On the one hand, it was encouraging that young people saw 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.” On the other hand, all these -isms have basically nothing to do with the Gospel. 

Against ‘Weird Christianity’

The rise and fall of the FadCath.

Michael Warren DavisJun 17

Rememember the “Weird Christianity” thing that took off in 2020? If not, I direct you to Tara Isabella Burton’s article “Christianity Gets Weird” in The New York Times. If so, I’m sure that—like me—you felt a kind of cautious optimism towards the Weird Christians. 

On the one hand, it was encouraging that young people saw 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.” On the other hand, all these -isms have basically nothing to do with the Gospel. 

Of course, many sincere converts have first been drawn to Christianity by something other than Jesus. It might be the Latin Mass or the Book of Common Prayer. It might be the wisdom of Catholic social teaching. It might be a steeple peeping out of a skyline or a statue of St. Francis in a garden. God has used much stranger tools to plant the seeds of faith. For C. S. Lewis, it was a fairytale. For St. Augustine, it was the memory of a stolen pear.

So it’s possible that disillusionment with the world can lead to authentic faith. Still, we might have been a little anxious to hear that these Weird Christians are driven by a “sense of rebellion—of consciously being at variance with modernity.” What if they happened to be born in a more Christian age? Maybe they would have joined the Communist Party or the Freemasons. Maybe they’re just rebels in search of a cause—any cause, so long as it’s “weird.”

Now along comes a new article in Vox called “How Catholicism Became a Meme”. (Warning: some of the photos in the article are pretty risqué.) It’s about what happens when a religion becomes faddish among the Very Online. I’m going to call them FadCaths. 

FadCaths are less highbrow than Weird Christians, but their ideas are basically the same. The article quotes an actress and podcaster named Dasha Nekrasova as saying,

Catholicism is nice because it involves a whole body of work outside of the Bible — it’s a very aesthetic, literary religion. . . . What’s so great about faith is that it doesn’t have to be grounded in rational thought. We are seeing a lot of people return to religion because everything feels so senseless and pointless, so why not be a Catholic?

I’m sure Ms. Nekrasova is being provocative, but she’s on to something. 

Catholicism is an extremely rich, complex, diverse religion. Of course, the smells and bells—the aesthetics, the literature, etc.—are supposed to point us to Jesus. Yet it’s entirely possible for one to be attracted to Catholicism on purely aesthetic/literary grounds, and never leave the shallows. 

One might even be attracted to Pope Leo XIII’s social encyclicals without ever glancing at the Bible. Catholic social teaching, with its emphasis both on traditional values and economic justice, does bear a squinting resemblance to the new populist Right. I converted to distributism long before I converted to Catholicism.

No: there’s nothing wrong with going through a Catholic phase—so long as one comes out a Catholic on the other end. But I expect a considerable majority of these folks will abandon Christianity within the next five years.

That’s not to say Weird Christians and FadCaths don’t actually believe. I’m sure they do. But the point of Christianity isn’t to read its texts, determine whether or not its claims are credible, and (if so) adopt its views. The point is to surrender one’s whole self to Jesus Christ. 

To become a Christian it’s not to adopt a new identity, but to become a “new creature.” (2 Cor. 5:17) It isn’t to take on a new set of opinions, but to renounce one’s right to an opinion and put on the “mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:16)

If you’re not putting out into the deep, you will eventually run aground. If your faith isn’t rooted firmly in the Gospel, it will eventually fall over. And if these FadCaths spend all of their time on the Web slinging memes with other newcomers, there’s no one to really challenge them. There’s no one to help push their faith beyond the smells and bells. 

In fact, the opposite is more likely to happen. There will be a strong temptation not to deepen their faith. It’s like the smart kid who pretends to be bad at math so his classmates don’t call him a nerd. Catholicism will never be anything more than online arguments about how much they love/hate the Latin Mass, and how great/awful Pope Francis is, and wonderful/terrible it would be to live under an integralist regime. If that’s your whole experience of the faith, except for Sunday Mass, Catholicism will probably get boring at some point. 

Eventually you’ll have more rosaries than you can fit in your drawer. You’ll have more prayerbooks than you can squeeze on your shelf. You’ll have more icons than wall space and more stickers than laptop. You’ll get tired of burning the same incense in your kitchen and of listening to the same Gregorian chant playlists over and over. 

What happens then? Well, you move on to the next fad.

Anyway, the desire to be “weird” is really a desire to be normal. As Ms. Burton wrote back in 2020, “Weird Christianity is equal parts traditionalism and, well, punk: Christianity as transgressive alternative to contemporary secular capitalist culture.” Of course, that’s always how the new establishment always bills itself: as an alternative. In a society that values freakishness, some Christians hope to be the biggest freaks of all. 

As we said, that’s a pretty far cry from the Gospel. Jesus didn’t say that Christians would be avant-garde. He said the world would hate us, the way it hated Him. (John 15:18) We wouldn’t be invited to parties at the Met. We wouldn’t be welcomed on the pages of the New York Times. We would be despised, vilified, scorned, crucified.

Besides, Christianity really isn’t very punk. Much as we love Anglican cathedrals and Gregorian chant, those are not the ordinary experience of the believer. At any given moment, the average Christian isn’t sniffing incense and whispering Latin prayers.

Most of the time he’s resisting the temptation to gossip, to covet, to drink too much, to drive too fast. He’s forcing himself to say evening prayer, to call his grandmother, to cut a check for those traditionalist Franciscans in Kentucky. He’s succumbing to the Lewisian spiral: “Now that I’m a Christian, I am humble. Wait—that’s a rather prideful thing to say. But at least now I know I’m not humble! I deserve credit for that. Wait—no, I don’t. That’s a kind of pride, too. But, ah! How humble I am, recognizing my own false humility! Wait—hold on…”

Remember what Our Lord said: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  If ye love me, keep my commandments. That’s what being a Christian is all about. It’s a moment-my-moment struggle against temptation to sin. And if you meet with any success, it also becomes a moment-by-moment struggle against the temptation to pride.

The ordinary life of a Christian is playing Whack-a-Mole, only you’re the moles. All of them. 

The payoff is that you spend the rest of your life basking in the inexhaustible love of Jesus Christ, and then all eternity thereafter. You are devoured by love. You are drowned in love. Love burns you alive. You never have to think of anything but love ever again. 

It’s a pretty good deal, but it’s not punk. If punk is your priority, then you probably won’t find Christianity to your liking. You, too, will probably end up splashing around in the shallows until you get bored and wander back to the shore.

Really, from a punk’s perspective, it’s the worst of both worlds. To be a Christian is to be as powerless as a rebel, but with all the demands of respectability. We invite the world’s hatred, yet we’re expected to love those who hate us, and to serve them. It’s our normalcy that they despise—our poor efforts to conform to natural virtue, to live by natural law.

Of course, the hope is that Weird Christians and FadCaths will eventually be tempted into the deep water. Like everyone else, they’ll experience that marvelous revelation that Christianity is nothing like what they expected. 

They might come looking for a transgressive alternative to contemporary secular capitalist culture and find something infinitely better: a quiet home, a little peace. They think they’re joining up with a band of rebels only to find themselves serving in a royal army. We fight for the rightful King against His usurper. We fight against the anarchy of this world. We fight for the rule of law, and the law is love.

Friends, in case it’s of interest, here are the articles I published this week:

1 .) “The Satanic Temple comes to Boston” at The Spectator

2.) “Unburnable Books” at The American Conservative

That’s all I got. Have a great weekend, everyone. Peace and the Good!

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© 2022 Michael Warren Davis
548 Market Street PMB 72296, San Francisco, CA 94104 

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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