm believer in a consistent ethic of life. Until the bishops catch up and start protesting the death penalty, Guantanamo, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, urban poverty, rural poverty and SB 1070, they can go poop in their zucchetos when it comes to abortion. Warning: when this person writes "pro-life" in scare quotes, you know a storm’s a-comin’.
8. The BVM‘s BFF: To this devout believer, Jesus may be the Alpha and Omega, but His Blessed Mother is all the letters in between. In short, she regards the Theotokos as a cross between Ann Landers and Oprah -- the patient, endlessly concerned girlfriend she never had. With the singleminded fervor of a little leaguer memorizing batting averages, she has created a mental inventory of all Marian apparitions, confirmed or not. She fills her house with Marian bric-a-brac ranging from conventional depictions of the Immaculate Heart to more daring portrayals of Madonna and child as Africans, Inuit or Hmong. "Pray to the Virgin" is her default advice for any complaint, including clinical depression, impotence, or a sucking chest wound.
9. "I’ll pray for you [and the horse you rode in on]": This bottomless well of caritas has taken a creative approach to anger management. When feeling aggrieved, vexed, nettled or just plain hacked off, he informs the source of his irritation that the will pray for him. Presumably, he will ask God to make his opponent as judicious and diplomatic as he is himself. Nevertheless, his tone makes you wonder whether he might also be ordering up a lightning bolt or a plague.
10. "Learn humility!" Like the tetchy prayer warrior profiled above, this cyber-skirmisher loves a good euphemism. His favorite rhetorical warhead is "Learn humility," or, on stilts, "I seriously suggest you consider learning some humility!" Coming from him, it can mean anything from "Negro, please!" to "Go fulfill your Oedipal fantasies."
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