The “Jump Ball” of American Politics
November 1, 2020 8:10 AM   Subscribe

 
I wonder if the conservative extremists or the church hierarchy will be the first to go full schism over this.
posted by jedicus at 8:51 AM on November 1, 2020 [4 favorites]


You know your LARP campaign has gone off the rails when someone starts talking about fighting "pedosatanism". The vast pedophile conspiracy and the vast satanic conspiracy, two imaginary factions united at last.
posted by allegedly at 9:09 AM on November 1, 2020 [11 favorites]


Okay, a) these people are gross, and more thoughts later.

b) for people who don't follow the deep inside baseball of Catholicism, which I assume is all of you except me -- the Vatican bank used to launder money for the mafia like WHOA. It was supposed to have stopped. The EU has been putting increasing pressure on the Vatican over the last 20-30 years over the bank's money laundering and related financial crimes (well, they'd be crimes in any EU jurisdiction). When the EU started threatening the Vatican's access to the Euro (which it uses because it uses Italian currency and has for like a century), and a bunch of other stuff happened including Vatileaks and Benedict's resignation which was partly related to his epic, epic mismanagement of the curia and particularly the money parts of the curia, the Vatican started cleaning house.

Vigano didn't get on the outs with the pope and the hierarchy and the curia because he's sooooooooooo theologically traditional but because he started cleaning up some of the money laundering (he oversaw the department that oversaw the bank), buuuuuuuuuuuut we now think he was doing some DIFFERENT financial shenanigans on the side. The guy who oversaw the bank directly (Bertone) convinced the pope to send Vigano as nuncio (ambassador) to the US, a promotion to get him out of the way, so Bertone could do HIS crime without Vigano intervening and trying to do DIFFERENT crime. (In an unrelated financial crime, Vigano was also convicted by an Italian court of fraud against his family to the tune of millions of dollars, which also plays into this.)

If Vigano's life is being threatened, it's because he appears to have both laundered money for organized crime AND stopped money laundering for different organized crime.

On the one hand one can understand his bitterness, because the Vatican Bank was rotten all through, and Vigano ended up the fall guy when there were people doing as bad as he did, or worse. But Vigano was also doing some bad shit, and defrauding his family, aaaaaaaaaaand organizing leaks to make himself look good and others in the curia look bad, and basically Vigano's whole story is some real Medici bullshit that doesn't work nearly as well in the 21st century as it did in the 16th. But it's a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the curia and why the last few Popes have been struggling to de-Italianize it. It's also a glimpse into how impossible it is to discover who knew what when and who did what and how fuckin' backwards and medieval Vatican record-keeping is. It is nothing even vaguely resembling a modern state with modern financials. (In John Paul II's reign, some departments were still using medieval strong boxes for their funds, full of cash, and if you dug down under the top layers of dollars and lira and pounds, you'd start finding cash and coins dating back centuries.)

IOW, Vigano and Trump have a lot in common in terms of how they abuse banks and think finances ought to work, and Vigano's rage against the hierarchy has a lot less to do with theology than with crime.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:19 AM on November 1, 2020 [144 favorites]


I wonder if the conservative extremists or the church hierarchy will be the first to go full schism over this.

For many extremists they kind of already have. It's just that their numbers are way too small to be seen as anything but "fringe" groups that split off back in 1963.

And "there are pagan/demonic forces at work in the Vatican" has been around for a while. Exhibit A - Malachi Martin.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on November 1, 2020 [9 favorites]


I think Dan Brown has enough material to get a series of books underway.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:51 AM on November 1, 2020 [3 favorites]


“There’s this whole Catholic-right media landscape that functions like a Catholic Fox News,” says John Gehring, Catholic program director for the liberal advocacy organization Faith in Public Life.

Is there a media landscape that's more neutral? Also, are there religious publications that lean progressive (I mean besides the Bible itself)?

I just looked up Faith in Public Life to see if it was an answer to that question, and it doesn't seem to be.
posted by wildblueyonder at 9:56 AM on November 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


This is still a very small group of people — a worrying development among a much smaller subculture within Catholicism.

I think a lot of people who think of religion in more Protestant terms tend to seriously overestimate the zeal and strength of belief among most Catholics. Most churchgoing Catholics are pretty checked out and don’t even know about any of these weird controversies let alone hold opinions.

Not that it doesn’t disturb me immensely to see these ideas spreading. But I notice people will read something like this and start to get worried about their Catholic neighbors and relatives, which is probably not justified without other reasons to worry.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:57 AM on November 1, 2020 [20 favorites]


So what Eyebrows McGee is saying is Godfather 3 was a documentary.
posted by tclark at 10:00 AM on November 1, 2020 [17 favorites]


Is there a media landscape that's more neutral? Also, are there religious publications that lean progressive (I mean besides the Bible itself)?

