What is New York’s hottest club? Apparently it’s the Catholic Church, where child sexual abuse has been a rampant problem for decades, where women are forbidden from participating in the highest levels of leadership, where abortion rights and the existence of transgender people are both denied, where same-sex marriage is considered immoral, where financial scandals never cease, where medical care can be denied for dogmatic reasons, where cultural genocide thrives, where lobbyists fight against laws that would benefit victims of abuse, and where the rules of celibacy require some leaders to keep their families a secret.
We’re somehow supposed to believe this is what all the cool kids want right now.
That’s according to a guest essay in the New York Times by Julia Yost, editor of the conservative journal First Things. Yost claims that Catholicism is in fashion among a group of “young, educated Americans” who are associated with a part of Manhattan called Dimes Square… but, really, the article mostly centers around a handful of quirky podcasters who defend Catholic traditions.
The Stefon-referencing headline about the Catholic Church being the “hottest club” is getting all the attention online, which is probably for the best, since the piece itself is nothing but an act of self-stimulation by someone attempting to sound intellectual in defense of beliefs that, if explained honestly and bluntly, would be rightly treated as outrageous. (As one commenter noted, “I’ve been out of grad school for so long that I forgot that people actually write like this.”) Here’s just one example:
Today, Catholicism again stands athwart political progress and norms governing sex and gender. It violates a liberal-progressive dispensation that many young Americans find both malign and banal. By disparaging traditional gender roles and defining human flourishing in meritocratic terms, progressive moralism militates against young people’s attainment of basic goods: marriage and procreation. Ms. Levy has remarked that she was raised to “get a job.” But her more profound desire was to start a family, a desire that conflicts with the imperatives of meritocracy.
Let me translate since none of that was meant to be readable: Catholicism promotes conservative politics, traditional “values” that are out of date for good reason, and outright bigotry against certain groups of people. But it also wants you to have a family and babies, unlike evil liberals. And I know a young woman who wants a family and babies. Therefore, Catholicism must be onto something.
It’s unbelievable what some people will say if they’re willing to straw man progressive positions and look the other way when it comes to the Church’s myriad problems. For what it’s worth, there’s nothing anti-progressive about choosing to have a family and kids. What appalling is that many conservatives want to make it harder for women to have those things and a career, or to have any choice in the matter at all.
In the case of Yost, she marks her own journey into Catholicism in a couple of sentences tucked into the middle of the piece:
… My own embrace of Catholic moral teaching came about in college, when I saw how it had shaped the imagination of a great apostate, James Joyce. By comparison, my liberal moral formation offered nothing either to daunt or to inspire.
The fact that she wasn’t inspired by liberal moral values, but captivated by one man’s philosophical journey, isn’t a convincing argument to join her team. I’m constantly inspired by progressive activists who speak out in favor of social justice and against corruption. But if your idea of inspiration is listening to a podcast where someone says, “There’s not a problem in the world that three Hail Marys can’t fix,” which I swear to you is an actual thing an actual human said, congratulations on having very few real-world problems.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen pieces like this, where younger conservatives act like their embrace of traditional faith is somehow an act of rebellion. They’ll call themselves “weird Christians” or whatever phrase they want to use to whitewash their support of an institution that’s harmed—and continues to harm—countless people. Yost herself has written in defense of Cardinal George Pell, who was the highest ranking Catholic leader to be found guilty for child sex abuse—or, as his lawyer callously called it, nothing more than a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating.” (Pell’s conviction was, controversially, overturned despite “compelling” evidence from the victim.)
The point is: If you like traditions, say you like traditions. If you find personal value in supernatural beliefs for which there’s no evidence, just say that. Not every desperate desire to find meaning in something most decent people discarded a long time ago deserves an essay in the Times.
There’s nothing uplifting or transgressive, much less trendy, about the Church. It’s a slap in the face to its victims to pretend otherwise. It’s utterly irresponsible to promote the Church’s traditions without at least condemning, very specifically, the damage the Church has caused. And it’s shocking to see the Times treat the Catholic Church like the “hottest club” in the city when its own reporting says otherwise.