Sunday, November 26, 2017

Catholic Fundamentalism

I just had a 9 hour drive to get home from my Thanksgiving festivities. I listened to lots of podcasts, which was great, but I also had a lot of time to think about a conversation that I had with two of my sisters about Catholic Fundamentalism. If that sounds oxymoronic, it's because it is, but we try to live it out anyway. There is some growing discussion about some of this, but it's happening all over the US, whether it's being discussed or not.

I have some extended family members who very much fall into this group, and I know a lot of people who are smack in the middle of this. You know what? I have been very much a part of this without even realizing what I was doing. I hope I can say that I am recovering, but since I was blind to what I was doing for so long, I doubt I'm a perfect judge of this.

We live in a country with very Protestant roots, and there are ideologies from that that pervade our culture and influence us, whether we recognize it or not. Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of very influential converts to Catholicism who, while they have done a lot of good in the Church, have also spread a subtle fundamentalist flavor to the living out of the Catholic faith. Don't get me wrong, not all of it's bad, and it's definitely partly a reaction to the cafeteria-style Catholicism that came out from the 60's, 70's, and 80's (from what I've heard, and my own experience in the 80's- I haven't studied this, however). The cafeteria thing doesn't work, but neither does the fundamentalist thing.

Fundamentalist Christians (Catholic or otherwise) are very caught up in the black and white, right and wrong of a thing. There is very little room for nuance there. In the terms of actions, it is often possible to say whether a thing is definitively right and wrong. Unfortunately, I think the tendency (at least, this has been my tendency) is to say that the person is right or wrong, good or bad, based on those actions. We don't see all of the circumstances, and we often don't care because the action is all that matters.

This Thanksgiving, I heard two people say, "I'm not sure if it's possible to be a Democrat and be a Christian." They were absolutely serious! This is primarily based on their reactions to things such as abortion. Yet, while I agree that abortion ends the life of an innocent child and is, in fact, one of those actions that is wrong, I have also talked to friends about why they support abortion. These are not bad people, and while I disagree with their conclusion in terms of abortion, I also see that they are seeing and addressing some very human issues that I have refused to see or address in my anti-abortion blindness. One example is a woman who was aborting her third child because she couldn't afford to be off work when the child was born; she would lose her job, her home, her ability to support her other two children. Yes, there is the issue of avoiding getting pregnant in the first place, but even that is usually a reaction to deep pain and need. We can have compassion for the reasons someone might be in that position. We can see what we can do to support someone who may need financial assistance, we can work to improve laws and working conditions to better support women.

My own fundamentalism in the past would have stopped me from seeing the human needs, the human pain, indeed, the very human person in the midst of this story. It would have kept me from doing anything other than judging this woman. I so appreciate the people in my life (some Christian AND Democrat, some neither) who have helped me to see the human side. To get so caught up in rules and religion that the very people right in front of us are lost is a tragedy, and one that I want to stop in my own life.

I even thought of it a bit when I was putting up my Christmas tree today. There are those that would judge me as not being quite as good of a Catholic because I'm getting ahead of myself a little liturgically. You know what? We need to let it go. When we choose to put up Christmas decorations is not a salvation issue! I think that there is something very beautiful about doing some Advent decorations that are a little less fancy and saving the blow out Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve. But what can I say? I love the Christmas tree lights on these short, dark nights. I like to put them up right after Thanksgiving and leave them up through the 12 days of Christmas, to get the most out of it. Whatever works best for you and your family, whatever is special, is really fine. The important part, the hard part, is figuring out how to celebrate Advent.

I'm not sure how much this post makes sense as I try to work out some new thoughts, but I guess what I'm saying is that I see a lot of Pharisee in me, with all these rules and all these judgements of the people around me. I hope I'm starting to move away from this a little, and now when I hear fundamentalist statements, they are jarring to me. On the other hand, I've got a long way to go, because-among other things- I'm still very judge-y of the judgers. I think this is partly in reaction to my own mistakes, but I don't want to stay in such a reactionary place.

I'm still working through this. What do you think? Have you heard of this idea of Catholic Fundamentalism, or experienced it?


  1. Oh yes I 100% relate to what you're saying. It's jarring how completely black and white some people are. It's hard for me to even look at some of the debates people are having about topics with just a lot of grey. Harry Potter? How are we still debating this in 2017!

  2. I've seen it more and more since the election last year. Some of those who I considered logical, moral, and otherwise compassionate people swung so far into fundamentalism that I was pretty taken aback. Either that, or they just revealed themselves for who they truly were and it was really hard to see. I expected this from my sedevacantist extended family, and just roll my eyes, but seeing it from "mainstream" Catholics was eye-opening.

  3. So much good stuff here, but on kind of less serious note, I totally will own up the label of being a Christmas decoration rebel. We got our tree before Advent even started...gasp! ;) But honestly, a friend said something the other day that I really identified with. When she is pregnant she is so excited to get things ready for the baby, and for her and how that relates to baby Jesus, that translates to getting the house all ready, decorations, etc. That is where I am. I love the decorations, I love the Advent traditions, but there is something magical and so joyful for me personally to really immerse myself in that part of the preparations for Christmas. Anyway, must my musings, nothing to serious. And yes, the other stuff has been hard for me to watch in regards to some relationships. And now you need to post pics of your decorations, I want to see them!

  4. Yes, absolutely, and it's still so startling to me sometimes now to hear people whom I would have otherwise considered logical, compassionate people become absolutely vitriolic in their need to make sure that Democrats and/or pro-choice ideals don't win. Especially those who seem to dig in their heels more and more even in the face of things that I would expect might help them see things more...clearly and rationally. (There are similar people on the other side, of course, but I guess I'm more used to hearing it from them.) It makes me cringe now when I see old posts of mine pop up on Facebook memories that probably could have easily fallen in line with their views. The good news is that if I was able to start adjusting my thinking to be able to see people instead of just black and white issues, so can we all, I have to hope. (But I definitely understand your feeling judgmental of the judgers, as I also struggle with that A LOT these days.)

  5. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    So much yes. This is one of the reasons one of my favorite things Pope Francis has said is when he referred to the Church as a field hospital. In a field hospital, the person is the focus. The medic goes out into the war zone, assesses the situation, and then walks with the person, sometimes carrying him along the way, back through the mess of the battle. It's easy to sit on the sideline and judge the actions, and very easily the person, too. It's hard to walk with see and hear and learn their messiness...and to love them through it. And it is possible to do both, to walk with someone while not condoning actions that are objectively's not easy, but it is possible.

    Thank you for this reflection.