Commonweal and America are mostly-liberal Catholic opinion magazines.

For Quakers, there's Friends Journal and The Friend. Unitarian Universalists have UU World. I'm definitely a non-expert in progressive Christianity (and not all UUs even identify as Christian), so I'll leave it at that, but I strongly suspect there are others.
posted by box at 10:19 AM on November 1, 2020 [10 favorites]


Haven’t yet read the first linked article, but just to balance this across other organized spiritual circles, I’ve found the Conspirituality podcast’s series of in-depth conversations investigating strong similar conspiracist leanings recently emerging in the alternative spirituality crowd, to be extremely fascinating.
posted by progosk at 10:28 AM on November 1, 2020 [4 favorites]


I want to reaffirm the point about most Catholics seeming fairly detached from Vatican politics. I wouldn't describe my mom as "checked out" - she goes to church every Sunday, and she seems to me fairly well informed about the Vatican-mafia-ties, and the Vatican-Nazi-South-America pipeline, and all the pedophila scandals, and the creepy extremist subsections like Opus Dei etc, although probably a bit too keen to buy into Francis' PR efforts. The impression I got from her is that of course there has always been shady stuff going on in the Vatican, and you can just hope for the occasional slightly more idealistic Pope to clean up a bit, but not too much, or he will just get assassinated before he can accomplish anything. Sometimes she gets a bit cross with God for not inspiring better leadership, but generally all her qualms with the church don't particularly affect her personal faith.
posted by sohalt at 10:32 AM on November 1, 2020 [13 favorites]


Commonweal and America are mostly-liberal Catholic opinion magazines.

My dad got me a subscription the National Catholic Reporter and I followed them online for a while: they seem to be pretty reliably progressive, or they were for a long time.

... and on a quick check, yes they still are, there's an interview with Rev. Barber on the front page. Yay.
posted by suelac at 12:21 PM on November 1, 2020 [8 favorites]


Also U.S. Catholic, which describes itself as follows: “U.S. Catholic puts faith in the context of everyday life, with a strong focus on social justice.”

(I grew up in a peace & justice Catholic family. We subscribed to U.S. Catholic and National Catholic Reporter.)
posted by snowmentality at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2020 [8 favorites]


The Vatican Bank has had problems with money laundering for such a long time that I think despite what American Catholics might believe its existence as a Washington DC of Catholicism it really is sort of a vestige of the complex fall of the Holy Roman Empire. The fact the Vatican happens to also be the head of a major world religion is almost an after thought in the reality of how it operates.

I think a lot of people who think of religion in more Protestant terms tend to seriously overestimate the zeal and strength of belief among most Catholics.

Yeah Catholicism in one part of the world could easily look like and even by most accounts appear to be paganism to other parts of the world. You get these strange hybrid religions that took local cultural traditions and incorporated them into Catholicism. This is all a joke as everyone knows this is exactly how we have many Western European traditions like Christmas and Easter. It was way easier to just accept local customs and religions, it is why Catholicism has been around for two thousand years.

The fact that German archbishops are upset about these so-called pagan traditions is just classic.
posted by geoff. at 2:49 PM on November 1, 2020 [9 favorites]


The Holy Roman Empire?
posted by acb at 3:06 PM on November 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


I visited the Noah Ark museum in Kentucky because I couldn't resist, and amongst the climate-change denial (while simultaneously claiming that the 6000 years or so since the earth was created have been full of climate upheaval - hence no more mammoths or dinosaurs) and the gladiators fighting dinosaurs (metal!) I was shocked by the number of Catholic church groups there.

It was strange to see. I'd expected Baptists and various other evangelicals. But there they were - entire groups of older Catholics wearing matching t-shirts.

As far as I understand it, the Catholic Church considers the age of the Earth a settled issue and follows the scientific consensus. But there they were
posted by thecjm at 3:25 PM on November 1, 2020 [10 favorites]


I ordered the following book for my mother after she read the LRB review

The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe
by David I. Kertzer.

review at https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v40/n09/christopher-clark/god-bless-italy

As a result, she has given me some excerpts - such as the archbishop of Marseilles sending the Pope two new guillotines in order to despatch Italian resistance more efficiently. She now has sympathy for the Italian indifference to Catholicism - we joke that every major city will have a church built by Austrian, Lebanese, Croatian, Philippine, etc communities - but the Italians can never really be bothered. Her comment is, "Don't let anyone who is not a strong Catholic read this book - it will totally destroy any wavering faith."
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 3:42 PM on November 1, 2020 [6 favorites]


I'm constantly amazed at qanon conspiracy theories about secretive cabals of paedophiles, when right there in the middle of the room is a ginormous elephant with CATHOLIC CHURCH painted on it in fluorescent paint.

