Saturday, May 3, 2014

I Listen to Facebook Conversations of Younger Catholics: I Get An Earful about What Makes Church of JPII and BXVI Tick (The Earful Is Not Pretty)

I've mentioned before, I think, that I have a number of Facebook friends who stand considerably to the right of me when it comes to matters Catholic. I'm not quite sure how I got connected to these particular folks. I've generally had an ecumenical approach to Facebook friendships, and have accepted most every invitation I've received to befriend someone at the Facebook site, assuming as I do so that all of us are enriched when we rub shoulders with many different kinds of people, and that my tiny perspective is hardly the perspective that's the fulcrum on which the entire world turns, and I need other perspectives to make mine complete.

(I also assume that if Facebook friends become pests, if they pepper me with unsolicited hostile messages about this or that, even after I've asked them to stop doing so, if they turn out to be totally crazy — I've had both kinds of experiences on Facebook — I can, with regret, drop them from my list of Facebook friends.)

And so I learn from my more right-leaning Catholic friends on Facebook, most of them younger than I am. Most of them are folks who came of age in the church of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and that hardbitten countercultural expression of Catholicism, with its misplaced certainty about "unchanging" Catholic "Truth," will forever be for them the quintessence of what it means to be Catholic.

I learn, in particular, from the conversations at these friends' Facebook sites, which I read, since they scroll into my own Facebook feed, though I rarely participate in these conversations, since I've learned it's futile to try to engage many of these JPII-BXVI Catholics in conversation. They don't want to talk. Not to the likes of me, at least.

What they want to do, instead, is taunt and cajole and shut up. I've had the following experience, for instance, with one of these JPII-BXVI Catholics connected to a Facebook friend who's our mutual friend: that mutual friend, a thoughtful, urbane Canadian man, asked an interesting theological question on his Facebook page to which he invited responses.

I responded at some length. Immediately after I did so, a Catholic friend of his in South Africa, sent a reply to me in our friend's Facebook feed. The reply: "No."

That was it: "No." She didn't attempt to engage my argument. She didn't deign to do me the courtesy of explaining that she was responding directly to the several sentences I had just posted. She did not address me by name.

She simply said: "No." I did not belong in the conversation. I did not belong in her conversation, in the conversations she and her like-minded friends carry on in Facebook feed that connects to my own Facebook page, after all, through a shared friend, to whose invitation to reply to a question he had asked I responded.

I did not belong in her Catholic church, the church of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

As I say, I learn from these conversations. I learn a great deal about what makes many younger Catholics of the JPII-BXVI generation tick. What I learn — about their parochialism, their hostility to select groups of fellow Catholics, their delight in reviving stupid old slurs (e.g., Protestants as "Prods") long since discarded with very good reason by most post-Vatican II Catholics, their glorification of liturgical frou-frou, their stolidly self-assured reading of "the" tradition and its non-negotiable teachings — is instructive.

A case in point: yesterday, my thoughtful, urbane Canadian friend posted a link to Terry Weldon's recent testimony about his struggles as an openly gay Catholic to which I linked here yesterday. The response of my friend's other Catholic Facebook friends to Terry's testimony could not have been more interesting.

What struck me above all in the disdainful responses these fellow Catholics who glory in the legacy of John Paul II gave to Terry Weldon's testimony was the lack of any willingness even to try to understand the experience of fellow Catholics (of fellow human beings) who happen to be gay. Without exception, they locked arms and simply read such testimony (and those who offer it) out of their church, out of the church of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

"Identity politics," several of them sniffed dismissively. These are folks who proudly identify themselves as beyond politics, as neither to the left nor to the right — since possessing "the" Catholic Truth places them above and beyond all political struggle. 

They dispense Truth, for goodness's sake; they don't take sides in seamy political struggles over human rights issues. What need to struggle or to engage in politics, to dirty one's hands with the sordid secular realm where nothing is black or white, when one owns the Truth?

These young folks are, many of them, academic types. They're people with sound educations who have worked at or are presently connected to universities. And yet something in their Catholic education in the period of the two recent popes with a pronounced restorationist agenda has, it seems to me, deformed their minds and hearts. It has deformed their humanity.

It has made them smaller, less catholic, human beings, rather than bigger, more catholic, ones — people with large hearts willing to embrace the experiences of others, to struggle to understand those experiences, to reach out to engage the ideas of those whose experiences cause them to see the world differently than "we Catholics" see it. I wonder what the future of a church dominated by such folks at its very center (since academic types definitely do have great influence at the center of various institutions) will be like, especially now that their pope, the one who established their culture-combating, smaller-and-purer-church definition of "the" Catholic Truth, has been canonized?

I wonder if Pope Francis knows the work he has cut out for him now that he has canonized the pope of a generation of oh so certain, so smug, so set-apart younger Catholics (I'm echoing here a 1927 letter of Mary McGill to the editor of America about the ethos of pre-Vatican II Catholicism) who own "the" Catholic Truth in a way none of the rest of us own it? Because if I were someone interested in examining the truth claims of Catholicism, who knew little about the religion, and I happened on the Facebook conversations of these oh so certain, so smug, so set-apart, and so essentially heartless younger Catholics, I'd run away as fast as my little legs could carry me.

Field hospital for wounded folks in need of mercy and healing, my eye!

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