Monday, November 3, 2014

An Unexpected Category

In Canada we don't really have theologically well-educated left-leaning Catholic young people. At least such is my assumption. I haven't been all around the block, but I have spent some time in academia, both in its secular and its sort-of Catholic forms. Leftiness simply has no staying power. If you think like the world, then why are you even in the Church? And so most leave. Catholicism doesn't have that much to commend it to a liberal culture like ours. But of course, sociological groups are at least partially self-sustaining. But this is Canada and so our sub-groupings are never very large, especially ones that combine the modifiers "Christian" and "intellectual." So there are four strong reasons for why there should be no theologically well-educated left-leaning Catholic young people in Canada:

1) It is a low-church ideology, that makes of the Body of Christ a not-all-that-glorified social club / charity. So what's there to care about and devote one's life to? If you had heard that McDonald's cooks live chickens you probably wouldn't eat there. Since the Church is homophobic and misogynistic, why be Catholic?

2) Christianity is not all that popular among young people.

3) Intellectuals constitute a small slice of any society.

4) Canada is small.

As for number three - the story of my life. Take an hour and start a website dedicated to some stupid movie or pop star and you will get thousands of hits a day. Put hundreds of hours into one devoted to St. Basil of Caesarea and get three hits a day.

The reason why there are any Catholic intellectuals at all in Canada is because there are people who believe extra ecclesiam nulla salus, i.e., people who think that the Church is divine, whatever that means, that it is important, necessary, unique. These people are by definition right-wing Catholics.

The fallout after Vatican II entertained and sustained theologically well-educated left-leaning Catholic young people for a time, but, given (1), it was not destined to last forever. Since the Spirit of V II was essentially a part of the zeitgeist, in other words, the people who adhered to it were a part of the world, when it eventually became apparent that Catholicism offers a very paltry version of the zeitgeist after all and, thus, had no future in the 'new world', all the theologically well-educated left-leaning Catholic young people went elsewhere.

Thus, I figure, and this was my experience in Toronto, the only really hard-core Catholic theological students, that is to say, the PhD candidates, tended to be conservative. They were still dismally in the minority at these schools, but that was because the ministry students outnumbered them and they were by-and-large very leftish. But these were not the hardcore intellectuals. The hardcore intellectuals were the conservative PhD students. If that was the case when I was there ten years ago, given my sociological premise (1), I had figured that ten years would only have served to make this trend even more pronounced: an increasingly liberal culture would spawn an increasingly conservative theological student body.

I've had to revisit some of my assumptions.

Why? Mainly because of a girl who is my Facebook friend, whom I mentioned in a previous post. Why don't I de-friend her? I am hesitant to cut off people who disagree with me and challenge me intellectually, despite how irritating they are.

Now, in a nutshell, this girl is a PhD. candidate from an elite school, Harvard or Princeton or some such place. She is a good writer. But she is as she describes herself: a liberal Catholic. That means that what interests her is the Church's view of economic matters, which she seems to use to further her politics. I don't know her well enough to know which comes first, the Church or her political views. I have simply observed that she never seems to refer to people like JP II and B XVI, von Balthasar, William May, David Schindler, or anybody like that, but a whole host of economists, ethicists, etc., who are most often Protestant or secular - no surprise, given the fact that she attends Harvard or Princeton or whatever.

I don't want to talk about her. I am just mentioning her as an example of a thing I thought no longer existed: someone who defines themselves as Catholic, is intellectual, but maintains a very low ecclesiology. How is this possible, given my (1), (2) and (3) above? Well, (4) doesn't apply, of course, because the US is ten times bigger than Canada, and so the ability of the group to sustain itself will be much stronger. I don't know how many Catholics study theology at Harvard and Princeton, but at schools like Notre Dame and CUA, the number would be quite large, relative to the Canadian scene. But, again, I assumed (1) was too powerful to permit even these places to carry on as they had been in the 70s and 80s, given that it is now fifty years since Vatican II.

Going back to my Facebook friend, I find her circle of friends quite insular and self-referential. They use all sorts of tactics to build up their esprit de corps, their group mentality: shared jokes, insider-language, put-downs they all recognize, even a list of profanities they all deem hilarious and appropriate for public Christians, a mutually agreed upon list of authorities and philosophical givens...

Do I do that? Maybe in part. But I don't use profanity online. I have a family, a business, a career, a Church and a God to think about.

Every group has its linkages. That theologically well-educated left-leaning Catholic group of young people that surrounds my Facebook friend are not unusual for this.

But I find it so odd that there can be a group like this today. That there can be a well-educated left-leaning Catholic groups of young people, i.e., ones who are not characterized by those basic things that characterize what it is to be Catholic in today's world: strongly pro-life, strongly pro-family, strongly pro-NFP, strongly aware of the hostility of the world to Catholicism, but rather caught up in pop culture, and with issues that are not distinctly Catholic, but with universal moral concerns, like poverty, immigration, etc.

But it is the very fact that I was caught off guard by this that makes me hesitate to remove her from my friends. I sit here wondering to myself, where do such people come from, what motivates them, what are their parents like? They baffle my expectations and are, therefore, valuable to me.

I get the 60-year old women parading around as priests. Yes, that was an issue when these 60-year-olds were young, and we all kind of stay in our teens or 20s forever don't we? I will always wear golf shirts and wear my hair longer on the top and shorter on the sides, no matter what fashion trends dictate. But millennial Catholics only knew JP II and B XVI, i.e., pure unadulterated Catholicism, and only came across the Stanford Nuttings as their terribly lame and ill-educated religion teachers, whom these young people could see right through, right?

And then I hear the voice of a priest friend of mine, who is roughly my age, ringing in my ear: "No, the young people today, they just don't care (about basic human decency)."

My dealings with this young lady and her cohort of over-educated, under-Catholicized young people has made me wonder whether I have been wearing terribly rose-coloured glasses: young people will always be stupid and cannot be expected to be able to critically evaluate their culture, because they simply don't have the analytical tools to do so (because education today is terrible) and / or the hindsight from which to do it.

I had thought that the thirty-years of B XVI / JP II was long enough to teach absolutely everybody who was interested in knowing what the Faith was, what its priorities were in light of the state of the world today.

But perhaps this is nothing more than me becoming comfortable with the very unpopular idea that young people are just dumb.

So to all you self-assured Catholic lefties at Yale, no, we do not look at you as having answers or as in any sense a part of the bright future. We look at you as sorely in need of the Kerygma, of the basic conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord and not some peddler of probable and friendly opinion who can be fit into your amazing Ivy-League syllabi!


  1. So your premiss here is that this young woman is a well-educated left-leaning intellectual. But where is the evidence for that (in particular the "well-educated" bit)? -DM

  2. thought is that there are plenty of young left-leaning non-Catholics who regard themselves as intellectuals - but when you talk to them, generally speaking they are clearly not well-educated, even if they have lots of post-secondary education behind them.

  3. I know, I know... that is one of the things I have been thinking about. Maybe I'm just being too nice? Catholics can be too nice, and I often fall into that. The more I think about it, being well-educated is not towing a party line and rhyming off all the cliches that this elan endorses. I don't want to be presumptuous one way or the other. I often feel like I must simply be a resentful unemployed scholar to criticize others - that's why I take such a delicate approach. And, I am also alarmed at how annoyed I get at people I assume should know better. Finally, I can't believe that everything people say about the decline of the West is true, vis a vis education, rationality, etc. But isn't it?! The next generation is just dumb and crude.