The idea that the Catholic church itself (or parts of it) may also be falling for "Look over there! Deep state paedophiles!" is beyond even post-irony.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:42 PM on November 1, 2020 [31 favorites]


As far as I understand it, the Catholic Church considers the age of the Earth a settled issue and follows the scientific consensus. But there they were

Much of the US Catholic Church is content to not only ignore Rome, but actively oppose it. There is even a small contingent that maintains that there hasn't been a legitimate Pope since the middle of the last century. A surprising number don't see the inherent contradiction in their having been ordained under the authority of a usurper, despite the very serious spiritual consequences for their flock.

I find that logical contradictions like that, fully within their system of belief, are a great way to weed out the grifters and charlatans from those who earnestly believe in their chosen religion.
posted by wierdo at 3:57 PM on November 1, 2020 [3 favorites]


The idea that the Catholic church itself (or parts of it) may also be falling for "Look over there! Deep state paedophiles!" is beyond even post-irony.

I don't know, my theory of this stuff is that QAnon/Pizzagate stuff appeals because it's more fun than contemplating the reality of child sexual abuse -- that it's mostly close friends and family members. For Catholics specifically, imagining a big conspiracy of crypto-satanists is more fun than the grim reality, which is just that regular priests were covering up for their friends and trying to avoid getting sued.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:33 PM on November 1, 2020 [24 favorites]


Fred Clark at slacktivist:

Because it’s not quite accurate to say that Satanic baby-killer enthusiasts really want and desire the existence of real monsters. That’s what they’re clamoring for. It’s the fantasy role-playing game they’ve all agreed to play together. But the counterfeit joy they find in that fantasy doesn’t come from the monsters, it comes from the NPCs. It comes from the sense that their knowledge of this secret conspiracy of monsters, and their fantasy of bravely opposing it, makes them special.

The fantasy is that we are better than all those sheeple who just don’t or wouldn’t even care that sweet, innocent little babies were being perversely tormented, then killed, then eaten, by a nefarious cult that secretly walks among us.
posted by InfidelZombie at 5:49 PM on November 1, 2020 [12 favorites]


My own theory on Qanon and pedophilia can be summed up in one word: Projection.

I have had the misfortune in my lifetime to know and deal with too many victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse and none of them were Q's usual suspects, while too many of them were very Catholic.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:59 PM on November 1, 2020 [18 favorites]


Americanism is a helluva drug.
posted by Apocryphon at 7:12 PM on November 1, 2020 [6 favorites]


So, I like this article, and I think it's interesting and compelling and raises some really great points. But I think it misses some others, and some of the trends it raises as coming from the Trump presidency, I would locate a lot earlier. Mario Cuomo's 1984 speech at Notre Dame on "Religious Belief and Public Morality" (link is text; here is video) is probably the early herald of a lot of this mishegoss. It's a lovely speech, explaining how Cuomo as a Catholic personally believes in Catholic teachings against abortion but as a politician feels he must support a woman's right to abortion, and how he reconciles those two positions and believes he has come to a stance he can defend as moral within a Catholic framework. He says early in the speech that he isn't a theologian and doesn't have the authority to speak as a theologian, but then proceeds to deliver a better theological speech than most bishops in the US could manage. (I particularly like the bit where he dunks on NY bishops who are like "not banning abortion is the same as not objecting to slavery!" and Cuomo points out that NY Catholic bishops really couldn't be arsed to object to slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.)

And for kind-of a long time, Cuomo's speech was THE speech for Catholics in public life, and Catholics studying law, morality, political science, etc., as the model for how a Catholic politician could navigate between the sacred and the profane. But now it's almost forgotten! And there has been a very deliberate and organized effort, that I would date to Clinton's election in 1992 as an organized effort but definitely has roots earlier, to stamp out Cuomo's type of public Catholicism, in favor of a very regressive and triumphalist public Catholicism, that seeks to impose the sort of religious mandates the US has never really had.

I would also push the fundangelicalization of Catholicism back into the mid-to-late-1990s, when I was at Notre Dame, and suddenly there were allegedly Catholic students who espoused a literal reading of the Bible (literally a heresy) and who joined University committees on religious life/campus ministry to demand that the priests and sisters stop offering counseling and start catechizing students very strictly, according to the Baltimore Catechism -- which was particularly striking as the new Catechism was released in 1992, but none of these yahoos wanted Catholic university students exposed to the actual Catechism, just the Baltimore Catechism (which is an 1885 text based on a 1614 catechism, in question-and-answer format, where kids were expected to memorize the Q-and-A).

These fundamentalist evangelicals in Catholic clothing were, in the late 1990s, SO STRANGE. Biblical literalism in Catholicism is flatly bizarre! You cannot be Catholic and be a Biblical literalist, certainly not a Protestant sola scriptura literalist! And at the time I thought -- and most of my compatriots in the theology department thought -- "What weirdos! This is really far outside Catholic teaching! These are outliers." But in retrospect, they weren't outliers; they were harbingers of a strategy to bring Catholics into the fundagelical Republican fold. (And, in retrospect, they all came from certain parts of the country, where apparently this strategy was concentrated.) It's fucking bizarre to listen to deeply-committed Catholics with big families espouse evangelical "Quiverfull" theology rather than Catholic pro-life theology, and have no idea what the difference is. It's deeply bizarre to read right-wing Catholic media -- which in the 1990s was still very Catholic in attitude -- and see that it's been almost entirely Protestantized. It's distressing and painful to witness how closely the University of Notre Dame -- the English-speaking world's most prominent Catholic university, sometimes called "where the Church does its thinking" (because Catholicism spent the 20th century thinking in English) -- has aligned itself with the GOP in the United States. The theology department objects, but the institutional university is all-in with Trump and Trumpism, and that's intensely painful for alumni (and particularly alumnae) of the theology department. It's SO bizarre to listen to people who are daily-Mass-going Catholics spout Protestant anti-Papist memes from 1688 and have no idea that they're doing so. Like, it's almost impossible to overstate how bizarre it is. Like, I and everyone else I know frequently lose friends on facebook when we point out its bizarreness to people who've been caught in the fundagelical Catholic trap.

I honestly don't know if American Catholicism will survive the next 20 years due to the Protestantization of American Catholicism. (Part of me honestly doesn't know if it should, w/r/t pedophilia, but that's a different rant for a different thread.) And maybe the weirdest part is that it isn't a universal catholicism (as "catholic" with a small C means) crashing on the rocks of a secular society, but that it's a form of "Catholicism" that's exclusive and that has aligned itself with radically conservative Protestants, who hate Catholics and everything they stand for, and they don't seem to notice? And even some of the bishops aligning themselves with this movement are using super-Protestant language to describe themselves and the Church. Like, it's obviously one thing for a rando from Arizona to describe her Catholicism as ultra-Calvinist, but it's a very different and very bizarre thing when bishops with teaching authority are talking like it's the 1550s and they're committed Calvinists who utterly reject the pope.

And again, as a theologian, I must reiterate, bishops are mostly shit, they don't get enough theological education to know how to, like, theology correctly. That's why we HAVE theologians independent of the hierarchy. (Pope John Paul II was a NOTABLY rotten theologian who had NO FUCKING IDEA what he was talking about and his theological staff sometimes had to rein him in. Benedict is a GREAT theologian -- a theologian's theologian, for all I disagree with a lot of his theology -- but he fucking sucked at being a pastor, and popes can't really sit around having academic debates in the 21st century and doing nothing else.) But even when bishops are shit, they're supposed to know the difference between Catholics and Protestants.

And to be clear, I don't want to bag on Protestants as a whole (my graduate degree is from a Protestant seminary!) or as a category. But it's REALLY FUCKING WEIRD for Catholic bishops to be espousing angry Protestant ideas from the 16th century that reject the authority of Catholic bishops.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:28 PM on November 1, 2020 [95 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee, this is really interesting. Do you know if there's been any academic research on this Protestantization of Catholicism, or if it's been discussed in any religious journals? (It might be relevant to a class I'm in.)
posted by trig at 1:28 AM on November 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


imagining a big conspiracy of crypto-satanists is more fun than the grim reality, which is just that regular priests were covering up for their friends and trying to avoid getting sued.

Really the whole idea that the safety of children depended on teaching them about "stranger danger" can be seen as a refusal to face the reality that teachers, coaches, clergy, family members, and other trusted people are far more typical abusers than are van-cruising abductors.
posted by thelonius at 6:17 AM on November 2, 2020 [12 favorites]


> And again, as a theologian, I must reiterate, bishops are mostly shit, they don't get enough theological education to know how to, like, theology correctly. That's why we HAVE theologians independent of the hierarchy. (Pope John Paul II was a NOTABLY rotten theologian...

It just never ceases to amaze me, even at the age of 47, how high one can rise in any chosen field despite what should be disqualifying levels of ignorance and/or incompetence as long as you have the right connections and/or a proclivity for corruption. 'Twas ever thus, but still.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:37 AM on November 2, 2020 [7 favorites]


A view from the pews, and from someone preparing to hopefully begin seminary studies:

QAnon stuff is popping up in conversations with people we know, and it's bizarre. Despite my best efforts to keep out of political arguments, on multiple occasions I've had to respond to assertions along the lines of:

"Voting for X is a mortal sin"
"Voting for Y is the only possible choice because of single-issue Z"

Neither of these are correct, or even close to correct. The US Council of Catholic Bishops publishes a semi-regularly-updated guide called "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship." It's not a voting guide, endorses no candidate or party, but lays out some general guidelines for how we (the faithful) should be approaching issues, exercising prudence, and answering our civic responsibilities.

And when I refer people to this doc by way of a response to assertions like the ones above, and get back "well the USCCB has been compromised," I'm left to conclude that...what, you're making yourself out to be more Catholic than the bishops? Than the Pope? Because the reality is basically this: Catholic political thinking is gloriously complicated and, taken in its fullness, means that there is a home in neither party. This tends to freak people out, but I rather see it as a strength. I can make common cause with any group that has a program or effort underway that I can support, even if there are other things they're doing that I cannot.

Co-signing much of Eyebrows McGee's observations on the strange currents of biblical literalism. It's weird, contrary to the Catechism, and I wonder how much of it is just drafting along the currents of the (apparent) successful mainstreaming of evangelical thought/messaging in the last 10-15-20 years. Want to read something hilariously appropriate? Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins was written in 1971, set in a future 1980s which never happened, and posits the complete fracturing of the Church:
Our Catholic church here split into three pieces: (1) the American Catholic Church whose new Rome is Cicero, Illinois; (2) the Dutch schismatics who believe in relevance but not God; (3) the Roman Catholic remnant, a tiny scattered flock with no place to go. The American Catholic Church, which emphasizes property rights and the integrity of neighborhoods, retained the Latin mass and plays The Star-Spangled Banner at the elevation.
posted by jquinby at 7:41 AM on November 2, 2020 [18 favorites]


Catholic political thinking is gloriously complicated and, taken in its fullness, means that there is a home in neither party. This tends to freak people out, but I rather see it as a strength

Yyyyeah, but how much of that is Catholic political thinking being complicated and how much is just that the US doesn't have a normal Christian-Democratic party, to which the Republicans are at best a poor substitute?

(to be clear, this is a dig at the Republicans and at US party formation, not at Roman Catholics or their political thought)
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:58 AM on November 2, 2020 [5 favorites]


"It just never ceases to amaze me, even at the age of 47, how high one can rise in any chosen field despite what should be disqualifying levels of ignorance and/or incompetence as long as you have the right connections and/or a proclivity for corruption."

To be fair, pastoring and theology are conceived of as separate callings in most Christian denominations. (Catholics are more explicit about it than most.) They're two totally different skillsets that require totally different training. It's sort of like a general practitioner medical doctor vs. a research science working on mechanisms of human disease -- the both kind of do the same thing, and share some crucially important educational background, but the doctor's training is oriented towards caring for people, and the scientist's is oriented towards thinking and researching and discovering and experimenting and drilling down on hyperspecific little things.

Bishops being shit at theology isn't really a cause for concern; to be good at being bishops, they should be good pastors and good managers/administrators. When they need theology done did, they should be leveraging the resources available to them at the local, national, and international level. For example, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has a permanent staff, including a bunch of theologians, to do the heavy theological lifting for the bishops. The Roman Curia has a theological department staffed with theologians. And of course Catholic colleges and universities around the world are meant to provide that ongoing training and do the ongoing work.

The problem isn't so much bishops who are shitty theologians; it's bishops who are shitty theologians who think they're good at it and/or don't understand the difference between theology and pastoring.

(There are some bishops who are spectacular theologians! It's just not remotely a requirement for the job. And because both "doing theology well" and "being a bishop" are super time-consuming jobs, there aren't many people who are good at both and doing both well. It's usually one or the other. Pope Benedict, for example, was a great theologian, but was known as a remarkably ineffective bishop for the few years he served as one. They say he's very warm one-on-one or in very small groups, and people who knew him that way were devoted to him, but in large group settings he's awkward and ineffective and comes across as pompous, and he hates interpersonal conflict and so was a very, very bad manager, because he preferred to ignore problems in the hopes they'd go away on their own. Christoph Schonborn, the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, is one who jumps to mind as a good administrator/pastor and good theologian. I think he's actually a better theologian than he lets on, based on his work as a younger man, but he has the sense to bite his tongue and stay out of trouble, since part of the work of theologians is to question and challenge the Church and its teachings, which can get awkward when you're also charged with ensuring its orthodoxy for your area.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:30 AM on November 2, 2020 [10 favorites]


It's sort of like a general practitioner medical doctor vs. a research science working on mechanisms of human disease -- the both kind of do the same thing, and share some crucially important educational background, but the doctor's training is oriented towards caring for people, and the scientist's is oriented towards thinking and researching and discovering and experimenting and drilling down on hyperspecific little things.

I like this analogy because even research MDs are often very limited in dealing with statistics and scientific methodology, but many will not admit it or ask for help from people who are more technically knowledgeable.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:47 AM on November 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee, your insights are so valuable. My youngest daughter went to Jesuit school because Jesuits are rad teachers, (she is a 5th generation atheist, but loved the school), and I can confirm that literalism was struck down like a pest because it is a heresy. It is really weird how Evangelical thinking has been able to take over in some parishes in the US.
Here (in Denmark) mainstream Protestants aren't literalists either, but some immigrant kids had parents who were raised in Evangelical or Pentecostal churches in their countries of origin, among them one of my daughter's best friends.
posted by mumimor at 9:54 AM on November 2, 2020 [4 favorites]


Do you know if there's been any academic research on this Protestantization of Catholicism, or if it's been discussed in any religious journals?

So I think it's fundamentally a sociology question that I'm not qualified to answer! It's one of those things where I'm like, "As a theologian I see this interesting interaction occurring, with fascinating consequences," but you need a sociologist to study it. :) So I would ask some sociologists who work on contemporary American religion to get me going in the right direction.

I do know that the place to start would be the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, which is a multidisciplinary clearinghouse for that type of question, and their newsletters, publications, and seminars can often point you to scholars working on those kinds of questions.

The work of Mark Noll (a historian and theologian, so always fascinating) has often dealt with the relationships between Catholics and Protestants throughout US history, and how their theologies have influenced each other, although he's more historical in orientation. But he always has interesting things to say and might be worth looking at.

The problem is if you just try to search "Protestantization" or "Protestant theology in Catholicism" (on google or in academic paper databases) you get a bunch of weirdos ranting about Vatican II and the Latin Mass, which is not what we're interested in at all! "20th century Biblical literalism in Catholicism" is better (led me to this, which addresses it glancingly, but is interesting). "Evangelical thought in Catholicism" leads you to people talking about traditionally evangelizing people and the Gospels, not fundamentalist evangelical Protestantism. It's sort-of a hard thing to drill down on because the words have such long histories! (And then I'd be like, "Someone light the sociologist bat signal so I don't have to just flounder around hoping I get lucky!")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:24 AM on November 2, 2020 [9 favorites]


Thanks for that answer!
posted by trig at 11:04 AM on November 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


There probably is a fascinating book yet to be written about how American Catholicism has developed as a distinct Thing, and how the emergence of other Protestant denominations has influenced it. There are sociological explanations there, I'm sure, but I'd also argue that there are historical explanations - because so many of the different Protestant denominations took root here in their infancy and were allowed TO grow. Consider: if you were in England and you were being brought up in one church, and you had philosophical and theological ideas that were a little beyond the zone of acceptability, you would get into trouble with your church. Your choices would to either try to suppress those thoughts and go along to get along, or to try to find another existing church to join. If you even could - there were periods in Europe when admitting to being one or another religion got you in trouble.

Whereas, in the colonies, if you and a few other people found that you didn't quite see things the same way as your local parson, you could simply pick up and head into the woods, walk for a day or so, and start a new town where your views are okay because this is now your town so you say what goes. A lot of little denominations started here or took root here that would have been wiped out if they were confined to Europe.

Then throw in the fact that there have been about three or four periods in the United States, throughout its history, when everyone seemed to get all "we gotta get good with Jesus" and get caught up in religious fervor, and those movements often shook up the religious life of the country and left not only new denominations but lots of social movements in their wake.

And through all of that foment, Catholicism has just been plugging along and doing its thing, with American Catholics rubbing elbows with people who believed in freaky stuff like The Rapture and Speaking In Tongues, and gradually some of everyone's concepts started to sort of enter the national consciousness to the point that the lines started to blur between Whose Concept Was Whose.

I used to hang with a guy who very nearly became a Jesuit priest - he went to a seminary and everything - and he told me once that he had an assignment in a theology class where he had to pick some Religious Concept and discuss it, using only the Bible and Catholic Theological writing as his source material. He initially picked the whole Rapture - but then discovered when he consulted the Bible that there is literally nothing in the actual Bible to support it. Similarly, nothing in Catholic Theology. "But why is it such a big deal," he wondered, and then did his own legwork and discovered the whole Rapture thing was cooked up during one of those periods of religious revival in this country, and there was no basis for it whatsoever in Catholicism. He was equal parts fascinated that he'd been so familiar with a non-Catholic concept that he thought it was a universal Christian touchpoint, and pissed off that he had to pick a more boring term paper topic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:10 AM on November 2, 2020 [16 favorites]


He initially picked the whole Rapture - but then discovered when he consulted the Bible that there is literally nothing in the actual Bible to support it. Similarly, nothing in Catholic Theology. "But why is it such a big deal," he wondered, and then did his own legwork and discovered the whole Rapture thing was cooked up during one of those periods of religious revival in this country, and there was no basis for it whatsoever in Catholicism

Exactly. In spite of being an atheist, I have read the Bible in its entirety several times, beginning when I was 8 or 9. I like it, it's a good book, full of stories and contradictory concepts. And it has always been a mystery to me how the weird sects got away with cooking up myths that have no foundation in the Book. Don't these people ever read the Bible?
posted by mumimor at 12:20 PM on November 2, 2020 [4 favorites]


I was going to say that it was frankly astonishing that someone could get all the way to the seminary before discovering that the Rapture had nothing whatsoever to do with Catholic eschatology...but then I recalled the volunteer parents showing up to teach at our parish's Sunday school toting their KJVs.

The state of catechesis is...not great, to say the least. The challenge you face is telling well-meaning on-fire volunteers that they're not qualified to help.
posted by jquinby at 12:36 PM on November 2, 2020 [4 favorites]


The anecdote I'm most familiar with is EWTN. Mother Angelica did a lot to keep it independent of the hierarchy for whatever reason. When they were finally starting to get the upper hand on her, she went nuclear and turned the entire thing over to a lay group beyond vows of obedience and all. Except that lay group was made of quite a few converts from Protestantism. So now the premier Catholic channel on cable was being programmed by ex-Protestants who were not steeped in Catholicism like cradle Catholics.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:11 PM on November 2, 2020 [4 favorites]


I don't think of myself as a "cradle Catholic" - I only became involved with the Church when I started grade school, which was a Catholic school. My mother grew up in what became Communist Yugoslavia - so she talked about the disbanding of the religious orders and the shuttering of the churches. I think of us more like "lighthouse Catholics" - from the joke about the orders of the captain of the aircraft carrier.

Picking up the point about theology - most thoughtful Catholics are pretty comfortable with the idea that the Pope is in a position to make binding rulings as those rulings are now the result of careful consultation and research by people experienced in precisely those sorts of problems. That combined with the emphasis in Catholic teaching of making adult decisions, means that you accept that ruling as the default position and then consider whether it is applicable in the circumstance to hand.

In addition, if you then take the centrality of mercy as part of doctrine, it means that punishment for breaching any of those rulings is pretty much completely contrary to Church doctrine.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 2:06 PM on November 2, 2020 [3 favorites]


"There probably is a fascinating book yet to be written about how American Catholicism has developed as a distinct Thing, and how the emergence of other Protestant denominations has influenced it. "

It's 20 years old now (and juuuuuuuuuuust predates Spotlight; the biggest earthquake in Catholicism of the past two decades isn't in there), but -- American Catholic (a play on American Gothic) is a bunch of what you're looking for. Morris talks both about the development of Catholicism in the US and how it changed and adapted and reacted as it struggled to find its place in American pluralistic (and Protestant) society, and about wider Catholic Church coming to grips with the US Catholic Church -- which it was forced to do because for half a century, the American Church was "the pocketbook of the Church" and eventually got a little ticked about being expected to pay for all of Rome's misadventures but having few cardinals and constantly having its hand slapped for this that or the other.

"most thoughtful Catholics are pretty comfortable with the idea that the Pope is in a position to make binding rulings as those rulings are now the result of careful consultation and research by people experienced in precisely those sorts of problems. "

Hahahahahahaha, I am definitely not! But that's why I studied theology, it's where the devout Catholics who have a problem with authority end up. :) So it's good that part of our charism as theologians is questioning the hierarchy and objecting to doctrine.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:13 PM on November 2, 2020 [3 favorites]


I grew up Catholic in the 70s, in the shadow of Vatican II, when the church was trying on English, maybe featuring less Baltimore Catechism and Holy Spirit and more Jesus is Your Buddy. St Paul MN was profoundly Catholic when I was growing up, There was no rigor in my Catholic school education even through high school with the Christian Brothers and university with the Benedictines in the mid 80s. What drove my experience was not scripture, but readings more along the lines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' pastoral letters on race, women, nuclear weapons, poverty and so on. For example my college graduation speaker was poet Carolyn Forche speaking on liberation theology. Back then we joked that there would be schism, but it would be the American Catholic church pulling away from the conservative Roman Catholic church. In talking to others around my age this was not an unusual feeling. We don't know many of the prayers outside the text of the mass, we haven't read much of the bible, and community, fellowship and stewardship were the watchwords of most parishes.

So I think some of this backlash today is against the vacuum of structure and the exploration of social justice that many of us in our 40s and 50s were raised with. We were caught with a warm fuzzy feel-good education that didn't really give a solid footing to weather the storms of the Reagan election in 1980 and its close alignment with Ralph Reed and the Moral Majority dragging the country rightward, the scandals breaking left and right about child abuse coverups, and the general fact that religion was uncool to start with and getting less popular by the day. It became harder and harder to defend a moderate position in a world getting more and more extreme: most people were becoming less religious in general, other religions were far more religious than us, and no one can defend child abuse or an organization that hides it. There's really no such thing as radical moderation, so the outcome was a lot of folks melting away and another smaller, hardcore group that dug in and prepared to fight. It might have been just another period in the church's long history of ebb and flow.

...And now we go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy intersecting with new channels like cable TV and the internet. There were always secret societies and rumored cabals and whatnot surrounding the church, but now they were better able to look however they chose: big and respectable or invisible, liberal or conservative, institutional or rebellious. There's still a place for Francis Catholics in this institution to reclaim it from centuries of ossification and rot, and it starts with the two answers that'll address just about every question: show broad compassion or turn it over to the cops. Look, this religion is still all predicated on God's forgiveness, so let's go: air it out, make amends, and let the cops handle the criminal stuff. Some things that can't be fixed can at least be improved by stopping the denials, by changing the behaviors, by accepting responsibility. Some things will never be forgiven, and in the face of those you can do nothing but make your best effort and leave it as an offering on the doorstep of the aggrieved in case of a change of heart. But you change, you have to change.
posted by Cris E at 7:03 AM on November 3, 2020 [2 favorites]


An idea which I do not believe but which I think could be argued for is that American Catholicism is incorporating aspects of the American civic religion in the same way it incorporated other pagan religions, going all the way back to Rome.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:45 AM on November 3, 2020 [1 favorite]


The state of catechesis is...not great, to say the least. The challenge you face is telling well-meaning on-fire volunteers that they're not qualified to help.

I think, from my own experience, this is partially a side consequence from a thing that’s good - the new two-adults-for-dealing-with-children thing.

In my own parish, there are about twenty catechists, and about ten of them are really competent, and the rest have been coaxed there by the parish coordinator because they are desperate for enough teachers to get the faith formation done. People are aware they’re not really qualified, but the alternative is having no faith formation.

And Eyebrows may know more than me why this is so, but it seems to be largely women, which means I’m sure there are some qualified men who aren’t pulling their share.
posted by corb at 8:10 AM on November 3, 2020 [2 favorites]


When I saw Viganò's pro Trump letter in the Catholic Family News I was kind of surprised by the content. A lot of which would not be cool with my Catholics - least of all since Biden is the Catholic and Trump is whatever Trump is. Its like going into a meeting at your company and telling everybody how awesome the competition's boss is and bad your boss is.

In anycase, the posted article is really an interesting read. I'm glad to see that wasn't mistaken in my thinking that a lot of the public American Catholicism I've seen seemed more Protestant then my non-Anglophone Canadian Catholicism. As an outside observer meeting American Catholics in university or while travelling I was always really surprised how different their upbringing and their political allegiances & beliefs were to my own. To the point that I wouldn't even describe them as Catholic. That's been easily the last 30 years.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:54 AM on November 3, 2020 [3 favorites]


It's fucking bizarre to listen to deeply-committed Catholics with big families espouse evangelical "Quiverfull" theology rather than Catholic pro-life theology, and have no idea what the difference is

Yes, yes it is. I am deeply concerned about my good friends (good = I was there at their first date, wedding, and baptism of their first child) who have a very large family indeed, insist on the women and girls dressing in skirts, and just started attending a parish church I've never heard of that only does services in Latin. The wife is anti-vax despite having worked for one of the best known evidence-based medicine organizations in the world and just started sharing 'think of the children' stuff on Facebook in a way that I think hints towards QAnon radicalization in the future. Yet, somehow, they are Catholic?

They've always been on the evangelical side (part of the milieu where we grew up) but it is deeply, deeply worrying to be friends with them these days.
posted by librarylis at 6:44 PM on November 4, 2020


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